Second Time Tables
By Carrie Schmeck
Story by Carrie Schmeck
Photo: Eric Leslie
Step into Ron Black’s workshop in Oak Run and it’s clear you’ve entered the world of tinkerer-turned-artist extraordinaire.
Tidy and well-organized, his shop boasts well-placed table tools, rows of paints, compounds and chemicals, and numerous blue bins of colorful glass shards. Ron and his partner, Connie Koch, moved to the property about three years ago after work as a contractor in Mendocino County went the way of the recession. In the past year, they have been manufacturing products from discarded bottles and cement.
Their company, Second Time Tables, makes and sells upscale, one-of-a-kind patio tables and umbrella stands from cement mixed with recycled glass gleaned from local artisans. They’ve recently added unique chess tables made from granite and marble countertop castoffs. Ron cleverly hews chess pieces from bottle necks, giving each piece a surprisingly recognizable personality.
When asked about the foray into chess sets, Koch says, “You wouldn’t believe how many people play chess. Games with $10,000 stakes are not unheard of.” Compared to other custom sets on the market that sell for upwards of $8,000, with features such as cherry wood inlays and exotic woods, theirs are a deal for less than $1,000.
Black is especially proud of the chess sets, which he perfected just last summer, because of their character. That, plus his own personal cost of nearly losing a finger as he milled some of the granite squares, he chuckles. The finger survived intact, thankfully, and he continues to experiment, adding all sorts of inlays into the board game squares. “I can add sea shells, special coins, pretty much anything glass or porcelain,” he says, noting his flexibility gives clients the opportunity to customize a set in a deeply personal way.
So how does one move from contractor to cement artisan? His curiosity piqued as he installed cement countertops while helping restore an old hotel in Mendocino County. “I looked at those and thought, huh, I want to add a flair to these.”“I’m an artist at heart,” he says. “It’s just in me. It’s just something I do.”
For a year, he studied concrete, reinforced fibers and plasticizers, noting how properties interacted until he found a way to make a high-strength product he could work with.
It’s not the first time he has expressed his artistry. “I lived with the Makah Indian tribe up in Neah Bay, Wash., from 1991 to 1994,” he says. “I hung out and did what they did…combed the beaches and made stuff out of what we found. Sea urchin lamps out of sea urchins and driftwood, for example.” He has also built wishing wells from rocks and a redwood water wheel for a city in Southern California.
“He does all this from his brain,” says Koch, clearly impressed by his creativity. “Whatever he puts his mind to, he does it. He’s amazing.”
The pair are gearing up for a brisk Christmas season, hoping to move several chess sets as well as backgammon games, his newest prototype. A recent coup opened the door to Allegro Classics, a high-end patio store for outdoor living, where they display their umbrella bases. “They’re planning to market our products to cruise ships and hotels,” says Koch.
Each piece is solid and will stand the test of time so a commercial use makes sense. However, the tables are perfect for any homeowner interested in adding a unique and lasting piece to an outdoor living area. Tables start around $350. Prices depend on size and customization features, something Black and Koch are keen to add. “We’ll do what the client wants,” they say.
Next up on Black’s gotta-try-this list are experiments with fiberoptics. He’s hoping to add rivers of light to the tables and glow-in-the-dark glass pieces to the cement. •
Second Time Tables • www.secondtimetables.com