From top-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay Area to sprawling mountain homes in the Colorado Rockies, discriminating homeowners are demanding custom designs and finishes in their kitchens. In particular, they are looking to express their individuality and distinct design preferences with the fast-growing design material of choice - concrete.
In fact, concrete countertops have become somewhat of a status symbol for kitchens, rivaling granite and other high-end countertop surface options. Consumer Reports Magazine (August 2004) ranked concrete highest for its "customization" and "exclusivity" among high-end kitchen countertops.
As a custom product, the amount of time and craftsmanship required to produce concrete countertops places them as the most labor-intensive and priciest among leading countertop materials.
However, concrete countertops are becoming more accessible for those on a modest budget. The latest do-it-yourself (DIY) trend to captivate homeowners and builders is building your own concrete countertop. This phenomenon has gained popularity largely due to Cheng's best-selling book Concrete Countertops: Design, Forms, and Finishes for the New Kitchen and Bath (Taunton Press, 2002). According to Cheng, there is little monetary investment in making concrete countertops, yet the creative gains of working with concrete are plentiful.
Increasingly, homeowners are moving away from the monotonous, manufactured look of traditional countertop surfaces and choosing concrete for its earthy, timeless appeal. Plus, the options for personalizing concrete countertops are endless: one can color, polish, stamp and stain concrete or imbed personal objects like stones, seashells and fossils into the countertop's surface, adding sentiment and character. Functional features such as drain boards, soap dishes, and trivets can also be incorporated to suit the homeowners' own needs and lifestyle.
Concrete is slowly becoming demystified as characteristically cold and industrial. In contrary, this age-old material is warm and surprisingly tactile; people cannot help but touch their smooth, polished surfaces. Real estate agent Joy Rasmussen, who has recently sold her mountain home - a short-term investment property in Steamboat Springs, CO - recounts her visitors' experiences with concrete: "When I had open houses, visitors gravitated to the concrete countertops - many people around here have never seen them".
Joy's 2,265 sq. ft. mountain home was a custom build by her husband, Ken Otterman, along with KJ Otterman, president of Classic Special Custom Homes. They built pour-in-place concrete counters for the home's kitchen and three bathrooms by using Concrete Countertops as their guide. The sand-colored concrete countertops were polished smooth, then paired with natural slate of varying colors - like charcoal, rust and gold tones - that forms the backsplashes in the kitchen and baths. As a design accent, small rectangular slate tiles were added to the rim of the bathroom sinks, which provided a unique detail to the custom vanities.
When Joy and Ken decided to sell their house, their investment in concrete countertops proved its value. "We were able to list the house $20,000 over market value, and had no problems selling it," comments Joy, while discussing the long list of upgrades throughout their house, including knotty pine solid doors, natural slate wall accents and hardwood floors. "The concrete countertops were easily the most unique and impressive of all the finishes. I believe they were a huge part in adding value to the home. Around here, all you see in homes are granite countertops -and I really think homebuyers are getting quite numb with granite."
"Concrete countertops are a unique offering to homebuyers who see the same finishes used in house after house they visit," explains Joy, offering her observation as a seasoned realtor. "Having concrete countertops almost gives you bragging rights - you have something different from your neighbors."
BREAKING THE MOLD
Another advantage of concrete is its adaptability in either modern or traditional settings, especially when coupled with other materials like varied metals, wood or stone. "Concrete adds so many [possibilities] to stone, and the combination with slate, which is hugely popular here, gives the mountain homes an overall warm, natural touch," says Joy.
Joy and Ken have since built a much larger home (4,000 sq. ft.) that offers expansive views of the Steamboat Ski Resort and is meant to serve as a long-term investment for the couple. They've also expanded their list of custom finishes, including hand-troweled walls, elegant oil-rubbed bronze hardware, knotty pine doors that arch at the top, cabinets in a natural, knotty alder, and their favorite - concrete kitchen countertops.
Unlike in their previous home, KJ and his specialty crew poured charcoal-colored countertops using the pre-cast method in the unfinished basement of the new home. Before pouring the concrete, they sprinkled an array of semi-precious stones in the mold including Leopardskin, Moonstone, Mother-of-Pearl and Turquoise. After the surface was ground and lightly polished, the finished result was an impressive blend of colors, "By far, the Mother-of-Pearl was the most incredible," says Joy.
The L-shaped concrete countertop has a rough, rustic stone appearance, complementing its rugged country surroundings. An integral drain board and trivets provides function and added interest to the concrete countertop. Natural slate backsplashes, distinct wall accents, and a butcher block countertop at the kitchen island all resonate with the traditional warmth and earthiness of the concrete countertops.
Joy and Ken's respective backgrounds in real estate and custom homebuilding, and as investment homebuyers, have helped them realize that concrete countertops can add tremendous aesthetic and financial value to a home. Concrete's customization and "show-stopping" appeal is like no other countertop surface. Cheng is a proponent of emotional aesthetics and building homes that capture these emotions, as in the case of Joy and Ken Otterman. Cheng concludes: "People really want differentiation, something personal, something custom - and concrete can do that for them."
About the Author:
Deborah Meyer previously worked as Marketing Assistant for Cheng Design, an interior design company headed by award-winning designer Fu-Tung Cheng, who has pioneered the use of interior concrete. Deborah's work included writing press releases with a focus on the do-it-yourself stories of the company's customers. http://www.ConcreteExchange.com