Okay, you've read the accompanying concrete design article, How to Build a Concrete Patio, but you're wondering if there's more. Perhaps you're thinking,"Concrete floors are rather plain." And you'd like to know how patios or landings with concrete floors could be embellished to enhance their standing in your overall landscape. Fortunately, concrete design needn't be stark and uninteresting.
Furthermore, you're trying to cut down on the total cost of your do-it-yourself concrete patio. You know that concrete can be treated merely as a foundation layer for brick pavers or flagstone in the north, where the freezing-thawing cycle requires such a foundation to prevent surface cracking. But as much as you appreciate these hardscape elements, you want to avoid the expense of brick or flagstone. Or perhaps you lack the time required to lay such flooring materials properly.
Sure enough, a number of options exist for decorating concrete floors that involve little trouble, and some are quite inexpensive, to boot. Most of these options do, however, require the use of some foresight on the part of the do it yourselfer. For, since concrete solidifies rather quickly, any patio design that involves manipulating the concrete itself must be implemented at just the right time in the course of the project. I will begin by listing a few of these options that require planning, before providing a couple of "afterthought" alternatives for those who are less organized. I'll then conclude by focusing on one particular concrete patio design solution that will catch the attention of novelty seekers.
Patio Designs for Your Concrete Floors:
- After you have used a float to smooth out the concrete surface, stud the surface with small decorative stones. Lightly tamp the stones into the concrete before it sets.
- Add concrete dye to your concrete and water as you begin to mix your concrete. If you section off the patio area with multiple forms, you can even dye the different sectors different colors.
- To mimic flagstone, use a jointer to divide your concrete into flagstone-shaped sections, after you have smoothed it with a float. Then, after the concrete cures, apply one color of concrete paint to some of these sections, and another color to the rest.
- Everyone is familiar with the impressions made from hands or feet being stuck in wet concrete. Based on this same principle, you can construct molds that will translate a given shape into the wet concrete, after floating. Apply a lubricant to the molds, so that they can be extracted from the concrete as it dries. If constructing a mold sounds like too much work, improvise with existing objects that you have on hand.
In cases where the foresight necessary to realize the above plans is lacking, there's still hope, in the form of:
- Concrete paint
- Modular decking
After the concrete has cured, concrete paint can be applied to supply the patio floor with some visual interest.
Or if you wish to hide the concrete altogether, you can buy modular decking. The product is variously marketed as "snapping deck tiles," "interlocking deck tiles," etc. But the basic idea is the same: wooden tile units (approximately 1 square foot each) are snapped together Lego-style to form a flooring on top of your concrete patio. No glue, screws, or tools are required, and the flooring is easily disassembled for future use. To view a sample, click "More Images" below the picture (above right) to access the mini-photo gallery.
Concrete Patio Design -- A "Sun" Inlay:
- Buy a few feet of inexpensive lead flashing.
- Trace out shapes that you'd like to use in your concrete patio design, placing clear guidelines for cutting right onto the lead itself.
- Using shears or snips, cut out the shapes.
- First prime, then paint the shapes with the color(s) that you desire.
- After smoothing the concrete with a float, inlay these shapes into the concrete floor at the desired places. Press firmly, so as to achieve good adhesion between concrete and lead.
- At a later time, go back and apply a protective finish to the shapes, such as polyurethane.
Tip #1: If you have any doubts about being able to inlay the shapes into the concrete floor fast enough to outrace the hardening concrete, take a precautionary measure. Simply drill small holes at strategic spots in the shapes prior to working with the concrete, and insert short galvanized nails into these holes. Paint the heads of the nails the same color as the shapes. This way, if you don't get around to your inlay work at an optimal time, you will still be able to press the nails into the concrete. The concrete will adhere to the nails, while the nails will secure the shapes.
Tip #2: If you don't take this precautionary measure, the shapes will work their way out, eventually. And even if you do use nails, you'll probably find yourself having to touch up your concrete patio design, over time.
Tip #3: If all this seems like too much trouble, make your inlay using small stones, instead -- a material that will offer greater stability. But even if the lead flashing of your sun inlay works itself out of place over time, the imprint of the design will still be there, giving you a guideline to go by if you would like to color it with concrete floor paint.
A final word: The before and after photos that accompany this article illustrate what can be achieved through such inlays. The "after" photo is at the top of this page; the "before" photo is in the mini-photo gallery mentioned earlier. The project captured in the photos is the same concrete patio floor project described in How to Build a Concrete Patio. I happen to have chosen a sun globe with sun rays shooting out as a patio design for my concrete floor, but the possibilities of concrete patio design are almost endless.