Kevin Brown is a soft-spoken, humble-yet-accomplished man who got into the business of concrete work through his family. As he describes it, he knew from a young age that he wanted to follow in the family footsteps.
After finding his own way through the crowded concrete contractor landscape in Southern California, he thoroughly enjoys his work as an artisan creating concrete countertops, resurfacing and repairing old concrete, cleaning, sealing and staining.
“I got into the business through my dad and my uncle,” says Brown, 49, now owner of KB Concrete Staining in Eastvale, California. “My dad was a concrete contractor where I grew up in Orange County, so I just always knew from a young kid that I wanted to do concrete work. I would go to work with them and I loved it.”
Of course, the young Brown didn’t really know how hard the work was until he actually started doing it, but he still loved it. He considers himself fortunate that he knew early on that he liked the work and he didn’t have to wonder what his career path would be.
Exploring his options
For many years Brown worked during the summers and on weekends with his family. Once out of high school he was able to work full time, but his father insisted that he give college a try, to explore all his options.
“I did that for a while but I just knew that college wasn’t for me and finally I was able to go full bore into the concrete work,” he recalls. “I had learned so much throughout the years from just being around it and working all the summers, so going into it I was able to do more than what most people might do when they were first starting out.”
Post-high school, Brown’s father moved to Northern California while the younger Brown stayed in Orange County and explored architectural and decorative concrete. “And that’s where my passion started,” he says.
“I was fortunate to be in the concrete industry, and especially the decorative concrete industry, in the late ’80s and especially the ’90s because the industry was going crazy with innovation.”
Enhancing the ‘stone’
The innovation led him into flatwork, and he started his own business at the age of 24. Later in the ’90s, Brown researched alternatives to problems he was having with his sealers. He also discovered that customers didn’t understand what to expect from integral color, or just plain gray concrete for that matter, so they were becoming disappointed with how their projects were turning out.
“It led me to figure out why the sealers weren’t really working and why one would fail and one wouldn’t fail,” he says. “Those experiences led me into the field of staining, sealing and restoration.”
It’s in this area that Brown really gets to be creative. “You can take old, existing concrete — whether it’s a year, 10, 15 or 20 years old — and give it a facelift that makes it so much better than it once was because of the products and procedures that are available today,” he says.
With his in-depth knowledge of products and techniques that lead to success, Brown can be artistic with the knowledge that the projects will turn out as promised. He can also confidently explain to clients what they can achieve and what he can deliver.
Now that his work is focused on restoration and repair, Brown frequently finds himself working with concrete that was poured by someone else. Often, the color of that concrete wasn’t expected or doesn’t match other concrete already on-site. Brown not only fixes it — he enhances it.
One of his projects that stands out is a large pool with an island in a backyard in Norco, California. Brown poured the concrete for that job in the late 1990s. “I built that whole backyard, the pool, the rock, the concrete, everything,” Brown says.
“And they called me back to restore all the concrete and restain all their rock. It was still in good condition. It just needed a refresher and they wanted to change colors from gray to earth tones.”
To have a client keep in touch and call back after almost 18 years was rewarding. The fact that the concrete he had poured was still in good enough shape to be restored was also meaningful.
“That client was the first (to call) but I also had several other clients from the late ’90s and (early) 2000s call me back to restore their concrete,” says Brown. “They wanted only me to do it.”
Brown’s abilities to give new life to the worn-out concrete depends largely on the state of the existing surface. He can work with concrete that is badly cracked but structurally sound, as in not being lifted. “Concrete cracks, and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do with the cracks,” he says.
But many times, he can take the cracks and turn them into a random stone pattern, he says. In cases where the concrete is not cracked but is just worn and faded, Brown listens to what the client wants to achieve and attempts to deliver that.
“Sometimes they just want their old, tired, broom finish changed to a fresh look with a stamped overlay,” Brown says. “And if the budget allows it, maybe decorative saw cuts for borders or a potential pattern of some sort.”
Staying true to water
Brown always uses water-based stains for a few reasons. The colors are much more vibrant, the stains are eco-friendly and they can be very easily applied. In Brown’s experience, solvent-based stains don’t stand up outdoors in the California sun. Water-based stains, on the other hand, are UV stable and can.
Brown’s a fan of stains by NewLook International because the company has six different product lines for various applications and a large library of colors to choose from, he says. For concrete repair products, Brown uses Super-Krete’s stampable overlays and microtoppings.
About three years ago Brown used NewLook International to create a saw-cut and stained pattern on a 40-by-60-foot area of a dance floor of an events center on the outskirts of Los Angeles. That turned out so well that NewLook uses a photo of that floor on some of its product labeling.
He continually pushes himself and gets inspiration by going to trade shows to keep up with advancements in the industry and to see what other artisans are doing.
Sponsored by NewLook, Brown came in third in the 2016 Brawl in the Fall contest at the Concrete Decor Show in San Diego. There, he put his staining, etching and texturing skills to work on a floor depicting an underwater scene with a cave, fish and seaweed.
Brown’s reward comes from making something old or cracked look new again, or even better than new. One driveway that he particularly loves was plain gray, old and tired looking. He revamped it with stamped texture and darker earth tones.
“I love the fact that I can go to a job and know right away that I can make it look amazing,” he says.
“I knew growing up in the trade that I was more artistic than most of the people I worked with. I was always paying attention to detail and even while pouring concrete I wanted to do the absolute best I could. Now it’s the same way while doing overlays, stains and sealers. I take a lot of pride in what I do and how I do it and it shows. That’s how I’ve always been able to stay busy.”