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Concrete Home in Mexico Models Concrete Finishing Touches
Partners Jerry Kelly and Kim Bergman of Corvid Supply in Tucson, Ariz. have built two low cost concrete homes on the Gulf of California in Mexico, then finished one of them with concrete countertops, sinks, benches, and tables. "The coast of Sonora is like Florida in the 1950s," says Kelly. "All these giant condos are going up. We wanted to get away from that and this developer has a little development tied to the people in the area. He got the right to the land because his grandfather was a gun runner during the revolution and he had clear title, which is a big thing down there."
The homes were built using local labor and the Perform Wall Panel System, manufactured in Mexicali. This is an insulating concrete form, but different than the typical block-sized foam form. Perform Wall panels are 10 feet long and 15 inches high and are made from cement paste and ground up recycled polystyrene. Depending on the width, each panel weighs about 150 pounds and the construction is relatively simple. "It's the perfect construction method," says Kelly, "because the workers are all former fisherman but the Gulf is fished out. So they've been trained to build these houses. You put up the blocks then put rebar into the 4-inch holes, grout it solid, then plaster the outside. You don't even need ready-mix trucks or pumps when you've got 50 guys with buckets. The decks are cast concrete, too. Even the stairways are concrete-Salvador was our master stair builder."
Originally Kelly's idea was to use the houses to demonstrate his wood work and concrete interior work. "In the first house [what he calls the White House] we did hand hewn doors and mesquite countertops. In the Green House we did the concrete stuff. We wanted to show that we could build a small house that was energy efficient and interesting but do it on a budget—that didn't exactly work, but we did show that you could have a house on the beach with some nice touches for not that much money."
Kelly describes himself as a "half-assed concrete guy but a serious woodworker." He and his partner are sold on using highly finished wood in combination with concrete from Buddy Rhodes. "You get fine wood finishes and contrast that with the organic looking concrete—it's very interesting," he says. They work with the Buddy Rhodes' pressed technique, which provides a veined look to the concrete when it is precast then finished with a second color. "We built the cabinets and the doors and cast the sinks and took them down to Mexico."
Kelly also made concrete and wooden benches and what he calls the "drum table. If you hit it, it sounds like a drum because it's hollow."
Both of the houses are rental houses—you can go to Corvid Supply's web site to make a reservation. "It's a great place," he says, "every day at 10 a.m. the dolphins come by and you can kayak out to them. It's empty beach for 15 miles north and 100 miles south and it's only 5 hours from Tucson."