Concrete is the new marble. It’s a big claim that’s will no-doubt ruffle feathers in the décor dominion, but interior designer Jamie Blake stands by it. Specialising in kitchen design, Blake worked as a bespoke cabinetry carpenter before studying interior design and founding his studio, Blakes London.
His claim does have some basis. Last year Vogue Living featured a designer home in Sydney’s Annandale with extensive concrete surfaces, including floors and stairs. Likewise, this mid-century Melbourne house has elegant polished concrete underfoot. Heck, this is a concrete bunker you’ll actually want to live in. All of these residences were featured in our pages over the past year, so Blake may well be on to something.
He says that concrete is an ideal material for kitchen worktops if you don’t trust yourself to properly take care of an expensive marble slab. “Marble can stain and scratch,” he says. “However, new methods with concrete can create visual movement on a kitchen worktop that people normally associate with marble. It can reveal subtle clues to how it was crafted and it has personality, as well as being tactile.” Not to mention, incredibly hardy.
Blake admits that historically concrete has not been known for its refinement. Due to its strength and low cost, concrete was used extensively in brutalist Soviet architecture. It’s a building material that’s suffered from bad PR in western democracies, but Blake says new techniques are changing that.
“In the past, miscalculations in the mixture or curing time left air gaps and crumbly sections in concrete slabs,” says Blake. “This resulted in cracking and weak points susceptible to staining.” New methods pioneered largely by Australians have fixed these problems by adding glass fibre, plasticisers and fibre mats to the concrete mix.
These new mixes can be sprayed into moulds, which forces out air bubbles and produces a smooth, solid finish. “You can make spectacular-shaped concrete designs [using this method], including kitchen islands, sinks and outdoor barbeque areas,” says Blake.
While Blake is a concrete enthusiast overall, there is one kind he cautions against: mixes with resin. “This chemical additive makes the surface non-porous so it won’t stain, but it looks less like raw concrete and more artificial,” he says.
New ways with concrete are definitely worth considering if you’re renovating. “Concrete is tactile, beautiful and truly unique,” says Blake. “No two worktops are the same, and like marble, you must celebrate the imperfections, not criticise!”
Written by Bec Whish.
This article originally appeared on Vogue Living Australia.