Since the days of ancient Rome, men have used concrete to build roads, bridges and buildings. But in the past decade, it has crept into interior renovations for use in walls, counters and even furniture.
"There's something alive about concrete," said concrete furniture designer James DeWulf. "You can't help rub your fingers over it. A liquid that turns to stone ... what's not to love?"
DeWulf creates high-end furniture, like his concrete Ping Pong table that doubles as a dining table and costs more than $4,000. He is among a growing number of "concrete artisans," or people trained in the decorative use of concrete, and his designs illustrate how concrete is being manipulated into home interiors.
Concrete has been used as a subfloor for decades, but many homeowners, especially those who want the modern industrial urban look found in many condos, are installing polished concrete floors stained in all kinds of colors. The concrete is poured and then polished to the desire texture before it cements.
"It's about personal style," said Brandon Butler, who co-owns Denny + Gardner and is trained in decorative concrete fabrication. "They want to get away from something that looks 'everyday.' People in the District are more willing to take a chance on a new trend."
Once in place, Butler said the floor requires sealing and waxing, or it can start to look like a driveway.
With countertops, the process is more like baking a cake, Butler said. "The main thing to remember about concrete fabrication is that 75 percent of the work is carpentry-related," he said. "You're making forms, you're building shapes, and you're filling the forms like you would a cake."
Butler said anywhere wood is used, a concrete product can be substituted for it. Concrete can be made to look like stone or steel. "It's a very malleable product in that you can do just about anything with it," he added.
Concrete sinks can be as thick as apron farmhouse basins or as sleek as porcelain. Counters can look as polished as marble or have a matte finish like honed granite.
"When people think concrete countertops, they think they're going to have a sidewalk or driveway over cabinets," said Josh Anderson, owner of Woodbridge-based Concrete Artisans. "We can take concrete and create whatever look you want. It's durable, customizable and something different."
Anderson said decorative concrete counters cost from $100 to $150 per square foot, depending upon the amount of customization. More expensive than granite, concrete counters are for those who seek something unique.
"The type of people who come to me are the ones who have already done their research," Anderson said. "They already know they want concrete countertops. Their mind is made up. They want something different."