What Fu-Tung Cheng Can Teach Us About Concrete Floors In Interior Design

Concrete is generally thought of as a material of utility and not beauty: Build a floor out of hardwood or marble, now that’s beautiful. Concrete…eh…not so much. But a lot of interior designers have tried to break with tradition and use this cheap, (and let’s admit it, somewhat ugly) material with breath-taking effect. One absolute master of this style is a Berkeley-based designer and architect, Fu-Tung Cheng. Cheng, the youngest of 5 kids, comes from a family of artists. He is a devout Buddhist and practioner of Tai Chi who has applied the Eastern ethic to spacing and interior design. Today we will take a look at some of his work and see what we can learn.


The Teance is a popular, Berkeley landmark known for its artisanal teas, devotion to sustainable harvests, and philosophical conversation that can often be heard around the tea bar, which stays open late into the night. One of the ways that Cheng was able to capture the spirit of the tea house in floor design is by clever use of poured concrete immediately in the center of the building, right around the tea bar. Since the tea bar is the point of central utility, where tea is served and the most intense conversations occur, he filled it with concrete. This concrete is rough, somewhat uneven, and contains tiny, little fossils for texture. The outside perimeter of the tea bar is more low-key and reserved, where he used black, Brazilian tile; smooth and refractive. The two contrary features: A roughshod, gray circle of concrete and the smooth elegance of the tile, serves to demarcate the tea house into a “high utility area,” and a “low utility area.” The two worlds are bisected by a thin line of copper, which outlines the circle of concrete.


A Boston-based, consulting group needed to revamp its image. Although they boasted several Fortune 100 firms as well as a Big 4 accounting firm in their client roster, they still operated in a squat, gray office that looked more like a Politburo detention center than it did the headquarters of a multinational, strategic marketing and consulting firm. Cheng went back to the basics with this concrete floor restoration: He conceptualized the core of what a consulting firm is about– The interplay of thoughts and ideas. Creative ideas often come from the subconscious, so he developed a primordial floor pattern which at once insinuates the image of an axon ( a type of neuron) while giving the graceful, dreamlike curve of genetic material (representing genesis, or the creation of something new). This approach borders abstract art. He then selected blue and coppery gold as his color scheme, giving the viewer the sense they are gliding across the Great Barrier Reef in a glass-bottomed boat rather than sitting at work. With a floor like this who needs an office with a window?


I have no idea how many internet start-ups one needs to found in order to afford a home like this in the Bay Area but the typical, Cheng approach to using concrete in interior design is no more evident than in this luxury home. The relative inexpensiveness of the material allowed Cheng to use it graciously, developing seating arrangements, balconies, and flooring with concrete. He then polished and colored it to contain a milky, gray, weathered look. This contrasts beautifully with the black paneling (which is sustainably-grown, Japanese bamboo) and the verdant hillside of the Northern California coast.

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