When I first imagined installing a concrete worktop in the kitchen, I assumed that it would be a simple-to-create, resilient and low-cost option

So hard wearing! So utilitarian. Turns out I’d been fooled – concrete might be a bog-standard ingredient in the building industry, but it’s a prima donna when you want to turn it into a countertop.

I quickly discover that the primary ballast mix can be bought cheaply enough but that getting something that looks good is anything but straightforward. There is almost limitless online guides to what type of concrete you can use for different effects, the methods of pouring, how you make shuttering to hold it in place when it is wet and how to reinforce it. It’s information overload! There is no one set of clear and simple instructions. Concrete advice? I wish.
I had concrete plans, but actually getting started was daunting
I spend weeks reading as much as I can, endlessly working out different ways to make mine come to fruition (but being too alarmed to actually get started). Then one night I wake up to a crash, but I can’t work out what it is. In the morning it becomes obvious, a piece of original wooden architrave that I was planning to fix around the window has plummeted down and ripped through the protective covering on my new kitchen units.
Builders to the rescue, as Ben had visions of ruining his kitchen units with leaking concrete
A scarlet drawer front has a jagged scar down its front and I’m left red in the face with fury and frustration. Sanding down the damaged drawer front, filling the gash, repainting over it, all make it less visible, but it is still painfully obvious. And that is the moment I start to envisage potential disaster scenes of my solo attempts to pour a concrete side. Concrete leaking out from a crack and hardening down the face of the units; collapse; cracks; splashes on my just-laid floor. Wouldn’t it actually cost me more if that happened? I capitulate and ask my builders, who have made a few of them before, to help me out.
A sturdy building material that turns into a prima donna
The moment the ‘chippy’ starts confidently cutting the ply to make the shuttering as his enviable collection of tools sits next to him, I know I have made the right decision. I would have measured and re-measured each space, laboured away with a hand-held saw and taken far longer to work out solutions to cleverly hide the piece of ply on the base with a little overhang. My concrete mix would probably have been different shades, There is a remarkably thin line between creating something that looks modern and cool instead of a lumpy, bumpy, cheap experiment.

There’s still plenty for me to puzzle over, as I borrow my builder’s polishing tools to sand down the dried surface myself. I had always thought of concrete as somewhat impenetrable, but I quickly see that any water left on the worktop soaks in in no time. How do I stop it being so porous? I post a picture of where I am up to on Instagram and a follower quickly replies “Need to know MORE! What do you fill with, how do you ‘seal’ it?”. God knows – that’s what I want to know! I ask around architect mates. They in turn ask around in their offices and eventually my friend, Katherine, comes up trumps.
Three coats of Stain Stop has sealed the counter top
After three coats of Lithofin ‘Stain-Stop’ and 24-hour drying time, I drip water onto the surface again. This time it forms neat little balls, I wipe it off but there are still small, damp marks left. This is experimental design in progress, and I love how it looks – but my plain industrial worktop has proved to be neither quick, dirt cheap nor simple.

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Little bits that I have found in the house have worked their way into my head and influenced how I’ve re-designed it. This vintage kettle was covered in limescale, revolting, and in a bad way. After much cleaning it looks almost new, and fits rather well with my new cooker. So well I wonder whether it subliminally influenced my choice to have a bright red kitchen?! . . The kitchen is frustratingly close, but not done. Obviously there is no extractor fan here, and while the gas is in the electrics are not hooked up to the cooker. Next week maybe?! . . Cabinets from @furniture_nation . latches @suffolklatchcompany . Advice on what product to use on concrete worktop from @katn286 . . . . . . . #DoingUpTheDream #Margate #DIY #Renovation #Design #Victorianhouse #Decor #Homedecor #Home #myhome #buildingwork #building #UK @theipaper #originalfeatures #lovemargate #seasideliving #victorianterrace #howihome #interiorsblogger #designboom #roommakerover #houserenovation #renovationtown #myhomevibes #interiorinspiration #kitchen #red

A post shared by Ben Alden-Falconer (@margate_renovation_ipaper) on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:32am PDT

Follow Ben’s renovation progress on Instagram @Margate_renovation_ipaper
More from Ben Alden-Falconer Doing up the Dream: how Instagram is changing interior design Doing up the Dream: My kitchen is so near, and yet so far How homemade art makes your home unique and saves money How to brighten up your home with crazily bright interiors Doing up the Dream: why I'm making my kitchen work top from concrete Doing up the Dream: how to restore old buildings and add something new
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