But it was while working as an engineer, building bridges and other large projects, that Winnipeg's Christine Pavagadhi came up with the idea that would launch her new career: as the driving force behind Kyur Concrete Studio, a company that has created a revolutionary new countertop that could just become the hottest thing on the market.
While concrete countertops have been used in kitchen design before, Pavagadhi's approach is a novel one. Traditionally, concrete countertops were poured in place, with the concrete's weight sometimes requiring specially-built cabinetry and making it bulky and impossible to transport.
But Pavagadhi has come up with a solution. During her engineering years, she had come into contact with glass-fibre reinforced concrete, which is stronger than the ordinary mix. After leaving the engineering world, Pavagadhi began experimenting with the material, noticing it had never been used before in countertop design.
Far less fuss
As a result, Kyur is able to produce a lightweight concrete countertop that measures only 3/4 of an inch thick. As a result, the countertop can be cast and finished off-site, and simply brought in and applied, with far less fuss to the homeowner than pouring on-site. "It looks heavy, but it's no heavier than any other countertop," she explains. "It can span large distances but still be very light."
And while concrete has historically been subject to staining and scratching, Pavagadhi's experiments with sealing have led her to develop both high-gloss and matte finishes that stubbornly resist the wear and tear, being tested against the same standards that Corian countertops are tested against.
As well, Pavagadhi has watched the material hold its own against her own two young children. Kid tested, mother approved.
All other benefits aside, there's one other important factor: Kyur's designs simply look good. In fact, the material offers even better design advantages than the traditionally preferred granite.
Pavagadhi, for instance, is able to stain the concrete to match any paint colour, and the custom nature of the casting means the piece can be cast in any size and shape at any time, as opposed to granite, which is limited to the colours and sizes of stone available.
And the finish is limited only by the designer's imagination. While the concrete's natural composition leads to a pleasing natural patina that is both sleekly modern and yet comfortingly homelike, it can easily be played with.
Pavagadhi notes that for some projects, she has added special touches like pressing leaves into the finish to produce an ultra thin, attractive-looking design directly into the concrete. Or the countertops can be cast with smooth, ground stones to add a more rustic feel, or even with granite accents positioned throughout. Artists can paint whatever they like with stain, and businesses can cast in paper-thin imprints of their corporate logo.
For those looking to complete their kitchen's appearance, Pavagadhi also offers concrete tiles for backsplashes that, like the countertops, can be custom stained and cut into any size, shape, or pattern. And kitchens aren't the only place it can be used. Pavagadhi has created a lightweight, avant-garde coffee table for herself. There are countless other applications, indoor or outdoor. "I think it would be ideal for outdoor barbecue areas, because unlike wood, it doesn't crack or retain moisture," she says.
And here's the good news: the material comes with a price tag equivalent to that of a low-grade granite.
With a display recently completed at Kitchen Craft on Regent Avenue and two on the way at Penner Building Centre and Heirloom Cabinetry, Pavagadhi's designs will also be showcased in several showhomes during the fall Parade of Homes. And while the countertops are brand new on the market, Pavagadhi is already looking to the future, noting the sleek and stylish designs could well be a hit in design-forward cities like Vancouver.
For those interested in learning more about the countertops, Kyur has a brand new Web site set up at www.kyurconcretestudio.com, and it's available through Craftline Countertops as well as through Kyur itself.