Concrete: A Creative and Versatile Medium
Updated: May 4, 2021
What is intriguing about concrete in architecture isn’t just the beautiful countertops; it is the plethora of other unique applications the can be used in creating amazing spaces. Concrete is versatile. It can be a horizontal surface like a countertop, or it can be a wall cladding, a flooring material, an object like a sink, or a fire pit. With the right sealants, it can be waterproof and quite resilient to wear and tear. The fluid nature of concrete means it can take on a variety of forms as well as textures. It can be finished matte to satin to shiny. The customization and design possibilities are numerous.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of flying down to Raleigh NC, to take a weekend course at the Concrete Countertop Institute. I had taken the course as part of a professional development related to my parallel career as an installation/sculpture artist. I approached the class with the mindset of how I could use the techniques in a way to create art and not countertops, which in turn later let me push the possibilities of its use in architectural applications.
Fast forward several years to my own bathroom renovation, and I was ready to fuse what I had learned at the workshop and what I had learned thru playing with concrete in my art. I enlisted my husband as my unpaid assistant/collaborator and we set about to bringing to life this bespoke architectural space.
As in most of my work, I like to create spaces that draw on an elements that add meaning to the space, and/or create moments that add to the story of the space for the inhabitants. For this project, we wanted to highlight elements from our honeymoon in France and Spain. And we also wanted to create a space that provided moments we could enjoy together, from having a beer in the bathtub to brushing our teeth together. Concrete was chosen as a major material element in the design due to its versatility in terms of textures, colours, and shapes as well as its water resistance.
Concrete Wall Elements - We were looking to create a vertical wall element that was textural and reminiscent of rocky beachside cliffs in Mallorca. By spraying concrete onto cement board and then troweling it, we got the exact texture we were looking for. We then cast and inset a custom faceplate for the tub filler and controls, whose smooth finish nicely offsets the texture of the wall panel.
Concrete and Bathtubs - We toyed around with the idea of casting the perfect tub in concrete. However, the weight and ability to maneuver it up stairs and then into place, gave us some pause. Instead, we decided to dip an acrylic tub in concrete. Or rather the end result would look like a tub dipped in concrete. The application process involved sanding down the tub, masking it off and then spraying fine layers of concrete onto the it. Much like the wall element, this was then hand-troweled to get the perfect texture.
Custom Horizontal Surfaces (countertops/surrounds/shelves) - The most prevalent horizontal concrete surface would be countertops, which we did end up casting for our custom vanity. When you cast concrete against a smooth surface such as melamine, you get a smooth velvety surface that is great for all sorts of applications not just countertops. We wanted a super-custom, water-resistant surround for the tub that interlocked with the hexagon flooring tile and contrasted the rocky texture of the tub. The mold was created using the actual flooring tiles and sized after the surrounding walls were put in place to ensure it fit. After it was cast and sealed, it was mortared into place and the tub placed inside. Given how well the surround turned out, we decided to cast a matching shelf by the tub (for that glass of wine or beer in the tub) as well as a custom shower seat.
Custom Objects - Sinks can be boring! And we couldn’t find the perfect one. So I designed the perfect one and then cast it out of concrete - something unique and one of a kind. The design again drew from our honeymoon and was inspired by tidal pools in Collioure. We used an often overlooked parameter of concrete…. pigment. Since the mix we use for the concrete casting is actually white due to both the sand and the type of cement used (Buddy Rhodes GFRC Mix). You can add all sorts of pigments to the white base to create gorgeous unique colours and variations (marbling etc.) in your concrete!!! This let us create a gorgeous bright blue interior for the sink while the rest of the sink is in white.
Every-time we inhabit our bathroom oasis, we are reminded of our honeymoon. And not only that, but it allows us to facilitate a story of togetherness in our home by providing a bathroom that reinforces together activities. For this bespoke bathroom design, concrete was the perfect material.
Buddy Rhodes GFRC Mix
Concrete Countertop Institute