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It came to him in a dream. Mat Rogers, who spent more than a decade as a design/build contractor, saw a flying turtle beaming with light, parlaying a rainbow of colors through the various objects around it. Today, Flying Turtle Cast Concrete is soaring as a successful decorative concrete company.

And when he analyzed that dream, Rogers came to the conclusion that the magical flying turtle represents concrete; it is the medium that can convey any color, any shade, any hue imaginable.

As a designer, contractor, and skilled cabinetmaker and wood maker, Rogers became increasingly intrigued with concrete as he began gradually integrating it into his projects, many of which were in the Bay Area, where he was based at the time.

"I did the interior of a restaurant downtown and the concrete was a big hit," Rogers said.

With the encouragement of friends and colleagues, Rogers followed his dream and made concrete his livelihood; Flying Turtle Cast Concrete was born about five years ago.

The company, based in Modesto, California, specializes in colored concrete, concrete staining, countertops, decorative concrete, fireplace surrounds, pavers, and precast concrete.

"From the get-go, we've had exciting projects," Rogers said.

Most of Flying Turtle's projects are residential, but they have done their fair share of commercial projects for clients, including Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, and Bank of America.

"We've done Foster Farms' headquarters (including 5,000 square feet of flooring), and we'll do anything as small as a vanity sink," he said.

Rogers said he is beginning to turn his focus to products, especially because his concrete has evolved into a thinner, lighter, and more durable material.

One of the specific products Rogers is eyeing is the fireplace surround.

"There aren't a lot of concrete-looking surrounds available," he said. "And those that are around aren't too colorful."

And for Rogers that desire to color the world around him is one of the most compelling reasons for his pursuit of concrete.

"Concrete empowers designers and provides creative latitude ... So many techniques, so many different design possibilities," he said.

Color in concrete can be achieved in a variety of ways - acid-stained dyes that enhance and deepen the color, integral powdered colors that are added to the concrete mix, adding sugar to give the concrete an aged appearance, and myriad sanding and polishing techniques achieve a range of colors and shades.

One of Flying Turtle's most recent projects is an outdoor barbecue environment in Palm Springs. Rogers used glass in the counters cut in a fish-shaped motif. At night it appears as if the fish are lit up - a beautiful twinkling that glistens in the warm desert evenings.

"That's another great thing about concrete. You can laser cut the glass in any shape and lay it into any form," he said.

Meanwhile, Rogers has been concentrating on displaying the versatility of concrete to those in the homebuilding industry. The company recently exhibited at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, a major tradeshow for homebuilders, developers, architects, and others in the industry.

In addition to photos of some of his major projects, he exhibited concrete sinks: a pedestal sink that can complement a bowl of any material, like glass; and an integral sink in which the sink is part of the concrete form and is molded into the full sink structure.

Projects like the sinks are a good example of something that can be created in greater volume, particularly for builders who are looking for products in bulk.

"We were very well-received," Rogers said, mentioning that they also focused on their fireplace surrounds because they illustrate concrete's versatility.

Flying Turtle has created surrounds that exude elegance reminiscent of the 1920s, others that are more art deco, and yet others that are more modern and traditional.

In fact, in a survey of attendees, Flying Turtle's products - along with nine others from other companies- were chosen from among the more than 600 exhibiting companies as one of the 10 "coolest products."

"We wanted to introduce ourselves and show our range of work," he said. "And there's also economy of scale when homebuilders are doing multiple projects."

Meanwhile, Rogers said many of his clients are turning to concrete for countertops because they're turned off by the alternatives.

"Many are seeing granite as too sort of cold and hard ... inhuman or having an '80s, dated look, so they want concrete counters," he said.

And when it comes to countertops, Rogers emphasizes that it's important that homeowners are aware of its limits - and they should expect some degree of imperfection.

"Some (countertop producers) pour in place, which leaves the countertop more susceptible to problems ... We cast our materials," Rogers said. "Concrete countertops have a varied reputation. But we support and promote it as an alternative if it's done properly - and we count ourselves among those (who do it properly)."

And while clients are clamoring for countertops, they're also starting to think concrete beyond the kitchen. Rogers recently finished a bathroom project in which the tub deck, an integral sink, the counters, and the shower were laden in concrete. The shower had an Egyptian look to it.

One of the benefits of using concrete for bathroom pieces is the versatility and the seamless surfaces. Rogers has created a giant cast corner piece that appears to be a huge block, but it's really a corner made to look like a block.

Again, it all goes back to promoting his products by showing the real thing.

"You really have to see it to appreciate it," Rogers said. "Concrete is universal and has general appeal. It has so many uses in the home. It's going to find its way in construction."

Rogers reiterates that one of the most telling indicators of the role concrete is and will continue to play in home projects is the fervor generated by designers and architects.

"The design community is very excited - and that's the most important measure. When the architects and designers favor a material, they'll continue with it."

And that keeps the ball rolling: designers, home builders, homeowners - they're all discovering the virtues of concrete.

"People are beginning to find out how beautiful this material is," Rogers said. "Often they're astonished that it's concrete."

Flying Turtle Cast Concrete
Modesto, CA

Michele Dawson writes each week on one of the contractor members of The Concrete Network (www.concretenetwork.com). She has written about the home building industry for several years and was on the public affairs staff of the California Building Industry Association.