What started out as a once-in-a-lifetime hunting adventure turned into a friendship and a trophy-worthy job where contractor Matt Villella, owner of Sierra Concrete Arts in Saint Paul, Minnesota, bagged one of his most memorable projects to date.
The saga begins in spring 2014 when Villella was enjoying a stay with Midwest Whitetail Adventures, an outfit headed by Mark Knight of “Dirt Road Outdoors TV.” Two years earlier, Knight had moved his hunting operation from Illinois to Clay Center, Kansas, in search of bigger and better giant whitetails and was operating from a rented facility until he could build the ultimate ranch.
Villella had just returned from a morning hunt when Knight was wrapping up a meeting with a contractor discussing plans for the new lodge which would house nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms. After the contractor left, Knight asked Villella a few questions regarding stamped concrete and one thing led to another. He pulled out his iPad and showed Knight some of his designs that involved wood plank and slate stamp patterns.
“I felt they would fit in with his motif,” Villella says. As it turns out, the feeling was mutual. “From that day on, we were the crew that would handle all his concrete needs.”
Sierra Concrete Arts specializes in the custom application of decorative concrete and epoxy to turn ordinary spaces into beautiful and functional gathering places. The company does everything from stamped concrete to high-performance epoxies integrated with custom engraving. Over the years it has mastered a wide variety of concrete applications that it uses to create outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, custom tables, pool decks and elaborate step systems.
Work done in four stages
Probably the biggest challenge for Villella and his crew was that the job was a nine-hour drive from home, so they spent hours planning and preparing for this adventure. “We had a solid plan in place,” he says, and worked through several scenarios of what could go wrong to prepare for the worst. “It made the entire job go smoothly from start to finish.”
The scope of the project required that it be broken up into four stages, he says, although his actual work time was only two weeks. The first stage was in the winter of 2014 when they took four days to install the foundation, form and pour the footings, set wall panel forms and pour the walls.
After the structure was erected, they came back in April 2015 and spent five days pouring, finishing, stamping and sealing more than 6,000 square feet of concrete in four different stamp patterns and various colors from Proline. They stamped the great room, bedrooms and bathrooms with a Roman Slate seamless skin and used a 12-inch Boardwalk plank to stamp the areas’ 120-foot-long hallway. A 6-inch Boardwalk plank was used in the kitchen and an Old Granite Cleft Stone seamless skin was used in the VIP room.
Stage three took place last August when Villella says they concentrated on customizing the installation. “We returned to engrave the logos, install two custom engraved precast concrete tables in the kitchen/lounge area, put the final seal on the concrete and apply a crystal clear epoxy finish to the VIP room,” he says.
This past March, Sierra Concrete Arts wrapped up the project when it returned to finish out the scent-free locker and changing room — with a seamless floor that literally shines.
To create the eye-popping finished product, Villella incorporated various techniques and products, including decals, logos, epoxy, glow-in-the-dark aggregate and EliteCrete’s Reflector Enhancer in Dark Green, Coffee and Gunmetal.
After the floor was profiled and a vapor barrier coating applied, “We blended the metallic powders together to get a mossy oak-type green for the base of the camouflage,” he says and applied two coats. Then he put down the decals that look like sticks, leaves, branches and a Midwest logo before flooding the floor with a clear epoxy.
Immediately following this step, while the epoxy was still wet, he donned nitrile gloves and flung handfuls of two mixes — one green and one blue — of epoxy and glow-in-the-dark aggregate onto the floor to create thin swirls. “Then we took 1/4-inch nap paint rollers and worked the glow aggregate-treated epoxy into the rest of the epoxy to create a mottled and faux finish,” he says. You don’t see the glow aggregate as you apply it, he says, and he only knew what to expect from previous samples they had done.
“The beauty of this product is it’s totally invisible in the light of day but glows so bright you can see your way around at night,” Villella says. “With 20 minutes of direct light, the glow aggregate stays lit for 12 hours.”
Villella also adds that once cured, “Epoxy is impenetrable to stains and odors so it’s a perfect product for a scent-free room such as this one.” As a final step, a protective polyaspartic coating with integrated aluminum oxide was applied to increase traction.
Besides the glow-in-the-dark metallic camouflage floor, Villella is also especially proud of the extensive custom engraving on the stamped concrete floors.
After creating EPS files of the desired logos, his people loaded the files onto a Computer Numerical Control milling machine to create 3/8-inch thick poly templates. Then using the Shark, Barracuda and the Wasp, specialized tools from Engrave-A-Crete, they engraved two 4-foot and one 8-foot logos in the hunting lodge along with engraved antlers in each bathroom. The engraved areas were then colored with a variety of stains and dyes from Proline.
Villella says this project was one of his most memorable undertakings and probably the most fun one for his crew. “Our client was open to creative applications of concrete and epoxy that really made this project stand out from other jobs,” he says. Plus, “I’m an avid hunter, and getting to work on a project that had such a strong hunting and outdoors theme was something I really enjoyed.”
An extra perk of the job, he adds, is that he and Knight have become great friends. He not only returns yearly to hunt at the facility he helped build, but he also has been invited to travel the country and hunt with him as part of Knight’s TV show.
Project at a Glance
Client: Mark Knight, Midwest Whitetail Adventures, Clay Center, Kansas
Decorative Concrete Contractor:
Matt Villella, Sierra Concrete Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota
Scope of Project:
To pour, finish, color, stamp and seal more than 6,000 square feet of concrete in four different stamp patterns and smooth finishes in various colors. To create, engrave and color three logos. To cast and install two concretetables.
Products used include:
L. M. Scofield antique release powders; Proline Concrete Tools stamps: 6-inch and 12-inch Boardwalk Plank, and Old Granite Cleft Stone and Roman Slate seamless skins, and colors: EZ-Tique Water Based Acrylic Antiquing Wash and Dura Color EZ-Accent; Elite Crete Systems Reflector Enhancer metallic epoxies and E100-VB5 Epoxy Vapor Barrier; Ambient Glow Technology’s 350 SIV aggregate; decals from Fryer Designs; Engrave-A-Crete engraving tools and WRC stains; Decra-Seal from W.R. Meadows; TK Products’ Tri-grit anti-slip additives; Lavina grinder/prep machine from Superabrasive Inc.; Kraft concrete finishing tools and Polytek rubbers for deer antler molds.
Editor Stacey Enesey Klemenc contributed to this story.