Concrete reinforced: 6 ways to rock the industrial look that’s not going away 

In the bedroom: concrete walls
Bedrock: concrete walls Credit:  Carlina Teteris

From paint to planters, concrete is the versatile (and eco-friendly interiors trend 2020 has been crying out for, finds Sarah Rainey

Step inside the home of your trendiest friend and you’re guaranteed to come face-to-face with a slab – or two – of concrete. It’s been the bedrock of industrial chic for years – and, in the world of interiors, 2020 heralds a whole new era for all things grey, urban and achingly cool.

Now there’s good news for those who want to keep up with this pared-back trend while doing their bit for the planet. Scientists announced this week they have invented “living” concrete, a sustainable alternative made from a mix of sand and bacteria. When cracks develop in its structure, the bugs reproduce to fill the gaps, meaning it’s longer-lasting and more durable than ordinary concrete.

Experts say we can expect the eco-friendly masonry to make an appearance in kitchens, gardens and even bathrooms. So, here are six modern ways to go crazy for concrete… without making your home look like a multi-storey car park. 

1. Paint it on the walls

Yes, you read that right. You can actually paint concrete – a concrete-effect emulsion – on the walls of your home. Scottish paint brand Craig & Rose (craigandrose.com) sells matt “concrete-effect” paint, in both pale and dark hues, giving feature walls a rough, concrete-like texture (£50 for 2.5 litres).

If that sounds too much like hard work, why not buy wallpaper that looks – and feels – like the real thing? Cheshire-based studio Innerspace (innerspacecheshire.co.uk) sells a range of industrial-inspired wall coverings, from rust to charred timber, but sales manager Donna Carroll says their Concrete on a Roll – made with real concrete particles in resin on a fibreglass cloth – is by far their most popular.

Pale Elements concrete-effect paint

“People love the urban, back-to-basics look,” she explains. “Grey works with anything: we supply it to bars, restaurants, hotels, schools and homes. It’s durable, versatile and much easier to work with than real concrete.” At £225 for a 1m x 3m roll, however, it doesn’t come cheap.

A more purse-friendly option is faux concrete wallpaper, made from ordinary plaster mottled with shades of grey, from Lancashire-based Woodchip & Magnolia (£59 per roll, woodchipandmagnolia.co.uk). 

2. Eat your dinner off it

Concrete crockery is the ultimate in culinary cool, with Scandinavian-inspired designers casting everything from mugs to soup bowls in it. Not only is concrete a functional material – its structure keeps food hot and drinks cool – but grey is proven to be aesthetically pleasing to diners, so it’s only logical it would find its way on to the dinner table.

Wild & Wood (wildandwood.co.uk) has a wide range of concrete plates and bowls (from £20), as well as serving dishes (£35 to £55) and coasters (£20 for four), all cast from concrete made using granite from their local quarry in Leicestershire.

Conker concrete kitchen table from Loaf.com Credit:  Benjamin Norton Photography

Concrete egg cups (£37 from Nordic Nest, nordicnest.com) are one of the weird and wonderful designs by Scandi interiors brand Tove Adman, while wine connoisseurs can keep a bottle chilled to perfection in a concrete cooler (£28 from Nordic House, nordichouse.co.uk).

If you aren’t tempted by the prospect of eating off a paving slab, Villeroy & Boch have a range of imitation concrete dinner plates, made from porcelain, £14.90 each at Selfridges.

3. Bathe in a concrete tub

Forget copper taps and Art Deco tiles; bathrooms are getting the building-site makeover, too – and this year it’s all about the concrete bathtub. For £8,500, you can soak in a made-to-measure tub, in one of four shades of grey, by designer furniture business Smithers of Stamford in Lincolnshire (smithersofstamford.com).

Bathing in concrete Credit:  Andreas von Einsiedel

“Demand has gone through the roof,” says director Emma Smith. “It’s especially popular with men. Concrete is extremely hard-wearing and long-lasting, so it’s resistant to scratches and any cleaning chemicals. It’s also highly-polished so the finish on the bath is super-smooth and luxurious.”

Complete the look with concrete-topped taps (from £236 at luxury bathroom suppliers LivingHouse) in a stylish concrete basin by Kast (kastconcretebasins.com), an uber-cool Nottinghamshire-based company which specialises in bathroom fittings made from the “liquid stone”. “It’s strong, durable, aesthetically pure and thus the ideal material for interior surfaces,” explains founder Tim Bayes.

4. Light your home with it

For newbies, concrete light fittings are a subtle nod to the trend without going all out, with the material lending a muted, soft hue to an otherwise stark bulb. They work best in rooms with neutral colour schemes, and options range from uplighters to feature lamps.

Made.com sells a simple floor lamp with a concrete base (£89), while High Street favourite Oliver Bonas offers multicoloured versions of its £36 concrete table lamp with brass bulb-holder. At the pricier end of the spectrum is a dimmable concrete pendant light by Italian design duo LucidiPevere (£602 from The Conran Shop, conranshop.co.uk).

True concrete devotees can even opt to swap all the plastic light switches in their home for concrete ones (£59-£69 per fitting from specialists Swtch, swtch.co.uk).

5. Relax on concrete furniture

Those in the know say concrete furniture combines sturdiness and durability with urban style – even though it sounds far from comfortable to sit on.

Fine furnishings experts Turnbull & Thomas (turnbullandthomas.co.uk) offer a range of concrete pieces, from a £99 cube-shaped stool to a £756 pedestal table, while you can buy a set of £349 concrete chairs, with distressed metal legs, from Nottingham-based retailer The Worm That Turned (worm.co.uk).

Concrete in the kitchen Credit: YES

For pieces that fit the trend without the heaviness of real concrete, there are lookalike options, such as a concrete-coloured Chesterfield sofa (£5,950 from upscale interiors brand Rockett St George, rockettstgeorge.co.uk), or an oak table topped with polished grey resin (£955 at Loaf.com). The latter works well if you have a wooden floor and don’t want your table to clash.

6. Concrete over the garden

No, not literally. But concrete garden accessories are the latest in “tough-luxe”, elegantly bridging the gap between indoors and outdoors.

Concrete contrasts well with green foliage, so plant pots are a safe place to start. You can pick up cast concrete pots at John Lewis (£20 for two) or invest in larger planters for herbs and perennial plants (£89 for two at Made.com). There are indoor options, too, if you want to add some urban greenery to a porch or hallway (£67.50 for three planters at Grace & Glory Home, graceandgloryhome.co.uk).

And forget wicker or rattan; concrete chairs, benches and tables are the discerning urbanite’s garden furniture of choice. Upmarket retailer Beliani sells an eight-seater table with benches and stools for £1,829.99 (beliani.co.uk), or you can buy a concrete-effect two-person love seat by Italian designers Slide for £414. sarah