Making time for yourself and finding ways to de-stress from a busy workweek are crucial adulting tools. It helps you to stay productive. Be it a quick beach getaway, a gym session or even a creative workshop, there is an endless number of ways to escape. Harley Simon Danker found his escape in concrete. Specifically, making mini concrete desk accessories, such as trays and holders.
“It made me feel calm. I felt like it took all my stress away. Every day I am on the computer but this really calmed my mind … It became my hobby. I posted pictures on my personal instagram and my family and friends were commenting, ‘You know what, Harley? This is a good idea. You should start a business.’ At that time, I was hesitant,” he says.
Danker’s reluctance was because he was already stretched thin. As a freelance architect running a design business, HM Create Design, with a partner, he did not have much time to spare. Danker had also started a company that sells bracelets but it was not doing well. Creating concrete items was his chance to focus on something else. Already known for his intricate architectural models, his idea also allowed him to work with his hands.
“I came to the conclusion that I cannot be a Jack of all trades. I needed to focus on something. With concrete, I was intrigued by and satisfied with what I was doing. I could see that there are a lot of things I can do in the future with it as a business,” he says.
Still hesitant, he began an Instagram page to test the waters. Danker’s business, Concrete Dezign, was launched in July last year and the response surprised him. “When I posted the images, orders started coming in. I had five customers within a week, which is quite fast. So, I was like ‘Wow this is surprising’. I was hesitant because there are so many things I have to focus on, like the other business,” he says. Giving up his bracelet business helped Danker refocus his efforts on his new endeavour.
Concrete Dezign’s aesthetic leans towards minimalism with clean lines and finishes. However, the process behind their creation is incredibly tedious.
“I design in a software called AutoCad, then I transfer it to Sketchup to see how it would look in 3D. That is when I print the cardboard and make [a mould] in the shape I want … 24 hours [after pouring the concrete], I take out [the object] and let it settle for a while, maybe for one more day, and after that, I sand it down, wash it, let it settle again and dry. So you don’t get that powdery texture, I add a matt clear finishing, so the object is smooth,” he says.
Danker uses two methods —cardboard and silicon moulds. While cardboard is cheaper, it tends to take three or four days to make one piece. Silicone moulds take only two days but are much more expensive. Danker learnt how to get the right mix of concrete from YouTube, and has since been experimenting with colours. “For grey cement, I use fine sand, mix it together and pour a concrete bond chemical to make it stronger. That is my mix. If I want to get a marbled effect, I mix white and black concrete. Or else, I mix in other colour pigments.”
Concrete Dezign’s products were then taken to bazaars to create a stronger brand awareness. Malayan Banking Bhd approached Danker for his first bazaar. He also took along miniature pots for plants made in his signature concrete design and found that people loved them. “There were a lot of office people who wanted to get their mind off things. They wanted to see something green on their desk rather than a lot of documents. Every day when you look at documents, you get stressed. So, if you have miniature plants it makes your day,” he says.
Danker’s move to plants was an easy transition as he has a green thumb.
Other than the use of concrete, what makes Danker’s products unique is the architectural influence, which has led to to designs such as his tetris succulents and miniature stairs for his potted bonsais. “I am inspired by architecture. I was inspired by Tadao Ando, an architect in Japan. That kind of concrete stuff really impressed me and motivated me [to start] this concrete business.”
He tries to launch a new idea every month, allowing high or low demand to guide his designs, working towards what his customers want.
One of Danker’s main hurdles now is keeping up with and organising his orders. He is a one-man show with occasional help from his friend’s nephews on the weekend. “I thought of concentrating on Instagram, but I was getting too many DMs. I decided I have to set up a website. Getting people to do the website is expensive, so that is the challenge for me right now. It is still a work in progress and I will hopefully launch it before Christmas. That way, I can keep track of my orders.”
In the future, Danker hopes to expand his business to include international orders. As Concrete Dezign grows, he hopes to maintain the architectural inspiration as the heart of the business. “Architecture is beautiful. Whatever you see will inspire you to make something. All of my products are made in miniature sizes, so they are easy for people to carry around and appreciate as art. I want to show that architecture can take a different form.”
This article first appeared on Nov 25, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.