Sturgeon Bay - It's hard not to be swept away by the stunning decorative concrete in Dylan Lauger's home and yard.
Lauger, a concrete artisan, mixed his concrete surface craftsmanship into his home's renovation. All around are his eye-catching minimalist concrete furnishings and accessories.
The result is a chic, walk-to-town Sturgeon Bay farmhouse with a to-die-for backyard patio oasis.
"I just love concrete," Lauger said. "It's what I do all day and what I think about all night. My hobby is pretty much concrete."
The 1930s two-story farmhouse looks good today. But that wasn't the case four years ago when Lauger found it abandoned - save for a few cats - after a foreclosure.
Taking down walls
The renovation involved removing walls on the first level to create a living room open to an intimate dining area and redesigned kitchen. Just off the kitchen is a stylish bathroom. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and bonus room are situated on the second level.
The captivating kitchen is highlighted by Lauger's artistry: green-stained concrete countertops, a concrete gray backsplash and a spacious island topped by concrete.
A concrete surface overlay transforms the nearby bathroom's floor; just follow three big red circles into the space. It also has a concrete vanity and two sinks, finished "with a slightly aged look," Lauger said. He got a friend to help him create the look of a worn, poured-concrete bathroom wall.
The deep tub, a mass of concrete, keeps the bathwater warm, Lauger said. "And it was a lot of work," he added. "I got sore making it, and I never get sore."
The coffee table in the living room may look mainstream at first glance. But the base beneath the black concrete top doesn't have standard legs. On one end, it's held up by a gray concrete box that looks as if it could have come from a construction site, but it's been artfully embellished by Lauger.
The acid-stained concrete top on a living room side table has variegated earth tones and a marble-like appearance.
"I think you can personalize concrete a lot more than you can other things," he said. "You can stain it, create different patterns and more."
Concrete in his blood
Lauger grew up on the Door Peninsula and worked alongside his late father on concrete construction jobs. In 1998 he started his own business, Lauger Concrete, serving residential and commercial customers.
"Two people may bid on something, and my approach will be taken from an artistic standpoint. And I don't oversell," he says. "I consider myself to be really good at what I do, and I'm very picky."
He likes to spend time after work outdoors. He transformed his backyard into a multilevel, acid-stained concrete patio with concrete blocks in rustic shades of brown, black and tan. A concrete retaining wall and fountain, abundant foliage and a sound system are part of the exotic scene.
"You feel as though it's a jungle," Lauger says. "And everyone says, 'I can't believe this is in town.' "
Lauger recently led a tour of his home and grounds. He also answered a few questions:
Q.What changes did you make to the house?
A. I painted the exterior brown - it was yellow - and got rid of the fretwork.
As for the interior, I think I had 13 Dumpsters come out of here. They were filled with plaster, carpeting and walls that got ripped out. I didn't move the staircase, but I opened it.
The kitchen is still technically in the same spot, but I redid it. The stove and refrigerator were actually on that wall (along the staircase). It was horrible. I redid both the bathrooms.
The home also needed new plumbing, electrical wiring, plastering, interior painting and maple flooring.
Q.As you did the renovation, what were you thinking?
A. I was going for an open look. I started ripping stuff apart and putting it back together. There wasn't much thought put into anything. I didn't sit down and write plans.
Q.Tell me about acid-stained concrete.
A. The acid stains that I use on furniture and on floors are all earth tones. And the great thing about them is you can layer and blend them together. You can also use other chemicals and soft metals that react with the stains. . . . Acid stains, in themselves, are incredible: a reactive material on a man-made product, concrete, that can be finished in so many ways. There are endless possibilities.
Q.That coffee table is a focal point. What was your process?
A. The table's top was stained black, and you can't really tell it's concrete. The base on one side blends polished concrete technique with "old-school" type of work. You can see different colors and air pockets in it. I like the mix of raw and very modern.
Q.Where do you spend most of your time?
A. In the spring, summer and fall, I'm always on the patio. During the winter, I'm at the shop (in Sturgeon Bay) more than anywhere else. I also spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Q.How do you describe your decorating style?
A. I'm a real minimalist. And I like nature. As you can see, I don't keep much out. The home is so simple.
Q.Where do you find items for your home?
A. The kitchen cabinets are IKEA. I got the table and chairs at Scanhome Furnishings in Green Bay. I don't have many accessories. I get things (such as the metal sculpture in the bathroom) at Bliss in Sturgeon Bay - the things I do have.
That piece with the light bulb sticking out is a concrete lamp. I'm starting to get into more weird and strange stuff.
Q.What makes your business, Lauger Concrete, unique?
A. I consider what I do more of an alternative to your normal everyday stuff.
I am making furniture out of concrete. I want to make a door out of concrete. I try to do things that are totally different.
My tagline is "interior and exterior alternatives."
I don't do pavers outdoors, and asphalt isn't a friend of mine.
Q.What benefits do homeowners derive from using concrete for countertops, for example?
A. Concrete holds its value. Granite comes in slabs, and it's cut and edge detailing is done.
With concrete, we have to make the molds, pour the concrete, finish, flip over, finish, seal, wait, seal and wait.
It is a big process and a lot of labor as compared to granite.
There's a lot of time and craftsmanship involved. If you want a color, we make that color.
You don't have to pick from a basic laminate.
Q.What home projects are on the docket?
A. I think I'm going to replace windows. Only four of them in the home were updated, and some of them have been painted shut over the years.
The upper-level bathroom shower will get a concrete wall surround, and the floor a concrete overlay.
There are other things I'm going to change. They're four years old, and I just want different stuff.
I have a Mission-style bed, and I want to get a platform style. I'm all modern now.
Donna Marie Pocius is a Wisconsin freelance writer.