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John Lamb, Published March 08 2014

Durable concrete makes move to inside the house

MOORHEAD – Poor concrete has had a hard time. For years it’s been walked on, driven on, abused and overlooked.

But some builders think it’s time to give the material a lift and put it up on a pedestal. Or at least use it as a countertop or in sinks.

Concrete is moving inside, especially making inroads in kitchens and bathrooms.

“Architects love it, and it’s always been in their back pocket as far as doing something that’s really durable, great for wear and tear and really cost-effective at the same time,” says Chris Hawley of Radiant Homes in Fargo.

He’s quick to point out that while there may be more buzz about using the hard surface now, the material has been used in homes since the ancient Romans and Greeks. Concrete got a lift again with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian and Prairie School designs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hawley says the people who are drawn to concrete tend to have an eye for contemporary design.

Zach Zeis started working for flooring companies over summer breaks from college. He grew to appreciate concrete as a finished product in the home and realized it would work just as well as a countertop or a sink, the kind of work his company, Zeis Concrete Solutions does now.

Because the material is poured out before it sets, just like an outdoor slab, it allows for some creative flexibility in designs. Similarly, by creating a higher profile around visible edges gives the piece a greater sense of density or weight, even if it’s actually less than an inch thick beneath the surface.

And because concrete starts off as a liquid, it’s easier to add color to it or elements to give it visual texture, like terrazzo, even if the surface is ground smooth.

“(It’s for) people who can appreciate a unique piece,” Zeis says. “You get something that you can make your own.”

Which is exactly what Kim Solberg wanted.

“I wanted something unique and something created the way I wanted it,” says the graphic designer.

She had Zeis create a concrete vessel sink for the bathroom in her Fargo home. It was installed late last year, and she has been happy with her choice.

“I like it. I really like it,” she says. “It cleans up very nice.”

Zeiss recently finished a commissioned sink and countertop mounted on an old cabinet. The concrete was mixed with a white color to make it look like marble, and through various coats of sealer and buffing, gave it a nice, soft shine.

He brought the piece to last month’s Red River Valley Home & Garden Show and enjoyed people’s reaction.

“They were very surprised that was concrete,” he said.

Not everyone is sold on the hard surface, however.

“It’s kind of an uphill battle,” Hawley says when asked how clients react when he brings it up as a possibility. He says people still associate it with outdoor patios, driveways or parking lots.

“I don’t know if a lot of people are familiar with what you can do with it from a finished perspective, so they’re always nervous about it coming off as non-finished,” Hawley says.

Depending on how it is finished, concrete can be very cost-effective. Hawley says using standard gray can run a few dollars a square foot.

“That’s on par with the cheapest floor covering you can get, which would be carpet,” he says.

Stamping or grinding can be done, but that will raise the cost comparable to wood floors or laminate, Hawley says.

Zeiss says concrete counters start equal to low-to-mid grade granite but allow for more designing since it is poured to form, not cut to fit. And because there’s very little shrinkage as the concrete sets, built-ins, like a pull-out cutting board in a kitchen counter, are easy to plan for.

Hawley says the biggest drawback of concrete is the occasional upkeep, needing to reseal the surface from time to time.

Zeis acknowledges that concrete isn’t carefree, especially in the kitchen where lemon juice, red wine and vinegar can mark the surface.

“If people are diligent about caring for the surface they have, just like any other surface, they’ll get a lifetime-plus out of concrete,” he says.

“It’s a different look. It’s way more handmade it’s almost like a leather. It feels less fabricated,” Hawley says. “It’s a great handmade aesthetic.”

Zeis says the changing aspect of the surface is what gives it character.

“You have to be able to live with something that ages a different way than normal materials you’d find at Home Depot,” he says. “(A store bought piece) looks really nice for a period of time, then it starts to break down. With concrete, it’s a very slow degradation of material and in a lot of applications it’s a beautiful process … It’s not for everybody, just like Formica’s not for everybody.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533