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A concrete revival.

Kaleidoscopic colors and textures bring contemporary style to an ancient material

Remember how the film The Wizard of Oz shifts from sepia to color once Dorothy and Toro get to Oz? Concrete is undergoing a similar transformation: drab, utilitarian gray is giving way to muted and vivid color palettes, surprising textures, and bold experimental forms. This wonderfully tactile material can be made as slick and shiny as a mirror or as rough textured and nonreflecting as sandpaper. Today you'll find colorful concrete used as counters, sinks, bathtubs, furniture, fireplace surrounds, and floors.

"I've got over 140 colors to choose from," says Mark Rogero, owner of Concreteworks Studio, a custom-fabrication shop in Emeryville, California. This color spectrum gives homeowners broad choices for coordinating a surface with other colors and materials in a room. In general performance and cost, concrete competes with both solid-surface synthetics (such as Corian or Avonite) and stone (granite, marble, and limestone), but is not as limited in color, thickness, or natural patterning. Synthetic surfaces are sold in sheet form, stone in slabs and tiles, and both are limited to standard thicknesses. But because concrete is cast in molds, it can include subtle texturing, decorative objects (such as pieces of metal, fossils, glass, or even coins), changes of contour, and greater thickness; it can even form integrally cast sinks of almost unlimited shape.

Concrete contains natural materials - stone, silica-based cement, and water. Like stone but unlike synthetic products, concrete requires careful maintenance (see page 114), and even when it's properly sealed, its surface can show stains and wear over time. (Whether that patina is desirable or not depends on your taste.)

CONCRETE COSTS

None of these materials is inexpensive. On a square-foot basis, the entry-level cost for a standard-width counter runs about $50 for solid surface, $55 to $65 for concrete, and $65 or more for granite. Costs go up from there for more complex edge details, custom-aggregate mixes, cutouts for sinks, holes for faucets, and curving backsplashes. Installation charges vary with the complexity of the job.

Concrete care

* Untreated concrete stains and etches easily. At the very least - and even if you don't mind a little patina - you should apply a stone soap or a penetrating sealer. Glaze 'N Seal (800/4861414) manufactures a variety of sealers and concrete-care products.

* If you seal with a stone soap, use that same stone soap for routine cleaning. Naturel Seal is a vegetable oil-based product that cleans and seals without chemicals. It can also be used as a poultice to remove tough stains. Naturel Seal and other sealing products are available from ASN Natural Stone, (800) 827-8663.

* To better resist surface staining and etching, apply a penetrating sealer and then a hard wax, such as carnauba wax, or a newer natural-synthetic blend. This method will buy some time to clean up spills and food that may etch through the wax and into the concrete. Hard waxes for top coats are available from ASN and Glaze 'N Seal.

Concrete caveats

* "Concrete is not bulletproof," says one fabricator. Although a concrete counter might contain expanded-metal lath, a reinforcing bar, or strands of fiberglass or polypropylene to strengthen it, cracks may appear. They can be filled with polyester-based resins colored to match the mix.

* Don't leave acidic liquids - citrus juices, wine, vinegar, and alcohol - on unsealed concrete, since they can etch into the surface. Also, oil and fat can soak in.

* Consider having raised strips of metal cast into countertops (like runners) to support pots and pans in areas of high use (such as near sinks or cooking surfaces). These strips can help protect against abrasion.

* Do not use abrasive pads or powders on sealed counters. Clean with warm water and a nonammoniated, nonabrasive cleanser when not using a stone soap.

* Do not place hot objects or adhesive tapes on the waxed surface - they could cause the surface to become discolored.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on concrete care; new colors and texture of concrete
Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Publication:Sunset
Date:Mar 1, 1997
Words:648
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