Brandon Gore found his calling while on break from his day job. He was working as a sales rep for Marriott and making the big bucks, but “I hated my life” he said. One day, he came across architect Eddie Jones’s house at the base of South Mountain and it captured his imagination. He knew nothing at the time about rammed earth, concrete, or modern architecture, all he knew was that it spoke to him, so he went to see it whenever he was on break from work. The accidental run in with this exquisite rammed earth and concrete block building forever changed Gore’s life and today he is a master concrete artisan with a successful business making concrete countertops for high-end residences and has his own line of concrete and steel furniture called Hard Goods.
The Beginnings of a Master Artisan
Gore’s beginnings in the design and construction industry were anything but glamorous or well planned out. He got a foothold in the field through tenacity and just the right mix of sheer luck and plain old hard work. After his encounter with the Jones residence, he became interested in green building and decided to attend ASU’s Del Webb School of Construction. But this seemingly sensible course of action was derailed when Gore got some hard to ignore advice that if he really wanted to learn how to build things, he should apprentice in the industry instead of enrolling in college. This left Gore wondering how he could get practical know-how in construction without going broke, so he decided to start a concrete casting company. And these were the first steps on his journey to becoming one of the best concrete artisans in the state, if not the country.
Gore didn’t find immediate success in the concrete casting industry. Like many, he tried his hand at having a day job and building his dream on the side. But an insane schedule of 90 days of traveling and 3 days at home as a trainer in the hotel industry forced Gore to embrace his calling as a craftsman full time.
“The first year, I was like Howard Hughes,” he recalls. He tinkered, he built stuff, he destroyed stuff, and he didn’t have any clients. But eventually, he got his first client up in Flagstaff, where he earned a pittance and worked his rear end off. But this first client experience was all he needed to launch him into a successful business. Phoenix, at the time in the early 2000s, was enjoying an astronomic real estate boom. Gore remembers that due to the boom, there were a whopping 35 companies in town that made concrete countertops. But after the crash of 2008, every single one of them folded, except for his. He became the last man standing and survived the subsequent lean years by “catching all the trout”.
As we are climbing out of the Great Recession, Gore’s business is ratcheting up again and he is a very busy man. He designs and creates custom sinks, dining tables, conference tables, fireplaces and other custom concrete products. Now that he has achieved success in his concrete casting business, he has his sights set on the next level of creative rigor and personal satisfaction. He wants to build rammed earth buildings, like the one that originally inspired him to get into the construction business. He tells us that no one is using highly-engineered rammed earth in the US and so the opportunities are boundless.
Gore envisions going back to his home state of Arkansas to fabricate the kind of buildings he wants to build. He would set up camp, build his own studio, and even perhaps create a green building school in the unrestricted land of rural Arkansas. “I can go back to Arkansas, and buy land that is unrestricted, so I can build whatever I want to build. It’s what Frank Lloyd Wright did and it’s what Paolo Soleri did,” he says. The idea of creating a green building school excites Gore. He would teach craftsman from all over the country how to build with concrete, rammed earth and even teach things like ceramics and glass blowing. There are very few places in the country where craftsmen can learn these skills, and many of the places that do exist are very “hippy gypsy”, he says. Gore wants to offer something different. He envisions building an exquisite rammed earth, concrete, steel and glass campus in the wilderness of Arkansas and teaching artisans from around the world there.
But how will he fund all these dreams? Gore realized recently that his small concrete casting company would not be able to generate enough revenue to facilitate where he wants to go. For that reason, and because he wanted a creative outlet, he started his own line of concrete and steel furniture, called Hard Goods. As with many creatives, he was frustrated that all his time went to doing client work, and he was not able to really spread his creative wings. He was doing so well and had so many clients, he didn’t have time to make the kind of products he dreamt up. And thus began Hard Goods.
At Hard Goods, you’ll find custom designed and custom made furniture like the Orson Coffee Table, complete with cup holders cast into the concrete table top, and the Modern Muskoka Chair, also made of concrete and steel. Hard Goods offers limited edition items as well, like the Inclinaire Bench. Limited edition products are only available for 60 days and then they’re gone for good. Gore’s products will run you anywhere between $1200 to $5000. His stuff doesn’t come cheap, but then again, you will NEVER have to replace it and chances are, it will only go up in value. How much of your furniture can you say that about?
Hard Goods was originally located at the Windsor/Churn complex, developed by Venue Projects, on Oregon and Central. But that location didn’t work as a retail spot for custom, high-end furniture, and so Gore closed the shop. Serendipitously, he was approached by Modern Manor (which is featured as a Firefly Hot Spot), and now Hard Goods has a new home at that vintage furniture store on the Melrose Curve.
Gore’s success as a creative and as a businessman is awe inspiring. Most artists do not achieve the kind of success and longevity that Gore has. His achievements are particularly amazing considering he discovered his creative verve after he had begun his work life. And now that he’s reached the top of his industry as a concrete artisan, he is out to change the world of green building by building beautiful structures from the materials he so loves – rammed earth, concrete and steel, and by creating a green building school to teach other craftsmen the skills they need to work with these materials and others. His goals of building “landmark buildings that are around for 100 years if not 1000 years and that are architecturally significant” along with creating a premier green building school may sound lofty, but if there’s anyone who can make it happen it’s Brandon Gore.
Check out the counter at Green Restaurant on 7th Street and Palm – it’s is a gorgeous fabric-formed concrete masterpiece, one of the few commercial projects Gore has done to date in Phoenix.
Photo Credit: All photos courtesy of Brandon Gore.