published Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

A "concrete" solution to being homesick for Chattanooga

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    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Justin Burd works as a concrete artist. He plays as a rock climber and kayaker.

When Justin Burd moved away from Chattanooga as a young child, he had no idea he would one day come back.

A variety of things drew him back to his hometown: the tempting rapids of area whitewater streams, the abundance of boulders to climb and ultimately a job offer.

Burd, an athlete, concrete artist, husband and father, said he’s glad to be home.

“Downtown has [really been cleaned up], and there is so much to do. It’s a great place to raise Bella,” he said of his 3-year-old daughter. “There is so much stimulation here for a kid.

“West Virginia was great, but all you had were the mountains. Here you’ve got the [Tennessee] Aquarium, [Creative] Discovery Museum and the Hunter Museum [of American Art]. The town has great culture.”

Burd said he’s impressed with the growing local art community.

As a partner in Set in Stone, a custom concrete countertop business on West Main Street, Burd is an accomplished concrete artist.

“I feel that I’ve always been an artist. It’s all how you channel it creatively,” he said. “Concrete is the perfect medium for making functional art.”

Burd used his talent in the recent “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in Rossville.

“We did the outdoor kitchen countertops,” Burd said, noting that his role took nearly 20 hours. “It was great to be able to contribute to a family in need,” he said.

Q What brought you back to Chattanooga?

A I had a concrete business in Fayetteville, W.Va. The business did pretty well, but I wanted to be in a busier area and also needed a break from those winters. I’ve always liked Chattanooga for the climbing and kayaking and warmer winters, so my family and I put our sights on the area. I came across Nathan Smith of Set in Stone concrete countertops. We met a few times and discussed teaming up, and a couple months later, I was in Chattanooga making concrete with him.

Q How did you get into the concrete business?

A I started my obsession by reading a book and lots of trail and error. One job turned into another, and the snowball kept rolling downhill.

Q Where do you sell your art?

A I sell most of my work to residential homes and commercial businesses. Concrete countertops, sinks and fireplace surrounds are my bread and butter, but I prefer to make one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture and sculpture.

Q What sports are you involved in and why?

A I’ve been rock climbing and whitewater kayaking for the past 16 years. It has taken me all over the country and to different parts of the world. What I love about these sports is that moment in time where everything just stops — where you’re not thinking about anything else. You’re just enjoying that one little portion of time.

Q Do you hope to settle in Chattanooga?

A I’ve never been settled my entire life. At this time, my family and I are happy here. It’s a refreshing change. However, who knows what the future holds? We want to be where our lives seem fullest.

Q How has being a father and husband changed your life?

A Hands down, it’s the best two things I’ve ever done. I met an amazing woman who supports my passion and has given me the coolest gift in life — [my daughter] Bella. They have changed my life in a way that has shown me just how much you can love two people. Words can’t express how blessed I feel to have them in my life.

Q Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A I hope to see myself at the top of the concrete trade, making some crazy stuff along the way. I’ll definitely still be climbing and kayaking and at that time trying to figure out how to raise a 14-year-old girl. That’s crazy to think of.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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InvestChatt said...

I have seen Set in Stone's work at their shop. They are definitely worth a "closer look!" I will consider them for my next kitchen project. Concrete counter tops, furniture, everything- is getting popular; it will be exciting to see what kind of work these guys put out in the next couple years...

March 1, 2011 at 1:27 p.m.
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