Presenters for Nov. 16 PechaKucha exemplify creative economy

Alternative Rock: Concrete artisans transform cement into art

Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:30am

Fun fact: the name concrete comes from the Latin "concretus,” which means to grow together.

The path of local concrete artisans Marcel Valliere and Paul Powers has emulated the very stuff they work with. Like cement powder reacting with water, their friendship and partnership has strengthened into the Thomaston-based company, Alternative Rock, which exemplifies the core ideals of Midcoast’s creative economy.

Valliere and Powers have been hand-picked to speak as one of the eight presenters at the upcoming PechaKucha event on Nov. 16 in Union. Though concrete as a substance is about as ordinary as dirt, it’s what they do to transform it that makes them stand out.

“We try to make concrete as pretty as we can,” said Powers. “The art form is a communal effort by committed artisans. It involves art, design, as well as selecting the type of concrete. It’s not something one person can do from start to finish. Even though the business is just the two of us, sometimes It takes four to five people in the process, especially in a larger project.”

The company, founded five years ago, started like so many hobby businesses, out of a shared love for tinkering with building materials. Both men were entrenched in the Midcoast building industry; Valliere is an architectural designer who also owns and operates his Valliere Design Studios of Rockland.  Powers has years of experience in various aspects of home building and renovation. Working out of each other’s shops, they started experimenting with concrete countertops for their own homes.

“We started to hear from friends and strangers that they wanted one, and from there it grew. Before you knew it, we had a business,” said Powers.

Like so many fledgling entrepreneurs, they could only go so far without an economic boost to expand their business. At last year’s Juice Conference, they competed against 65 other companies in the Juice 3.0 Pitch Contest.  They ended up in a tie with another company. In a surprise move, both companies were awarded the $25,000 flexible financing prize.  Asked what made them stand out, Powers said, “We’re blending art with design and providing a useful product that is done locally. It’s not the type of thing you’re going to be selling or shipping to Singapore.”

Winning the prize jumpstarted the next phase of their business.

“That’s what really propelled us,” he continued. “We were working out of each other’s driveways and what we really needed was seed money to own up a shop we could operate year-round.”

Concrete countertops have long been a staple in contemporary homes, the kind you’d see in Dwell Magazine. One-third of Alternative Rock's clientele, contemporary home owners, fit that dynamic. But, Powers said, people might be surprised to learn they do lot of countertop work for old Maine farmhouses, because it fits into the overall look, as well.

The most challenging project they’d done was a standing concrete waterwall, which had to be lifted by crane to the Harbor Square Gallery roof garden in Rockland. In partnership with the gallery, they created the waterwall as a functional piece of art. As it is for sale, Powers noted, “If someone buys it, we’ve got to get that crane and bring it right down again.”

A popular statistic cited by Columbia University, shows how ubiquitous concrete is (to a disturbing degree). More than 10 billion tons of concrete are produced each year worldwide. In the United States, the annual production of more than 500 million tons implies about two tons for each man, woman and child.

It’s not a fact lost on Valliere or Powers, whose business follows the sustainability tenet of the creative economy. In their line of work, concrete can be re-used and recycled.

“Because we live in a place where the concrete industry is well-established, we can take mistakes or old designs, grind them up and make it into new paving for your driveway or a new concrete countertop,” said Powers. ‘You can’t really do that with a $100 per square foot of marble. At least with concrete we’ll use it over and over again.”

 To find out more about Alternative Rock visit: 

 To learn more about the upcoming PechKucha show, visit: Midcoast Magnet

Kay Stephens can be reached at