Concrete Advice from an Expert

June 22, 2016
David Jacknin
Concrete Advice from an Expert
This kitchen in a house designed by Fu Tung Cheng includes a scu
Fu Tung Cheng is one of today's leading designers in concrete and has been widely published. His award-winning work in kitchens, product design, and whole houses, has a distinctive sculptural "geologic" quality, and shows off concrete's immense potential in color, shape, and texture. We asked him for some basic advice on using concrete.

What do homeowners need to know if they are thinking about using concrete?
Concrete offers the opportunity to create a sculptural quality that other materials do not.  The key is in the form building. The form determines the shape. Another thing about concrete is the tactile quality… the touch and feel. 
In the kitchen I like to use concrete in places that take advantage of its sculptural qualities. In other areas, such as around the stove, I prefer to use stainless steel as it can handle the sauces, wine and other food that can stain concrete. Used in walls concrete has a sense of mass and gives the homeowners a feeling of permanence. Used in floors, concrete can be finished in a range of textures that is very natural looking.

What about drawbacks such as cracking and staining?
Concrete has drawbacks that you must work around. Cracks are controlled by way of control joints. These functional lines can become design elements by adding brass or copper strips and creating patterns that add to the design. Concrete is also porous and has a high pH. It can be quickly degraded by foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes and must be sealed to protect the surface.

What kind of sealer do you recommend? For years and years I worked on finding just the right sealer.  Sealers are a compromise between a product that totally seals and one that has a natural finish. I like to use an acrylic penetrating sealer. This is softer and has a more natural look.

How about waxes. I understand that many people use waxes in addition to a sealer?
Yes, the wax protects the sealer from scratches and abrasions and other degradations.

What other maintenance does concrete require?
One should keep an eye on the concrete finish. If the sealer gets scratched and there is a significant amount of dirt or damage to the concrete, it is time to reseal the surface. This is very much dependent on how much ware the surface experiences. Also on a daily basis you should not leave acidic food items for long periods on the surface. If you leave a cut orange on a concrete countertop, it is necessary to remove it and wipe down the counter as soon as possible.

Many of the floors you design incorporate a hydronic radiant floor system.  Can you share the advantages these floors offer?
Hydronic heating is widely used in concrete floors as concrete tends to be cool to the touch. This is perfect during summer months but during winter months radiant heat makes the floors much more comfortable.  Concrete acts as a heat sink and radiates the heat slowly throughout the day.

What is FGRC (fiber reinforced concrete?
Fiber reinforced concrete is used when weight is an issue. Concrete with reinforced fibers is stronger allowing for a thinner and lighter countertop.
What about color? Do you prefer integral color to acid washes?
Most of my projects involve integral color.  Integral color is available in a wide range of hues depending on whether you are using white or grey concrete. The grey concrete tends to yield more natural colors while white concrete tends to yield a brighter colors as well as pastels. You can also add decorative stones, glass and other objects to the mix to yield a decorative finish that is revealed after polishing.

What would you say is your design philosophy?
Every good project begins and ends with good design.   Color form and texture add up to the overall composition. I like to use a wide variety of textures… just like in nature. I also like to contrast forms and colors to avoid a monolithic feeling.

What do your clients like about incorporating concrete into their designs?
People love the solidity and sense of permanence that concrete evokes. They love the timeless quality.

The projects shown here are courtesy Cheng Design. For more information on concrete products as well as design inspiration from both DIYers and professionals, visit the Cheng Concrete Exchange.