The owners of a private residence in the beach town of Cayucos, California, had to deal with more than just sun and sand when it came to planning their landscape. The Laird family had purchased a well-known former cookie factory, which landscape designer Suzanne Morrison says caused a lot of “lookie-loos” to wander by to see what had become of it.
The outdoor kitchen and entertaining area, which had been part of a parking lot, needed the right mix of rustic and sturdy furniture. A line of concrete and ipe furniture by Maysun Wells would fit the bill. Ipe, a hardwood from Brazil, is prized for outdoor use because of its durability.
Morrison, a landscape designer with Earthscapes in San Luis Obispo, California, had to tear out asphalt to create a backyard kitchen that could accommodate the owners’ desire for fire pits, barbecues, high-octane burners for cooking, electrical outlets, outside showers and gardens. The task was challenging, Morrison says, because it was a small space for many elements. “The biggest issue was fitting in all of those things in a cohesive manner.”
“The house looked a lot like a barn,” says Wells, 36, owner of Wells Concrete Works in Los Osos, California. “The clients kept some of the old architecture and appliances and fixtures inside and out. With the outside kitchen they wanted to be able to come back from the beach and entertain lots of people.”
The work was completed last spring. “We wanted to give them a place that could host a really good party,” says Wells. “But it’s also a stone’s throw from the beach, so you have sand, salt, wind, rain and fog. The owners wanted something that could handle those elements.”
Wells and his former business partner, Erik Green, designed a line of concrete and ipe furniture. About four years ago, Wells bought Green’s half of the business and the furniture designs and continues to offer them. The line includes tables, planters, countertops, benches and an Adirondack-style chair made of concrete with stainless-steel brackets. A fire pit has an optional ipe insert which allows it to be used as a table. Well’s indoor line includes countertops, fireplaces and bathroom items.
Not a pushover
“It’s all really heavy so although it’s not easy to move the chairs around you don’t have to worry about things breaking or falling over,” says Wells. He uses his own concrete mix with L. M. Scofield Co.’s Winter Beige pigment.
“We make things special for people because with concrete you can,” Wells says, adding that it’s much more versatile than granite or marble. “The owners provided us with some rocks and shells and beach glass they found. We were able to cut those in half and cast them in the furniture. She really liked being able to come over to the shop and place some of the special treasures she found on the beach. It’s something that would make it more meaningful as their special place.”
For this job, Wells broadcast local beach sand, beach glass and aggregate, which was exposed during polishing. Homeowners who purchase Wells’ line of furniture appreciate being involved with the building process and being able to make the furniture uniquely theirs.
The deck area is about 50-by-30 feet and holds a 44-inch conical fire pit along with a concrete table and concrete countertops. Concrete pavers line the patio floor. The owners, one an enthusiastic cook, chose all of the appliances and accoutrements and use the outside kitchen almost daily. Out back, they have a little lawn for their dog. Out front, they chose plants that can tolerate harsh coastal growing conditions and grow tall to provide privacy from passers-by.
Before getting into furniture making, Wells worked for a concrete countertop maker for five years. Before that, he worked in real estate, but didn’t find that to his liking. He has an industrial technology degree and realized early on that concrete could bring his ideas to life. “I was fortunate to figure out what I didn’t like to do and was fortunate in finding something I did like to do,” he says.
Green, a landscape architecture student, asked Wells and the countertop boss to help him create a design for an oval bench for a school project. “We helped him build it and a friendship started which turned into a partnership,” says Wells.
Wells and Green knew they liked the angle of an Adirondack-style chair and wanted to build something similar out of concrete that would also be comfortable. “We sat in a lot of different Adirondack chairs,” Wells says. “Then we collaborated and figured out how we could build it.”
When approaching furniture design using concrete, Wells says you have to accept the fact that it’s heavy. “If you try to make something light then it just loses the nice attributes of concrete,” he says. “Let concrete’s mass and durability work for you, Wells advises. “Our chairs are heavy so if you want to move your chairs then they’re not for you,” he says. “But if you like that they’re heavy then that’s a selling point.”
For other artisans considering making concrete furniture, Wells says to think about price. “The chairs retail for $1,500 and it’s the least profitable thing we do because of all of the angles, the brackets and the expensive ipe. But we do them anyway because they’re so cool,” he says. “Before you decide you want to make a product like this you have to figure out if you can make it for a profit. There’s a fine line between the work involved and the cost involved.”
Wells Concrete Works’ fire pits sell for $2,500. The company sells more of these than chairs because many homeowners feel they can spring for a centerpiece item and purchase less expensive chairs. “Our furniture is not the cheapest because it’s custom,” Wells says. His clients know this going in. “The people we work with usually appreciate handcrafted pieces.”
Concrete for durability
Wells isn’t planning on phasing out the ipe, but he does recognize the fact it needs to be refinished regularly to stay in good shape. To accommodate that weakness, he’s developing plans for a more durable, low-maintenance bench that uses concrete as the backrest rather than wood.
Wells invites people to his shop, where there’s always a work in progress. His furniture can be found in California in retail stores Potter Green & Co. in Sonoma, Porch in Carpinteria and Sage Ecological Landscapes & Nursery in Los Osos.
Wells says he’s constantly dreaming up things to make that include concrete. “In designing something I like to start with function and then work design into that. If you start with the form and then figure out how to build it, that works,” he says. Thanks to concrete’s fluid nature, “You can pour it into most any shape or mold you can dream of you and have a good strong stone in that shape a few days later.”
Project at a Glance
Client: The owners of a private residence in the beach town of Cayucos, California
Decorative concrete contractor: Wells Concrete Works, Los Osos, California
Landscape Designer: Suzanne Morrison, Earthscapes, San Luis Obispo, California
Scope of project: Concrete pavers line a 50-by-30 foot deck outfitted with a full gourmet outdoor kitchen and custom concrete furniture, concrete countertops and conical concrete firepit with ipe wood insert. Local beach sand, beach glass and aggregate was exposed during polishing of the furniture and countertops.
Products used: Wells Concrete Works’ own line of outdoor concrete furniture, ipe wood, Wells’ own concrete mix and L. M. Scofield Co.’s Winter Beige pigment.