Kitchen Counters: Concrete, the Nearly Indestructible Option

Kitchen Counters: Concrete, the Nearly Indestructible Option

Infinitely customizable and with an amazingly long life span, concrete countertops are an excellent option for any kitchen

Concrete, the humble material behind many a building foundation, makes for nearly indestructible kitchen counters and offers artisan-crafted customization in both color and layout. With these bragging rights, concrete rises above much of the countertop competition. Learn more below and see whether concrete counters are right for your kitchen.
eclectic kitchen Eclectic Kitchen

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The basics: Concrete is composed of water, a binder and a filler.

  • The binder, cement, is most commonly Portland cement, but slag cement and fly ash — both industrial waste by-products — are becoming common additions.
  • The filler, an aggregate, can be anything from sand, gravel and stone to crushed glass and beads.

Concrete counters are either precast or cast onsite (also known as cast in place).

  • Precast concrete counters are cast offsite by a local artisan, who pours the counter based on a template of the layout.
  • Cast-in-place (or site-cast) concrete counters are poured right on top of the cabinets and finished in place.

Cost: $100 to $150 per square foot installed.

Advantages: Concrete’s durability is unquestionable. And options beyond the industrial aesthetic are easy with shapes and additives like stains, pigments, aggregates and coatings. Architects and designers favor this material’s ability to unite with other concrete elements in the home, like floors. And because the counters are handmade by artisans, you can easily have details such as integral drainboards.

Disadvantages: It’s not unusual for concrete, especially when cast in place, to develop tiny hairline cracks as a result of curing and settling. The cracks are typically not structural.

Special considerations: Colored concrete can be created by one of three processes:

  • Integral pigment is a colored powder that’s mixed into the wet concrete, resulting in a color that penetrates the full depth of the slab. This is a permanent and predictable way to color your slab, and the color choices are nearly limitless.
  • Acid staining is less predictable than an integral pigment but adds a little magic to the process courtesy of metallic salts that react with the concrete. Acid staining is performed on hardened slabs and results in a permanent color change, but offers a reduced number of color options.
  • Dye, a liquid available in a wide range of colors, is applied to cured slabs and penetrates only the top layer of the concrete. Some dyes are not UV stable.

Your installer can help determine which, if any, color process is right for you.

Maintenance: As with most countertops, a mild soap and a cloth are all that should be used for routine cleanup. Be sure to avoid harsh cleansers.

The long-term enjoyment of your concrete counter depends on finding the right sealer. Sealers are available in either penetrating or topical:

  • Penetrating sealers soak into the concrete and are barely detectable once dry. They don’t protect the concrete from contact with spills but do inhibit spills from penetrating. Unfortunately, this means that spills can leave a lasting stain or mark more easily than on concrete sealed with a topical sealer.
  • Topical sealers, such as wax, urethane, acrylic and epoxy, coat the surface of the concrete and vary in their look and performance. Epoxy and urethane sealers are thick, glossy and often obvious. Wax, while handsome and easy for the DIYer, performs poorly as a sealer. Acrylic coatings look and perform fairly well but scratch easily.

While the Concrete Countertop Institute acknowledges that there is no ideal sealer, it has a handy chart to help you find the sealer that will best meet your expectations.

It’s worth understanding that while concrete is nearly indestructible, the sealer is not. The sealer can be compromised by surface cutting, harsh cleansers, hot pans,\ and acidic foods. With care and the use of cutting boards and trivets, you can keep your sealer in good shape, thereby reducing the potential for staining and harboring germs.

modern kitchen by Steve Hamm

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Sustainability: The cement in concrete is derived from heating limestone, which is a carbon-intensive process that creates gas emissions. However, slag cement, fly ash and silica fume — all industrial waste by-products that are carbon neutral — can replace more than 50 percent of the cement, reducing emissions and improving the concrete’s ecofriendliness.

More: Compare kitchen counter materials

Bad experiences with past projects should not prevent clients from making it right!

Over the years I’ve been struck by how often I’ve heard the same phrase from potential clients who are anticipating dipping a toe in the decorating waters. Scarred by a bad experience with a designer or the results of a well-intended DIY-project gone wrong, the details of the stories are always different but the narrative begins the same: “If we had it to do over again…” No matter what the project, budget or scope, the determination to avoid regret is universal.

As a designer coming into this level of hesitation, I’ve always found the best way to minimize present concerns and prevent future regrets is to make the significant investment of time that is mapping out a solid plan, revising that plan as necessary, even if that means a project will take longer, and–most importantly–managing client expectations about the amount of time their project will take. The need for quick gratification almost always leads to an enduring discontentment, something the pros, and their seasoned clients, know well.

In the Fall issue of New England Home Connecticut, Greenwich designer Linda Ruderman admitted that even after living in her home for years, “It’s still evolving.”

Photo by Laura Moss for New England Home


The following before-and-after shots come from clients who revisited past design projects gone wrong, and in the end, were happy they did.

A “before” shot of a regrettable kitchen.

The “after” shot is world’s apart.

A vanity with a dated, DIY-look.

The same space with a professional touch.

The best things in life are worth waiting for.

Common concerns about working with a designer, and why I can calm those fears

Feather Your Nest Interiors
Elaine Ley O’Neil

What are the common fears associated with working with a designer?

