Cast concrete countertops and flooring can be given a more personal touch with decorative inserts and inlays. Whether it is a concrete bathtub, patio tiles, or kitchen countertop, there is a variety of materials that can transform residential concrete features from a cold industrial look to warm, artistic uniqueness. Here are a few of the options you have for decorative concrete inserts.
The term concrete insert usually refers to smaller materials mixed all through the concrete, such as small pebbles or particles of rose quartz, black basalt or blue granite. These are also referred to as decorative aggregates, since they replace or augment the usual natural aggregate used in concrete. The decorative inserts or aggregate can be added to the concrete as it is being mixed, or laid into the surface of the concrete after it has been poured.
Concrete inlays are larger decorative objects that are embedded in the concrete’s visible surface. Your imagination is the only limit for what can be used; it could be something like shards of colored glass, hand-painted tiles, horseshoes, old keys, scrap metal, sea shells, or even a family heirloom.
Remember when choosing concrete inlays, that surfaces such as countertops and floors are exposed to wear and tear over a period of time, so more delicate, easily breakable objects should be avoided. A clear concrete sealer applied to the finished surface will help preserve it as well as inserts and inlays.
Another interesting idea that I’ve seen is to embed fiber optic lights in concrete. Inlaying these on the surface of countertops, tables or even bathtubs can create striking lighting effects. Make sure that the fiber optics are of high quality that will last a long time, as it will be impossible to replace them without destroying the surface they are embedded in.
Concrete Inlay Patterns
You can also consider creating a tile mosaic as an inlay in your concrete project. This can work well with outdoor flooring such as patios and entranceways. You design a pattern, select colored mosaic tiles, and after cutting them to size, lay them into the top of your cement as it cures.
Begin the tile inlay pattern by drawing it’s outline on a piece of paper or cardboard. Your tiles, glass or stones can be cut with a tile saw to match the pattern. Lay them out on the outline you’ve drawn after cutting so you remember where they go in the pattern. When the concrete has been poured and has begun to harden, begin to embed the mosaic pieces in the surface of the concrete, so that they are flush with the surface.
Allow gaps between the individual pieces of the mosaic so that they are surrounded by the concrete. If you are pouring the concrete into a form bottom side up in order to create a smoother surface, you will need to lay your mosaic, visible side down, in the form before pouring concrete in it. In this case, a thin layer of caulk should be spread on the tiles to hold them in place on the form as the concrete mix is being poured.
Photo by Abbey Lanes, Creative Commons Attribution License