Concrete and Cocktails

Thirteen years ago, an apparently persuasive fellow convinced his wife that he could make their replacement kitchen countertops using concrete. Today, DEX Industries ships their architectural concrete products world-wide. DEX was founded by that persuasive fellow, whose name is Craig Smith, and interior designer Lauriel Leonard. The DEX showroom and manufacturing plant are located in an industrial area in downtown Atlanta, not far from Turner Field.

The current exhibit of the Museum Of Design Atlanta (MODA) is titled The South’s Next Wave: Design Challenge. In conjunction with this exhibit, MODA arranged for DEX to host an after-hours tour of their plant. Craig and Lauriel graciously led us through the factory, guiding us around heavy equipment, concrete pieces, and over water troughs, as they explained how they got started, and how they learned through trial-and-error to manufacture these unique products.

In retrospect, I might have made a tactical error in calling it a “date” when I invited my IPS to the event. I believe the comment she posted was “Living large, people, living large.”

Are we done yet?

I thought the fact that they were offering free drinks put it firmly in the “date” category. Much to learn clearly I have.

Living large, for sure.

Let me hasten to add that the material DEX uses is not your Father’s Oldsmobile’s driveway’s concrete. They combine fine-grain cement in shades ranging from white to dark with aggregates (clear, colored, stone) and even optional artifacts (exotic seashell sections, bottle and glass segments) to make countertops, sinks, tubs, tiles, exterior building finishes, and more. The finishes are sealed, then buffed or polished.

This picture shows a modernistic, white double sink in the foreground, with sample slabs in the background (click the image for a larger view).

Sink and samples

This photo shows some of the aggregate samples displayed in their showroom. The table is also made with the DEX process, and there’s another sink example in the background.

Aggregate samples on table

DEX has always had an ecological consciousness. The reclaimed factory building they use includes natural lighting through large overhead windows that were part of the original building. This green consciousness led to the discovery of an optical fiber plant in north Georgia that was regularly throwing away tons of high-purity silica glass chunks, very clear and very hard. These chunks (shown below in a variety of shapes) are left over from the melting-and-drawing process used to produce optical fiber for telecommunications.

DEX figured out how to crush and size these glass pieces to produce DEX Glass, a unique and useful aggregate they not only use in their own products, but which they also sell to other manufacturers for similar uses.

Optical fiber remnants, and DEX Glass bags

The plant employs a variety of workers, including interior and industrial designers, sculptors and other artists, and experienced construction and renovation contractors. Some of their most critical jobs are performed by the woodworkers who build the crates and boxes that protect these heavy products as they are shipped to their destinations.

The final picture, below, shows an automated polishing machine in the background, on which is resting a piece of external building finish in white concrete. Such pieces are cast using custom rubber molds, also made by the DEX production staff. In the foreground is a section that will be assembled on-site with other pieces to form a large architectural planter, custom designed for a specific building installation.

Polishing machine, building finish, and planter section

It was a pleasant visit for me. The faint aroma of cement throughout the factory brought back memories of my ready-mix plant work with Superior Steel Fabricators. The broad span of mechanical and artistic processes Craig described so lovingly was really fascinating to me. And my Infinitely Patient Spouse really was a good sport about it.

But I’m pretty sure I owe her a Real Date now.

These pictures were taken on a older Blackberry, because I had no idea that I would want to document the trip until I got there. For a full description of DEX, and some much better photos, check out their web site: DEX Industries.

One Response to “Concrete and Cocktails”

  1. Great recap and recall of details shared by Craig, but Dude, you do indeed owe the spouse a “real” date. đŸ™‚ Hopefully you both had fun–I know I did and learned a great deal too. Thanks again for sharing…good read!

Leave a Reply