*Too expensive
*I will lose individuality, input, choice, CONTROL
*My home will not be “my own”
*I will have to get rid of everything I have, and start from scratch

Why SHOULD I work with a designer?
*Create a comprehensive, cohesive plan that can be implemented in stages
*Space planning and room design/furniture placement to maximize your living areas
*Avoid costly mistakes

Why  collaborate specifically with Elaine and Feather Your Nest?

My  answers to your concerns:

*Too expensive?   I am committed to working within any budget, and
SAVING money for my clients Because I am not aligned with any particular store or brands, I can 5nd high quality furnishings, fabrics, bedding and accessories at “best bang for the buck” prices. I rely on my extensive knowledge of where those “best buys” can be found….whether buying at consignment, auctions and estate sales, or designer-only resources. When I purchase through designer-only resources, my clients pay only my designer cost (generally 30% to 50% of retail.)

*I will lose individuality, input, choice, CONTROL? *My home will not be “my own.”
I never impose my style or will on my clients, but rather I work with them to create interiors that are truly reflective of them, not of me!

*I will have to get rid of everything I have, and start from scratch.
Unlike many designers, I encourage my clients to keep those pieces they love (*within reason) and incorporate them into the new design *good condition, compatible with the décor they envision, etc.

Even on the smallest project, I will always:
*Create a comprehensive, cohesive plan that can be implemented in stages, with   *Space planning and room design/furniture placement to maximize your living areas
To assure that my clients *Avoid costly mistakes

My Commitment to You

I pledge to help my clients achieve the home they have always envisioned at a price within their budget.
All things are possible, even affordable elegance!

Small spaces and big solutions

Great suggestions for how how to make the best of the “smaller-than-you-wish-they-were” areas in your home. (compliments of Better Homes and Gardens) Read on and you may find a perfect solution to YOUR problem!

Problem: Too much furniture in an itty-bitty space.

Furniture Options

Solution: Tweak arrangements when entertaining large groups of people: Your primary arrangement in a small room should suit your day-to-day needs, but try bringing in chairs from elsewhere and pushing ottomans to the side when hosting large groups. While this arrangement seats only four, the small space isn’t overrun by furniture, and people can easily maneuver around the chairs and love seat during family movie night or an evening by the fire. That also means there is space enough to pull up extra chairs (at the corners of the love seat and next to the fireplace) when guests are in tow.

Problem: You love dark colors but have small spaces.

Color for Small Spaces

Solution: Implement dark colors alongside brights. Peacock blue is enlivened by vivid red  accents and crisp white. Using the accent color in smaller, but more frequent, doses lets blue be the star but balances dark with bright.

Problem: Small bedroom that lacks drama.

Small-Bedroom Decor

Solution: Add luxe details. Chandeliers needn’t be limited to sweeping spaces. A crystal baubled light fixture is a pretty crown for a small bedroom — just be sure to select a fixture that is to scale and doesn’t feel too big for the room. Hang drapes at the ceiling and beyond the window frame to give the suggestion that there is a wall of windows rather than one small one.

Problem: Boring bathrooms and unexpected small spaces
Unexpected Small Space

Solution: Enliven a small bathroom with fun pattern and color on the walls and floor. It adds a happy twist to a utilitarian space. Since it’s a small room, you won’t need to buy as much wallpaper or flooring, a cost-saving perk of a small-space makeover.

Problem: A small but open room.

All-in-One Small Space

Solution: Divide and conquer. Plot the room into zones, creating boundaries with furniture and area rugs. Here, a love seat separates the bar and kitchen from the sitting area. To keep a small and open space from feeling dwarfed, avoid tall pieces of furniture so that the sight line extends across the space. Tall pieces, such as bookcases, can be tucked into corners. By using shorter pieces and arranging furniture to set up zones, you will retain an open quality while bringing order to each part of the room.
Problem:Boring small spaces.
Live It Up

Solution: A light, neutral palette will make a small room feel airy and bright but also runs the risk of reaching into dull territory. Nix the blahs with interesting accents. Here, a strip of molding enlivens the taupe walls, as does a slight paint color shift above and below the trim. Textures also play out well in a small space. This living room relies on the tactile variations of a smooth ceramic stool; nubby sisal rug; and soft, comfy, canvas-slipcovered love seat.

Problem: Shoebox living room that sees a lot of entertaining.

Flexible Furniture

Solution: Utilize flexible furniture that can be easily tucked away or moved. Garden stools can be grouped in the middle of the room to create a coffee table effect but can almost effortlessly be moved next to a sofa so guests have a place to perch their drinks within reach. Being able to relocate furniture in the center of a room also provides more walking space for droves of guests.

Problem: Close quarters.

It's Clear

Solution: Clear furniture. Acrylic chairs and a glass-top table add little visual weight to this small dining space. If your style is more traditional, opt for chairs with open backs and a glass-top table with a less modern, yet minimal, base.








Trim Wraps Up Style for Rooms

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How the interior of a house gets trimmed out contributes greatly to the overall character of that house. In many ways, a well thought-out trim design can turn a drab and plain vanilla interior into something rich and complex, as well as architecturally dynamic.

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