A Hingham company breaks with tradition by transforming homes with highly customized concrete decor.
By Laura DeSisto Photography by Jack Foley
In a warehouse workshop just behind Derby Street Shops in Hingham, Peter Somers spends his days making all sorts of objects out of concrete–some practical and others whimsical.
Somers never planned on becoming a concrete fabricator. About 16 years ago, while planning a kitchen renovation for his Hull home, Somers’ wife found concrete countertops in a home magazine and wanted to give them a try. Unable to find any local companies to make them, Somers sent away for books and DVDs and taught himself how to build them.
“What I discovered is that concrete countertops began appearing in California as early as the 1980s,” says Somers. “Here in New England, we are very slow to adopt new building techniques and materials. In fact, we are usually about 20 to 30 years behind trend. We like our traditions.”
Having worked as a general contractor for many years, Somers saw concrete as a new opportunity and decided to add custom countertops to the mix of products and services he offered. “One of the first projects we did was the countertops for Jonathan Kraft’s summer house on Cape Cod,” says Somers.
When the economy crashed in 2008, Somers decided to focus all of his energy on learning the ins and outs of concrete.
“I went to California and took classes in concrete fabrication with Fu-Teng Cheng, who is considered one of two masters of the art,” says Somers. As he became increasingly adept at working with the medium, Somers expanded far beyond countertops and began fabricating custom fire pits, surrounds for showers and fireplaces, wall tiles, bathroom sinks, outdoor kitchen areas and tables. He also offers customers a range of highly customized finishes and colors.
“Most people probably envision a dull gray when they think of concrete, but it can be polished, ground, tinted, stained or stamped to allow almost endless creative possibilities. I can match any color by adding pigments to the concrete blend. Alternatively, you can have a clean white concrete. We can also do interesting acid stains that come in six colors including green and blue. We can even embed sentimental mementos, fossils, stones, shells, metal pieces or other interesting items into the finished product,” says Somers.
Each concrete creation is one-of-a-kind and is an expression of both the homeowner and the fabricator. It’s no accident that Somers named his business “Concretepoetry.”
Hull residents Max and Rebecca Horn were early adopters of concrete decor and hired Somers for multiple projects. The couple lives in a net-zero home perched high on a bluff overlooking Nantasket Beach. In the bathroom and kitchen, concrete counters were inlaid with whimsical beach glass designs, while a small concrete bar in the family room was adorned with brass keys (a tribute to the homeowner’s career in real estate management). Somers also created a concave “fruit bowl” feature for the corner of the kitchen counter and sleek window sills, set close to the floor so the family can display photographs and houseplants without obstructing the jaw-dropping water views.
Not far down the road, in a house overlooking the Boston skyline, Janice and Mike Dunphy are pleased that they chose to install concrete counters as part of their kitchen renovation. Somers was able to tint the concrete to match the homeowners’ specifications and also engrave the family name into the edge of the counter backsplash.
“We think of ourselves as artisans and we work closely with homeowners and project managers to make sure they are getting exactly what they envision,” says Somers. “It is a very different experience from picking out a granite slab in a warehouse.”
Not surprisingly, Somers’ services are in high demand throughout New England and beyond and he was once featured on an episode of “Ask This Old House.” Some of his high-profile corporate clients have included businesses like Microsoft, Samuel Adams, Legal Sea Foods, Pottery Barn, the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, for which Somers made enormous concrete planters (3 feet by 4 feet) to grace the hotel entrance.
Last year, Somers moved his operations to a warehouse behind Derby Street Shops in Hingham and began offering concrete classes to the general public. “I absolutely love to teach and I love showing people that they can do a lot of projects on their own,” says Somers.
One of his most popular classes, “Playing with Concrete,” introduces students to the basics of working with the material. Participants learn how to mix concrete, use molds and work with different colors, textures and finishes. Each student goes home with several finished pieces.
For those with less time, there’s a two-hour “Thirsty Thursday” evening class that teaches participants how to create decorative concrete “dragon eggs.” To begin, students enrobe balloons with a layer of concrete. After the concrete has dried the balloons are popped, leaving a thin concrete shell that can be spray-painted with a reflective color. The finished eggs make unique candleholders or conversation pieces.
In the coming months, Somers will begin leading classes in basic home repair. “I plan to offer a series that includes basics like how to change a light fixture, install tile and repair screens,” says Somers. “I firmly believe that everyone is capable of doing these things and I love showing people that it’s really not that difficult.”