gray has gone glam
the affordable elegance of decorative concrete

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally published in Houston House & Home Magazine; May, 2002. Article has been reformatted for online publishing

Stepping onto the sun-daubed cobblestone patio, the background sounds of an Italian tenor beckon you to explore further. As you round a corner, the aroma of garlic and olive oil drifts through the air from a garden table set with an olive salad, warm bread and a goblet of red wine. Has your dream come true? Is this the Tuscan villa you've dreamed of all these years? Well, no. You're not in Italy, just a backyard in Houston; and that is not cobblestone you are standing on, just concrete. You've just experienced the intoxicating potential of decorative concrete.

Beyond Houston's drab roadways, endless sidewalks and mundane driveways, there lies another world of concrete. A world where concrete is a sensuous, tactile part of your everyday environment. Surprised? That's not surprising. Concrete, that versatile building material handed down to us from antiquity, is a chameleon. If drab is required, concrete can be drab. If spectacular is required, only the limitations of the designer will dictate the limits of this materials' capabilities. Witness for example the fluid forms of the TWA Terminal in Kennedy Airport by architect Eero Saarinen. The concrete shell of the building undulates above you as a beautiful sculpture, seeming to take flight on it's own, leaving us mortals and our aircraft behind.

On a more down to earth level, designers and contractors have been delighting customers for decades with serpentine pathways, illuminated pads, textured driveways and patios, and intricately painted floors in homes across America. Welcome to the world of poured decorative concrete paving.

What Is Decorative Concrete?

The broad definition would include any additive or technique used to change the color or texture of a poured concrete slab. Remember pea gravel? Well, within this broad definition, pea gravel is decorative concrete, though this technique is no match for the sophisticated applications now available for manipulating the look and feel of concrete. Today the decorative concrete market includes: polished concrete, rocksalt finish, scoring, acid staining, coloration, stamping, and sandblasted stencil. Often many of these techniques used in combination to create the desired effect.

Originally created in Paris decades ago, decorative concrete was introduced in the United States through Sun Belt theme parks in the early 1970's using stamped patterns. The range of patterns has grown to include dozens of rock and wood effects. As the number of effects has increased, so has the variety of available colors and ingenious specialized treatments.

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Stamped concrete driveway and patios. Variations in color create a natural stone appearance. (photos by Impressions In Concrete Inc., Concrete Decorative Solutions, Inc., MMG Stone Supply, Inc., and Paving Design, Inc.)
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