06 May 2010

Indoor Craftsmen Take a New Shine to Concrete

The Detroit Free Press

Not so many years ago, few people would have called concrete cool.

But just look at it now.

The stuff of sidewalks and warehouse floors is finding a new niche in home design, both indoors and outdoors. Artisans are crafting the utilitarian material into all sorts of innovative forms -- countertops with built-in water features, terrazzo-look floors and table tops that resemble stone.

And none of them looks anything like your concrete driveway.

Concrete has taken a creative leap in recent years, partly because of improvements in materials and partly because of imaginative minds.

Two of those minds belong to Joe Gingerich and Eric Klein, who own the Stark County, Ohio, businesses G&M Construction and Klein's Lawn & Landscaping, respectively.

Together they've turned out such creations as a wine cellar in faux stucco and brick, a garden walkway embedded with a leaf design and bar tops accented with stream beds and waterfalls.

Concrete presents almost limitless possibilities, they said. It can be formed into slabs, vessels and other shapes. It can be scored or sandblasted. Existing concrete can be polished and dyed or resurfaced with a thin layer of new concrete.

And because of the custom work that goes into them, the resulting products are unique.

Concrete is "for very open-minded, artistic people," said Ryan Fairbanks, who like Gingerich and Klein makes his living as a Michigan concrete contractor through creative uses of the material. "If you want something cookie-cutter, this isn't yours."

Fairbanks is co-owner of Creative Concepts in Medina, Ohio, which specializes in custom concrete designs. He and his partner, Mike Piazza (the concrete guy, not the former baseball player), were recently installing a countertop embedded with glass chips at Guava, a juice bar in Stow, Ohio.

They'd already revived the existing, plain concrete floor in the main part of the store by grinding down the top to reveal the granular aggregate, which produces a look similar to terrazzo. Then they scored a design into the concrete, dyed each section a different color and polished the floor to enhance its appearance.

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