Irish Eyes Are Smiling at My Decorative Concrete

In my column "A Lasting Impression" (see January 2009 Concrete Contractor), I talked about quality work and customer satisfaction leading to more jobs. In this column, I want to share with you one of those "more jobs" - the decorative concrete work at the Olde Blind Dog Irish Pub in Milton, Ga. Although we've been involved in more complex applications, the Irish pub project was fun because it included a variety of techniques - one-of-a-kind bathroom vanity tops, an overlayed cobblestone floor and vertically stamped Irish rock walls.

Getting started

Since we were not able to work onsite for the first several weeks of the project, my collaborator Cody Dawkins of Create-A-Crete and I got busy with fabricating two bathroom countertops and four sink vessels in the shop. The designs were based off a countertop in our showroom that the clients liked, but they asked us to add a little more "flair" to their versions.

Cody and I produced the sink vessels that were later coated with copper metallic epoxy. Once the sink bowls were complete, we built the perimeter forms for the vanities based off a template obtained from the jobsite. One of the main concerns was achieving a sink vessel height that would satisfy ADA requirements. This determined the diameter of the knockouts in the countertops - the smaller the diameter, the higher the bowls sit while the bigger the diameter, the lower the bowls sit. Once the sink and faucet knock outs were placed and the forms and steel reinforcing were complete, it was time to pour some concrete.

Two and a half hours after we poured the concrete, we covered the countertops with pre-cut strips of torn paper and poured a white cement-based skim coat on top of the paper. We troweled the skim coat over the edge of the paper onto the exposed concrete in order to create an organic-looking vein. The next day we sanded the skim coated area and engraved a vein using the air-driven KaleidoCrete Wasp concrete engraver at the edge of the skim coat to create a recessed river which we later filled with metallic epoxy to match the sink vessels.

Once the counters had sufficient curing time, were colored with dyes and had a couple coats of clear, it was mission accomplished. A few bystanders could not believe they were pieces of concrete and said they reminded them more of natural stone or fossilized wood.

On the jobsite

With the bathroom vanities finished and the jobsite ready for us, we fought the daunting Atlanta traffic to start the overlayments for the floors and vertically stamped walls.

Before we began to create the floor's cobblestone and exposed wood plank look, we prepped for the overlayment by filling existing joints and dustless grinding the entire floor.

We applied the first application of stampable overlayment in designated areas to produce what looked like fields of stone in some areas and a wood plank in another part of the floor. The goal was to make it appear as though the cobblestone floor had chipped away and exposed these wooden plank areas which meant we had to bring our stenciled cobblestone up and over the edges of the stampable overlay.

The next day we masked the stamped overlayed sections and applied our base coat for the cobblestone stencil. Once the base coat was dry, we laid the cobblestone stencil and spray applied the next coat of overlay. We knocked down this layer with a trowel making a smoother surface less likely to catch dirt and contaminants. At the end of the day it was time for this old man to take a couple of Advil and tip back a pint or two to relieve the back pain brought on by bending over and knocking down 4,000 square feet of concrete.

The next morning it was time to clean the floor and apply water-based stain randomly to individual cobblestones which seemed to take forever because of the amount of cobbles. I must admit, spray applied stenciled concrete is not my favorite look; however, this came out nicely, especially after several coats of epoxy and polyurethane.

The last application on this project was the vertically stamped walls. This application sparked the interest of the other trades people working on site more than the previous applications. They could not believe that we were able to render a 2.5-inch-thick mortar to the wall and then mold it into what appeared to be natural stone.

To create the larger stones we cut foam and attached it to the walls using glue, screws and washers. Once primed, we applied the mix to the wall by grabbing handfuls of mud and globbing it on. Roughly three hours after the mix was applied we began carving texture into the stones. I find this a very enjoyable aspect of the vertical stamping process. After some creative coloring techniques with water-based stains, our project was complete.

This was a fun project to be a part of and more importantly, we exceeded the customer's expectations once again. If you're ever in the Atlanta area, stop by the Olde Blind Dog pub, check out some nice decorative concrete and enjoy a pint or two.