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Engineered Counter Repels Oil, Vinegar, Marker

Richard Brooks likes making a mess on his white concrete counter. "Olive oil is in everything," Brooks says as he doodles on the clean surface with an indelible pen. He grabs a bottle of oil and shakes some onto an expanding puddle of vinegar, mustard, soy sauce, ketchup and salad dressing. He pours boiling water over everything and sticks the pan on top. "Don't worry - it cleans right up."

Brooks is demonstrating the marvels of engineered concrete, also known as Verdicrete , a product that he developed primarily for use as an alternative to natural stone for kitchen counters. Like regular concrete, it's made from Portland cement and sand, but glass fibers replace the gravel, or aggregate, that is the usual third component of concrete.

It is these glass fibers, Brooks explains, that give Verdicrete flexibility and allow it to be formed into endless shapes that will not crack over time. His company makes everything from sinks to fireplace mantels and architectural moldings. Verdicrete can be tinted any paint color. Kitchen countertops, which can include integrated sinks, are cast without the seams that mar many large islands made from slabs of stone.

Richard Brooks began his career as an antiques restorer in Manhattan. "I fell in love with furniture," he says. He began making modern furniture for the design trade out of his atelier on Tenth Ave. After several kitchen projects, his focus changed to wood and butcher block countertops.

Today, Brooks Counters is a thriving business with a clientele that stretches from Boston to Philadelphia. Wooden counters are still the top sellers for kitchens, Brooks says, though new materials, such as Verdicrete, metal and glass are being specified by designers and homeowners who want a different look.

Brooks says Verdicrete satisfies the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements for new construction. "Portland cement comes from Pennsylvania, so it's local. And sand is local: we use purified rainwater collected from our factory roof and the finish has zero volatile organic compounds (VOC)," Brooks says. "It's totally green."

It's also low maintenance. Remember the mess Brooks made? A couple of paper towels and some elbow grease with a Scotch-Brite pad and the countertop looked brand new. "See?" he says. "Even the olive oil and pen came out."

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