Article No: 283

2010-11-10 10:36:23
Craftsman Countertops
By: Susan Andrews


Although concrete kitchen countertops are often associated with modern design, many custom renovators are using finished concrete in period homes. Notably, a number of Californians have been renovating Craftsman bungalows in the Arts and Crafts style, which were progressive in their day for fostering a new kind of relaxed living that celebrated being in harmony with natural materials, with light and fresh air.

With their daughters now off to college, a San Francisco couple is refreshing their 1912 Mission District home to accommodate interests in cooking and entertaining. The two physicians came to Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products LLC (buddyrhodes.com) with Arts & Crafts vintage-style tiles in hand, hoping to use them on the wall and complement them with similarly artisanal countertops.

Concrete countertops are unique in their adaptability in form and color. Like the San Francisco couple, Buddy Rhodes clients have come to him with a rock, a favorite vase, a photo of an Italian villas stone floor " images more to inspire creative reflection as to simply mimic another form.

American Arts & Crafts style, an antidote to the prevailing Victorian taste of its day and to the industrial-age immersion in mechanization and factory-made objects, emphasized heart and hand, craftsmanship, warm wood tones and earthy materials and colors.

That aesthetic coincides with Rhodes background in pottery and his penchant for handmade surfaces and shapes in his favored material, concrete. Frank Lloyd Wright, a contemporary of early 20th century Arts & Crafts designers Gustav Stickley and Charles and Henry Greene, was himself inspired by the creative possibilities of concrete.

In addition to his adoption of cement block as an exterior building material, Wright used concrete for built-in interior furnishings. Influenced by Japanese design and by William Morris in England, Wright and the Arts & Crafts advocates believed that everything functional could be decorative. Enter concrete on the Art & Crafts stage.

In outlining the process of crafting the countertops for this discriminating set of clients, it may be useful to understand how the touted flexibility of form and color actually works. After hearing the homeowners story and living with their tiles in his shop for a bit, Rhodes came up with a sample using their chosen pressed technique.

Once the custom Arts & Crafts-style cabinets were in place and the templates were made onsite, the molds were made to the specifications of the designer, and checked against the actuality of the template measurements. Rhodes colleague Heriberto (Beto) Esquivel (ccdmix.com) did the fabrication, starting with a base of integrally colored Buddy Rhodes concrete in a custom moss green complementary to that of the vintage tile.

Once the counter was cast upside-down, the clay-like concrete formula pressed into its melamine mold, layers of ash, mushroom and coal-colored cement were applied to the purposeful voids. The process was then fussed over, as is Rhodes practice, with gloved hands and wet polishers. The finished countertops were sealed multiple times with Buddy Rhodes own penetrating and satin sealers and then waxed with Buddy Rhodes beeswax for easier maintenance. On installation day, the clients were left with their own wax supply for periodic maintenance.

The homeowners remain very pleased with their choice of kitchen countertops, as well as the recent service Esquivel provided when a chip occurred from a very heavy pot that was dropped on the countertop. The pressed surface is relatively easy to repair, as patching melts into the mottling of the surface texture. Additionally, its easy to arrange a refurbishing with a polish and re-seal in a few years.

The clients tell Rhodes that their kitchen is true to the philosophy behind the Arts & Crafts movement by using materials that incorporate natural materials with modern function. The concrete provides practical everyday use of surfaces while being highly decorative and blending with the Matowi handcrafted tiles and custom-designed oak cabinets. Like the Arts & Crafts movement itself, Rhodes believes this kitchen celebrates a revival of quality.

Susan Andrews is vice president of Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products LLC. Her philosophy on writing is that it is education " a way for pioneering concrete artisans to pass the baton to younger artisans. For more information on products and training, see BuddyRhodes.com.