My business is with Isengard tonight. With rock and stone.
They say the devil is in the details ... and by extension, that which is worth having, may require extensive work... blood, sweat, and tears.
On Any Given Saturday.... afternoon, three men, with a common vision, conspired to forge a complex countertop out of blue tinted, cementitious bounded, rock and stone. I say to you with uncompromising recollection... that the creation of the growahouse concrete countertops... will be recorded as one of our finest hours.
[Enter cast, stage right]
WE ARE WORKING IN REVERSE!!!
You have to shout statements like that every hour or so, because the moment you forget that you are making a mold (inverse of your final product) is the moment run the risk of destroying everything you worked for.
We were players, and all the world was a concrete stage.
We knew that we were embarking on a process that once we reached full stride, there would be no turning back. Part of me wanted to abandon ship.
"Hey guys, its me. I don't know how to tell you this... but we're gonna kill the concrete countertop plan. It’s just too much work... I have to finish this project like yesterday and I just can't keep making choices that occupy all my mental and physical energy. I'm sorry. I'm gonna do butcher block wood counters for now. Sorry. I know you were looking forward to it."
But friends, not unlike a Snickers when you missed lunch, can give you the strength to make the choices that are difficult. They contested... I took a deep breath, bit my fist, looked up at them... and agreed. We decided to grab hold of our destiny and board the train. Next stop concrete city.
We broke the process into two different pouring sessions. The first session involved the largest single piece of concrete counter. It would be our first try at an installation that was bigger than the 1 foot X 1foot sample pieces we had tried earlier. This 2-inch thick behemoth would ultimately span six feet, have a curved bar stool cantilever, knock out section for a stainless steel double bowl sink, and channels for the faucet/water sprayer.
The process began with an exhaustive measuring campaign to accurately create the dimensioning that we would use as a template for the mold.
The mold began to take shape like a cake tin that a professional baker would make for her younger brother's wedding. There was an exquisite mixture of expertise and love, of discipline and passion. The atmosphere was one of collective inspiration. We were taking a leap and we knew it.
With the mold fastened to the floor, the knockout panels and holes accounted for, the corners calked and the reinforcement wires cut... we got ready to mix the concrete.
No turning back. Once we start mixing this concrete with water... the clock begins. There is no bathroom break, no finishing up tomorrow, and no naptime.
Concrete is all or nothing.
Here is the breakdown of responsibility.
Three men operating in perfect unison, amidst a chaotic scene... try to follow...
What is the ratio of pigment to cement? ... I think we are going to have to alternate turns on the mixing. Two boxes of pigment in the last batch... check the color. We are using 4 liters of water per 80 lb bag right? I have the wire to float the wire mesh in the mold, but its too thick, I'm going to strip the doorbell wire and use the copper. Use the 2 liter mountain dew bottle, but only fill it to the neckline. Is this the same consistency? Okay guys we are going to start in the far corner... focus on the bottom layer... you have to.... I have to change the tape in the camera; you need to switch with me... How is that last batch spreading? I am starting with the vibrations; you need to follow me in parallel on the other side of the mold with the other sander.... Pull the board back and forth like a saw... No, like a saw!!
A haze of blue dust settling like the Christmas snow you thought would never come. Heavy chests, swollen fingers... exhaustion permeating every pore of our beings.
All told, it had been a seven-hour marathon. Dawn broke into a thunderous applause of light as we walked out of the house at 5am.
We would wait eagerly for over a week watching, hoping, checking, and anticipating the outcome of this sleeping giant. It lay stretched across the living room floor like a newly arrived gift wrapped in cellophane on the day before your birthday. You knew what it was. You knew who got it for you. But you also knew... that you couldn't touch it yet.
A fury of frantic phone calls made from my cell as I traveled back to Washington from Pittsburgh, PA on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I had to arrange a gathering of sorts. I knew that the countertop installation would require a wealth of manpower. As we unpacked the gift, veterans of growahouse began arriving. All walks of life... all amigos de la casa. They converged on the second floor like soldiers awaiting a chance to show and prove. The air was electric.
One Band, One Sound
I will always think fondly of 11 people on site, all gripping their respective portions of the 2 inch Rock of Gibraltar. We lifted, we rotated, and moved with grace… first a test fit, then caulking and the final placement. I estimate that the countertop weighed in at about 400 lbs. It was a tangible representation of the growahouse spirit.
Gestalt. n (ge-shtalt) def: So unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.
The process would be repeated on a smaller scale weeks later. The introduction of a cement mixer would yield a stronger, smoother result.
This time...confident... seasoned....emboldened... we made the sojourn up to the second floor with the faint smell of high noon in Tombstone all around us... the soft sound of tumbleweed whistling past our feet as we approached the stack of concrete bags defiantly looking back at us.... as if to say... "You feeling lucky?"
But we were a fine tuned machine... turning in unison like the orange barrel of the cement mixer.
It's been an epic three months in the making... and I invite you to let the remaining pictures, in all their 800 lb glory, tell the conclusion...
About three weeks ago, I made a trip out to Virginia and visited the house of a colleague. She had three boxes (90 SF) of bamboo flooring under her back porch. It had been there since a renovation a few years ago. I dug around under the porch, moved the neighbor's cat out of the way and found the perfect natural material to use as a finish material in the house. Normally, flooring goes on the floor, but the last few nights... after waxing the surface of the countertops, I started putting bamboo flooring on the back of the countertop as a vertical wall material.
This Bamboo, like the cork floor it sits on, is a rapidly renewable material. Once Bamboo trees are cut, they grow back in a few years. This allows their removal from the wilderness to not have dramatic effects on the local ecosystem.
and it looks amazing.