MONCTON – In Tuck Studio in uptown Saint John lies an 18-square-foot slab by DAS Concrete Countertops, a Dieppe-based company that’s among the few producers of concrete countertops in the region.
Judith Mackin, the owner of the furniture store and interior design firm, said she had been looking for a concrete countertop for the front desk at her shop for years.
She had never heard of DAS. But since she was in the market for concrete countertops and she wanted to support local businesses she responded when the company approached her.
“I have go-to materials that I really love and the other one I really like is soapstone,” said Mackin. “They’re hard, honest, rugged materials that over time, when they get beat up or scratched, they end up having this really beautiful patina to them, and concrete to me is the same.”
For a designer like Mackin, that’s the purpose of using materials like concrete – in a few years, put in a high-traffic area in the shop, the slab would show that it’s been used.
Mackin hasn’t recommended concrete countertops to clients very much, because it was “very hard to find somebody that could do it.” But she said that’ll change now that she knows a local producer.
Interior designers have emerged to be DAS’s allies, said co-founder Emma Theriault.
“They want something that has character and makes the surface stand out from any other granite or quartz countertops,” she said.
Emma and husband Yannick, who runs the company with her, were also looking for something that has character when they were building their home four years ago. They wanted something sustainable – no plastics, not easily disposable, doesn’t leave a large carbon footprint during mining and shipping, and durable. And they wanted something affordable.
So it was out with granite and quartz, the higher-end materials often used for countertops, and in came concrete.
Not able to find ready-made concrete countertops, Yannick, a woodworker and craftsman who grew up with a mason grandfather, tried to make one himself. That has turned into a business.
In January, DAS opened a 4,000-square-foot workshop after going through both the UNB Summer Institute and the OASIS program at NBCC. They’ve hired a full-time employee as well.
DAS wants “to make good choices available and accessible,” Emma said. They’re pricing their products at around $75 per square foot, around the lower-to-mid end of granite and quartz countertop prices.
“One of the frustrations we’ve had in our lives is that sustainable products are more expensive. They’re great products but because they’re priced at the premium, their impact is limited. We wanted to do something more mid-range, more accessible,” she said.
Emma says concrete is more sustainable because it’s made locally, with readily available material. DAS uses a beeswax sealer for their slabs, which has no volatile organic compounds in it. And the countertops are expected to last the lifetime of a home, after which it can be crushed up and reused as an aggregate in construction.
If it’s chipped, it’s “relatively easy to repair,” Emma says. And the countertop surface can be re-ground and re-finished. But most people choosing concrete want that distressed look Mackin sought out.
“We’ve got one in our home,” said Emma. “You’ll see where we make our tea, where we do all of our cooking…you can just kind of see where we do our work. It tells a story.”
DAS is taking advantage of increased interest in concrete countertops in larger Canadian cities, the U.S. and Europe. But it’s not trying to compete with giants like Canadian Tire and Home Depot.
“We can’t compete with that piece of the market. The market that we’re interested in is the people who value locally made [products], who value knowing where their products come from, or who value sustainable, eco-friendly options,” Emma said.
In the future, they’d like to become a B-Corp that serves markets outside the Maritimes, hopefully with facilities outside New Brunswick and with more sustainable practices. But for now, DAS is focusing closer to home. It will have a booth at the Fredericton home show in April.