Concrete floors are all the rage right now. You don’t have to take our word for it; open up any home decor magazine or home decor site on the internet and you’ll see endless photos of concrete floors, in every which way, in almost any area of the home. We don’t blame them for it – concrete floors are gorgeous, low-maintenance, and have a certain industrial chic flair that we love. Decorative concrete, especially, is having a moment right now.
Why settle for bare concrete floors when you can get patterns, color, polish, and so many other styles?
In this ultimate and large guide to decorative concrete and why your home needs it, we talk about decorative concrete’s history, its advantages, what options you have, and what decorative styles work best with which rooms.
The Well-Decorated History of Concrete
Concrete, as we know it today, is the final result of a mixture of Portland cement and some kind of aggregate, usually small rocks. It can often be mistaken with mortar, which is a mixture of the same cement and sand.
Concrete has a surprising and long history. It comes from the Latin word “concretus”, which means to bind or grow together – and that should already give you a hint about where this material was first invented and used which is in Ancient Rome. The earliest use dates back as early as 150 BC.
Ancient Rome had the first instances of what we can now identify as a form of concrete. What sets it apart from modern concrete is its surprising and incredible durability. Take a look at the Pantheon or the Colosseum and marvel at the fact that centuries later, they stand as tall and proud as ever while the structures we have today already have small cracks in them. The secret behind Roman concrete has just recently been discovered and it’s a fascinating feat of creativity. To get that astonishing durability, Roman architects and builders mixed in volcanic ash which they found made it water-resistant and strong. In fact, they used this discovery to effectively build concrete harbors and structures in and around the sea, which still stand today.
But Ancient Romans also understood that concrete had the capacity and versatility to be decorated. And they did so with gusto. From the decorated and engraved columns of the Colosseum to the Hagia Sophia, and the various arches and bridges built during their empire’s reign, the Romans understood that concrete always looks better with a little something extra added to it. It is likely that they used hand engraving tools and clever decorators to create consistent and beautiful patterns and designs on their columns and buildings. It is certainly a more complicated decorative process compared to the tools and techniques we have today.
While decorative concrete may have started with Ancient Rome, we have continued developing the craft and today, more decorative techniques are available than ever before. Beginning in the 1890s, concrete manufacturers and building contractors started using different techniques to color their concrete and help their structures stand out. This friendly competition to find the best techniques helped bring concrete staining and concrete dyeing to the forefront of decorative concrete.
People also developed many of the engraving techniques that already existed to develop concrete stamping and concrete overlay stamping. Brad Bowman was a particularly original and creative contractor who patented many of the tools and processes still used in the process of stamping concrete today. By patenting it and franchising contractors around the country to try out the methods, he helped spread the popularity of stamped concrete.
In the last few decades, concrete floors fell out of style. But they have experienced a resurgence in popularity in the last couple of years, and with good reason. To understand why it has come back as a popular flooring material, you will have to understand the benefits and the appeal of having concrete floors.
The Concrete Comeback
We can perhaps trace some of concrete’s popularity in the last couple of years to the rising trend of minimalist philosophy and home decor. Minimalism is essentially a rejection of the consumerist and cluttered lifestyles we have grown accustomed to with the advent of the new century. It focuses on being minimal and organized in everything – from your life to your belongings and to the way you decorate your home. Concrete holds a certain appeal for this kind of lifestyle as its closely associated with industrialism because of its low maintenance characteristic and clean sleek appearance.
But beyond the close ties between minimalism and concrete floors, you do not have to be a minimal person to choose concrete flooring. Even practical and maximalist homeowners can understand that concrete floors have certain benefits that are unmatched by other flooring materials.
When properly sealed, concrete floors are extremely resistant to stains from oil, grease, water, color, and almost anything else you may accidentally spill on it. And when something is spilled, dry cloth or a dry mop can quickly clean up the mess. This makes them perfect for families with young children or to install in garages and kitchens where messes can be expected.
