Creative Cement Workshop

Today was great fun for me! I always buy my cement supplies from Custom Crete Warehouse in North Haven, CT because I would rather have Tom and Steve’s advice and input than maybe save a few bucks at the big box store. Last week when I went in to buy supplies for my current project (see photos below) they invited me to attend the creative concrete workshop they were hosting today for local contractors.

Two company reps from Butterfield (  spent the entire day demonstrating stamped and stenciled concrete methods to about 25 cement contractors – and me!

They also demonstrated a product called Cantera that is used for building up wall textures – like Tom’s fabulous tree in the picture below. The faux bois effect was applied with a deeply textured rubber roller. Not to over-simplify, but “all” they did was attach a large cardboard tube to the wall, cover it with a layer of metal mesh and then apply the Cantera about ½” thick. Then they just rolled out the texture. I’m thinking about narrower cardboard tubes with electrical wiring for some faux bois lamp posts. And maybe some faux bois planters or a garden bench. I just have to have one of those rollers.. . . . . .


(By the way, if you are thinking about installing walkways or a patio, take a good look at stamped or stenciled concrete. Some of the effects are fabulous and the cost and upkeep is much lower than setting and maintaining brick or bluestone. We had a stamped “slate” patio installed about 6 years ago. It still looks fabulous and I will never have to pull a single weed from between the blocks.)


My current project is taking a little longer than I would like, but I plan to make some major progress next week and will post updated pictures then. For now, this is what I am doing:

The wall is 32’ long and about 16” high and will act as a retaining wall for the wood-chipped walkway behind it. That whole side of the yard is terraced to accommodate the slope of our lot and I built most of the smaller walls with the rocks that were bla$ted out of the ground to sink the foundation for the house. I did not build the walls that obviously needed heavy equipment to move the boulders! We are on a red rock ledge so it is nearly impossible to plant anything without finding more rock. When life gives you red rock, build walls!


My new wall, however, was constructed with two courses of cement block that I am in the process of covering with mosaic. I have a good friend who once worked for a cookware catalog and she saved all the items that were broken in shipment and returned to the company. A ceramics instructor at the university where my husband teaches contributed broken and abandoned projects that students left behind and another friend donated a box of imported yellow tiles. I did purchase a few black tiles, but otherwise the entire wall will be covered with cast-offs.


In addition to the shards, I have also attached some terracotta pots and will work the mosaic over them as well. I’ll use them to plant herbs or flowers. Terracotta is easy to cut with a hacksaw or a tile saw (if you happen to have a very agreeable contractor doing bathroom tile repair when you start your wall!)

I’m using a product called Patchall to attach the shards and pots. It sets up in about 10 minutes, which is handy for placing larger pieces. It is limiting, however, in that you have to mix fairly small batches at a time. I will grout the wall later with regular thinset.

When we constructed the base wall, I cut 15” sections of 2” PVC pipe and inserted them into three pairs of openings at the top of the wall and cemented them in place. The pipes will be used to hold bamboo poles for trellising tomatoes or beans.

I normally plant sunflowers in the garden above the walkway and I think they will be in good company with the flowers on the wall. What do you think?

About Susan Guagliumi

I am an author, craftsperson and a gardener. My proposal for a book tentatively titled "The Artful Gardener" was just accepted by Stewart, Tibori and Chang Publishers. Although this will be my fifth book, it is the first outside the area of hand/machine knitting. The manuscript is due early in 2013 and the book is scheduled for Spring of 2014. A somewhat longer process than giving birth to a child, embarking on an author's journey can be just as daunting, exciting and almost as fulfilling.
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7 Responses to Creative Cement Workshop

  1. Lew Mann says:

    Susan, this is fascinating. Your creation is amazing. I hope it holds up in the N.E. winters.

    • Thanks, Lew! All of my other mosaic projects have weathered just fine so I think we will be enjoying this wall for years to come. We are in southern CT – almost “tropical New England” and our winters are a little milder than Natick was.
      I just want to get it done so I can stop packing down the dirt where I need to be planting things in another couple of weeks!

  2. This looks amazing….can’t wait to see it full of flora!

  3. Terri Burns says:

    This is fabulous! Makes me want a terraced back yard! You constantly amaze me. Looking forward to seeing the completion!

  4. kate says:

    Can’t wait to see some closeups of the wall. Glad those yellow tiles are now in tile heaven rather than taking up space in the garage!

  5. The wall is wonderful, what an inspiration. Thanks for your continued outpouring of quality craftswork in whatever medium you choose!

  6. Nancy Johnson says:

    Where do you find the time? You amaze me with all your talents. I also love to machine knit, garden , cook, sew ,etc. & always wanted to try mosaics, stained glass, etc. I loved sculpture in college & working in concrete always looked fun. You must not sleep. Good luck with book. Nancy in TN

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