The Wonder of Concrete

Concrete Casts A Spell

The latest Harry Potter film debuts this week, which made me think that if Harry designed patios, kitchens, or bathrooms, he’d use a lot of concrete. That’s because it’s so malleable and expressive and, like the best potions, incorporates both ordinary and unusual ingredients for special effects. But you don’t have to be a wizard to see the possibilities in this remarkable age-old material. Here’s a Gryffindor Common Room of counters, sinks, pavers, and garden benches to prompt your own transformations.

Let’s begin with concrete innovator Fu-Tung Cheng, founder of Cheng Design, author of Concrete Countertops Made Simple (Taunton 2008).

sidepic_ccms book fu tung

The book speaks to the do-it-yourselfer, incorporating techniques, tips, and advice from his long career teaching people how to work with concrete. (Of the 350 members of his website, 250 have been trained as concrete installers by Fu-Tung himself.) It’s useful for anyone building a new home. Here’s a page showing three installations:

ccms_sample_04 image from book fu tung

The green triangular counter with the integral round sink is an example of sculptural geometry, and turns a tight corner into an expansive vanity; it’s practical as well as beautiful.

Fu-Tung designed the warm coppery orange-hued hearth (below) for a contemporary kitchen.

concrete_counter_04 rust colored Fun Tung

The smooth waxed finish and depth of color make you want to run your hand along the surface. I like the idea that this counter is both a hearth and a buffet.

Or here’s a concrete solution for a tight rear yard: a circular patio ringed with a bench.

ds_le_dowd_01 fu tung sf rear yard

The bench artfully outlines the terrace while providing ample places to sit. It frames the space and frees it at the same time: truly a form of design magic.

ds_le_dowd_05 fu tung better detail bench

Notice the characteristic Cheng detail: inserted elements — stones, rough texture, contrasting color — that draw the eye and add personality to abstraction. Here’s a view across the patio back to the house.

ds_le_dowd_07 fu tung rear yard back to house

It shows how the bench starts flush with the deck and edges the steps down to the patio floor. Such a compact, low maintenance yard suits a dense infill lot.

When I spoke with Fu-Tung recently he reminded me of concrete’s environmental qualities. He said: “85% of a bag of cement is sand and gravel, which is harvested locally, and so the carbon footprint is low compared to what’s required to cut and transport granite, for example.”

Fu-Tung is also branching into FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) cabinetry with his new Plyboo line at Tonusa.

Sonoma Cast Stone is a company that continues to make waves — literally — in the concrete world.

earthcrete sonoma stone wave sink

I’m thinking of their marvelous undulating sinks, like the one above, which have been evolving ever since they debuted at the National Kitchen & Bath Show some years ago.


I’m also a fan of their Ramp Sink, shown above, versions of which Sunset used in several Idea Houses. Sonoma Stone also invented “Stainless Nucrete,” part of their lighter weight Earthcrete line, designed to resist staining from limes, lemons, tomatoes, wine, and oil, (which adds a patina that some customers do not appreciate). According Sonoma Stone: “Liquid soap and a wet sponge will keep EarthCrete totally new and guaranteed so.” Earthcrete products make use of recycled paper fibers, glass, ceramics, and industrial by-products such as fly-ash. The company is also known for an ever expanding array of concrete tiles and pavers, including their so called “Soft Stone,”

tiles13 soft stone sonoma

which has a pillowed look.

Concreteworks has made a splash with the clarity and simplicity of their designs, especially owner-artist Mark Rogero’s marvelous egg-shaped tubs, like the Napali, below.

t-napali by mark rogero

Getting into it must be almost like returning to the womb!

Concrete lends itself to a spare elegant esthetic,

spatub1 by concreteworks

as illustrated by this serene spa by Concreteworks East Studio and Catherine Gerry Interiors (photo by Todd Mason from the Concreteworks Blog). There is a Concreteworks Gallery with work by other artists as well, such as Alexis Moran’s architectural bookends (below).

t-bookends by Alexis Moran at concreteworks

They would make a good introduction to the material if you don’t want to spring for a kitchen counter or spa tub immediately, not to mention an easy way to store your collection of J. K. Rowling books! Or you could just sit back and use Harry’s summoning charm: Accio Concrete!

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