Concrete is famously affordable as well. It’s cheaper than most popular flooring materials and has a short installation period for those who cannot wait to move into their new home. It can also be DIYed by experienced home improvement enthusiasts, which can further cut costs.
They are also extremely durable and have a longevity that cannot be beaten. With good contractors and the proper mixing of cement and aggregates, concrete can last even longer. And with modern techniques, concrete floors can be very easily repaired and resurfaced to make them look brand-new with almost no trouble to the homeowner.
And finally, of course, many decorative concrete techniques and processes exist that have made concrete floors more attractive in recent years. Concrete can mimic other more expensive flooring materials like wood and stone to give homeowners the same aesthetic at a cheaper cost. It can be imprinted with various patterns and designs that can be personally customized. Beyond that, almost any color and finish is possible with decorative concrete and that has also made it popular with businesses who need specific designs and colors for their branding.
5 Types of Decorative Concrete
With all the information out there, it can get pretty confusing when trying to understand what is and isn’t considered decorative concrete. And with techniques being developed every year, we’ve made sure this list is as updated as possible for you to be able to make the best decisions for your home:
1. Stamped Concrete
Stamped concrete adds texture and design to any floor with the use of large stamping mats and molds that are pressed into the wet concrete to leave an imprint behind. It can be used to add patterns and customizable designs, and can also be used to mimic the look of other flooring materials like wood, bricks, and stone.
2. Stained Concrete
Concrete stains are used to deposit color deep into a concrete slab. It makes this technique a pretty permanent coloring option for concrete floors. Stains come in two forms: acid and water-based stains. Acid stains result in a rich and uneven stain while water-based stains deliver even and bright pigments to concrete floors. For people who want a unique and warm-toned application of color to their floors, acid stains are perfect. But if you want a specific color that acid stains cannot do, or if you want to incorporate a design or pattern with a stain, then water-based stains are the best choice.
3. Colored Concrete
Colored concrete can be achieved by using a kind of dye to apply to concrete floors, which is usually made up of pigmented inks that are mixed in with any kind of solvent, usually alcohol or acetone which are meant to help penetrate the concrete slab.
Overlays can be used for both restorative and decorative purposes. For decorative purposes, overlays are usually used as a new layer on top of existing concrete floors that can then be stamped or engraved with a design. This method is especially beneficial for people who want stamped concrete but don’t have the budget to rip out and replace their old concrete floors with new ones.
5. Polished Concrete
Not to be confused with sealing or the act of waxing and mechanically polishing the floor, polished concrete is a decorative concrete technique that uses a chemical densifier. The densifier is applied on top of the concrete floors to fill out the pores of the material and ensure everything is filled in. Once it has dried, a grinder is used to shave down the densifier into the desired polish. It comes in a variety of grades and finishes and is a popular choice for those who want to keep their concrete floors bare but want a little extra something to make their floors pop.
Decorative concrete for specific rooms
If you’re struggling to understand or come up with ideas for how concrete floors can be seamlessly integrated into your homes, we’ve put together a handy mini-guide inside this big guide to how concrete floors can work in every part of your home, from bedrooms all the way to kitchens, in alphabetical order:
Concrete is the material most often found in basements because building contractors usually use it as the default basement flooring material. Many homeowners choose to cover it up with carpeting or try to layer another flooring material like hardwood on top of it. We’re here to tell you why you shouldn’t do that.
Concrete floors in basements are perfect for a variety of reasons. First of all, it means that whatever you choose to use your basement for, your flooring won’t be damaged. Concrete can hold up under almost any activity and is inherently durable. It can also be very easily cleaned and won’t start to smell funky when unused as carpets often do.
If you’re not happy with the appearance of grey concrete in your basement, we recommend getting an acid stain done on your concrete floors. Acid stains result in rich and interesting warm colors in a marble-like effect. It instantly elevates the look of a basement and takes it from a cold-looking drab room to a warm cozy space.
