Not so many years ago, few people would have called concrete cool.

But just look at it now.

The stuff of sidewalks and warehouse floors is finding a new niche in home design, both indoors and outdoors. Artisans are crafting the utilitarian material into all sorts of innovative forms — countertops with built-in water features and fiber-optic lighting, terrazzo-look floors and table tops that resemble stone.

And none of them looks anything like your driveway.

Concrete has taken a creative leap in recent years, partly because of improvements in materials and techniques and partly because of imaginative minds.

Two of those minds belong to Joe Gingerich and Eric Klein, who own the Stark County, Ohio, businesses G&M Construction and Klein’s Lawn & Landscaping, respectively. They collaborate on outdoor living spaces such as patios and kitchens.

Together they’ve turned out such creations as a wine cellar in faux stucco and brick, a garden walkway embedded with a leaf design and bar tops accented with stream beds and waterfalls. One of those bar tops featured a stream flowing with what looked like spilled wine.

Concrete presents almost limitless decorative possibilities, they said. It can be formed into slabs, vessels and other shapes. It can be scored or sandblasted. Existing concrete can be polished and dyed or resurfaced with a thin layer of new concrete.

And because of the custom work that goes into them, the resulting products are unique.

Concrete is “for very open-minded, artistic people,” said Ryan Fairbanks, who like Gingerich and Klein makes his living through creative uses of the material. “If you want something cookie-cutter, this isn’t yours.”

Fairbanks is co-owner of Creative Concepts in Medina, Ohio, which specializes in custom concrete designs. He and his partner, Mike Piazza (the concrete guy, not the former baseball player), were recently installing a countertop embedded with glass chips at Guava, a juice bar in Stow, Ohio.

They’d already revived the existing, plain concrete floor in the main part of the store by grinding down the top to reveal the granular aggregate, which produces a look similar to terrazzo. Then they scored a design into the concrete, dyed each section of the design a different color and polished the floor to enhance its appearance. The store’s logo, a depiction of a guava, was being sandblasted into the surface.

In another part of the store, the floor got a different look from being coated with a glossy epoxy and tinted with metallic pigments.

Concrete, whether it’s used for countertops or cinder blocks, is all made pretty much the same way, by combining cement, water and some type of aggregate, such as sand or gravel. Concrete used for decorative purposes, however, sometimes contains a more attractive type of aggregate. And the concrete may contain additives and have reinforcements embedded that make it stronger, more flexible and less porous, Gingerich said.

Concrete is durable and environmentally friendly, but it’s not necessarily cheap — at least not in its more innovative forms. A new concrete countertop, for example, typically costs about the same as granite or cultured stone, Fairbanks said. Gingerich and Klein said their prices start around $70 a square foot and can easily double with the addition of complex features.

That’s because of the labor involved, the contractors explained. The materials are inexpensive, but the construction of forms, the creation of special accents and the application of colors and finishes all increase the cost.


Jason Geiser displays a range of decorative concrete options at his Deco-Crete Supply showroom in Sugar Creek Township, just outside Orrville. A supplier for other contractors, he creates concrete samples to show them some of the material’s possibilities — applications such as floors that mimic flagstone, tile or even barn wood, and walls made from concrete troweled onto metal lath and then sculpted and stamped to look like stone. He’s even used concrete to create imitation trees.

The countertop in his showroom has water flowing through an imitation stream, with a lip built in so a sheet of glass can rest over the stream. Light from a fiber-optic system glows through some of the glass chips and sparkles through pinpoint holes.

“I’m constantly toying around back there,” Geiser said, gesturing toward a backroom work area. That day, he was reviving a plastic-laminate countertop by coating it with a thin layer of concrete and spraying epoxy on a decorative floor.

Much of the variation in the look of decorative concrete comes in how it’s colored. Dying concrete produces a fairly uniform appearance; hand-applied stains can create more artistic variations. Colors can be added to the finishes, too.

Concrete is porous, so some type of finish is typically applied to seal and protect it. Epoxies produce a hard surface that can be glossy or matte but can yellow with exposure to sunlight, so they’re often used for indoor applications such as floors and tabletops. Professional-quality sealers are often applied to guard against stains both indoors and outdoors and to protect against the punishing conditions outdoors. Wax gives a more natural, low-luster look and is easy to repair.

Concrete can be expected to last the life of a building, Fairbanks said. “And if you ever get sick of it, you can grind it down and dye it a different color.”

And by that time, who knows what the possibilities will be?


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