The Hardscaper Blog:

Concrete Samples – The Key to Success

Our concrete sample maker troweling a concrete sample for a client in our sample bay.

Our concrete samples have become a large part of our reputation at Colorado Hardscapes as we strive to establish expectations.

Every concrete contractor has had the “This concrete looks wrong.” conversation before. Of course, that could be due to a careless contractor, but most times, that conversation occurs because of poor communication with the client. If we can establish expectations before the installation of concrete on a project, we’ve overcome the largest hurdle.

The Beginning of Samples at Colorado Hardscapes

In 1982, we became a Bomanite licensee, and with that, took on their many premium concrete recipes. After some thought, we decided what better way to showcase these new products than to create small sample versions?

Eventually, we put all of our samples together into one area. We named this space our Design Center; an area for free-flowing ideas in addition to a hands-on experience. Today, we have filled our Design Center with hundreds of different samples, including those for interior and exterior applications. With the support of our samples and our experts, Colorado Hardscapes has been walking alongside our clients to show them something they might have never imagined possible. 

Concrete Samples as an Investment

We’ve hired a full-time, sample maker to keep our Design Center stocked, sample boxes out the door, and custom requests fulfilled. Moreover, Colorado Hardscapes is one of the few contractors that make their own samples. In fact, our skilled sample maker makes them for our sister company, Progressive Hardscapes in Arizona. Many contractors have decided to sub out sample making to another company and while we could do the same, more often, we do it ourselves. We value having control over the entire process and deciding the timing in which we have samples ready to send out.

Why have we put so much time, money, and effort into our Sample Bay?- Because we’ve seen it benefit our clients. When creating samples, we’re making a conscious effort to build integrity and maintain strong relationships. Ever since we started making samples for ourselves, we’ve only ever seen it as a valuable investment benefiting our process and customers’ experience.

The Effects of Screens & Lighting on Concrete Samples

Working with concrete for 75 years, we know the ins and outs of the material. That being said, we encourage you to hold the sample in your hands to have a complete understanding of how the product acts in different lighting and of its texture. Selecting concrete online or through printed materials can give you an idea of what you want, but distorts its true characteristics.

For example, take a look at the photos below. Can you tell which Meteor Sky sample is the truest to life?

All three look as if they could be correct, therefore if you observed the first two as a stand-alone, they would establish incorrect expectations. Computer screens tend to manipulate the color of concrete just as clothing colors change from an online purchase to when you see it at home.

The benefit of small samples is their portability. That way, not only can you observe the samples in person, but you can also look at them under natural sunlight, incandescent light, and LED light. Usually, after clients choose the sample they want, samples turn into large-scale mockups at the location of the project.

Case Study

Back in 2004, we were contracted to install some Sandscape flatwork at Belmar. The designer was interested in our Omaha Tan color from one of our color charts. As we do, we showed them an Omaha Tan sample which calls for one pound of color. After seeing the sample in person, the client communicated that the sample was too pigmented.

Going back to our sample bay, we made a custom sample with only half of the amount of color. After returning to the client, they communicated the color was, again, too pigmented. We went back and forth with the client two more times, cutting the color in half each time, finally hitting the sweet spot at 1/16th of a pound of color. Through it all, we ended up naming the new sample “Belmar Buff”.

Through this experience, we took away a valuable lesson- never assume what the client is looking for. Descriptive words are subjective. Dark gray, modern concrete may mean one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Until we see an objective, physical example, we can’t be sure we’re on the same page. So, though the process was repetitive and the variance was slight, the final result was beautiful. Most importantly, the client got exactly what they wanted.

The Nature of Concrete

We all know concrete can be beautiful, but beauty doesn’t always equate to consistency. Being premium concrete installers, we’ve come up with methods to reduce extreme variations. Still, the nature of concrete does not act as an off-the-shelf product, therefore, slight variations can still happen. We showcase concrete samples with typical characteristics for that exact reason- to reveal the reality of the material. We want to capture the color, texture, techniques, and sealer in all one sample.

Experimenting with Concrete Samples

Though a majority of our samples derive from recipes, we also use our sample bay to develop new concrete motifs. By pushing the boundaries of conventional concrete, we’ve had the chance to really learn what it means to “imagine the possibilities”. Whether discovered by us or specified by you, we’re ready to take on the challenges of decorative concrete. Below is an example of one of our recent innovations: Glow-in-the-dark concrete.

Sample Boxes

Since the early 2000s, we’ve been putting together sample boxes of our most popular products both interior and exterior. Once you let us know what you’re looking for, we select the box best suited for you, or you can request one specifically! You can go here to see a full list of our classic sample boxes.