Concrete floors are kind of perfect for bathrooms, or at least we think so. When sealed, concrete floors are durable and waterproof, which is especially useful in a room where water may get on the floor at any time. Not only does the water not damage the floor, but it can also be easily cleaned up with a dry mop. Another good thing about concrete, as opposed to a material like tile, is that concrete can be made to be slip-resistant.
While almost any design can be achieved with concrete floors, we love the look of grey and polished concrete in a bathroom with a slightly raised texture to ensure safety when feet are wet. It can make your bathroom a calm and minimal haven without any loud colors.
This one is ultimately going to depend on your own personal preference. Concrete floors in the bedroom can look harsh, but we think there’s a cool quality to it that can be customized to your personality.
While we know you might prefer the visuals of a hardwood bedroom floor for ultimate warmth, there is something unique about polished concrete floors in the bedroom with exotic and patterned rugs on top to give contrast to the minimalism of concrete.
However, if you live somewhere with a hot climate, we recommend looking into concrete floors for your bedroom for more practical reasons. They’re a naturally cool material that does not soak up as much heat as other materials and so can give relief on hot nights. Style a concrete-floored bedroom sparingly with thoughtful and space-saving furniture.
If you love entertaining, give your guests something to admire and talk about at your next dinner party with concrete floors.
We love the look of minimal Scandinavian-inspired dining sets on top of polished concrete floors, but we also love the look of water-stained concrete floors that are even and light-colored with bright cushions on dining chairs. It is also very chic to add a small patterned design to your floors with concrete stamping that can set your dining room apart from all the other rooms in your home.
The dining room is really about the people you have over and you can customize your dining room to best fit your personality and the food you love serving.
The garage is a room in the house that has and always will have a harmonious marriage with concrete floors. And we know why: grease stains are avoided, the floors are really easy to clean if your car brings in mud or water, and it is durable enough to take the weight of a car without denting.
Make concrete work for your garage by applying a high-shine sealer and installing bright lights to reflect that shine. This easily gives your garage an expensive and bigger-than-it-is look that will make for the perfect welcome home.
Like garages, kitchens and concrete floors go extremely well together but have only started going steady in recent years. Concrete floors are wonderful for the kitchen because they are low-maintenance, easy to clean, and easy to repair. Keeping a kitchen sanitary is extremely important and choosing a material like concrete where dirt can easily be identified and cleaned is a good choice to make.
You can go multiple routes with concrete floors in kitchens but we recommend a dark grey stain with a brightly-colored stamped pattern around the border of the floor. It gives a unique look to the room while still maintaining its practicality.
You don’t really have to worry about design in a laundry room so we’re not surprised you’ve never considered decorative concrete there, but there are multiple benefits to choosing a simple polished concrete floor in your laundry room.
It’s water-resistant, easy to clean, and you don’t have to worry about your clothes getting on the floor and getting dirty.
Patios and Pool Decks
Another area where decorative concrete is becoming more popular is for patios. You can turn a drab gray concrete slab into something beautiful in your backyard.
Wanna make a great first impression? Improve your curb appeal? Use decorative concrete for your driveway. It can make a huge difference to the curb appeal of your home.
Wrapping it up
Concrete has been around for a long time. It’s been tried and tested as a durable material for centuries, and people have been trying to decorate it for as long as it has been around. That is to say, decorative concrete is about as old as concrete itself.
With modern techniques and tools, concrete floors can be customized to look any number of ways, from shiny to colorful to stamped and textured. This customizability makes it a practical and fun flooring material to experiment with, but that still keeps costs low in your home. It’s also incredibly durable and low-maintenance, so you won’t have to worry about the costs of maintaining your floors.
We love decorative concrete because it celebrates the ingenuity and invention of people while still allowing people to make it look the way they want it to look. It can be used in almost every room in the house and has no limit to design, color, or visual effect.
It’s just always a good idea.