Set in Stone
Concrete moves to the top of the counter

Tony and Laurie Adamo of Fresno, Calif., needed a countertop for the bar in their game and bar room. But they didn't want just any kind of countertop.

Tony Adamo's instructions to his interior designer, Linda Zoerb of Fresno: "I told her to design it and stay away from my taste because I'm more conservative. I wanted something more fun."

She went with concrete. And after the concrete mixture was poured into a mold at the house and had hardened, Zoerb made a swirl design using gray and black pigment powder before it was sealed.

"She did a great job," said Adamo, 56 and owner of All American Sports Fan stores. "I love it. We entertain a lot, and it gets a lot of use."

Concrete isn't just for floors. It also can be used for countertops. And if you want something custom, you can't beat concrete.

The concept of using concrete for countertops has been becoming more popular, especially in the last five years, said Sergio Ilic, president of Heritage Bomanite in Fresno. His company has created concrete countertops since 1992. "At the time, it was one here and one there. ... Now, we do it on average about three a month."

Evan Lloyd, owner of Solid Solutions Studios in Fresno, agrees. When he started his business in Los Angeles 10 years ago, concrete countertops were very popular there.

Then he relocated to Fresno about four years ago. "We used to do one a month, and now we do three or four, which is about all we can handle," he said.

Some people are eyeing concrete for countertops because of versatility. You can create practically any form, style or design. "We can really customize your countertop," Lloyd said. "It's not just a rock that's cut to fit; it's custom-made for that home."

Concrete has its own unique appeal, said Zoerb, who owns Professional Design Consultants.

"I think more people would be more open to it if they could see it, touch it and feel it," she said. "It's a really neat surface. There are so many applications for concrete, but it's not the first application that comes to mind when it comes to countertops."

Concrete countertops tend to lend themselves to contemporary looks, she said. But, as Adamo's bar countertop demonstrates, they can have a slightly traditional feel, too. In this case, she accomplished the look by surrounding the countertop with traditional wood and copper cabinetry.

"It needed to be playful, classy and functional," she said.

Concrete countertops can come in solid colors or color blends. They can be acid-stained or dyed. They can have additional accents, such being inlaid with rocks, tile or shells. Recycled glass or rocks also can be mixed in with the concrete. Cutting-board space or metal bars for trivets can be included. They also can have muted, rustic-looking tops or glossy finishes.

"It looks like polished stone," Lloyd said. "It has the finish of granite, but the coloring is generally a little bit more solid" throughout.

Concrete countertops also are easy to clean. You can wipe them down with mild soap and water. While the countertop is hard enough to break a glass cup if one is accidentally dropped, it's not recommended for use as a cutting board.

"You can harm the finish," Lloyd said. "But most people don't cut on the countertop."

Its hardy quality is one reason why Zoerb is planning to use it as a countertop for a planned outdoor kitchen. Other places concrete countertops might show up are kitchen islands and bathroom vanities.

When you decide to go with concrete for a countertop, you can have it done in two ways. You can have the concrete poured on site at your home or have it done at a shop and installed later.

In terms of cost, both processes generally start at $80 to $85 a square foot - comparable to the price of granite. For example, custom granite countertops start at $75 a square foot at Valley Stone Works in Fresno. Adamo, who had also considered granite, paid $1,980 to Heritage Bomanite for his concrete countertop.

One thing about concrete, however, is there's a chance of cracking. "Concrete will crack more if it's cured too fast or there's too much water," Ilic said. Cracks, if there are any, will appear within a few days of it being poured, he said.

When Heritage Bomanite made Adamo's countertop, it cracked. The company came back and did the job again. Adamo was fine with that.

"I like it a lot because you can do a lot with it," Adamo said. "You can shape and form it. You can't do that with granite. You can do that with wood, but it's not practical in all applications."

He adds that concrete "is kind of neat stuff. I enjoyed just watching them do it."