It’s been nearly 80 years since Michelle Radley’s great-grandfather helped to erect the eagle heads that grace the corners of the Chrysler Building’s 61st floor. When completed in 1930, the art deco structure in Manhattan was the world’s tallestbuilding.
In January 2008, Radley, owner of J&M Lifestyles LLC, recognized her family’s connection to the building in an unprecedented fashion. She and and J&M product manager Jeff Kudrick, who has more than 20 years experience in the industry, unveiled what they claim is the world’s first iconic concrete coffee table at World of Concrete 2008 in Las Vegas. Constructed of the company’s proprietary translucent concrete, plus architectural concrete, fiber optics, wood, glass, and metal, the table features replicas of the Chrysler hood-ornament eagle heads and details of the spire, complete with glowing triangles.
“I don’t think there’s anything out there like it,” says Radley. “We wanted someplace to show it to the public and see what people thought of the design. What better place to do it than at a show for others in the same field?”
The reaction was greater than Radley had anticipated. “People loved it. We have had a response from all over the world. We even have someone interested in putting it in their showroom in Manhattan.” J&M plans to produce a 500-piece run of the table.
Though the Randolph, N.J.-based company may have broken the mold with the Chrysler coffee table, modern furniture is just one of its many specialties, albeit an increasingly popular one. Of course, countertops are on the list, but it doesn’t end there. Think one-of-a-kind bath tubs, vanities, water features, fireplace surrounds, architectural details, outdoor kitchens, even aquariums. Using glass-fiber reinforced concrete and embedding materials such as fossils, iron inlays, fruit bowls, drain boards, glass, rocks, shells, coins, wine bottles and personal mementos, J&M has lent character to historic and modern homes, restaurants, bars and other businesses on the East Coast for two years.
“We are constantly evolving and pushing the limits of the material to accommodate new and abstract ambitions of the client that drive our creative talents,” Radley explains. “The ambition behind the company is to create things that have never been done before and make use of other material to highlight concrete.”
Such was the case with a recent kitchen countertop project, which exemplifies J&M’s creative use of color and inlays. The end result didn’t just please the clients — it grabbed the attention of Cheng Design Exchange judges for the 2008 Members’ Circle of Distinction Design Challenge at the World Of Concrete in Vegas, where the company took home the Best Decorative Finish award. Another J&M show-stopper was a wine bar with an embedded fiber-optic bottle chiller. The playful yet functional design garnered an honorable mention.
The awards may serve as an indication of the company’s ability, but the proof is in the diverse body of its work, which can often be classified as functional art. “Concrete is durable and design-specific and has many uses,” Radley says. “We bring it to a functional art form, and the medium not only gives you the ability to make things that are artistic, inanimate objects like a painting or sculpture, but also gives you the ability to make things useful and functional.” Take, for example, a custom concrete tub that features a fluid design reminiscent of water. The concept is extended with the bathroom’s vanity and his-and-hers sinks, which are separated by a concrete “wave.”
J&M’s work is often inspired by the outdoors, particularly running water. In fact, Kudrick originally became involved with concrete by using it to create immersion environments, such as rock waterfalls incorporated with murals. “It’s all about immersing yourself in a natural environment,” he notes. Kudrick took this notion a step further when he began constructing aquariums. Currently J&M is working on an aquarium for the Chelsea Diner in Manhattan, one of the two aquarium jobs they tend to do each year.
Radley and Kudrick also find time to teach an American Institute of Architects course on all aspects of concrete. As affiliate members of the AIA, they started teaching the course in December to help architects understand how to design with concrete and what it can do. “Everyone benefits, and they then have another tool to design with,” Radley says.
One thing’s for certain — J&M is just getting started. Business is picking up as more and more people become familiar with the company’s design achievements, especially its furniture. Many new projects are in the works, Radley says. And as the trend to create outdoor kitchens and dining areas gains momentum on the East Coast, Radley and her team may see even more of an increase in clientele.