Sometimes it takes a little longer for customers to catch on to a building trend.
Mills Howell, a partner in Charlotte-based decorative concrete design-build firm Reaching Quiet, says business was pretty steady for the last couple of years. They were doing well in residential projects, but decorative concrete just was not catching on for commercial projects.
That has changed over the last few months, he says. “Concrete is starting to move toward commercial. We’ve been seeing a huge jump in commercial applications, as far as bars, nightclubs (and) restaurants being able to appreciate the product.”
Countertop work has been part of that boom. The company recently provided white concrete tops on ovular kitchen islands for a high-profile residential project, which saw a former six-story bank in downtown Charlotte converted into luxury condominiums. Reaching Quiet also fabricated multipiece fireplaces with wrapped corners for the project. “We got to show a little bit of everything,” Howell says.
Earlier this year, Reaching Quiet was awarded the “Best Functional Feature” at Fu-Tung Cheng’s Circle of Distinction Awards at World of Concrete in Las Vegas for a project that included fabricating a fireplace, art slabs, a floating vanity, party sink, kitchen counters and guest vanity. In 2007, Reaching Quiet won the awards’ “Best of Show.”
“I think people are starting to catch on to the smooth, one-color, finely finished concrete, and how many colors and how many shades of that color we can create,” Howell says.
Over the last year and a half, he adds, granite countertops have been losing favor with designers. “At this point, it’s being recognized down to the level of the basic interior design person that (concrete) is the new element, this is the new product. It’s got a lot of buzz all around the country.”
Howell says he thinks concrete is starting to catch on in his region because interior designers have seen quality concrete work in other parts of the country, such as New York and Los Angeles, and want it used on their Charlotte-area projects.
“Somewhere along the way, about three or four months ago, I feel like we broke a big gap, because we’ve had nothing but nonstop calls for commercial applications,” he says. “I think people are starting to realize there’s a lot more options as far as color, size and function.”
Howell says Reaching Quiet’s residential work has also helped push its work into commercial. “We have a lot of designers finally seeing the residential work, seeing what we could do and getting ideas on a broader scale, saying, ‘Wow!, if they could do this, what could they do with the space in my nightclub?’”