Concrete – Old Material, New Purpose
A flying history into the use of concrete goes back thousands of years where Nabatean traders in the Syrian/North Jordan region created concrete-like materials around 6500 BC.
The Greeks started using a natural pozzolan (which is used to increase the paste content and decrease the water/cement ratio) around 600 BC and the Romans were successfully building structures using concrete around 200 BC.
The Pantheon was built by Rome’s Emperor Hadrian and completed in 125 AD and remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.
Fast forward to more recent times, concrete remains to be used as a foundational building material but it has also experienced a resurgence in being used as a material for the production of indoor and outdoor surfaces as well as furniture.
Over the last decade or so in Australia, polished concrete floors have become increasingly common for commercial, retail, and residential applications. The industrial, but finished look of polished concrete, as well as the comfort of underfloor heating, has seen more and more people consider this for a new or existing home.
Following design trends from commercial and retail applications, home-owners/builders/architects/designers are increasingly seeing concrete as an alternative to traditional surfaces such as stone, marble, laminex etc. as well as furniture such as a concrete outdoor table with matching concrete bench seating.
The beauty of concrete as a building material is that there are many methods, materials, different aggregates, colours, tints/stains, and finishes that can be used. There is no one way or single right way of doing things. There are wrong ways of using concrete, however. Not using an applicable mix, not protecting the concrete during the drying period, rushing a material that is not designed to be rushed. A large crack, uneven edge due to poor forming and poor finishing methods will highlight something went wrong.
Finishes include the natural grey polished look, embedded glass and ground back, fibre optic lights, rough and semi-rough finishes as well as complementing with the natural look of wood. There are thousands of examples on the internet as well as groups online that can help share ideas and experience.
All going well, a concrete benchtop/countertop/fire surround etc will turn out looking solid and absolutely unique like a fingerprint, with each piece having its own characteristics and tiny flaws that will make it like no other.
Concrete benchtops/countertops and furniture can either be purchased as is, ordered to fit, or even a DIY project. When purchased as is, you may want to check the sealer used as it may just be a thin layer of wax that will quickly be removed with use and will expose the item to stains.
Using a contractor/tradie is a really good option if you choose an experienced and reputable company/person. If you are looking for an exact, blemish free, 100% perfect product to the exact colour (it will probably be around 99%), you may be disappointed, however (most people aren’t).
The good news is, with a bit of research, testing a mix, applicable method in creating a benchtop/countertop/outdoor BBQ using either the mold or pour in place method, vibrating and finishing the concrete properly (screeding, troweling etc), it is possible to create a unique piece that you can be proud of that everyone will talk about when they see it.