Just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two concrete contractors are alike. Different backgrounds, business models and artistic flair result in a world full of unique countertop creations, customized for homeowners who offer their own vision to contractors for a truly one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Two concrete countertop contractors from opposite coasts and different backgrounds offer two unique perspectives on concrete countertop making. Chris Jarman of Concrete Connexion in Silver Spring, Md., started his career as a carpenter, restoring old homes in the Washington, D.C. area. "I always had an appreciation for the houses built pre-1940," Jarman says. "There was always a high degree of craftsmanship in those houses, and it was always a lot of fun to learn how the old timers did it as we took those houses apart and put them back together."
Jarman's artistic background led him to start drawing plans for his clients' remodeling projects. "I always had an interest in art and always found a reason to go back and have a pencil and paper in my hand for renderings and so on," he says.
When his wife sat on an airplane next to a man who set up concrete countertop manufacturing shops around the country and told Jarman what she learned, he knew he needed to bring that into his business. "It was a revelation that I could make concrete countertops, concrete fireplaces and objects of concrete art. It was an 'ah ha!' moment for me," he says. "I found a way to be a working artist and actually earn a living doing it and doing something I really loved."
Dave Pettigrew of Diamond D Concrete in Capitola, Calif., first worked as a journeyman carpenter but moved into concrete after he realized he could do a better job building foundations than the guys doing the foundations he was building houses on. "I started digging footings, setting up forms, pouring concrete into forms and I fell in love with it," Pettigrew recalls.
He first started in decorative concrete in the 1970s, using Brad Boman's "cookie cutter" stamps. In the early 1990s, Pettigrew was introduced to chemical staining. "It instantly struck a chord with me, and I realized why I was in concrete ? I could take all these designs I had been doing with the stamps and add the color work to the concrete and go wild with it."
Pettigrew then moved indoors with his decorative work. Around the same time he learned about Buddy Rhodes and concrete countertops, and Pettigrew got his hands on whatever information was available on the topic at the time. He started out creating cast-in-place countertops and just recently teamed up with local concrete precaster Dave Weber, with whom he now shares a precasting shop. Pettigrew says he has an edge over contractors who can only do jobs one way or another, and he's even worked on projects where he used precast and cast-in-place in conjunction to get the best results. "I believe whatever works best on a project is the way to approach it," he says. "I've heard people say that if you cast concrete in place you might as well just lift up a sidewalk 3 feet and call it a countertop, but I beg to differ. There are some people who do some beautiful cast-in-place concrete, and I'm one of them."
Jarman and Pettigrew have different approaches to marketing their countertops, but they've both found ways to dovetail their countertop and mold-making businesses with the rest of their services.
"It's hard to make it in this trade doing just countertops," Pettigrew says. "That's the crown jewel that we really look for, but I have to charge so much for them because of the labor and trips to the jobsite that if I just relied on countertops I couldn't do it. We have to diversify and do just about anything precast like benches and bowls."
Pettigrew says he's also often called out to bid a small decorative job and ends up introducing the client to concrete countertops or another decorative element. He tries to sell multiple jobs to one homeowner in order to make the smaller jobs worth his time.