Roche-Bobois, a high-end furniture retailer headquartered in Paris, France, first set up shop in Montreal about seven years ago in a provincial building that also houses Lotto Quebec. Previously, the space — floored with a marmoleum-type product — had been occupied by four linked stores. The sprawling area was simply carpeted over for its new tenant.
Over the years, wear and tear got the best of the carpet, and last spring the folks at Roche-Bobois decided it was time for a new look. They contacted Les Kowalski, president of Crenz, a Canadian-based company that specializes in creating polished concrete floors for national retail chain stores, public spaces and universities. Crenz also had recently done work on a Roche-Bobois store in Calgary.
Unlike most concrete companies, Crenz doesn’t typically deal with general contractors and other specifiers to land its jobs, notes Kowalski. Instead, time and time again, “We get specified by the corporate client.”
Kowalski, who holds a degree in economics from the University of Calgary, prides himself as a sophisticated contractor who is as much at ease in an Armani suit as he is jeans and T-shirt. “We focus on being on the cutting edge by offering a dynamic system that combines installation and best-management practices, as well as best-in-class technologies at any given point,” he says.
Before Crenz could reclaim the existing floor, the company had to remove the old carpet, marmoleum and an incredible amount of adhesives to expose a massive area of self-leveling concrete and about 300 square feet of wood flooring. The crew had to use a jackhammer to remove the thick areas of self-leveling and then use planetary equipment to grind it down. They had to score the wooden floor with a saw, pour water on it to soften up the wood, then remove that, too.
“Removal was quite an extensive process,” Kowalski says. “And then there were very large holes that had to be filled in. It got to a point where we just leveled everything. We removed in the neighborhood of 10,000 pounds of concrete dust and garbage.”
In restoration projects such as this one, he continues, the biggest obstacle is that the condition of the slab is unknown before you start. On this job, the unknown turned out to be an excessive amount of self-leveling concrete and polymers that had to be removed.
And this was no easy task. To complicate things, vertical steel rods were embedded in the surface. “If you captured one of those rods, it could rip the heads off your [planetary] machine,” Kowalski says. So the crew had to identify where they were in advance.
Consequently, scores of self-leveling concrete had to be removed with a demolition hammer, which meant a lot of labor and headaches before the big machines were even rolled out.
In with the new
Once the slab was ground, the crew cleaned the surface and colored it with a charcoal gray color. Next they applied Crenz Protect, a water-based chemical hardener that is the foundation of all Crenz polished concrete floors. It penetrates the pores of the concrete and its active silicates react with the calcium to form a bond. This bond closes the micro-pores in the concrete slab, substantially densifying the concrete and increasing the slab’s performance.
Following the application of the hardener, the crew polished the surface to 1,500 grit for a semigloss finish. “Roche-Bobois didn’t want too-highly-polished concrete because they didn’t want to detract from the furniture,” Kowalski says.
To increase chemical, oil and slip resistance, Crenz Finish Coat, a penetrating sealer system, was used to seal the surface. “This final pass really protects the surface from salt, which is one of the major problems in Montreal,” he says. Finally, the surface was cleaned and polished with a black burnishing pad, and the 8,000-square-foot floor was ready to go.
According to Crenz literature, its products work together to produce an abrasion-resistant, low-maintenance concrete floor with a hard wear surface that doesn’t require topical sealers or other coatings that can peel off. The VOC-free products with built-in antibacterial agents are nonhazardous, odorless, chemical-resistant and LEED-platinum compliant. No waxing or resurfacing is required.
“We are really focusing on bringing the aesthetics that you find in executive homes into commercial settings,” Kowalski says. And he’s making it his company’s mission to consistently deliver the same high-quality product to each and every one of its clients.
Overcoming certain obstacles
Besides perfecting the aesthetics of polishing concrete floors, Crenz is also working hard to maintain a polished image, with remarkable results. “We’ve positioned ourselves to be bilingual,” Kowalski says of the company he and his partners founded in 2002, “and we are fluent in English and French.” This has proved to be a most helpful trait in French-speaking Montreal.
Since the Roche-Bobois store is part of a provincial Quebec Government building, Crenz had to meet the company’s requests while also abiding by government-imposed restrictions and environmental standards. “They (the government) have their own policies and they told us when we could run our machines and what products we could and could not use,” he says. “The project was quite sensitive.” They couldn’t use solvents of any kind, and the noise level and dust had to be kept to a minimum.
During the removal process — when the planetary machines were in action — many government workers were uneasy because they didn’t know what was going on. “We had a lot of security guards coming through and asking questions. If we hadn’t been fluent in French, we would have run into a lot of problems. It would have been much more of a challenge if we couldn’t effectively communicate.”
Communication is key
There are many potential clients who love the aesthetic look of polished concrete and are aware of its green benefits. They want to demonstrate an environmental savviness, but they have to work with people they don’t interface with easily. This is an area many contractors would be wise to work on, Kowalski says.
Kowalski credits his company’s success to ongoing research, reliable products, good project management, a professional approach and an overall passion for the work. “What it really comes down to is being able to exclusively cater to and communicate with the management teams in middle-market companies, like Roche-Bobois,” he says. “You should provide a well-integrated solution that combines your own products and installers. This type of perspective enables a level of confidence and performance in the final product.”