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  • The home’s new office and art studio was formerly an exterior courtyard. New concrete floors were placed before the addition was enclosed. Next, the surface was polished and then enhanced with a decorative diamond pattern colored with a combination of walnut, chocolate brown and sand dye. (Randl Bye Photography)
  • Another view of the polished office and studio floor. Much of the existing furniture in the home was reused, restored, and reinterpreted. The renovation also integrates an extensive multi-generational family art collection. (Randl Bye Photography)
  • In the dining room, the existing concrete floor had metal shavings in it, which turned an attractive rust color after polishing. Even though the shavings ate up the diamond polishing pads during the grinding process, the unique finish was worth the expense and aggravation. (Randl Bye Photography)
  • The badly worn floor in the kitchen was covered with a polishable self-leveling overlay system and colored with walnut dye. (Randl Bye Photography)
  • In the remodeled bathroom, the original floor was broken out for fixture replacements and new concrete was placed. The concrete floor in the shower was placed separately and colored with a black oxide integral pigment. (Randl Bye Photography)

How do you breathe new life and energy efficiency into an outdated 1950s contemporary-style home, while staying true to its original design and feel? That was the challenge faced by designer Joanne Balaban Olen when the homeowner hired her to completely renovate his childhood home in East Falls, Pa., after his mother passed away in 2012. Because the home was built by his parents, based on a design by renowned Philadelphia architects Carroll, Grisdale & Van Alen, he wanted the property to remain as a legacy in the family.

According to Balaban Olen, who also managed the project, the wish list was long:

  • Expand the house to accommodate a large work, art studio, and library space.
  • Renovate the existing kitchen, laundry room, and general storage area.
  • Blur the lines between the inside and outside to take advantage of the beautiful natural setting.
  • Use energy-efficient, low-maintenance materials.
  • And maintain the home’s mid-century modern design style by revitalizing all the existing concrete floors and adding new concrete floors in the addition and renovated areas to blend with the original floors.

Liquid Stone Concrete Designs was brought in to handle all the concrete flooring work, the scope of which included:

  • Placing a concrete slab for the new floor in the office/studio space. The 4000-psi concrete was given a tight finish to facilitate polishing and dyeing.
  • Polishing, densifying, and sealing all existing concrete floors.
  • Covering badly worn concrete floors in the kitchen and entryway with a self-leveling, polishable concrete overlay, and then dyeing and sealing the surface.

Perhaps most important was to create a unified look throughout the home to tie in the existing space with the addition. “Imagine clasping your hands, so that your fingers intertwine. This is what I intended with the flooring, to knit the old with the new,” says Balaban Olen. However, since the freshly poured concrete could not be finished to exactly match the concrete from the 1950s, the polished floors in each room were given a distinct look, but were all treated with dyes in warm color tones of walnut, sand and chocolate brown, so they flow seamlessly from one area to the next.

Unexpected ChallengesLiquid Stone's polishing crew encountered a number of hurdles after they started the project. The home’s existing concrete floors contained iron in the original mix, which was unknown until the metal shavings were revealed during polishing. Initially, they turned a shiny steel gray, but after a day of exposure to the humidity in the air, the iron oxidized and turned a rusty orange color. Rather than being an eyesore, though, the rusted iron gave the floor a very attractive finish, similar to the earth-tone colors created by synthetic iron oxide pigments.

Due to numerous additions to the home over the years, the crew encountered plumbing retrofits in multiple rooms, glued down vinyl tile in other areas, and 60+ years of buildup. What’s more, masonry block perimeter walls were built on top of the original concrete floors and had to be demolished and removed in some of the remodeled areas. To remove the residual glue and grime before polishing, it was necessary to go over most of the floors with 50-grit semi-metal resin diamonds.

Equipment and materials used: Floor grinder: HTC 500
Edge machine: Lavina 7 floor grinder/edger
Self-leveling polishable overlay system: Diamond-Cap, from CMP
Concrete dye: Surelock polished concrete dye, from Ameripolish (in walnut, chocolate brown, and sand)
Densifier and polish guard: Surelock, from Ameripolish
Integral pigment (for shower floor): SB98 black oxide at 5% load, from Blue Concrete

Project team: Designer and project manager
Joanne Balaban Olen
Joanne Balaban Designs, Fairless Hills, Pa.

Polishing contractor
Liquid Stone Concrete Designs LLC, Warminster, Pa.

General contractor
Shay Construction, Gladwyne, Pa.

Kass & Associates, Philadelphia, Pa.

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