More Practical Than Plaster and Cement: This Material Is on Our Reno Radar
Use it on countertops, floors, cabinets—literally anywhere.
Published Nov 17, 2020 12:29 AM
Smooth is the best way to describe the interior of Natalie Saunders and Louis Litrenta’s Airbnb in California’s Joshua Tree. Nearly every surface in the home—the floor, the baseboards, the fireplace, the kitchen countertops and cabinet surround, the built-in bed—is covered in microcement, a composite coating that is a blend of cement, water-based resins, and mineral pigments. The product has been popular in Greece, Spain, and other parts of Europe and only started to gain traction in the U.S. in the past five years or so. “Watching it being applied was like watching someone ice a giant cake,” says Saunders. “It was very mesmerizing.”
The stuff looks like concrete, but don’t get the two confused: Microcement is a lot lighter. Saunders and Litrenta’s contractor, Michael A. Wilson, estimates each layer is no thicker than three-sixteenths of an inch, meaning it can go on top of plywood. And unlike plaster, it’s not porous, so if you use it on your kitchen countertop or walls, you don’t have to worry about staining. “You can cook with all the turmeric you want,” says designer Claire Thomas, who recently used it in her desert Airbnb. Ahead, get the lowdown on the ultra-practical material that’s taking the renovation world by storm.
How Do You Get It?
Through their contractor, Saunders and Litrenta connected with a supplier in San Diego that carries Topciment, the largest manufacturer of microcement in Spain. The company sells seven different types—some are more robust than others and can go on the floor of a swimming pool, while others are more decorative. The brand’s colors are customizable, so you can put your own spin on it. “I would make tiny adjustments, like adding a little more red or yellow to it,” says Saunders. “I held my breath when we put the first layers down.” Promix, a company based in New Jersey, also makes a variety of microcement finishes.
Where Can You Use It?
Pool decks, kitchens, fireplaces, benches—there’s really no limits to where you can put microcement. East London–based design blogger Sophie Watson used it all over her shower walls (microcement is waterproof when sealed, making it a smart choice for a bathroom) and then painted the ceiling and window frame in the same color to bring the rustic, vacationing-in-Sardinia vibes full circle. “It was a relative splurge,” says Watson, noting the cost ended up being the same as if she had done all the walls in mid- to high-end tiles, “but it was worth it. I’ll be using it on my kitchen counter and backsplash to mimic the texture of marble.”
Should You DIY?
Because the process is so tedious (each layer requires 24 hours to cure and dry before the next can be applied) and requires some skill with a trowel, it’s best to leave the job to a professional who is at least familiar with working with plaster. “It’s quite an art form,” says Saunders.
In a case like Thomas’s desert kitchen, where the microcement was going in between the cabinet doors, the material is layered on top of the wood cupboard frames on-site and then the cabinet company makes the fronts to fit inside each niche.
What Happens Over Time?
While Saunders has noticed some minor nicks and stains in the high-traffic areas of her home (mainly the floors by the kitchen sink and stove), overall it’s held up beautifully over the past few years. The stuff is prized for its resilience for a reason, but it’s also hygienic: “There is no need to clean grout,” Watson points out. In her space, she did need to cover spots where the walls meet the floor with silicone, that way no water can seep through.
“Even though it’s a hard surface, it has a much warmer feel than polished concrete or lime plaster,” says Saunders. “Everyone who enters our home comments that they feel like they have been transported to a spa retreat in Europe.”
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