Kristi Hughes works on her design at the Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstration at World of Concrete.
Jenna Bodnar/Getty Images Kristi Hughes works on her design at the Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstration at World of Concrete.

There was a time when designers viewed concrete as impersonal, cold, and gray. But no longer. Over the years, concrete has evolved into an artistic, beautiful medium, often an important design component in a home or a building. Concrete's decorative element now attracts artists who normally wouldn't have considered working with such a basic material.

Kristi Hughes is a great example. Hughes is an interior designer, specializing as a fine arts painter. Through her firm, Kristi Hughes Design Etc., of Modesto, Calif., she takes on unique design challenges, ranging from furniture to kitchen cabinet hardware.

She's been interested in the material ever since Mark Miller from the concretist got her hooked. Her skills have elevated her into one of the industry's premier artisans. She proved it this past January by participating in the Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstrations at the World of Concrete.

“She was a pro, a real pro,” says Joe Nasvik, senior editor of Concrete Construction magazine and coordinator of the event. Nasvik should know; he has worked with a number of artists over the years at this event. He could see her knowledge of the materials she was using and her imagination when working on the design.

Hughes' artistic viewpoint is evident in how she looks at concrete.

“Women, we look at concrete differently than men,” she says. “A man looks at concrete as concrete. Talking with the women with whom I worked at the World of Concrete, we look at concrete as something you can manipulate and that you can make different. We don't look at it as just concrete.”

“You can do anything with it,” she continues. “Also, women think about things in smaller details, not that we don't have big ideas.”

Big ideas

And Hughes does have big ideas of what she wants to do next. She is beginning to looks at buildings from an artist's perspective. “All of our buildings float on top of the earth, rather than being part of it,” says Hughes. “With everything going green, it is another way to make our buildings look like they fit into our natural environment.”

She would like to work with a tilt-up company and make a design on the side of a building that would become a part of the natural surroundings. “You could have the huge side of a building and when lights hit it, it would look different. During certain lights, you would see a pattern or an image. That's one of my biggest dreams. I just look at it as a bigger palette,” says Hughes.

Hughes doesn't hesitate telling others how much she loves working with concrete. “It is absolutely my passion to conceptualize something and take it to reality,” she says. “I get so excited!”