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Customization Options for Cast Concrete CountertopsPigments, special effect products & decorative add-ins for concrete countertops
One of the best things about concrete countertops is that they are completely customizable. The color of the counters can be exactly matched to the finishes in your home, they can be made to look like granite or marble with effects such as marbling and veining and decorative aggregates can be added to the mix and revealed with grinding later.
Liquid or Powdered Pigments
A photo of various powdered pigments and one liquid pigment (bright red on left). Concrete Countertop Institute in Raleigh, NC
As with integrally colored concrete flatwork, you can blend powdered or liquid pigments into the concrete mix to achieve a nearly unlimited palette of colors. This will give you more flexibility than going with a pre-pigmented countertop mix and permit custom color matching. Some pigments are blended specifically for use with concrete countertop mixes to ensure rich color saturation.
Buying tips: The type of pigment to use (liquid or dry) is often personal preference. For example, Lloyd prefers to use liquid pigments because they are easier to measure out in small quantities. He also finds that liquid pigments are a convenient way to color match the grout used to fill the seams between adjacent countertop sections. However, if you do use liquid pigments, you must account for the amount of water in the pigment when measuring out the mix water for the concrete, cautions Girard.
In addition to integral color, a popular way to customize concrete countertops is to add decorative aggregates, semi-precious stones, fragments of colored glass, metal shavings, and other embellishments to the fresh concrete. These bits of bling are revealed upon grinding and polishing of the countertop surface, much like the technique used for exposing the aggregate in terrazzo floors. Girard says you can embed just about anything in concrete, except porous or absorptive materials such as wood. He puts the material in the bottom of the form and pours the concrete over it. Once the concrete has cured, he strips away the form and flips over the slab to grind and expose the embedded material.
Decorative add-ins: These photos show metal shavings salvaged form the floor of a machine shop and then embedded in the concrete. Concrete Countertop Institute in Raleigh, NC
Buying tip: Some suppliers of concrete countertop materials sell specially selected decorative aggregates in small quantities (typically 1-pound bags) for convenient addition to countertop mixes. All are suitable for exposure by grinding. If you plan to use larger embedments, Girard offers this tip: The larger the embedment, the thinner it should be to prevent weakening of the concrete and the potential for stress cracking.
Some prepackaged mixes allow you to achieve special decorative effects, such as marbling or veining. These products are great when you want consistency while still having the ability to create a unique look.
One example is the Buddy Rhodes Concrete Countertop Products, developed by concrete countertop guru Buddy Rhodes. With this product, you can achieve two different finishes using the same mix-a hard-troweled finish using cast-in-place techniques and Rhodes' signature pressed finish, which results in a veined effect when the concrete is precast. The mix also is bone white so it takes color particularly well, resulting in greater vibrancy. Rhodes sells a liquid colorant packaged in premeasured quantities for easy dosing.
To help you create distinctive veining effects that mimic granite, Microbatch from Blue Concrete produces mini 3-pound batches of concrete that are designed to contrast in color with the main pour. It comes in two variations: Microbatch Black, a blend of black pigment and jet-black aggregates, and Microbatch White, a combination of white pigments and white aggregates. You simply add Microbatch to the mold before pouring in the main batch of concrete. Microbatch will then flow and vibrate differently from the main pour to create the white or black veining effects, depending on the version you use. With Microbatch, you'll still need to mix up a batch of your own concrete, but you don't have to worry about mixing a second full-size batch to achieve color contrast.