I think we have to think like this in our industry as well. We have to say, "what can we do that is both innovative and enduring so that our creations are appreciated over time and not thrown out as last year's fashion statement?" What comes from true creativity is not trendy. Popular culture comes and goes, but Dylan wanted to write music that could stand the test of time. So what did he do to find that touchstone? He read Dylan Thomas and Arthur Rimbaud and went to theater.
In my own work I try to find those touchstones. And the only way of doing that is to do the work itself. You can't play guitar by studying it; you have to play it. You can't create inspired concrete without mixing it, putting your hands in it and playing with it. That's the fun of it, and that's what inspires me. I learn by being there on the job, and many times I'm inspired by the tradesmen on the job. They might be doing a process I've never seen or they've found clever ways of achieving little technical marvels in their own way.
I'm also inspired by architects like Antoni Gaudi, Bernard Maybeck, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Samuel Mockbee, Tadao Ando and Will Bruder. I'm influenced by artists such as Isamu Noguchi, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and my own artist brothers.
Another part of my inspiration comes from nature. While I wholeheartedly welcome the idea of imitation as a path to innovation with fellow humans, I try not to imitate nature but be inspired by it.
We take the primal concrete slurry and instead of eons of time and tectonic pressures we actually process it in a week. But rather than imitate a particular granite strata we create a version of our own, trying to find something that reflects the same beauty but never tries to duplicate it.
Now, people say to me, well, I'm not here to be an artist, I'm here to be in business. Well, you can be a creative business person. All of us can be creative in some things, and some of us can be creative in most things, but we can't all be creative in all things. So there is a way to creativity that includes both the traditional notion of the artist as a solitary hero slogging through a solitary struggle and teamwork. There's a way of getting teams together and tapping into creative thinking of individuals with the power group dynamics. You can assemble a creative team or form an association. You don't have to wait for the architect or designer to come to you. You don't have to wait years to develop your artistic chops. You may not be the kitchen design visionary, or the graphic art visionary, but you may be the visionary in terms of the business or in terms of the technical craftsmanship. We're in the very beginning right now. We can take this and really grow it so that it becomes the counterpoint to the kitchen and bath industry's flat, linear, boxes and slab idea of a kitchen.
Ours is a very tactile, emotionally based product. When people see the concrete they sense it. Next to manufactured stone, next to Corian, next to Formica, what do they want to touch? The concrete. Why? Because there's some tactile quality about it. It has a "mass" appeal. You have to mine that tactile quality. Your team must know how to forge new ways to convey that tactile, emotional, aesthetic connection — from your marketing materials and design concepts down to the technical details in the countertop itself. It's the only way to command a decent livelihood and to remain competitive, to sustain a passion connected to your community and to yourself.