Homeowners Discover that the Material Can Be More than a Foundation
The Fresno Bee
by Nzong Xiongby
Judy and Byron Gabrielsen like the simplicity, the angles and the sleekness that often typify contemporary style.
Add in flavors from the tropics and Asia, and their home — from wicker furniture with large floral prints to a silver glass curio cabinet — is a mix of what they call “casual contemporary.”
But when it comes to finding items to furnish their 2-year-old Visalia home, it hasn’t been easy, they say. They’ve had to order furnishings from catalogs and from abroad; their entertainment unit in the media room, for example, comes from Denmark.
Still, when it came to their floor, they wanted to carry on the contemporary theme. But they didn’t want traditional hardwood floor or carpet, or even popular ceramic or stone tiles. They wanted something different.
They wanted concrete.
“It was appealing to us because we built a very contemporary-style home,” says Byron Gabrielsen, a 55-year-old agriculture consultant. “It’s also easy to maintain. You can always see the dirt, unlike carpet, which hides the dirt.”
After some searching, the Gabrielsens found Doug Carlton with Carlton Concrete in Visalia and worked with him to build a contemporary concrete floor.
Concrete is often used outdoors, by entryways and for patios or pathways, but it also can be used creatively inside a home.
Concrete “is a like a supporting actress,” says Fu-Tung Cheng, an architect in Berkeley and author of Concrete at Home (The Taunton Press, 2005). “Now, it’s coming into its own. It’s becoming a finished product.”
But concrete isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t like unpredictability.
Flexible and Unpredictable
What makes concrete popular to work with is its flexibility. The concrete, which goes right on top of the foundation slab, can be troweled smooth or given a texture. It can be stamped with a repetitive pattern, stained in multiple colors, or ground and polished.
“One of the exciting things [with concrete] is everything is custom,” says Sergio Ilic, president of Heritage Bomanite in Fresno. “You can create a really unique look that’s difficult to replicate” with other flooring options.
The Gabrielsens decided to stain the first-floor concrete of their two-story home, or about 2,800 square feet, a buff-tan color. To give the floor a little contrast, they picked some squares at random and stained them a darker, adobe hue.
“The thing about staining is that it’s unpredictable,” Byron Gabrielsen says. “When they poured the slab, we had them put in a hardener. You can get it [the hardener] in different colors. We got a coconut-white color.”
When the concrete hardened, “it looked like a painted wall,” he says. “That gave us a good palette to do the staining. It stained more true to color. When you stain gray concrete, it might take on a dirtier or earthy look.”
When the floor was completed, it looked like large, marbled squares. “It’s awesome,” Gabrielsen says.
Melissa Wolf’s Fresno home came with gray-black concrete floors and kitchen countertop. Trying to lighten up the house, she replaced the floors with a cream-colored concrete floor that has a marbled look, with blues and browns. Wolf wanted the floor to act like an extension of the backyard swimming pool and still match the house’s metal structure.
“I think it suits the place,” says 59-year-old Wolf.
Doug Collins and his wife, Lori Medicus, have a brown, textured stamped-concrete floor with various-sized squares and rectangles. They initially considered tile, but decided to give concrete a try after hearing radio ads about the product.
He added that it also helped seeing an example of stamped concrete in Ilic’s home. “The texture is one of the most appealing parts,” says Collins, 58, a weather forecaster for KFSN, Channel 30. “They all look different. People thought they were individual stones. They couldn’t believe it was concrete.” The floor also goes well with their home’s country decor.
Besides floors, concrete can be used in other applications, such as countertops, walls and fireplaces.
Homeowners like concrete for more than just its look. Nicole Guglielmo decided to give it a try in her bedroom in hopes of relieving her severe allergies.
“I had carpet in there,” says Guglielmo, a 25-year-old Fresno legal assistant. “I decided on some sort of wood floor or tile, but when I came across Art & Design Concrete, I liked concrete better. It looks more modern. The appearance looks like huge slabs of marble, and you don’t have all the dander that carpet harbors.”
Another plus of concrete is its low maintenance. Spills can be cleaned easily with a rag or mop, while dirt can be swept up with a broom or vacuum. The floor should be waxed once or twice a year and resealed every two to five years.
If concrete seems a little cold in both look and feel for indoors, how you pair it with other materials becomes important.
“It’s a matter of how you complement it,” Cheng says. “If you link it with marble, wood, granite … all these things can help warm it up.”
For floors, area rugs will easily give a room some warmth. “We have a lot of large area rugs,” Gabrielsen says. “In the winter, it feels very normal. You don’t feel cold or chilled. In the summer, it’s cool.”
Problems Can Be Solved
The cost of concrete work varies. Art & Design charges about $3 a square foot. Custom designs or other details in the concrete cost more. Decorative concrete starts at $8.50 a square foot at Heritage Bomanite.
But before you have the concrete poured, know you might be out of your house for a few days. The whole process — including preparing, staining or stamping, and sealing — can take several days or longer.
“A lot of times, the homeowners will have us start on Friday and they will leave for the weekend,” says Sam Alvarez, co-owner of Art & Design Concrete in Clovis.
Occasionally, hairline cracks may appear. Like tile, “it’s bonded to the concrete floor,” Ilic says. “If the foundation cracks, it’ll crack, too.”
If a hairline crack bothers you, then concrete might not be for you, he says.
There’s also a level of uncertainty when working with colors on concrete. They may come out darker or lighter than you’d like, but the company always can go back and change it.
When Collins’ concrete color came out more reddish-orange, he asked Heritage Bomanite to make it more brown. “The color is unpredictable,” he says.
Guglielmo adds: “If you want something that’s totally consistent, that person should go see a couple [of floors] first. The concrete has character. There are going to be variations” of color throughout the concrete.
While colors might be easier to change, changing a stamped pattern won’t be so easy. “It’s a chore to get out,” Ilic says. “You definitely want to make sure you want it.”
Alvarez adds: “It’s concrete; it’s not going anywhere. The color stays for life.”
But if you get concrete floors and truly don’t like the result, well, don’t fret.
“You can always cover it up,” Gabrielsen says.