Concrete has been given a clean slate.

Once thought the ugly step-sister of more aesthetically pleasing materials such as stone, tile and brick, the days when it was used only to lay driveways and sink fence posts deep into the ground are long gone.

These days, it’s used for kitchen countertops, bathroom sinks, flooring and much more. It can be stamped, stenciled, scored, engraved, stained with acid and used in overlays. It can be used to mimic the look of natural stone, granite, slate or brick. Concrete can even be used to recreate the look of boulders and cobblestone.

Concrete’s ever-evolving versatility makes it not only a popular choice for homeowners, but also for contractors.

“It’s the fastest changing and fastest growing industry I’ve ever been around,” says Mark Bloomer of Designer Concrete, who has been in the business for nearly five years. “More manufacturers pop up every day, making different products and coming up with more methods for taking concrete and make it decorative.”

Those new to the industry already have a lot to learn. Some of the techniques include:

Stamping — Concrete is poured and color is mixed in while still wet. Before it dries completely, large rubber molded stamps are applied to create a pattern, such as brick or stone. Cost is $7-$10 per square foot, Bloomer says.

Staining — Often referred to as acid staining, this process opens the surface of dry concrete, allowing insoluble, colored compounds to penetrate through it, resulting in a marble-like look. Available colors vary widely, and the process works on new or old concrete. Cost ranges from $3-$10 per square foot, depending both on the amount of cleaning and resurfacing necessary on old concrete, and on any engraving or scoring work done after the stain is applied.

Stenciling — Similar to stamping but a bit less expensive. Can create the look of brick, natural stone or tile. Custom stenciling can be used to create decorative borders or other creative elements. Bloomer has used stenciling to incorporate gecko and cattle brand designs into his customers’ floors. Cost is $4-$8 per square foot.

Overlay — Also called resurfacing. Involves applying new layer of concrete, one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick, to an existing surface such as wood, primed drywall or even old concrete. Once the overlay is on, any of the above methods can be used to beautify it. Cost is $3.50-$4 per square foot.

Taken together, these techniques can create stunning results — whether as flooring, countertops, patios or other surfaces  — with different patterns, colors, textures and/or designs.

But versatility isn’t the only reason to consider concrete. The price is often right as well.

“[Cost-wise], we compete really well with ceramic tile, mid-grade carpet and low-end wood floors,” Bloomer says.

With the relative newness of the decorative concrete business, he warns that homeowners need to be careful whom they hire. He stresses that, as with any contractor, you usually get what you pay for.

“Experience is huge in this business,” he says. “Anyone considering this should expect to see references, and the contractor should be able to show you a portfolio of jobs they’ve done.”

Bloom says no acid-staining project should go forward without the homeowner seeing a sample of the finished stain first.

“It can be done in a closet or some out of the way place,” he says.

As for do-it-yourself decorative concrete, Bloomer says it’s not out of the question. His company sells DIY concrete products, but he tries to screen potential do-it-yourselfers, making sure their projects are relatively small, for starters, and that they show some “prior aptitude” with renovation work.

“It really takes a learning curve,” he warns.

The results, though, whether you hire a contractor or do it yourself, can be worth it.

“You can combine it in so many different ways. It can be as custom as you want it or as vanilla as you want it,” Bloomer says.

“There’s just an endless amount of options.”


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