Crewe Concrete Training is gaining popularity across North America for its residential designs.

Crewe Concrete Training is gaining popularity across North America for its residential designs.

Concrete designer attracts a following

Crewe Concrete Training has been attracting students from across North America

Tucked away in a studio at the tip of the Okanagan, three men and women are hunched over a table, stirring a rare rose quartz concrete mixture and curling copper for an inlay, dusty palms lit by lamps. It’s almost midnight.

Darting between their tables is Crewe Concrete Training owner and concrete artisan Keith Crewe, a bear of a man with the word Love stitched above the pocket of his overalls.

Loretta Emonts, a skinny 26-year-old redhead in rubber boots, lifts her head from a patch of rocks that will become bear claw inlays.

“Keith, how do you go home? This is so awesome.”

Crewe — who discovered that same passion for this most natural and transformable medium 14 years ago and was recently featured in Debbie Travis’ column — rubs his eyebrow with his wrist and replies, “I know. But now I get excited watching you guys get excited. That’s why I’m here 16 hours a day.”

In fact, some students who attend his new five-day concrete training program head out at dusk for hotel rooms, ski trails, or golf courses overlooking Okanagan Lake, but others stay as long as Crewe keeps the lights on.

“This is about inspiring people to become creative and push their own abilities. To try things. At least that’s what I encourage them to do, and that’s what I love about teaching,” said Crewe, who is sought-after by homeowners because he mixes his own concrete with various colours of natural sand for depth and character, then shapes it into table tops, beams, and walls, often with intricate inlays.

“The artisan part is really the manipulation of the medium. People are looking for something a bit more creative, and it’s really the only high end custom medium there is (for countertops),” said Crewe, a former carpenter and largely self-taught concrete countertop maker who began offering professional concrete training in 2014 because he wanted to help others — DIY-ers and tradespeople — do it well.

Crewe Concrete Training has been attracting students from across North America because it offers small class sizes (just four), two projects students get to take home (concrete bench and vanity), and a training opportunity that doubles as a holiday.

In addition to experiencing all elements of architectural concrete, students have a chance to experience all that is the paradise of the Okanagan — wineries, watersports, championship golf, champagne powder and farm-to-table cuisine. With the Canadian dollar dropping, the oil and gas industry in a slump, and a buddy deal in which partners pay just half the course fee, more and more Americans and Albertans are venturing into B.C. to “join the Crewe.”

Crewe also customizes elements of the course to suit students’ goals. For example, a couple from Costa Rica needed to learn, with limited South American resources, how to achieve the look of Crewe’s self-mixed natural sand concrete products. He’s been surprised at the range of students who have attended the course, from middle-aged Americans and female DIY-ers to tradespeople on the hunt for a new career that’s creative and lucrative.

Oliver Bredesen, a firefighter from northern B.C., attended the program to learn the form in a fun, experimental way. Now he rents a studio and has clients lined up for his concrete hearths and countertops.

“Keith gave me such a strong foundation and such confidence that word-of-mouth about what I’m doing has been powerful enough that I haven’t even had to advertise,” said Bredesen, who enjoys an ongoing mentor-student relationship with Crewe.