Concrete Countertops

By Janet Hall, Originally Published in Remodelista

New York artist Angela A'Court used concrete counters in her kitchen remodel, drawn by the fact they're "not too perfect". Photo by Ty Cole.

For more on the kitchen above, see Rehab Diaries: An Artist's NYC Kitchen Renovation).

1. What exactly is concrete?

Concrete is a natural composite material made from an aggregate (typically rocks, sand, and fly ash) plus a cement binder (such as limestone and calcium sulfate) and water. (For those wondering what the difference is between concrete and cement, the answer is that cement is a component of concrete: sidewalks are made of concrete, not cement.) Several companies offer sustainable versions of concrete composed of high percentages of recycled content, including waste fly ash, glass dust, and rice husks. The finished product weighs about the same as granite. 


Above: "Unlike concrete counters of the past, the new concrete counters are lighter and some have polymers mixed in, so they don't stain or crack," says architect Alissa Pulcrano of Portland, Oregon's Bright Designlab. Shown here, a NuCrete concrete countertop in the firm's Irvington Industrial Modern Kitchen project.

2. How are concrete counters fabricated and installed?

Concrete counters are either precast in a shop or cast in place during your kitchen construction

Pre-Cast Concrete Counters: 
The majority of today's concrete counters are precast, and for good reason. Made to order in any size you like, precast counters are poured in the controlled environment of a shop, enabling more color and texture options as well as the ability to use modern reinforcement technology (more on that below). Each counter is handmade, enabling customization of shape, thickness, sink, and appliance cutouts, and additional details like an integrated dish drainer. Precasting also offers the ability to create a wider range of counter edge options than you can make on site. An identifying sign of precast concrete counters is that they come with visible seams, which is not necessarily a bad thing: seams enable the counter to flex and move a bit more, reducing the likelihood of cracks that occur with concrete's natural shrinkage over time.

Cast in Place Concrete Counters:Counters are often cast in place in setups that require irregular shapes. And when poured on site, counters typically do not have seams. 

Above: A slender concrete counter with a delicate-looking edge detail by Concreteworks of Oakland, CA, in a project by SF architect John Maniscalco. Mark Rogero, principal of Concreteworks, explains that of late there's been "a major shift in reinforcement technology—we use fiberglass reinforcement in surface concrete that has made it stronger, thinner, and more refined than the steel-reinforced concrete of the past." Now concrete counters can be as thin as three-quarters of an inch. Photo by Mariko Reed.

3. What colors and textures do concrete countertops come in?


The sampling of concrete colors shown above is from Concreteworks.

Concrete countertops can be made in virtually any color, though stony gray continues to be the most widely used. Concrete finishes range from rough hewn to diamond polished. That said, there are natural variations in color and texture that occur as the counter is crafted and cured; to concrete advocates, it's one of material's appealing qualities. 

Above: Concrete counters mix well with other countertop materials. Shown here, concrete and Calacatta Gold marble counters come together in a New York Meat Packing District loft by Leone Design Studio. Architect Roy Leone likes to use concrete when trying to bring more warmth and a greater tactile quality to countertops. "Since they're handmade, they have a character that simply doesn't exist in stone or synthetic materials," he says. "The great thing about concrete is that you can adjust the color to be browner or bluer or whatever works with the overall palette." Photo by Albert Vecerka.

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December 23, 2013