Kitchens and Baths
Concrete has been used in recent years for specialty items such as bathtubs, sinks, and I avatories, and especially as countertops. Concrete countertops have become “do-it-yourself” projects for homeowners.
When constructed by professionals, the concrete surfaces can have a highly crafted appearance. The appearance of a concrete countertop can range from a raw Brutalist aesthetic to a highly finished surface, polished to resemble stone. Glass and other exposed aggregates give the product a terrazzo look. Concrete countertops are porous and must be sealed.
Concrete is an ancient material made from cement, aggregate, and water. The components of concrete have been improved throughout its history, most significantly with the development of Portland Cement in the nineteenth century. Because concrete is strong in compression but weak in tension, steel is used to reinforce concrete, creating a hybrid product that has allowed concrete to become a common and relatively inexpensive material for building construction. Concrete is also used because it is durable, fire resistant, and made from renewable natural materials that can be recycled. In interior construction, concrete and concrete masonry unit walls are used in locations that require high fire-resistance ratings, such as to enclose stairwells and mechanical rooms. In an interior, concrete and similar products such as concrete masonry units are common substrates to which other finish materials are applied. However, some concrete is intended to be exposed, such as concrete in structures designed in the Brutalist style. This concrete may be textured or have exposed aggregate that adds to its decorative quality. Ground-faced concrete masonry units are designed with intrinsic color and exposed aggregates, requiring no additional finish.
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Concrete’s plasticity or ability to be molded into almost any shape means that concrete can be formed to mimic other materials such as stone, or formed to have decorative surfaces resulting from the shape and texture of the mold or the texture and color of exposed aggregate. Concrete can be made into a variety of products, including furniture and components of interior construction such as stairs, fireplaces, countertops, bathtubs, and sinks.
The interior designer must not only understand the characteristics of concrete as a building material but must also understand methods of treating concrete surfaces, either as a substrate or a finished surface. Concrete as an exposed finish material may be sealed, stained, or painted. The surface of exposed concrete can be stamped and treated for a range of textures from rough to polished.
Admixture is a term that means something is added to a mixture. In concrete, admixtures are products added to the concrete mix to achieve a desired result. Admixtures include retarders to slow curing, plasticizers and super-plasticizers that reduce the need for water and add strength, and coloring agents, such as Metakaolin for white concrete.
Cinders/Cinder blocks Burned slag cinders, a by-product of steel production, are sometimes used as aggregate in concrete. Concrete masonry units made with cinders were popular in the 1930s and referred to as cinder blocks.