Concrete? As a countertop? You mean that same kind of concrete they use for roads, sidewalks and bridges? How is that possible?

Those might have been the questions you asked when you first heard about concrete as a kitchen feature; but concrete countertops have now become mainstream. You’ll see them in high-end homes and cool kitchen remodels. With the advent of new stains and colorization products, and with the addition of rock, glass and other embedded inlays in a custom-made countertop, concrete offers endless creative possibilities.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of concrete:

First of all, concrete is a fairly simple material to work with, and either a good contractor or a bold DIY-er can do what it takes to get good-looking concrete countertops into your home. Basically cement and sand, concrete countertops are usually poured in place in your kitchen, although some contractors like to cast, cure and seal the concrete in a shop environment and then deliver it to your home. Casting concrete countertops in place allows for unusual designs like radiused edges and curved corners.

Large countertop areas will usually require seams, but the seams don’t always have to be straight lines like the ones in the sidewalk—they can form curving, organic or even abstract design elements. Some contractors and manufacturers fill seams with color-matched fillers, so the end result appears to be seamless.

Concrete used to be thought of as solely an industrial, hyper-modern surface, but with all the color, design and inlay options now available, today’s concrete countertop designs have moved beyond that singular look.

What’s so great about concrete? Well, it’s highly durable, as you might imagine, and unlike many other countertop materials, it has enormous creative potential with its ability to incorporate an almost endless number of colors, finishes and custom inlays. One concrete countertop I saw last week, for example, looked like a bluish-green, flowing ocean tidepool, with inlaid shells and plants.

Okay, so what are the downsides of a concrete countertop? Most importantly, it must be sealed, and that process has to be repeated regularly. Unsealed, or even poorly sealed and maintained concrete, will stain easily. Just think about the possibilities—spill oil and vinegar, wine, just about any colored liquid, and unless your (expensive!) concrete countertop has been well-sealed, it will immediately and permanently stain. Some cooks like this look, with its patina as evidence of a working kitchen, but if you want a smooth, uniformly-colored surface, concrete may not be for you.

Another downside: concrete is heavy! This means that countertop thicknesses of more than an inch or maybe an inch and a half can weigh more than standard under-counter cabinetry is designed to support. This is basically the same problem that thick slabs of marble or granite can cause, especially in cabinetry that isn’t designed or reinforced to hold up so much weight. Check with your contractor, who will know what the weight and thickness of your proposed countertop will do to your existing cabinets.

One more caution: heat can be the enemy of concrete countertops. Set a hot pan down on a sealed concrete surface, and it won’t hurt the concrete itself—but it will leave a permanent scorch mark on the sealant used on that surface.

Take a look at some of the truly unique new concrete countertop designs, and you’ll see why, despite these downsides, more and more homeowners are opting for the creative possibilities concrete offers.