When you think of concrete, you might imagine great feats of engineering, or at least highway overpasses and other sturdy, stolid structures.
But concrete has become a stylish medium in the home, thanks to interior designers and artisans.
"Concrete is such an amazing and cheap material. I can get an 80-pound bag from Home Depot and turn it into tables, vases and planters without using power tools," says Boston-based designer Ben Oyeda, who offers instructions for several projects on his website, www.homemade-modern.com .
Oyeda uses Lego blocks to make the moulds for his tables; his pendant fixtures start with plastic bottles.
"Working with concrete has changed the way I see waste," he says. "Every plastic bottle or box has the potential to be used as a mould for making a concrete object."
Eric Boyd of Charlotte, North Carolina, makes creative countertops by mixing concrete with other materials. Aggregate additions such as recycled glass or semi-precious stones give the concrete a terrazzo look, and he hones the slabs to emphasize their geologic characteristics. He has used shells, mother of pearl, tiger's eye or bands of copper to create one-of-a-kind slabs for homes and stores.
For one client, his team took inspiration from the home's location: "The (kitchen) island has a topographic feature which was taken from a map of their property. There are also various pebbles from the property, and a few fossils that were inlaid as well," he says. (www.reachingquiet.com )
Danish designer Doreen Westphal uses fine Belgian lace to make patterns and moulds for concrete curtains, vases and tables. There's a yin-yang tension that emerges from the interplay of the delicate lace motifs and the sturdy concrete. (www.menschmadedesign.com )
AllModern's got an affordable collection of rustic, modern, concrete side and coffee tables with wooden bases. Also here is Montreal-based CDI International's collection of midcentury modern-style coffee table and stools with oak legs. (www.allmodern.com )
West Elm has the little Mesa side table cast in a composite concrete that relieves some of the weight of the solid material. Brass-finished steel legs hold a cantilevered concrete top in an industrial-chic console. (www.westelm.com )
Crate & Barrel's Mason Parson's-style coffee, side and console tables are made of concrete embedded with an aggregate that adds interest. The retailer has introduced the curvy new Morocco concrete dining table this spring, for indoors or out. (www.crateandbarrel.com )
Restoration Hardware's got a honed concrete table top on a wood base crafted from British timbers; the juxtaposition of materials makes for a striking piece.
And the retailer's Malay cast-concrete coffee table resembles a chunk of sun-bleached driftwood; like the dining table above, it would work indoors or out.
A concrete game table would make a substantial permanent fixture for outdoor entertaining. Add the Laguna fiber-cast concrete fire pit, a sleek coffee table-size piece with glass panels and a contemporary vibe. (www.restorationhardware.com )
If the look of concrete intrigues you but you're not prepared to deal with the material itself, consider wallpaper photoprinted to look like raw concrete slabs; some even come with graffiti, if you're after an edgier look. (www.concretewall.no )