Robert Salinas, 58, jokes that he has 50 years of concrete experience. That’s not too far off from the truth, because as a youngster he recalls helping to place concrete for the pool company his uncle and father worked at in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ve been pouring concrete since I was 8 years old,” he says. “After school I’d go help. And in the summertime, I don’t even remember summer vacation, because my summer vacation was always working with concrete.”
His dream job was to be a fireman, but when that didn’t work out for him because of some hearing loss, Salinas joined the pool company his father worked for after college. “In 1981, at 23 years old I decided I wanted to go out on my own, so the family and I rented out our home and moved to Houston, Texas, and I started my own concrete contracting company,” he says. “We did lots of exposed aggregate and Kool Deck for many of the local Houston pool companies.”
In 1977 and 1978, Salinas began to encounter the earliest stamped concrete technology. Stamping has since become his specialty, and he uses SureCrete Design Products almost exclusively. His company, Stamped Artistry, won a SureCrete’s Best Stamped Concrete award in 2015 for 7,000 square feet in front of a house with an 80-foot-wide circular driveway with a water feature in the middle of it.
“A cream-colored outer band is 6-feet wide,” he says. “The terracotta area near the house is the Old Granite stamp from Proline scored in 3-by-3-foot squares and the inner pattern is Yorkstone in multiple colors using color hardeners and powder releases. It turned out absolutely beautiful.”
Salinas’ talented crew, led by his supervisor and brother, Roland, offers multiple applications including staining, epoxy flake systems, metallics, microtoppings, overlays and concrete countertops. “Pretty much the whole realm of decorative applications,” he says.
“I have a fantastic crew that is versatile in their talents and can pretty much tackle anything. Three of my top guys have been with us 30+ years.”
School of hard knocks grad
From the earliest days of the decorative industry, with minimal tech support if any, Salinas learned techniques and tools through trial and error. “Tech support was almost nonexistent, so we were our own tech support,” he says.
“I always wanted to stay one step ahead of the other guys so I’d research different applications and products even before the Internet or Google was available.”
One of his earliest circa 1977 “stamping” jobs was for his employer, the owner of the pool company. They put no color in the concrete, laid down 4 mil poly and then hit the metal stamps with sledgehammers because they didn’t have tampers.
“What happens when you press that stamp with the poly is it pushes it down and rounds the corners so it gave you a cobblestone effect,” Salinas explains. “Once we pulled the plastic off we went, ‘Wow! Look at that!’ It was fascinating. I’ve always been open to learning new things, always researching.”
In the 1980s, Salinas’ business did a lot of jobs with interlocking pavers, millions of square feet, he says. Gradually, decorative concrete and stamping became increasingly popular and overtook that. They still offer interlocking paving jobs but they are few and far between.
Continuing education proponent
Through constant education, Salinas and his team became experienced in all facets of decorative concrete. “If someone was having a seminar I was there,” he recalls. “In decorative concrete, because the technology is improving and changing constantly, continuing education is a must.”
Last fall, Salinas was part of the first-place “Brawl in the Fall” team, led by Keefe Duhon of Concrete Revolution in Louisiana, when the competition was held in Indianapolis during the Concrete Decor Show. The team created a swamp scene utilizing an epoxy floor colored to look like water and accented with hand-carved concrete trees and partially submerged logs.
“Keefe called out for helpers on Facebook, and I always wanted to do something like that,” Salinas says. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Salinas has stayed in the business for so long because of the sheer artistic pleasure and challenges. “There is so much satisfaction in taking a job from selling the job to rolling on that first coat of sealer and watching all the colors pop,” he says.
“No matter what kind of job it is, complex or simple, we created something that is one of a kind. Money doesn’t drive me, but the satisfaction of designing and creating does, to having a happy customer. I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life but I think I’m pretty creative. We are concrete artists and concrete is our medium!”