Vertical decorative concrete is well on its way to becoming a major design trend in the marketplace. All one needs to do is look at its potential for creativity and innovation to see the viability of this craft.

In recent years, the styles that seem to have risen to the top have been the classic “dry stack” look of plaster with exposed stone. Dry stack stone is almost a lost art form. Trained masons would gather stone together and place each piece in such a way that there would be no need for mortar. It took a tremendous amount of time and knowledge to create a sound and stable wall. Hand carving details like this in vertical decorative concrete can be done in a day where a mason might take a week. Walls, wine cellars, pillars and fire places are some of the most popular places to apply vertical decorative concrete.

Coming in a close second is the plaster with exposed stone look. For decades, faux finishers/plasterers have used joint compounds and similar materials to achieve this look. Vertical decorative concrete answers this call with stunning realism.

There are several manufacturers in the industry that offer a light weight, carvable, stampable, vertical concrete mix that can be easily placed on walls or other vertical surfaces. There are new concrete stains and paints that replace the traditional method of acid staining. The tools of the trade are common enough, such as a 3-inch rounded pool trowel, point trowel, tuck-pointing trowels, margin trowel, hawk and various brushes and pads.

The texturizing tools are more rare. There aren’t many companies that make them but there are good items to be found online at www.Specco.com (mixes and colors), www.WaltTools.com (mixes, colors and tools) and www.SmithPaints.com (colors).

Get Working

The procedure for creating vertical decorative concrete structures is relatively simple. Once a substrate is prepared with a bonding agent, a brown or scratch coat is applied. The next step is the carving coat-this phase is where the fun begins.

Application, design, texture, carving and sculpting all take place in a few hours. This material is the finished top coat. It stays malleable all day long and various techniques can be executed throughout the day at different drying times.

From soft as butter to strong enough to support a couple hundred psi, the variety of projects that can be sculpted is very wide. When a designer can have complete freedom in a medium it’s always a good thing.

Size, color and shape are all variables when you’re working in hand-carved, vertical decorative concrete. It used to be that someone working in decorative concrete had to have an intimate knowledge of concrete itself. Today, we find that you don’t need prior knowledge of concrete to get started.

A short list of individuals working in concrete now may include painters, tile installers, marble and other floor tradesmen, faux finishers, plumbers, carpenters and plasterers.

Better Than Real

Vertical decorative concrete is a viable alternative to many vertical products in the marketplace and, in the hands of the skilled installer, there is much that can be accomplished. If you were to dream up an environment that had pillars, archways and corridors of stone throughout an area, you might think it would be hard to realize. It doesn’t take very long to create that dream space using concrete.

Just recently, there was a public wine room created (note pictures) where real stone was placed in the same area as vertical decorative concrete. The real stone took second place to the VDC-not because it didn’t look good, but because it was not as exciting.

Is this really hard to learn?

I tell people all the time, any stone work is just three things: lines, texture and color. These are the three things that comprise all the projects I have ever worked on. Once you have acquired the knowledge to execute the principles of stone facing, then lines, texture and color are all that remain. Training is critical if you are to acquire the necessary skills to sculpt realistic stone work or other vertical decorative finishes. Not unlike other trades, craftsmen do not like to share their secrets with anyone for fear of training their competition. That’s an unfortunate fact but it’s been a personal goal of mine to spread those tips and tricks of this “mysterious” craft. Of course, practice is the key to becoming a skilled sculptor.

Already An Expert?

In a nutshell, if you are a plasterer or faux finisher, you already have 90 percent of the skills mastered. A hawk and trowel is foreign to most and it takes years to master those tools. Faux finishers and plasterers make excellent stone sculptors as they have a solid grasp of color, as well as the experience of troweling vertical surfaces. If you have examined the photos in this article and realized that all that you’ve seen has come right out of a bag, mixed in a bucket, applied with a trowel, textured, carved, faux finished and are interested in learning more, feel free to touch base.