Towards the end of 2019, Natalie Feltham set out to find a simple, minimal vessel to burn incense in her home.
She wanted something more sober than the clay or ceramic options she’d seen, with “clean, symmetrical and sharp lines.” But it “didn’t really exist,” she said. So Mrs. Feltham, 27, who lives in Hitchin, England, decided to make her own concrete.
Getting the necessary materials wasn’t that difficult, she said. Making concrete requires only three ingredients: cement, water and additives, which are small particles of sand, gravel or stone. Cement is mixed with water to form a paste, which is combined with the aggregates and poured into a mold. As it hardens, the mixture becomes concrete.
“It’s a pretty easy medium to mix and make,” says Ms. Feltham, who had noticed concrete was used to make countertops and tile, but “not really in small house pieces.”
After the incense burner was completed, Ms. Feltham began using the material to make other decorations and began selling pieces through her line, Concrete Goods, in early 2020. Her boyfriend, James Goodwin Davies, 30, left his job as a graphic designer later that year to become a co-owner of Concrete Goods, which now sells candlesticks, bowls, plates, soap dishes and, of course, incense burners that the two make using the material. .
Their products are among a number of home furnishings made from concrete, which sneaks into categories more commonly associated with ceramics. On Etsy, there was a 49 percent increase in searches for concrete or cement trays on the site in the past 12 months compared to the same period last year, as well as a 25 percent increase in searches for concrete or cement decor, according to Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert for Etsy.
“I think it’s kind of making its way into that ceramics space,” said William Losleben, an artist and craftsman in Sultan, Wash. “Things that were once made of clay or terracotta can be made of concrete quite easily.”
While Mr. Losleben uses the material to make furniture, including side tables, desks and chairs for his line Concrete Project, he also sells smaller trays, bowls and even boxes made of concrete.
Emma McDowall, 28, an artist in Edinburgh, Scotland, who uses concrete to create candlesticks, vases and other pieces for her line of Studio Emma, said the material has an unpredictable quality that can appeal to craftsmen and consumers alike. because subtle changes to the process of making something with concrete can change a finished piece.
Adding more water can lead to cracked finishes, the way it is mixed can result in more (or fewer) visible air bubbles, and the type of aggregate used can affect texture and tone.
“You don’t get that with a ceramic piece,” Mrs. McDowall said.
Joe Mitchell, 35, a surveyor in Holmfirth, England, said the incense burner he bought from Concrete Goods in 2020 “started his love affair” with the material, and has since bought other concrete decorations, including trays and even a dining room. . table that characterizes it.
“Concrete can be as smooth as glass, or rough and tactile,” said Mr Mitchell, noting that this array of textures is part of what attracts him to the material.
Candace Molatore, 26, a marketing specialist living in Portland, said she started buying concrete vases and other barrels during the lockdown. She was drawn to the material for its muted tone, which she says helps spaces “feel airy, bright and light” and more like those in Scandinavian homes.
Concrete dates back thousands of years. One of the earliest remains of the material, believed to be from 5600 BC, was discovered in the mid-1960s along the Danube River in Serbia and was made of sand, gravel, water and limestone, according to the book “History of Concrete : A Very Ancient and Modern Material” by Per Jahren and Tongbo Sui One.
The authors write that much of the concrete used today is made with Portland cement, for which Joseph Aspdin, a bricklayer from Leeds, England, received a patent in the 19th century. It is usually made in a kiln using limestone, clay and other minerals.
Kate Balsis, 37, the creative director and co-owner of Concrete Collaborative, an architectural finishing firm in San Marcos, Calif., said the evolution of concrete from an industrial material to a material used to create decor has coincided with a growing “growth” interest in architecture and design happens to the average person who wasn’t there 10 years ago.”
“I don’t know if it’s Instagram or something else, but everyone is much more interested in it,” said Ms. Balsis, whose company started a sister brand in 2017, Concrete Love, which sells concrete jewelry, bowls and planters. and other small goods.
She believes that interest in the material also stems from an increased desire to interact with objects placed in a home. “People really want a story behind the product,” says Ms Balsis.
Concrete offers that because pieces made from it are often handcrafted in small batches, while the process of making porcelain or other ceramics can be “really automated,” said Mario Guagnelli, 52, co-founder of IntoConcrete, who said: sells products made with the material by artisans around the world.
As a result, it is often the case that no two concrete products are ever exactly the same.
“There is something about concrete that is very special, and we have learned over the years that it is difficult to mass-produce,” said Mr Guagnelli.
All Consuming is a column about things we see – and now want to buy.