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Designing and Installing Your Dream Fireplace: An Interview with Dave Wilber of Monterey Bay Cast Stone

By Dave Wilber

Tell us about your company and its foundation.

My fascination with concrete as a medium for my artistic expression and my background in sculpture and moldmaking led me to found Monterey Bay Cast Stone in 1994. We create one of a kind concrete products with pride and attention to detail.

What services do you provide?

I offer custom fireplace mantels, which range from mantels that look like artifacts from the past with surfaces with the look and feel of worn and distressed limestone or travertine, all the way to polished modern looks with clean lines and crisp edges and anything in between. It is amazing what can be achieved with concrete, pretty much anything you can imagine. I have made mantels for beach houses that have embedded seashells and beach glass. Also special "lucky" rocks or keepsakes from the kids or from when you were a kid can be incorporated and given a place of honor. I also have molds from past projects that can be reused in unique and creative ways to create new mantels for clients.

In addition to mantels, I produce concrete countertops, conference tables and modern furniture for clients throughout the San Francisco and Monterey bay area.

What is the general design process when it comes to creating unique fireplaces? How do you make sure your design is what the client wants?

One way is for clients to choose something that they like from my past work. We can adapt color, texture and size to fit their particular needs. Or, oftentimes a client will come armed with a picture of a mantel from a design book or magazine and I can begin the design process from there. I usually create a CAD drawing based on my understanding of their desires and measurements taken from the project site. The resulting rendering shows the proportions and scale of the mantel in the context of their space and specific fireplace opening.

It is a valuable step in the process and helps to get a project completed without undue surprises. Changes can easily be made at this stage before they are "cast in stone" as we say.

Clients sign off on an approved drawing before fabrication begins. I also provide a color/texture sample for approval.

We do our best with the colors, but this is more of an art than a science, so while we do work carefully and methodically, this is a handcrafted process using natural materials, so some variation almost certainly will occur. This is why we chose concrete as a material in the first place, isn't it? For it's rich colors and sensuous surfaces. Sometimes magic happens and we get results that are somewhat unexpected, but wonderful. If demolding reveals something truly bizarre,I will either reject the part outright or give the customer a chance to check it out. Then make a new part if need be.

I know that the mantel and hearth is a real focal point to the home, so I put my heart and soul into these projects.

What is the installation process?

Installation involves careful planning, discussions with the general or masonry contractor and sometimes templating on site. A strategy is agreed upon for mounting the sometimes quite heavy pieces to the existing structure of the house. After deciding a mounting method, I provide a full size template that mirrors the footprint of the mantel elements so that either straps, bolts or holes to accept bolts can be positioned accurately. Sometimes I cast threaded rod into the mantel parts themselves to be through-bolted to the studs or header. Other times I provide holes that align with bolts mounted to the studs by the contractor. The parts are then epoxied, thin-set and / or glued (construction adhesive) in place. Often a combination of methods is used.

How long does it take?

Usually the installation itself takes place over parts of two to three days.

When adhesives, epoxies and thin-set mortars are involved it is best to wait overnight for the first course to set before adding the next. This applies especially to the hearth as it is the foundation for the rest of the work. Grouting and clean-up can take part of another day. Less complex mantels can be quicker.

How does the pricing work for fireplaces and their installation?

Pricing varies depending on my level of involvement.

The most cost effective way is to choose a mantel already in my mold inventory and have your contractor pick it up at my shop. Your contractor would perform the installation. I would still provide a template for mounting based on their requirements.

On the other end of the scale I would start from scratch to design and fabricate a beautiful one of a kind mantel based on your ideas, sketches, photos, input from designer, contractor and / or spouse. Working together we can create a stunning project that will make everyone happy. Usually a consensus is required. Either way, once the scope of the project has been determined I provide a proposal for approval. A signed proposal and one half of the fabrication cost is required as a deposit to begin work. At this time I am a manufacturer and working towards getting my contractors license, so installation must be performed by your general or masonry contractor. I will do everything I can to make sure that their job goes smoothly.

What is the best way to contact you?

Just click our link:
Or give us a call at: (831) 724-7519

Dave Wilber
By phone: 831-724-7519 shop or: 831-818-3041 cell
By email: (send sketches, plans, or photos)
Or visit the workshop by appointment :
Monterey Bay Cast Stone
235 Kearney Ext.
Watsonville, CA 95076

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