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Concrete Construction
The Green Scene in Concrete Construction, August 2010

Backyard Expanses
The concrete countertop is the focal point for outdoor kitchens

by Tom Bagsarian

Scott Cohen is riding a wave in California. But it's not the type of wave surfers in the Golden State maneuver.

As owner of The Green Scene in Los Angeles, Cohen is preaching the merits of outdoor kitchen design and construction techniques to anyone with an ear. People are apparently listening. And there is more than just the kitchen. The trend includes defining different outdoor rooms in a single backyard. The kitchen is just one of these rooms.

"People may give up a lot of different things to save money these days, but the outdoor kitchen is holding strong", says Cohen. During a recession people don't travel as much, and they take staycations. They do more home entertaining than when there isn't a recession."

Blue Lagoon Bar Counter Fiber Optics Glass

Also, an outdoor kitchen is a home improvement a husband and wife can agree on. "It's a unique home environment because in many categories, the lady of the house wants to remodel the kitchen, the bathroom, or the closets, and the man says it's not important to him," says Cohen. This category is so strong because husbands and wives agree it's a good place to spend money. Both people are on board with the concept."

And they are spending money. A cast concrete counter can cost up to $20,000 and range from 8 to 28 feet long. "Like with any home improvement, there's a certain amount of one-upping the Joneses", he says. Clients tell Cohen their friends have a nice concrete counter that is 8 feet long, but they want something better, perhaps 10 feet long, with a refrigerator,

ice maker, and beverage center, with better lighting and outdoor sound.

Retail value for this category is excellent. People looking for homes, especially in California, go in the backyard and ask, where is the barbecue, Cohen says. "The perceived value is about twice as much as it cost to build," he says. "If I build an outdoor kitchen for $10,000, someone will go in that backyard and think it cost $20,000."

Concrete's Advantages

Cohen, who is a general contractor, landscape contractor, and pool contractor, employs 40 people.They do their own concrete and masonry work, which includes walls, steps, patio covers, balconies, flat work, and of course, concrete countertops.

"I love the versatility of the cast concrete counter, he explains. I can keep the materials and decisions in my camp. If someone wants granite, we have to go outside to a fabricator and deal with transportation. With concrete, I can custom design anything with 40 different integral colors for my client. I can stain it, embed it with crushed glass or stone, and there's no waste. It's created all onsite with inexpensive polystyrene foam molds.

Clients do not want grout lines, and the countertop is usually 6500 to 7000 psi strength concrete Cohen uses a penetrating sealer and a topical sealer over that. Then the homeowner applies the topical sealer every 6 months to keep the surface clean.

For the flooring, Cohen will do a stamped concrete patio and then do a different stamped pattern in another location to define it as its own outdoor room.

Eichenberger Outdoor Kitchen

When using stamped concrete outdoors, the texture should not be too deep so that the furniture does not rock back and forth.

Also, a floor should be sealed if the homeowners entertain a lot with caterers and bartenders. This protects the surface from spills such as grease and red wine.

Practice Makes Perfect
"Countertops are close to a person's face", Cohen says. The precision and quality of the finish is going to be scrutinized much closer than a walkway leading to a garage. Countertops are tricky to cast in place and trowel in place. It takes a skilled finisher to get a smooth top. I suggest testing your colors and techniques on a couple of 12x12 stepping stones. Try different forms."

Scott Cohen's Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook goes into greater detail about casting concrete countertops and shows the process of incorporating glass chips and fiber optic lighting.

He will also speak at Hanley Wood's International Pool Spa and Patio Expo Oct 31 - Nov. 5