Gig Harbor business owner Alfredo Linares began his apprenticeship in ornamental plaster work when he was just 12 years old, working alongside his father and his uncle in Mexico. At age 17, Linares had become a full-fledged professional and began to make his way in the world, emigrating to the United States in 1997.
Linares had family in Eastern Washington, where he began his journey to become an American citizen by working on a ranch. By 1999, he was ready to bring his wife and his son to join him and carve a niche for himself professionally.
A testament to how success comes from hard work and diligence, Alfredo Linares, indeed, has made his way in the world. Now the owner of the very successful Harbor Construction Co., he has made his name synonymous with high-quality decorative and ornamental plaster work, commercial exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) and stucco.
He found his niche in the Puget Sound area by hiring in as a young man who barely spoke English. It took Linares eight years to wade through the process and become an American citizen, “but it was worth it,” he said with a smile.
As a member of the plasterers union, Linares took a job and worked for one company for 14 years, quietly tending to his work while exhibiting his outstanding craftsmanship and attention to detail. It wasn’t long before his work caught the eye and attention of contractors who needed such a highly skilled artisan on their team.
In 2010, EverGreene Architectural Arts, a national plaster restoration firm, hired Linares to work on the King Street Railway Station in Seattle. The elaborate plaster ceiling in the passenger terminal had been hidden under a dropped ceiling that contained electrical lines and plumbing for decades, and the original artfully designed and executed decorative plaster was in sad need of restoration. Restored to its former glory, the project was completed in 2012, and Linares began to think about forming his own company.
His son, Adrian, said he has been on the job site since he can remember. Adrian Linares joined his dad in the plastering trade, and Harbor Construction Co. was established in 2014. HCC is a specialist in the industry. The focus is three-fold: ornamental and decorative plaster, which includes moldings and other three-dimensional effects as well as Venetian plaster interior finishes; EIFS, which has commercial and residential uses; and stucco.
Although each of the processes is completely different, they do share some similarities. Each material is cement or gypsum based, each is applied or molded in a wet state and each actually cures by a chemical process.
Perhaps the ornamental plaster work is the most intriguing, ancient and versatile. It is a true art form, requiring an eye for design and scale and a high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Ornamental plaster effects have been used since the time of the ancient Greeks. An original piece is carved or modeled and used to make a mold. The mold is then filled with plaster, which will harden, or cure. The new piece is removed from the mold and affixed to the surface for which it is designed.
Ancient and modern elegant buildings frequently are embellished with these molded designs, particularly on ceilings, as borders around a recessed area or as decorations applied to the capitals and plinths of columns. Ceilings often appear as a series of sculpted tiles, and decorative plaster medallions are used as escutcheons around lighting fixtures. Affixing the ornamental plaster work to a ceiling is a challenge in itself, requiring an understanding of structure and strength of the base surface.
Linares and his crew have the capability and sensitivity to not only design and install new, very elegant and elaborate decorative plaster, but also to restore old, broken, deteriorated, complex, Old World style plaster decor.
The first step in restoration is assessing the extent of the damage to determine whether the existing work is to be patched or replaced. Sometimes, pieces of it are missing altogether, in which case it is necessary to make a mold from an existing piece in order to replicate what is already there.
Molds are made using a rubber-type substance, which is painted onto the section being replicated. This rubber impression is peeled off and put into a supporting “dam” into which plaster is poured to make the new piece.
Once the new section is cured, it is attached to the base material and fitted into place. The fitting must be seamless so there is no visible evidence of a patch. Ceilings in old buildings tend to be 20 or 30 feet high, making the complexity of this work even more difficult.
Linares worked on the 2002 restoration of the Washington State Capitol building, which required extensive repairs due to damage caused by the Nisqually earthquake. An entire dome lining was re-created to appear to be the original to the naked eye, but it is lowered some 20 feet inside the original in order to accommodate updated electrical wiring, internet capabilities and plumbing.
The HCC crews are no strangers to large buildings, as they have done ornamental plaster work in the Exchange Building in downtown Seattle, and have just finished extensive restoration work in the McMenamins Historic Tacoma Elks Lodge. They have also installed original ornamental plaster in some substantial private residences in the West Sound area as well as Seattle.
When not sculpting or restoring ornamental plaster, the crews are busy with EIFS, a modern exterior insulation and finish system. Many commercial buildings are finished in this way, as it not only waterproofs the building against the elements but also serves as insulation. Multiple layers of insulating material, waterproofing fabrics and a substrate that holds the plaster coating result in a finely textured, colored surface that withstands the elements. Used in Europe since World War II to restore and insulate masonry brick buildings, it has gained popularity in the United States since 1990.
Harbor Construction Co. also specializes in exterior stucco, for both new construction and restoration and repair of old stucco buildings. Stucco can be an exterior finish applied over lath or inside as plaster. Used in ancient Greece over a thousand years ago, stucco finishes can be rough or smooth and made in any color. Laid over a lath and wire base, stucco can be a durable exterior finish, but only when applied by experienced professionals.
Another ancient “stucco” finish for interiors is referred to as Venetian plaster. Requiring the touch of a master craftsman, Venetian plaster is applied in thin layers and can be polished or burnished until silky smooth. The process results in a surface that mirrors the light in the room, an almost luminous soft glow emanating from the walls.
Venetian plaster is enjoying a comeback as a wall treatment that does not require further finishing or painting, because the color is integrated into the plaster itself. Due to the requirement of a very high-level technical capability of a craftsman such as Alfredo Linares, the process is expensive, but attractive to the most discerning homeowner and builder.
“We are a close-knit family business and we pride ourselves in doing the best craftsmanship possible, and are always as transparent and upfront as possible in dealing with our clients,” he said.
Alfredo Linares said, “I always want to go above and beyond the expectation of the job, to give the best outcome possible.”
This truly is a story of a man and his family who through diligence, honesty and hard work have achieved the American dream.