When one imagines a funeral home proprietor, “hip” and “contemporary” may not be the first characteristics that come to mind. But Michael Dougherty, owner of Thompson Dougherty funeral home, is just that.
Located in downtown Minneapolis and built in 1919 by lumber baron Anson Brooks, the funeral home is a historic mansion. While funeral services account for most of his business, Dougherty also diversifies his portfolio by hosting parties — and even weddings — at the beautiful home. With this in mind, he wanted to step away from the traditional idea of a “creepy old morgue” and make it more modern and trendy.
Dougherty called Royal Epoxy because of their ability to transform dull spaces into interesting places with unique concrete coatings. The company, owned by Chris Drabant, started painting in 2004 before venturing into concrete coatings and decorative overlays in 2010. Royal Epoxy typically employees four people, but that number can jump to six in the busy season.
For this month-long project, which took place during the slow season in February, the crew was a bit smaller. Sometimes it was just Drabant and another crew member and sometimes there were one or two more members on the job.
A Spooky Scenario
Drabant and his team got to work on the 4,000 square foot (371.6 m²) total coating job in areas throughout the property: the prep room, laundry room, elevator landing area, receiving tunnel, furnace room, body cooler, garage, and lounge. All of the substrate was concrete.
Drabant had never worked in a morgue before, but being a huge CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fan, he was happy to take on the task. Not everyone felt the same. “One of my guys was not as excited as I was,” he admitted. “He had a few minor panic attacks and had to cover his eyes when a body passed.” Even Drabant was put on his heels when at one point eight bodies were transported to the morgue at once after a bad car crash.
Regardless of the tragedy going on around them, the team got down to work. “The owners wanted a metallic grey color with fake blood spattered, maybe for Halloween parties,” said Drabant. “They were very relaxed and joked that they were trying to breathe some life in the place.”
A Postmortem Process
To begin, the team did moisture testing. Since most of the property is close to 100 years old, there were some water issues, especially near the garage. After identifying the affected areas, which were almost everywhere, the crew put down a vapor coat.
The owners wanted half the floor to be flaked, which is more decorative, and half to be metallic, using translucent pigments. That included the cooler area for bodies. Each type of floor requires a different process.
For the flaked floor, the team ground, patched, and applied Elite Crete-VB5. After that dried, they applied a coat of 100 percent solid epoxy from Florock called Floropoxy 4805. While it was wet, they broadcast the flakes, projecting them across the floor, and let it harden. Next up, they took a flat blade and scraped it back and forth across the floor to remove any flakes that didn’t bond to the coating. This helped to produce a more uniform profile. The last steps were to vacuum any flakes that didn’t stick or were scraped and to apply a final clear coat, FloroSpartic 340.
For the metallic floor, the process was slightly altered. The beginning steps remained the same: grind, patch, and apply a vapor coat. Once they put that down, they applied a canvas coat, also known as a backdrop coat, of 100 percent solid epoxy to fill in any divots. This ensured the floor was as level as possible, which was important to prevent the metallic coating from showing every imperfection.
“We usually do a black coat for this step,” explained Drabant. “It makes the other colors and their pigments pop. This time we used a light gray backdrop though, which worked well with the colors the funeral home had chosen for the floor.”
The crew then applied a coat of Elite Crete E100-PT1 Clear Epoxy, another 100 percent solids, low viscosity, water clear, non-shrink, two-component epoxy. The Royal Epoxy crew mixed it with metallic pigment, a reflector enhancer pigment. The crew then mixed the chosen colors for the floor: Elite Crete Reflector Enhancing Flooring System in the colors “Charcoal Pearl” and “Elite Crete Blue,” which were drizzled across the floor. The crew went back over the floor with squeegees and rollers, moving the molecules to make a unique and random pattern.
Think they were finally done? Nope. Once the color coat had fully hardened, the crew then applied another clear coat, Elite Crete SPARTIC-ALL, to protect the floor even further.
A Grave Situation
When asked if anything was challenging about this project, Drabant quipped, “Other than shuffling bodies around?”
“We did have a lot of time constraints because of it being a funeral home and morgue,” Drabant continued. “We had to coordinate when bodies would be moved from different parts of the building into other rooms because we couldn’t shut down the building. The coolers could only be shut down for certain times when we worked in there. It was the same from the prep room where all the mortician magic happens.”
At one point after a bus crash, the morgue’s “residents” were at an all-time high. The crew was trusted to move the corpses, if they were covered, to an area close by so that the crew could work.
Also demanding: The team had to meet their deadline even though additional hurdles arose. Because the team was working in a cooler during the cold winter months, the lower level surface temperature stayed around 55° F (12.8° C), so the canvas coat took 14 hours to dry instead of the normal 5. Adding to the complications, the city of Minneapolis broke one of its water mains and had to smash a wall to get to the plumbing and old pipes, undoing some of the surface prep work Royal Epoxy had already completed.
Nevertheless, the crew rose to the occasion, completing the project on time. Even better, the owners loved Royal Epoxy’s work and have given them more business on other properties.
One might say it was a drop dead success.