Tamara Gilgenast combines passion and a veteran’s discipline and attention to detail to create works of art in concrete. Though she only started her business about four years ago after discovering The Ashby System, she already has an extensive portfolio. “Before concrete I served in the Army for three years as a legal specialist at Fort Lewis, Washington, where I met my husband, Ralph. Ralph was an Army helicopter maintenance test pilot and during his 32 years of active duty we had the privilege of living in and visiting some of the most incredibly beautiful places in the world including Washington state, Colorado, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Australia,” says Gilgenast.
In addition to being a military spouse, mother of two boys and grandmother to three, she has held high-level administrative positions with such entities as Fortune 500 giant USAA (United Services Automobile Association), the U.S. Army Garrison Japan and the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Germany.
“My family jokes with me that it took me a while to figure out what I really wanted to do,” she says.
The Gilgenasts’ final military move in 2008 was to Fort Rucker, Alabama, the home of the U.S. Army Aviation Center for Excellence, where Ralph served until he retired from the Army in 2011. Gilgenast again worked on post with civil service, but wasn’t happy and decided to pursue another option — staying home.
“I have a creative bug that wasn’t being fed,” she recalls. “I watched a lot of HGTV and saw concrete countertops and integral sink vanity tops and was enamored by them. I told my husband I wanted concrete in our kitchen and bathrooms. He said I’d better figure out how to do it then! So I did. I think he thought being a girly girl with French manicure nails and Italian stilettos would slow me down.”
Learning the system
Gilgenast extensively researched the materials and process for the next few months. She admits that initially she didn’t know enough to do it by herself, so she considered classes. That’s when she discovered The Ashby System, created by Ben Ashby, and soon after attended the course.
“The Ashby System is unique from the others,” she explains. “Ben Ashby has created a system that looks like natural stone and presents an earthy, warm appearance. It’s absolutely stunning. The concrete has a beautiful rustic and raw look but remains warm and elegant.”
While the system is designed to reflect a natural stone look, she says, “This system is so versatile in that I can create a piece that looks like rustic stone or create pieces that are solid tones and very modern.”
Gaining experience with the system included creating integral sink vanity tops for their home’s guest bathrooms and the shower and vanity top in the master. She is also preparing to install concrete tops in her kitchen. “My kitchen will have concrete,” she says with a laugh. “The only reason we haven’t completed the project yet is because we’ve been so busy with our customers.”
In good company
Concrete In-Counters was established after word was out that the Gilgenasts were installing concrete in their home. Once the announcement was out that “the concrete girl” was doing quality decorative concrete, the jobs started to accumulate, she says.
The other half of Concrete In-Counters is her husband, Ralph. He works by day as a senior aviation analyst at Fort Rucker, then goes to the shop with Gilgenast in the evenings where he’ll help her with things she can’t do alone. Ralph also works the logistics and operations part of the company.
“He is my go-to guy when it comes to logistical support and a pro with loading and installing the concrete,” Gilgenast says. “I create it and he leads the way from there. His military experience is priceless when it comes to professionalism in the shop and during installations.”
Since their start, they’ve done about 60 jobs, including several new home builds and renovations throughout Alabama, Georgia and Florida. The Gilgenasts have hired two high school boys for after school and weekends.
“At present we have Wolfgang and Daniel,” Gilgenast says, referring to her employees. “They are incredible boys, but will be joining the military and will be departing this summer. Both boys have been trained to do various operations in the shop and are a huge asset to us during installations.”
In June 2017, Gilgenast completed one of her most challenging jobs and notable achievements to date — a concrete fireplace face in a silvery gray wood grain finish that stands 14 feet high and 10 feet wide.
“Before I could create the estimate I had to figure out how I was going to create the molds,” she recalls. “I even attended an advanced course so Ben and I could work on options. I used the Ashby ¼ inch – ½ inch Admix for vertical surfaces. I pushed the limits of the mix unscathed. When I finally had that moment to stand back and look at the completed fireplace, there were tears of relief, pride and joy.”
Last fall, the Gilgenasts worked on some unique teal green bar tops for a clubhouse in Destin, Florida. “Teal green isn’t the norm,” Gilgenast says. “Pigments were mixed to match the colors of the Gulf waters known as Florida’s Emerald Coast.”
As part of this job, Concrete In-Counters recruited a fabricator to create a handsome wrought-iron structure to support four 2-inch-thick sections of bartop that are each 9 feet long and 1½ feet wide. There are two other 11-by-2 feet sections that make up the grill area.
Training is crucial to success
Gilgenast has attended multiple basic and advanced Ashby System courses. She feels it’s important to keep up with new techniques and any product changes, and that training is crucial to the level of success an artist will have with this system.
“Ben Ashby’s training system and technical support is unmatched. I’ve always believed in continuing education — it keeps me updated and ahead in business,” says Gilgenast.
“This is art in concrete — every piece is beautiful and unique in its own way. Continued training keeps it fresh. When I’m working with customers and they see the finished pieces, the joy on their faces of how much they love their concrete is the crowning reward for everything.”
Facebook: Concrete In-Counters LLC
To learn more about the Ashby System, visit www.stonecretesystems.com.