When they think of concrete, most people think of the rough, boring, gray material used for sidewalks, retaining walls, and other such utilitarian purposes. They may be surprised to learn that concrete is an increasingly popular material for residential and decorative use as well. One of the most popular residential uses of concrete is kitchen countertops. Unlike sidewalks and other common uses of concrete, concrete countertops are highly decorative and carefully crafted to be smooth and polished to the touch, with a patina that improves over time. Concrete shares the natural, earthy, and tactile feel of a good stone counter.
The Versatility of Concrete For a Countertop
Concrete has many advantages over more traditional laminate counters or stone counters. First of all is its versatility. Concrete counters are generally precast in molds fit to the customers' specifications, and sometimes cast on-site. Each counter is therefore literally one of a kind, unlike factory-made mass production laminates. Moreover, concrete can be molded into virtually any shape, allowing the designer and homeowner a much greater degree of creativity and uniqueness in form. Concrete counters are inherently customized to the exact needs and specifications of the room in which they will be placed.
The Colors and Finishes of Concrete Countertops
Concrete also comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes and offers other decorative advantages as well. It is easy to embed decorative elements such as tiles or mosaics within it to reflect the owner's taste and the design of the kitchen, and to add customized elements, such as an integral drain board. The natural feel of concrete is often enhanced by embedding botanical imprints or materials such as shells, stones, or fossils in the counter.
The Durability of Concrete
Another advantage of concrete is its durability. Like stone counters, concrete counters are extremely strong and durable, and resistant to heat and scratches. Unlike stone, however, concrete is a naturally warm material. Finally, concrete is more environmentally sound than petroleum-based laminates and non-renewable resources such as quarried stone.
Disadvantages of Concrete Countertops
Concrete counters do have a few disadvantages. They must be properly finished and sealed in order to resist stains and water damage, and regular waxing (every one-to-three months) is recommended to protect the sealer. The sealer can be damaged by knives, so cutting directly on the countertop is not recommended. In addition to allowing water and other liquids past the finish, it is almost certain to dull your knives! Furthermore, depending on a number of factors surrounding the slab's creation, concrete counters may develop tiny cracks over time. These do not affect the structural soundness of the counter, but may be disconcerting to some homeowners, although others feel that they add to the character of the finished product. Finally, despite the low cost of the raw materials, the price tag for a concrete countertop can be high due to the highly customized nature of the countertops. Concrete countertops tend to be comparable in price to a natural stone counter, and are more expensive than a laminate such as Corian. Despite these disadvantages, the versatility and durability of concrete has made it an increasingly popular choice for stylish kitchens.