Coming Up with Good Designs
I’ve seen a lot of impressive concrete countertops on the Web, in books and in magazines, and I’m not sure I can come up with such great designs. I’m not an artist. How do you come up with designs?
I don’t! I’m not an artist or even a designer. I rely on design professionals such as kitchen designers, interior designers and architects.
There is a wide spectrum of approaches to a concrete countertop business. On one end, you have brilliant artists such as Fu-Tung Cheng, who have the talent for good design. On the other end, you have companies mass producing 5 x 10-foot concrete slabs to sell to solid-surface fabricators. Somewhere in the middle, you have the craftsmen who make custom kitchen and bath countertops from scratch for homeowners.
I believe that the whole spectrum of approaches is valid. Concrete does lend itself to artistry and opens up amazing design possibilities. But just because you can execute spectacular designs with concrete doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t feel bad if your clients tend to want basic 1.5-inch-thick slabs on regular old cabinets. That type of project has made up the majority of my work, and those clients have been some of the happiest (and easiest to work with).
For example, I once did a project where the kitchen designer and the client came to the shop and laid out glass tiles where they wanted them placed in a kidney- shaped island. The designer drew out the shape full-scale on drafting paper, and the homeowner placed the tiles where she liked them. I marked the borders of the tiles and the colors. This island was just solid-white concrete, 1.5 inches thick, with a bunch of embedded tile. Not exactly a design tour de force. I didn’t even design the shape of the island. But these clients were so happy with their countertop!
When the high-design projects do come around, they can be great portfolio builders. With those projects, be sure you maintain an excellent relationship with the client (and the designer, if you are not the one doing the design) and get professional-quality photos. Obviously you will want to feature the project on your website, but you can also submit a write-up about it to decorative concrete magazines such as Concrete Décor or Concrete Contractor and websites such as ConcreteNetwork.com. You can also submit it to the home and garden section editor of your local newspaper. Just remember that these media need high-resolution photographs and an informative write-up that their readers will find interesting, not a sales pitch.
I do feel that you at least need to have the ability to “speak the language” when it comes to design. Surround yourself with kitchen and interior design magazines. Get a sense for what “good design” looks like. Be able to converse with designers and homeowners in a collaborative way.
In short, don’t feel bad if you don’t have design talent. If you are able to collaborate with design professionals, you will be alright. You can still create beautiful designs with concrete and raise the standard for concrete countertops.