In the women’s shoe department of a Selfridges department store in London, decorative concrete and fashion make a fine pair. Eight concrete display tables in one of the six rooms of The Shoe Galleries show off the latest shoes from brands like Carvela, Nine West and French Connection. Their angular shapes are interesting enough to catch the eye, but their colors are neutral enough to ensure the shoes are the main event.
The tables’ journey from the United States to London was far from simple. Jeff Kudrick, a decorative concrete artisan out of Randolph, N.J., crafted the tables for the London location of the high-end, UK-based Selfridges chain in conjunction with Rockaway, N.J.-based Concrete Design Studio (CDS). Kudrick says he and his project partners were presented with a tight deadline, and due to the tables’ unusual shapes (seating platforms and long overhangs give the platforms something like a truncated “S” shape when viewed from the side), thoughtful and precise design was required.
In the end, the client’s vision was fulfilled, and Kudrick calls the finished result a look into the future of decorative concrete.
“This is a testament to what decorative concrete can do,” he says. “The architect knew no bounds and designed something really radical, and we were able to deliver the product with this material based on what they had in mind.”
Eddie Miles, who works for Selfridges and served as the project manager, says Jamie Fobert of London-based JFA Architecture, who designed the store’s Shoe Galleries in their entirety, chose decorative concrete for the display tables because it’s a material that’s not usually associated with shoe displays or retail shops. Fobert chose other unexpected materials throughout the galleries as well, such as Corten steel and pewter. “The materials chosen have a very interesting, sensuous quality in their own right without recourse to decoration or pattern,” Miles says.
The project began when architects from JFA Architecture created preliminary drawings to demonstrate Selfridges’ vision for the tables. Then, working with JFA Architecture, Kudrick created a shop drawing of the table parts (20 in all, for eight tables). Designer Brad Jenkins of Morristown, N.J.-based Brad Jenkins Inc. Interior Design produced 3-D computer models of the table parts, which were used to build “masters” — exact-size wood replicas of each table piece.
The masters were sanded, polished and waxed. Then, modeled off the masters, custom molds were crafted out of fiberglass at the shop of Infinicrete (a company co-owned by Kudrick). To form the actual table pieces, Kudrick used the NeoMix system from Cheng Concrete. He sprayed in a face mix, hand-placed layers of a fiber-rich backer mix and added reinforcement with fiberglass scrim fabric.
Most table pieces were removed from their molds after one day, except for one, which required three days of curing.
“The largest section needed a longer cure time to support its own weight,” Kudrick says. “Then we could make the flip without causing any damage.”
Next, Kudrick checked over the concrete pieces for pinholes. (He says a mild amount of porosity was acceptable on the surfaces.) The tables were to be assembled on-site at Selfridges. To ensure smooth assembly, Kudrick put the pieces together in his shop to make sure they were perfectly aligned. He drilled holes and inserted bolts in the pieces to hold them together, then pulled them apart. Finally, he sealed the pieces with Surecrete’s ARS 400 and waxed with Surecrete’s SureFinish surface wax.
Assembling the pieces in the shop was difficult due to their large size and weight, Kudrick says. Also posing a challenge were the pieces’ corners, which form sharp points. “It was tedious and problematic pulling such large sections together without chipping corners,” he says. “We used foam with 2-pound density, wood blocks, shims and levers to slide them together. The end sections, which weighed up to 1,000 pounds, were placed against 1,500-pound sections, and they had to be perfectly level and flush with one another.”
As workers began crating the pieces for their voyage overseas, every second counted. And before the pieces were sealed, a problem occurred that slowed their progress — a fluorescent lamp ballast overheated in the shop, causing a brown ooze to leak onto one of the pieces. Luckily, Kudrick successfully removed the stain with acetone. He says if anything else had gone wrong, he likely would not have met the project deadline. “The last pieces were being finished up as the crates were arriving. Our time frame was down to the minute.”
The pieces arrived in London in perfect condition and were assembled for placement in the largest shoe gallery.
Miles says Kudrick accomplished something that could not have been achieved by a contractor in the UK. “The sheer scale of the pieces is truly impressive, as well as the quality of finish and the finesse of detail that has been achieved.”
The tables hold shoes that are priced lower than other shoes in the galleries, and Kudrick says the natural gray color of the concrete matches the “street” vibe of the room’s merchandise.
“The raw gray look is like the street,” Kudrick says. “The room has a really rustic, raw feel, which is why they wanted the gray color.”
The tables were built to last, and they have received an amazing response from Selfridges customers, Miles notes.
“Even with such high customer numbers and the anticipated wear and tear, the pieces look very sharp and clean,” he says. “Clearly the material has a very good inherent durability. Personally speaking, I feel that the size and solidity of the pieces have a calming presence in what might otherwise be a chaotic space when the store is trading flat out.”
Project at a Glance
Client: Selfridges, London
Decorative concrete contractor: Jeff Kudrick, Randolph, N.J., and Concrete Design Studio (CDS), Rockaway, N.J. | www.cdsconcrete.com
Project manager: Eddie Miles, Selfridges
Architect/designer: Jamie Fobert, JFA Architecture, London, England | www.jfa.nyc
3-D modeling designer: Brad Jenkins, Brad Jenkins Inc. Interior Design, Morristown, N.J. | www.bradjenkinsinc.com
Wood masters supplier: John Earle, Sienna Woodworks, Rockaway, N.J. | www.sienawoodworks.net
Scope of project: Eight decorative concrete department store shoe display tables. Tables are approximately 20 feet long, 3 feet high and range in width from 40 inches to 8 feet.
Duration of project: 2 months
Material suppliers: Infinicrete, Cheng Concrete, Surecrete Design Products
Materials used: Custom-made Infinicrete fiberglass molds, Cheng NeoMix system, Surecrete ARS 400, Surecrete SureFinis