Architects and designers are broadening their concrete horizons – firmly cementing the time-honoured material’s place in ‘softer’ interior applications. Craig Bell from Osmo provides advice on maintaining its durability
Trends in interior design change constantly, and it can be hard to keep up with what is the latest style, product or material that is currently on-trend. Interior designers and architects like to try new things, and one shift that is particularly noticeable, is the transition of concrete from a ‘hard’ building material used in all types of construction, to a contemporary and stylish finish for interior design elements such as flooring, furniture and surfaces.
Concrete in its various forms has been around for centuries. However, it is only in the last few years that it has made this transition to an interior product. It has a proven industrial heritage of extreme durability, a quality that translates well to an interior environment. The benefits of concrete furniture for example go far beyond strength and durability however. The potential designs can range from the very simple, to the ornate, with each piece custom created to complement the surrounding decor.
Typical concrete pieces might be dining, coffee and side tables, kitchen worktops and even lighting fixtures. The material’s simple style and colour also make it a great contrast feature for monochrome interior features, and it’s an ideal material to create an ‘industrial’ design aesthetic. It also pairs extremely well with other materials, and the unusual texture can really make an impact in any interior scheme.
Like many materials, concrete needs care and attention to maintain the qualities that make it an appealing product in the first place. Each concrete piece is usually uniquely designed to suit the application, and it is important to look after them.
A good way to treat interior concrete products is to use a good clear, satin impregnation oil. This combines the advantages of natural oils and waxes in one product. Importantly it is designed not to form a film on the surface – particularly important with concrete – instead, it penetrates the surface. As a result, the microporous surface becomes water and dirt repellent, as well as stain resistant. This action makes the oil especially suited to concrete wall panelling and flooring in kitchens and bathrooms as well as for tabletops, windows sills and kitchen worktops.
When undertaking maintenance with oil, it is important to apply it very thinly and spread it well across the area. Any excess product (i.e. pooling or streaks) should be removed using a pad, or a lint-free cloth. For larger areas, remove excess oil with a rubber scraper and polish with a buffing machine (‘whitepad’). The oil must be absorbed into the surface, allowing 8-10 hours to dry. For best results, the area should be well ventilated. When ready, apply the second coat also very thinly and again, remove any excess. When renovating an already oiled surface, normally one coat on a cleaned surface is sufficient.
Concrete is also a sustainable material. This is a major plus for many architects and interior designers working in today’s environmentally conscious marketplace, where sustainable sourcing is key. Should it be necessary, concrete pieces can be recycled at the end of their life. That said, with proper care and attention concrete products can last for centuries. Although it is unlikely anyone has such grand ambitions for today’s interior pieces, it is reassuring for architects and designers to know there are products available that can maintain, preserve and enhance the concrete features they create today.
Craig Bell is senior technical advisor at Osmo