Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: Art and Design Concrete

This fitness room has been decked out with acid stained concrete.

Alvarez and his father-in-law of 10 years had started Art and Design Concrete in 2003 to pour and stamp concrete. They did mostly residential work. But the mortgage meltdown had slowed the company that fateful summer, and having a bone-fractured partner out of commission for eight weeks didn’t help.

Acid stained concrete floor with designs imprinted into it add depth and dimension.
Stenciled design into a concrete patio.
Design elements have been added into this acid stained concrete to give it extra character like this fluer-de-lis.
Outdoor concrete patio that has been stamped and stained.

The truck would allow them to expand their concrete pouring

If you own a California-based decorative concrete business and think the only danger to your livelihood is the slumping home construction industry, think again. Sam Alvarez and his father-in-law, Larry Lucas, discovered two summers ago that a drunk driver could just as effectively put a crimp in business.

On the evening of June 26, 2006, an impaired driver plowed into the passenger side of the Chevy four-wheel drive containing Lucas, Alvarez and both men’s wives. “They used the jaws of life to get the truck open and get me out,” Lucas recalls.

It was Lucas’ birthday, and his gift that year was a set of broken ribs and watching his injured wife spend three weeks in the hospital.

Alvarez and his father-in-law of 10 years had started Art and Design Concrete in 2003 to pour and stamp concrete. They did mostly residential work. But the mortgage meltdown had slowed the company that fateful summer, and having a bone-fractured partner out of commission for eight weeks didn’t help.“The crazy part is, the accident put us where we had to be,” says Alvarez. “It made us rethink our situation. We could spend $20,000 for a grinder or a Bobcat.”business, while the grinding equipment would let them work inside — where summertime temperatures didn’t occasionally hit 110.

“You take a beating when you’re stamping,” says Alvarez, who still wakes up in pain from the long-term effects of whiplash and a hip knocked out of alignment during the accident.

The two concentrated their slightly depleted energies on floor polishing. And that led to more commercial work.

Art and Design Concrete began getting calls for grinding, polishing and acid-staining the floors of office buildings, movie theaters, furniture stores, restaurants and the like in the Fresno area.

The company is sometimes asked by commercial customers to stamp logos into the work. It’s a surprisingly low-tech process. “We’ll take a business card, scan it and blow it up to size, print it on paper and cut it out,” says Alvarez.

Concrete fountain placed on a brown stained concrete floor.
Outdoor space that has been stamped and stained gives the perfect surrounding to this hot tub area.
Regal Cinemas logo that was hand pressed into concrete and colored according to design.
Walkway to a front door has been given a treatment to look like stone and brick.

With their die in hand, the partners trace the pattern and use a four-inch metal grinder to carve it into the concrete floor. That’s the painstaking process they used to embed the Regal Cinemas crown logo at a Fresno movie theater complex.Other times, they use Modello custom pattern stencils for a strikingly elegant effect.

Their use of VOC-compliant finishes has led to project work in green construction, such as the gig to polish the concrete floor of an office building the partners assumed on behalf of architect Paul Miller. It was one of the Fresno area’s first environment-friendly, LEED-certified buildings.

“They did an excellent job,” Miller says. “The concrete was harder than they thought, and they had to spend an extra week working on it, but they made no complaints.”

You can think of the two as artists. After they grind off the top 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch of a surface and add a colored concrete coating overlay and coat of stain, you’d swear you were standing on marble. Only it’s hardier — and, of course, goes for only a fraction of the cost.“The greatest thing about polished concrete is its ease of maintenance,” says Alvarez. “Combined with concrete densifiers, a polished concrete floor can last a lifetime. With an occasional re-buff, it will shine like new.”

Not that polishing concrete is easy. Alvarez and Lucas start by wet-grinding the existing concrete with heavy-grit metal-bonded diamonds. When all finish coats have been removed, they polish the concrete with resin pads in gradations from 100 grit to 3,000 grit. They can finish by applying a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch colored concrete coating, and then overcoat that with an acid stain — which seems to be the trend now — or leave it natural.

The work Alvarez and Lucas have been doing in concrete coating and overlaying for day spas and boutiques has, in turn, caught the attention of home-owning female customers.

A drab concrete driveway that is in desperate need of a decorative concrete makeover.
This concrete driveway has been made over to look like stone perfectly placed and stained.
Acid stained concrete floor has transformed this space.
Concrete flames on the edge of a geometric pattern of concrete.

“We’ve gotten a lot of references that have led to residential projects,” says Alvarez.

Art and Design Concrete came to the attention of Kara Hopper and her husband through a flyer. Alvarez came up with the finishing touches to the young couple’s newly constructed home. It’s “a real swirly design” stenciled into the entry foyer, says Hopper. “It’s very unique, the first thing visitors notice when they walk in the door.”The work is a custom-colored rendition of a pattern suggested by Alvarez from his portfolio.

Art and Design Concrete applied a coating to virtually every floor in the Hopper home, as well as to the backyard.

One of the partners’ more challenging contracts involved beautifying 3,000 square feet of highly visible real estate in front of the Regal Cinemas complex they worked on in Fresno. The work couldn’t be started until the end of each evening’s final show. It made for two weeks worth of long nights as they coated, stamped, applied highlight colors and sealed before adding antique agents and the final coat of sealer.

Another big job pickup was a restaurant in a popular area pizza chain, with 22 more locations to come.

Now that most of their work is commercial, Lucas and Alvarez aren’t scared that weak demand for home construction might hurt them. In any case, it’s unlikely that anything could make a bigger impact on their business than the inebriated driver who ruined a birthday celebration and reinvented Art and Design Concrete.

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