How to Use Decorative Concrete in a
Concrete's use in kitchens and bathrooms may
still be considered relatively "modern" design-wise by the
standard homeowner. But while concrete can be used to create a
modern or minimal look, it's also perfectly adaptable to a more
traditional setting — where it was so extensively used in the
Concrete can act as a substitute for more
traditional materials. Rather than just using concrete to
explicitly re-create something from the past, you can also
combine it with other elements to suggest a timeless quality.
In my work, I always strive to strike a balance between
innovation and emotion, between spare contemporary and warm
traditional. Adding mosaic tile along the front edge of a
concrete surface, inlaying bits of tile along a backsplash, or
even embedding a fossil in a countertop all connect us to the
California cottage we renovated recently moved from
"traditional" to "transitional". A large concrete curved
wall/counter boldly separates the living room from the kitchen.
Meanwhile, a stainless steel integral sink countertop straddles
one wall— yet, by inlaying glass tiles into the backsplash and
inserting a traditional plate holder in the cabinetry, enough
balance is achieved to avoid a conflict of
Let’s take a turn-of-century "Craftsman"
style kitchen for a hypothetical example. The cabinets would
most likely be frame-and-panel with flush inlay doorframes.
There would be wood wainscoting in the dining area and perhaps
tile around a single porcelain sink. The lighting fixtures
might have beveled glass or echoes of Tiffany lamps. What
concrete application would be appropriate in this situation? I
would look into one or more of the following ideas in
1. Choose an earth tone color or natural
gray. No bright colors.
2. Keep the front face, or thickness, of the
countertop at a minimum of 2-1/2" up to 5".
3. Inset "panels" into the front face of the
countertop to reflect the cabinet doors. These panels would be
no deeper than 3/8" and would measure approximately 1/3" to the
height of the front face, or
4. Recess the appropriately sized or
proportioned ceramic tiles with some embossing on them into the
face of the countertop or into a cast backsplash. Allow the
recess to be at least 1/4" in depth.
5. Mosaic tiles in groups of four separated
by 1/8"-1/4" spacing could be placed on the countertop surface
as inlaid "trivets" next to the stove burners. (In the mold,
they would be placed face down on the bottom of the
6. Line the drain board into the sink with
tile or marble.
Now I wouldn't want to use all of the above
accents — just enough to carry a complementary flavor to the
Craftsman look and feel. The concrete itself is earthy enough
to carry that load. It's up to you as a homeowner or designer
to add the touch that personalizes and enhances the piece. In
some cases, for instance, the overwrought "traditional English
manor" kitchen, usually full of elaborate detailing, can use a
touch of restraint — the concrete counter with a simple ogee
edge detail and a complementary white porcelain farm sink might
just be perfect.
As they say, it's all in the
Cheng, the founder of Cheng Design and
Cheng Concrete Exchange, is an
internationally known designer and
author, who has pioneered the craft of
has published two books, Concrete
Countertops (Taunton Press, 2002) and
Concrete at Home (Taunton Press, 2005).
To learn more about Fu-Tung's work and
discover the endless possibilities of
using concrete in your home,