Concrete comes of age

  • By RaeJean Hasenoehrl For the Herald
  • Saturday, April 12, 2008 6:30pm

Could it be your dowdy driveway is really a diamond in the rough? Or that your postage stamp patio is destined to become a welcoming terrace, tempting you from your workday worries?

Good landscape design can be subtle, bold or abstract. It can transform a cookie-cutter home into a home with no equal.

The use of concrete in landscape design has undergone a revolution. The days of crumbling sidewalks and undersized patios are gone. Technology has created new concrete products that provide undeniable beauty and remarkable longevity.

According to Mark Clift of True Trade Custom Concrete in Everett, “A lot of people just think of concrete as gray, hard, heavy stuff. But it can be very decorative and creative.” The business, owned by Rian Erny, specializes in both indoor and outdoor uses of the product. “You can do anything with it as far as sinks, countertops, driveways and patios,” Clift said. “With the textures and colors available today, the possibilities are endless.”

Many of today’s homeowners are veering away from the standard driveway slab, updating their homes with timeless architectural design embedded within a new or updated driveway. Several design options exist, including flagstone, bricks, cobblestone and slate, and a decorative border or insets can be added to existing concrete or asphalt.

“The most popular thing right now is the textured concrete that looks like natural veining in slabs of stone,” Clift said. “Most of our work resembles natural stone — huge slabs of rock that somebody took out of a quarry and set in front of your garage.”

Clift noted that homeowners often want their driveway colors to match their car or home. “We give the freedom to do what you want with design and coordination of colors,” he said. “With the stains and additives that they have now, we can create color over color, color mixed with color, and marbled or mottled looks.”

Depending on the integrity of the concrete, an existing driveway, walkway or patio can be resurfaced. “There are products out there that we can put on an eighth-of-an-inch thick and get a new finish that will withstand time,” Clift said. “If you’ve ever seen people who try to do repairs with a cracked sidewalk, the crack just transfers up through the new stuff. These newer products are designed not to do that.”

Clift encourages homeowners to research the number of decorative possibilities using concrete. Web sites and magazines provide dozens of possibilities such as garden and water features, planter boxes, built-in fire pits and outdoor kitchens. Recently, True Trade created a privacy fence for a client in Lake Stevens. The entire fence, made of cement blocks, was coated with concrete and then stained. After a diamond pattern was cut into the fence, portions of the design were hand painted for a traffic-stopping effect.

Brent Tangen, owner of Concrete Creations Northwest in Arlington, reiterates the excitement of new design possibilities. One creative solution he presented a homeowner is proof of how concrete can enhance a yard’s design while providing a variety of functions. “This yard had septic lids that needed to be covered up,” Tangen said. “We poured an island around them. The owners put a water feature in the middle of the septic covers, and put river rock over the green lids.” The project became an attractive focal point in the yard, with ease of access to the utilities.

Whatever the scope of your project, Tangen emphasizes the need for advanced preparation. “The sad thing is, with a lot of customers, if you point out that the ground isn’t prepared right, they don’t want to spend an extra thousand dollars or whatever it takes to make sure that things are right,” he said. “The strength comes from the ground the concrete is sitting on. If there’s no compaction there, then your concrete is going to settle and crack.”

In the planning stages, Tangen suggests seeking out opportunities to repeat design features of your home. “We can match or coordinate with existing colors. We can also wet-set pavers into concrete to match another area of your yard,” he said.

In designing a patio, consider the functions of the area. “Think into the future,” Tangen suggested. “Will you be adding an outdoor kitchen or a hot tub somewhere down the line? We can add rebar for stability underneath a heavy item such as a hot tub.” Plumbing and electrical hookups can also be integrated for future projects.

Both Tangen and Clift emphasize the importance of checking the credentials of the contractor. “We get calls constantly and do jobs constantly where we go out and tear out the stuff the other guy has already started doing, and have to start over,” Clift said. “It ends up costing the homeowner 25 to 50 percent more, not to mention what they paid to the first guy.”

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