I wouldn’t say that our vision of polished concrete floors was exactly embraced by those involved in our project. The discussion involved many a pregnant pause and a gear or three visibly turning in these tile-focused heads. Portugal is famous for its tiles, which can be spectacular, but for reasons involving lifestyle, the optimal performance of our geothermal system (concrete floors work well with the moderate temperatures produced by the system) and the general pared-down aesthetic of our house, we decided early on that we wanted concrete floors in the kitchen, outdoor dining area and a number of living and utility spaces.
Oh, but the cracks! But we don’t know of anyone who’s done this.
Wouldn’t it feel very cold? So grey!
How are you going to feel when the cracks start to appear? Indeed, how?
Then came the suggestions: have you seen these tiles? What about this? And that? We even travelled down to Lisbon to look at some micro-cement floors (here are some examples) which we simply didn’t like enough. No, we were after the industrial look. Or, to use that very accurate term: industrial-ish.
Finally, our construction fairies took us to a warehouse that had a recently finished, rather fantastic concrete floor, so the supplier was contacted and miraculously he was happy to oblige the mad foreigners. His company had never done a residential project, but he was gung-ho and the date was set.
We’ve discovered along the way that as one’s house takes shape, so do the milestones – those big days that somehow take on more meaning than the others. When a certain element or area gets to its final stage, when it gets that final layer or finishing touch, the end becomes a little more tangible and you can almost – almost – imagine yourself living in that space. The pouring of the floors represented such a milestone and we were definitely not going to miss the show for anything.
Plan A and the Next Best Thing
As we left home, we were both excited but as Tom put it, also “ready to be disappointed.” It’s a funny old sentiment that creeps in as the days tick by and the gremlins show their ugly faces – a bit of cynicism mixed with lowered expectations. Our philosophy with this build has always been to aim for the best or most appealing solution that is do-able. That last part is more important than you think, because when you’re not operating in a comfort zone, market or culture, that next best thing has to find a happy home in your head early on. You know, just in case.
The Concrete Show
Somehow the sin of staring at people who are hard at work seems extra criminal, so we arrived on site a little after 10am. They were starting later than planned, but for once we couldn’t be frustrated with the Portuguese sense of time, because we were really going to see the whole pour, push and polish performance.
Once again I was shocked at how fascinating a back-breaking, dirty process can be. Actually, when you look at these pictures, you’d think that I’m fascinated with butts but ehm, actually, I was looking at the concrete. Really.
Not that there’s anything wrong with bum-watching… is there? Besides, I have to respect their privacy and not show their faces, right?
As with these bottom shots, I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves, but in short the process goes something like this:
The concrete is brought into the house with the aid of a concrete pumping vehicle with a hydraulic arm. A team spread the concrete around, vibrate it to get rid of air and smooth edges with trowels and floats. This all happens at relative speed to get the concrete level and aired before it sets. Then they wait for the concrete to harden to a certain level to start the smoothing and polishing process.
The whole waiting-and-polishing process requires these guys to work late into the night. Every now and then they have to jump up, start the burnishers (commonly called the helicopters) and polish the floor until a desired level of smoothness and hardness is achieved before they can sit down again for a while.
The next morning the floors looked good and the guys looked wrecked.
Since the concrete has to dry for 28 days before we can seal them, the jury is out on the final result, but we’re hopeful that industrial-ish has been achieved.
I’ve also learnt that watching concrete dry is far more interesting than watching paint dry. Especially if it’s your concrete.
And if there’s a bit of side entertainment in the form of butt appreciation, even better! Of course the expression “Bottoms up!” has now taken on a whole new meaning…