Concrete offers a ‘wow’ factor you’ve missed until now. Beautifully finished custom concrete products designed and fabricated right here in Bermuda are a Concrete Works’ raison d’être.
According to owner and contractor Simon Leighton, one-of-a-kind pre-cast concrete countertops, kitchen-islands, sinks and more look good and are hardwearing.
Never mind that people consider concrete a behind-the-scenes material, as in walls or flooring. Mr Leighton’s creations are uniquely styled, functional and intended for viewing. His concrete products are also astonishingly soft-to-the-touch, glossy and easy to maintain.
On average, structural concrete in Bermuda can withstand between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds per square inch (psi). But Concrete Works — a division of Corner Stone Construction — adds a host of property enhancers to the sand, aggregate and cement that comprise all concrete.
The company includes plasticizers, or water reducers that increase fluidity without concrete-weakening water, electrolytes, flow enhancers, fibres and microfibers. Some are added to the fluid state, others to the cured product.
The concrete as a result bears between 7,000 and 10,000 psi. The greater density and hardness of the material, according to Mr Leighton, means it is less porous and more difficult to stain.
Sinks, for example, take more abuse than people realize, and outdoor planters are subject to the wearing properties of rainwater.
Mr Leighton said: “You want [them] to be as hard as possible… Essentially, what we make is way less stainable than your average concrete.”
The company’s creations go beyond specifying a style or colour from a catalogue. Concrete Works does do colour matching, or provide a selection from among 150,000 Benjamin Moore Paint colour swatches, but it focuses first on designing function into every piece.
“It’s very exciting… A good portion of what we do is artistic, but it also requires a high degree of technical ability.”
An order begins with an appointment to view Concrete Works’ Southside design studio where Mr Leighton explains the different material samples, techniques, processes and limitations of his high-end product.
“I want the customer to be fully aware of what they’re getting into.”
His something-entirely-different designs are a hedge against the mass produced products that normally serve the construction industry.
“No one’s ever going to have seen a product like that,” Mr Leighton said.
With the function, style and colour selected, Mr Leighton and mason Nigel Clacken take on-site measurements for the product-to-be, create a template and build a framework or mould for the one-off order. They work nine to 10 hours per day.
“We do everything here. We work with wood, plastics, fibreglass, and pourable rubbers… The moulds get finished — siliconed, waxed, polished — then it’s time to get dirty. This is the fun and terrifying part because concrete is a highly unpredictable material.”
They might have spent hours building the custom mould, but in the space of a short time pouring the concrete mix, that mould could fail by breakage or leakage, according to Mr Leighton.
“It’s a bit of a ‘throw caution to the wind’ in terms of once you start filling the mould it’s beyond your control to some degree. Experience plays a key role.”
A custom concrete prep sink with amethyst counter top is located at the entrance to Concrete Works’ design studio. The sample demonstrates a purity of purpose and stupefies with its visible properties — clean lines, smooth touch, depth of colour, and genius of design.
A dedicated butcher block is integrated into the surface. It won’t move around with use, but is removable.
“This whole kitchen island is a prep island. I’ve got a place to put wet things, hot things… a perforated stainless steel shelf above the [inlaid porcelain tile] sink to give increased wear and tear on the bottom.”
“The sink itself is showing the fully sculptural possibilities and nature of the material, [with] bamboo plywood cabinetry. It’s a very minimalist island. There’s no box.”
The amethyst part, according to Mr Leighton, is a single concrete piece with unpolished sealer on top. The sink’s upright end support, which appears to be a completely different material, in fact mirrors the countertop’s construction.
“‘Concrete? No way! Can’t be!’” was how Mr Leighton described the general reaction to his custom products.
Another countertop might have inlaid trivets, or perhaps an inlaid marble slab for rolling out pastry.
The question, according to Mr Leighton, is ‘how do you use your space? What one-of-a-kind piece can Concrete Works design for you that is beautiful as well as functional?
When the Bermuda Sun visited, Mr Leighton and Mr Clacken were giving a final sanding to a custom double sink. The concrete rose and fell between the two drains like a wave — handsome, refined, singular.
Such orders can be tailored to special meaning, with honeymoon coin insets, or shells, glass objects or fossils embedded. The pieces can be stamped with the imprint of a leaf, grain of wood, face of a stone, texture of fabric, or in the case of a business, company logo.
The idea for this specialty bloomed during the contractor’s visit to a Tottenham Court Road, London bookstore. The company emerged as a true ‘cottage industry’ at his home, according to Mr Leighton. It grew to the 2,000 square feet that Concrete Works now occupies and that architects and interior designers now frequent.
Homeowners don’t return as often. “Our stuff just lasts forever… Even the wealthiest persons don’t renovate their kitchens more than every 10 or 15 years.”