You need to read less and think more!

This blog is about getting stoked and getting worthwhile things done. There is a sea of useless information bombarding you, and this is a desert island where you beach your boat and build a hut. There are also some clever little construction tricks to be presented.



Monday, August 29, 2011

just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Living and working in a small town has it's advantages:  not fighting traffic too much, forgetting to lock up a truck or your shop rarely bites you, you get to know your kids' friends' folks, and if you dedicate yourself to really mastering a weird niche and are not a jerk, you eventually get a good reputation to enjoy.  Some days, people will even call you and say something like "I'm building a house for a lady who saw______ in a magazine, and I know if anybody can make that out of concrete it's you."  Stuff like that will inflate your head if you are not careful, but it still feels good to hear some times.

Anyway, I got a call today from a builder who was interested in concrete that looked like wood.  Not such a bad idea at first blush for a theme park, a porch in the flood plane, or some other such situation where the look and texture of wood was desirable despite intense food traffic or submersion.  However this was a countertop job.
"Why not just make it out of wood?" I asked.  He didn't rightly know.  Point is, there is something in most of us that is attracted to gimmicks like a largemouth bass to a spinner bait.  Sure, no fish looks like that, but the bass tries to eat it anyhow.

I thought about the project out loud with the builder and told him that if his owner really had her heart set on something really unique that looked like wood, he ought to work with Thom Hunt from bigbamboostudios.net and have him make something out of zoopoxy (an epoxy often used for fake trees and what-not in theme parks and zoos).

After I got off the phone I started thinking about where was an appropriate place for fake wood.  Disney World made sense, as the fakeness of the whole deal is part of the fun, I think.  The more I thought about it, the firmer I became in my conviction.  John Ruskin was right:

When we build, let us think that we build forever.
Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone.
Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for;
and let us think, as we lay stone on stone,
that a time is to come when those stones will be held
sacred because our hands have touched them,
and that men will say, as they look upon
the labor and wrought substance of them,
“See! This our father did for us.”
—John Ruskin
Timeless design need not be something unique to projects with heavy involvement by an architect.  We all know deep down when things are wack.  A worn out wooden walkway works just fine, and is frankly more charming than a perfectly sealed faux wood concrete piece.  Now that I look back on it, that is the essence of why I love concrete flooring.  It's honest.  It's exposed. It's imperfect.  Human bodies worked it as hard and as skillfully as they could at some point (maybe many points).  Like our bodies (though hopefully not our hearts), it get's harder and cracks.  It never goes out of style, and it never wears out.  In the last analysis, honesty is timeless; timelessness is honest and everything else falls short. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a spiritual quest for beige.

We get to make a lot of really cool stuff.


 I mean, there are much easier ways to make enough money to feed one's family than slogging it out in the Texas summer heat, crawling around with a saw cutting patterns into floors or making concrete the hard way (buckets of sand, bags of cement and our trusty little Imer mixer) only to have to bear the highest level of "hand-holding" in all of the construction trades and the most brutally competitive market for decorative concrete in the world.  (Texas was referred to in Concrete Decor Magazine as  "the starvation market").  I don't remember the last time my work day didn't end with me smelling like a homeless man.  My big, pointy nose gets filled with concrete dust regularly, my joints hurt most mornings, and we risk tens of thousands of dollars every day.  Good news is, I really don't think I could be happier!

How rad is it to make a living making stuff you think is great with guys you like for awesome people?  God bless America, eh?  But enough about all that - I bet you are not reading this because you care about how I smell or how my nose feels for that matter.

What I hope to share here is a reminder that while edgy concrete wall panels and ornate medallions in floors look cool in our portfolio, what it is really about is the day to day consistency.  I haven't written here too much recently because I have been maniacally focused on building systems that make the day to day work of the artisans of element7concrete better and more consistent.  And to that end, we are maniacs for beige.

"There is no beige acid stain" - Brandon Adamson at my 2nd day of training at Engrave-a-crete in Florida.  It's early 2006, and I have committed to going into the decorative concrete business, but I am still working my union job, and taking every seminar in the nation I can before moving to TX to take over the company I have ran for the last 5 years.  Brandon went on - "Sealer should be re-applied once a year or maybe once every two years."

This all sounded like crap to me.  I lived in Las Vegas at the time, and most things were beige.  Re-sealing annually?  Sounded like a white elephant for sale to me.  I knew my own concrete driveway at home hadn't been touched for at least 4 years and while it was grey and totally unremarkable, it was not something I had to deal with.  There had to be a better way.



The project photographed above was just finished this morning. It was about a year and a half old, ugly grey, and covered with oil stains and tire tracks when we started.    We used nothing other than Kemiko acid stains, lots of little tricks, an amazing penetrating sealer that will go at least 10 years before needing anything- there is no paint, "dye", or anything else questionable used. If that is not beige, I don't know what to call it.  Most important to me,  I will bet that when my little kids are out of collage, this thing is a good cleaning away from looking a lot like it did today.

Note: Engrave-a-crete makes great tools and is a really positive force in our industry.  I mean no disrespect to Brandon, his family, or their company.  I just know that if you tell a stubborn old Kraut like me crap like that, I will find a better way.