It seems like everywhere you look, you see decorative concrete - churches, restaurants, hotels, zoos, people's homes.
And a lot of times you might find it difficult to believe that what you're looking at started out with the same basic ingredients as the everyday gray slabs of concrete we have grown accustomed to seeing. No one has to settle for gray anymore, and decorative concrete has turned out to be a material in which human imagination is its only limit.
Mike Verlennich, who owns and operates Verlennich Masonry and Concrete with his brother Dave in Staples, Minn., says decorative concrete has finally reached the mainstream as an accepted interior/exterior finish all over the United States.
"We're starting to see architects and designers specifying the products, whereas even five years ago most of these products were consumer driven," Verlennich says. "When someone comes out with something new, initially the consumer asks the builder or architect or designer for this product. Then as the consumers continue to drive a particular product or process, eventually the other end catches on and then the designers, architects and builders start specifying and offering these things as an option to their customers. That's where we're getting to in the decorative concrete field."
Janine Flynn, CEO at Super Stone, says she also sees the decorative concrete industry growing, and says people are just excited about concrete. She also sees something different in some of Super Stone's new customers.
"We have our customers who have been with us for years, and then we have a new breed of contractors who are very interested in decorative concrete's artistic offerings," she says.
There also seems to be a change in the customers who request decorative concrete.
"The customer is much more sophisticated and much more demanding now, so they expect a high level of skill and professionalism from the decorative concrete contractor," says Sherry Boyd, director of marketing at L.M. Scofield Company. "Before, anybody who could do something that looked reasonably good, people would say 'wow,' but now people are so accustomed to seeing decorative concrete that they really notice the details."
Contractors can do just about anything with concrete these days - three-dimensional aquarium walls, animal footprints at a zoo, or images and designs of just about anything stained into a floor. Residential projects like fire pits, benches or tables are utilitarian and unique at the same time. One residential project that seems to be a hot project all over the country is concrete countertops.
"There are a variety of reasons why these countertops are popular," says Bob Harris, president of the Decorative Concrete Institute in Douglasville, Ga. "I would say it's their uniqueness, since you're able to custom build these countertops to meet the clients' needs. And also you can achieve any color imaginable, whereas with the other building material, such as slate or granite or tile, you're somewhat limited in your color choice and selection. And you're also able to do things like integrated sinks and drain boards, backsplashes all poured monolithically, and there is no other building material on earth that you can do that with."
Tom Ralston of Tom Ralston Concrete in Santa Cruz, Calif., says he sees concrete countertops as a way for people to distinguish themselves from other people.
"More than just being unique, it is something that can be personalized by clients or interior designers, and the contractor himself," he says. "You can come up with as many as 800 different colors. We've embedded silver stars in one countertop, real starfish with shells, aquarium sand and beach glass; it just goes on and on."