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Concrete furniture on a diet: Cool looks, lighter weight

March 18, 2012 |  9:36 am

Dune Green-formPantone declared a kicky orange called Tangerine Tango as color of the year, but one of the most interesting shades hitting stores and websites this season is the cool, calm, collected gray of concrete. The material’s sheer weight made it too difficult for furniture makers to manipulate and too expensive for retailers to ship in years past, but lately designers have been experimenting with lightweight composites that allow a shopper to carry a concrete side table without getting a hernia.

Spindle table Zachary BitnerZachary A. Bitner said one of his chairs in traditional concrete would tip the scale at 350 pounds, but when the same chair is made with his formulation of coarse sand and fiberglass, the weight drops to 50. The lighter composite needs no sealant and makes the piece easier to move and more resistant to cracking than concrete, Bitner said.

His Spindle table, right, has a shapely silhouette that would be difficult to deliver in traditional concrete. The design comes in two sizes, $349 to $499. It can be ordered through Hayward’s in Santa Barbara, (805) 966-1390, or through the designer's site, www.zacharyadesign.com.

Green-form, a Santa Monica firm that specializes in fiber cement furniture and planters, achieves the shifting-sands silhouette of Dune, pictured at the top of the post, with Portland cement, synthetic and organic fibers, water and microscopic air pockets. Sheets of the material are rolled out, cut and shaped by hand. Price: $1,123 to $1,271 per piece.

Keep reading for about 10 more designs ...

Wisteria concrete table Pebble table West ElmThe Architect’s Favorite side table, left, from Wisteria is made with a composite mix that has the color variations of concrete but not the weight. It’s nearly 2 feet tall and just 33 pounds. $199. Photo from Wisteria

The Pebble side table, right, from West Elm looks like a monolithic hunk of concrete but is light enough to be picked up and moved. $149. Photo from West Elm

Hive-Dining-Table-Edge-ClosBitner said the sand-and-fiberglass mix that he uses is so light, he actually has to add weight to his Hive dining table, above, to make it more stable. The table looks like concrete, right, but weighs only 50 pounds. Price: $649.

The table is shown with Bitner's Stone dining chairs, $399 each.

"Each piece has a little more or a little less sand, making them unique from one another," Bitner said by email. "That's what so many people are looking for these days. It's a mass production technique, but each is an honest original. I couldn't make an exact replica if I tried." He has been selling the pieces occasionally through the flash sale site Fab.com, as well as at Hayward’s in Santa Barbara, (805) 966-1390, or through Bitner's site, www.zacharyadesign.com. Photos from Zachary A. Design


Green-form's Loop design comes as a chair (51 pounds, $956) and table (26 pounds, $596). Photo from Green-form


The Laguna Concrete Fire Columns from Restoration Hardware are actually made of a lightweight, heat-resistant composite. They stand 32 inches ($249) and 38 inches ($379) tall. Photo from Restoration Hardware


James De Wulf coffee table

As something of a counterpoint, here's work by James De Wulf, who largely skips lightweight composites in favor of a dense, heavy mortar made of cement and sand. His cantilevered Leaning coffee table, nearly 5 feet wide, is reinforced with a carbon fiber grid to give the thin tabletop additional strength. The artist said he prefers the heft and buttery finish of mortar even though lighter-weight composites are easier to work with and can translate to lower prices. "I know it makes more sense for mass market," De Wulf said, "but I love the heavy stuff. I love furniture that really feels substantial." $2,400. (310) 315-7100. Photo from James De Wulf

De Wulf's Harvest table has a concrete top set on a powder-coated steel base. It's $3,900. Photo from James De Wulf



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— Craig Nakano and Lisa Boone

Dune photo from Green-form; Spindle photo from Zachary A. Design