What's the Difference?
Precast decorative concrete has been a big thing on the West coast for well over 20 years. Over the last decade or so it has been gaining popularity here on the East coast as well. The increase in popularity is for good reason. Concrete countertops are beautiful, hardy, hand crafted, environmentally sound, and can be made in any shape, thickness, or color. When you are done choosing a color, coming up with a design, and getting to know and work with the craftsmen that make them, they are truly yours. They come with a good story that you can be proud of.
As the market for concrete has expanded, so has the number of people that try to make and sell concrete countertops. Many of those new folks come from the construction world and are looking for something new to do as the construction industry has been in tough shape since the housing market tumbled.
The expanding market for concrete as a countertop choice combined with the increased number of folks trying to enter this market has caused an unfortunate phenomenon. There are simply too many people doing what we do that are not experienced or knowledgeable enough to do it well. Many believe that because they know how to pour sidewalks that they should know how to pour countertops. The result? Crappy countertops, sad and angry clients, and a slightly bruised reputation for the industry.
Years ago when someone would call our office the first thing that they would say was “I am so happy that I found you!” Now more often than not the first thing a caller says is “I hear that it cracks” or “my brother hired these guys that gave him a great deal and now he has a 4,000 pound mistake in his kitchen.”
Concrete is not like granite or marble. You can go from one store to the next and price out absolute black granite from China and be pretty sure that regardless of price, you are getting the same product. You will never get the same concrete twice.
These days we almost always have at least one project going that is a redo of someone elses work. This means that someone loves the material so much that they are paying to have custom concrete counters made twice. This is touching but utterly unnecessary and wasteful.
We are working on one of these redo projects right now. The guy “was nice” and was a little closer to home. His estimate was a full third less than ours. The counters that he made looked nothing like the sample that he had produced, backsplashes were badly cupped and didn’t fit and when he was asked to remake them he asked for more money. He took the money and stopped returning calls.
Buying new countertops is a huge commitment. You will be living with them for a long time. You need to be confident that you are getting the best possible product before getting the best possible price. When shopping for concrete you need to look at how long a company has been in business. How deep is their portfolio? How fluid are they in the discussion of your project? What is the background of the owners and for that matter the employees? Do they have specific design skills? Do they have someone on staff that can competently match colors?
When we founded Stone Soup Concrete, only one or two others were dabbling in concrete counters on the East coast. Nobody taught courses. No books existed to teach you how to make concrete countertops. We started by reading everything that we could get our hands on. We dog eared hundreds of pages in civil engineering books. We experimented with our mix designs, vibration, substrate, steel, and steel placement, water content and colors non stop for years. In fact we still constantly experiment with all of those things because we believe that you should never stop learning and trying new things.
We currently have nine different mix designs that we use for different circumstances. Each one of these mix designs has a perfect application. We carefully choose the mix design that will perform the best for each project that we run through the shop.
Stone Soup Concrete has made thousands of countertops, fireplace surrounds, showers, bathtubs, fire bowls, benches, wall panels, furniture and sculptural pieces. Our work is in houses, bars, restaurants, museums, parks, and ballparks all over New England and beyond.
We have been teaching our craft for over a decade in the best design build schools in New England.
This blog may sound self serving, but it’s intended to serve our industry and most importantly our potential customers. I have written this as an educational tool to the person shopping for refined concrete. Most people in New England have never heard of concrete countertops. Those that have, don’t realize that they are receiving a completely different product from one shop to the next.
I do not want to receive calls about 4,000 pound mistakes in people’s kitchens anymore. I love what I do and I love concrete. It makes me sad to hear these stories every week.
So when you are shopping for concrete, please take the time to find out a bit about the company that you are considering working with. Remember that you are doing this once and you want your project to come out perfect the first time. Shop on quality and experience over cost and convenience.