The Hard Facts on Using Concrete to Decorate
From concrete floors to walls and furniture, learn how to properly apply this industry favourite material at home
Before you overhaul your space, though, know that not all concrete is made the same. There are steps you can take to ensure you’re choosing the right material and installation practices for your property (HDB or private housing). There are different grades of concrete, as well as concrete used for concrete furniture pieces. With the help of Sharon Chan, operations head of Martlewood, which offers the largest variety of concrete furniture solutions in Singapore, as well as Amilia Gani, founder of Facelift Design & Interiors, this comprehensive guide will show you how to use concrete at home effectively.
You can consider a new pour for aesthetic purposes – if you are after a sleeker look with even aggregate – but bear in mind that HDB regulation disallows the use of sand in concrete flooring construction and mandates the use of pre-packed screed. Gani notes, “The current varieties of concrete floor finishes are very limited in Singapore due to the lack of skilled labour and materials needed. Pre-mixed concrete finishes are relatively new to many contractors in Singapore so they have yet to try new methods of installation.”
The answer is an easy yes. As Chan says, “If cast solid, concrete furniture will be too heavy to lift. This is why our pieces are hollow and only use 3 centimetres of solid reinforced concrete in a 10-centimetre thick piece – it makes it easier for the delivery team and homeowners to lift, transport, and install onsite. Ninety per cent of our clients are HDB residents and commonly ask us if their floors will break. The most common table size we sell is 160 by 90 centimetres. The average weight is 80 to 120 kilograms. That’s the weight of a couple or sometimes of a single person! So, no, your floors won’t break.”
- Economical, although Gani advises spending more and looking for a certified contractor if you plan to use concrete flooring and walls in areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
- Hardy, especially when treated properly with a sealant. Not sealing concrete properly can result in mould or mildew growth.
- Low-maintenance: mopping with floor detergent three times a week will ensure your floor stays dirt-free.
- Versatile: concrete is easy to pair with warmer elements like wood and fabric, but also works well with colder finishes like steel. Contrasting heavy concrete with light glass is a very modern pairing.
Popular concrete floor finishes in Singapore
Concrete is endlessly versatile and can be customised by staining, dyeing, polishing, marbling, and even creating a terrazzo mix – yes, really! To achieve the latter, use a higher grade of concrete with more aggregate and apply heavy polishing to reveal the aggregate.
Most contractors offer a concrete finish that is glossy with a waterproof, latex-feel finish. Based on functionality and durability, however, Gani recommends the following options:
- The polished look: a semi-gloss surface with a natural, marble-like lustre. The marbling comes from polishing the top layer of concrete with abrasives.
- The high-gloss look: obtained using an acrylic sealant to give concrete floor a ‘wet’ look. This results in a darker tone and mirror-like finish.
Gani’s tips on caring for concrete floors
- Minor hairline cracks are considered a natural-occurring characteristic of concrete. For long-term use and easy maintenance, use a protective seal made of polyurethane or epoxy, which comes in a semi-gloss or glossy finish. You can refinish your floors every 5 to 10 years.
- To give extra durability and a pop of colour, finish with epoxy paint.
See more epoxy floor ideas
When sourcing for concrete furniture pieces, look for reinforced concrete, which means the composition of cement is mixed with other materials such as sand and aggregate. Martlewood specialises in using fibre-reinforced concrete (FRC) where fibre is used as part of the mix to make pieces lighter without compromising on the structure or integrity of the concrete.
Reinforced concrete is also a term used for concrete flooring in private properties. This means metal wire frames or steel bars are inserted in the subfloor layer of the concrete to resist floor or wall movements as well as provide better tensile strength.
- Mitigate the possibility of stains by sealing the concrete with acrylic wax. All Martlewood pieces are pre-sealed at the factory but you can purchase acrylic wax separately from them.
- Reseal your furniture every 3 to 6 months (3 if they are outdoors).
- Concrete furniture can be used outdoors but should not be allowed to absorb water (through accumulated rain, for instance) as this will soften the concrete.
- Avoid water stains and seepage by wiping up water spills immediately. Clean table surfaces with a damp cloth after meals and do not leave any residue on the table overnight.
- Protect your floors by attaching plastic stubs or rubber caps beneath pieces. All Martlewood pieces come with these to protect both the furniture and floors.
- Concrete chips, though rare, can be fixed! Pick up a repair kit from Martlewood. Each kit comes with a small spatula, concrete mix, and sand paper.
Gani weighs in on the issue: “Most homeowners avoid applying concrete to kitchens and bathrooms (with the exceptions of certain wall surfaces) because they think concrete is porous and cracks easily, and therefore isn’t very waterproof. However, you most definitely can use concrete in kitchens, balconies, and even in bathrooms! Work with certified contractors and ask for quality concrete flooring. A certified contractor will be able to recommend quality compound materials for the subfloor and wall and floor finishing so your concrete surfaces can last a long time.”
How to use concrete in the bathroom
- Concrete floors and furniture are often associated with the industrial-style look, but you can also use them in a minimalist, rustic-style home. Pair concrete with natural materials like a sisal rug, rattan elements, and linen curtains for rustic charm.
- The hardness of concrete juxtaposes well with soft furnishings. Warm area rugs, fabric sofas, and curtains will also help to absorb sound in the room.
How would you apply concrete at home? Share your ideas in the Comments below.
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