Article No: 271

2010-01-25 16:56:08
Baby It's Cold Outside ... but home is where the HEARTH is!
By: Sherry Boyd

The homeowner loves to display copper collectibles that match the copper fire bowl in the two-sided modern fireplace. Panels that look like teak are actually stained concrete made using recycled materials. Photo courtesy of Flying Turtle Cast Concrete.
When it’s right, the fireplace calls us to “come home” on a cold winter night. It’s so much more than just a structure that encases the firebox; it provides the visual and social focal point for the room and the home. Whether a home is a rustic cabin, a dramatic modern structure, arts and crafts style, or strictly traditional, concrete affords the ability to create a highly personal design statement that is built to suit any style, scale, color scheme, finish or whimsy.

The resulting fireplace surround can be just as personal as your signature. Few materials can equal concrete for creative versatility, mold-ability and strength suited for this use. Fortunately, concrete readily co-exists with high heat, because it is fire-resistant and also retains heat. New materials and methods are making it possible to bring fireplaces into family rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and entries.

Trend No.1 – Casting GFRC Fireplace Surrounds and Architectural Features
We’re not talking about your daddy’s driveway here! New materials like GFRC Glass-Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) make it possible to cast a stronger and lighter surround that can be built in a shop, transported to a site and installed with ease – even when a massive dimension is required. It will afford enduring beauty without cracks, fissures, spalls or other problems. Cast concrete fireplace surrounds offer the potential to reduce costs and weight, but increase both size and structural strength. The look can be whatever you want it to be.

Trend No. 2 – Evoking Old-World Charm with Hand-Finished or Handcrafted Techniques
Some homeowners want to bring nature into their homes by adding imprints of found objects, adding animal motifs, sculpting concrete to look like stone or adding the colors of their natural surroundings. In addition, hand finishing can provide a timeworn aged look with a variety of techniques or coloring methods.

Trend No. 3 – Resurfacing and Reinventing
For those who don’t have the time or the budget for a custom-home, help is available for a smaller price tag. It’s now possible to update an unsightly fireplace in a fixer-upper, condo or rental property without resorting to a complete rip-out. Milestone from Artisan Finishes is a durable material used to refinish existing brick fireplaces without visible grout lines or “ghosting.” It does take special training and practice to master the techniques needed to create beautiful and eco-friendly fireplace surrounds and features.

Trend No. 4 – Concrete as Art or for Art
Whether built in areas for house candles, glass, sculpture or pottery, concrete surrounds can showcase your collectibles or become a work of art in itself. The possibility to shape and color it is almost unlimited. So unleash your creativity!

Trend No. 5 – Sustainability
Every one of the methods and materials mentioned in this article can be created with materials that are recycled, reused, environmentally-sound and have a low impact when extracted and constructed. Unlike marble or tile, concrete is composed of locally extracted materials that don’t add cost to transport from a great distance or another country. However, the truth is that we are learning more about these materials and methods every day. Designers and builders ask: What is the effect of recycled content on the final look and feel of decorative concrete applications, specifically concrete countertops or fireplace surrounds? When should I use fly ash and when should I avoid it? How does the U.S. Green Building Council considerations and guidelines on post-consumer and post-industrial waste materials affect decorative concrete?

Mike Heidiebrink, president of CHENG Concrete is leading two courses at the Concrete Decor Show in Phoenix in March that address these questions:
“Recycled Content for Decorative Projects” is a two-hour seminar on Thursday, March 18, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. A “GFRC Project Spotlight Demonstration” will show how glass fiber-reinforced concrete construction works to create a fireplace surround beginning on Wednesday, March 17, and showing final steps on Friday, March 19.

Attendees will learn about the advantages of GFRC fabrication – how to save time, labor and money with this technique. The course leader will share insights into ways to meet the design demands of the high-end market by utilizing it to create bold new designs for architectural features.
The workshop is offered in two parts to provide a well-paced lecture and demonstration series. It is the place to learn about mix-designs, face coats, back coats and custom color. The demonstration will cover all the steps from formwork to finishing so that designers and contractors can learn to take advantage of the potential of GFRC fabrication from one of the leading experts in the industry.

These are just a few of the new trends in decorative concrete that will be featured at the Concrete Decor Show & Decorative Concrete Spring Training in Phoenix March 16-19. The showcase demonstrations and hands-on training are an ideal opportunity for contractors and builders to explore new business opportunities in decorative concrete and learn new skills to expand their services. Many courses about architectural features and fireplace surrounds can be found in the course directory. For more information, see

Sherry Boyd is director of marketing and communications for the Concrete Decor Show. She may be reached by e-mailing