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Artisan in Concrete

Liquid Stone Concrete Designs, LLC Bucks County, Pennsylvania By Stacey Enesey Klemenc

Gerry Maurer of Liquid Stone Concrete Designs, LLC has a fancy for ferns. Instead of signing his outdoor works, he likes to leave his mark with a fresh fern found on the client's property. He had considered making a stamp, he says, but he just couldn't capture the beauty and crispness of the real thing. "A lot of times, I don't even tell them about it. I let them find it on their own. It's like a thank you."

Maurer, who has been doing masonry work in Pennsylvania for close to 25 years, used to specialize in stone patios until the upward pricing for materials forced him to explore other avenues. About 10 years ago, he discovered the wide world of decorative concrete and "I fell in love with what you could do with it," he says. The work wasn't nearly as labor intensive as using real stone and the process was much more affordable for homeowners.

In about that same timeframe, when he was in his 30s, he returned to school to pursue a degree in architecture at what is now called Philadelphia University. It was there he met and fell in love with his now-partner and wife, Elizabeth. Also a returning student, she was studying interior design.

"When I graduated, we decided Gerry would stop working for other contractors," Elizabeth says. So in 1997, they founded GEM Enterprize, which subsequently morphed into Liquid Stone Concrete Designs, LLC in 2006. Besides the husband wife, there are three full-time employees, including, Arron Schopfer, who also holds a degree in architecture from Philadelphia College.

"Our training helps us understand the overall design of a project," Gerry says. "We better understand clients and the direction they want to move in."

"We've found a lot of decorative stamped concrete people have no concrete background and some have a concrete background but no artistic training," Elizabeth says. "But with our experience, we've brought it all together to evolve this company and take it forward."

Elizabeth deals with the clients on a one-on-one basis, personally meeting with them, estimating costs and scheduling jobs. She also handles the books, advertising and marketing, leaving Gerry the time to focus on art and "technical stuff," she says.

In the beginning, the company concentrated on flatwork and foundations but soon began dabbling in decorative concrete. Today, Elizabeth says, stamping is the bread and butter of the business, but that's subject to change. Up until about a year ago, she continues, "I'd say about 99 percent of our work involved stamping, staining and foundations, but now we're getting more and more requests for concrete countertops."

In the area of Pennsylvania they live in, just north of Philadelphia, people want countertops that are as polished and refined as granite, Elizabeth adds. "The types of countertops that are popular in California and New York City don't fly here," she says. "For the most part, our clients want a very traditional look."

Gerry says he really enjoys creating countertops because he packs and molds the concrete by hand at his shop, where he's in control. "Doing it onsite is a logistical nightmare," he says.

Recently, he and his crew poured a countertop that was laden with fiber optics for a local bar, which garnered a lot of attention. In fact, Maurer was among the six people invited to talk at the Concrete Countertop Institute convention held in Charlotte last October, where he addressed how to sell and place fiber optics.

And last spring, he and his crew made a countertop embedded with recycled glass as part of the 2007 Bucks County Designer Showhouse, a house that featured sustainable building products.

Currently, an interesting project he's working on involves coloring and stamping a concrete floor in an old barn — "There are a lot of old barns up this way that people want to redo" — and then adding grout and polishing it. "Doing a 2-by-2 foot sample was one thing, but surfacing an 1,200-square-foot floor is another animal," he says. "The whole trick is keeping the colors consistent."

Maurer notes that he uses color hardener and often blends colors to match existing brick and stonework in these old structures. "I would never dream of painting a color on," he says, adding that a lot of contractors in his area do just that.

The contractor's degree in fine woodworking, which he earned right out of high school, has proven to be very beneficial in creating the intricate forms often necessary for countertop conglomerations. "Plus I make my own forms for edge details," Maurer says.

On the flip side, Maurer also relishes the challenge of free-form concrete placement. Whereas he hasn't done a complete free-form patio yet, he has formed stepping stones off patios. "I set some grade pins for elevations and sculpted the concrete to form what I wanted it to look like. I stamped and colored the stones and used leaves to make it look like a large fossil," he says about one of the jobs.

But for now, Elizabeth and Gerry's latest venture was opening a Showroom
Hours by Appointment Oct. 1 in a "big, old Victorian building" in Peddler's Village in Lahaska, Pa. There browsers and potential clients can see samples of the company's handiwork, from sinks and countertops to acid stained floors and overlays. The location is perfect, Elizabeth says, as the village is the No. 3 tourist destination in the state.

Gerry's advice to others in the decorative concrete business is "Sample, sample, sample and practice, practice, practice — and not on your client. Show your clients samples and not just pictures," he says. "And, above all, know your product."

For that, Elizabeth advises, go to a good school and learn all you can about concrete. "You need to understand the basic material to really work the medium," she says. And take a class or two in design to give your work some "pizzazz and pop" instead of slapping down the same old squares and rectangles.

Also, stand firm and insist on being paid for your time and effort. "So many times contractors and artisans don't get paid for their knowledge," Gerry says. "I know I've invested a lot of money on training and continue to train and go to shows. All that adds up. I think you should be paid what you're worth."

This article was originally published in the February 2008 edition of Concrete Decor magazine

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