“The art of the building, the building of art” is the motto of Des Moines, Iowa-based Silent Rivers. This motto alone has helped cultivate the company’s reputation for design and building talent in its home city.
Chaden Halfhill, a nationally recognized sculptor, got the ball rolling in 1993 when he decided to give the remodeling industry a shot. “I started this business on the premise that art and construction should inform each other throughout the process of residential building,” says Halfhill. “I found a passion for older homes and discovering all that older homes have to offer—neat artifacts, solid structures and creative problem solving.”
From the start, Halfhill focused his business on decks and outdoor structures--using his sculpture background to add design elements into exterior applications. Soon enough, interior projects were being referred to him and he couldn’t resist.
Today, Silent Rivers employs 11 people, which includes three designers and focuses on 30 to 40 projects a year.
“I don’t mind taking on smaller jobs -- as long as they are willing to be creative,” adds Halfhill. “I find that the smaller the space or job, the more creative I have to be.”
A business based on design
In addition to construction management, Silent Rivers also provides professional design services. A company full of artists, they believe that attentive, precise and innovation design lays the foundation for a successful and satisfying project. “Essentially, we are a design firm that also does construction.”
Halfhill explains that the design services begin with an on-site consultation. These sessions give both the designer and client the freedom to explore ideas without the obligation for further work. “The consultation is a great forum for the exchange of thoughts and plans for use in the future.”
The consultation is followed by design development, construction documentation and pricing.
Halfhill adds that their philosophy is to move beyond materials and techniques to create unique environments that are both practical and engaging. Each project is tailor-made according to the nature of the project and the client’s comfort level. “Our clients see our creative designs and that is what attracts them to us,” says Halfhill. “They have an expectation of us and we promise to provide the services and skill to the best of our ability.”
That level of creativity is what brought a local developer to Silent Rivers with a special project.
A simple living space
“This project was inspired as part of a local renaissance toward downtown living,” explains Halfhill. “The original condo was gutted and replaced with a dynamic, yet refined design solution that optimized functional living in a small space.”
The designers had a clear target market they were going after with the look of this condo. The ‘person’ the condo was designed for was a single man, a jet-setter from New York. He was relocating back to his home town of Des Moines, yet craved the urban-living he was accustomed to. The home-owner also was a professional chef who needed a modern kitchen with enough space to accommodate guests.
Paul Mankins, the designer on the project, created a design that was very functional (especially in the limited space) and aesthetically pleasing.
“The Des Moines market is very conservative,” adds Halfhill. “This project was very intriguing because it was a lot different than what we typically see in this area ? since we strongly believe in celebrating the art of design, this project was a clear choice.”
The ‘guts’ of the remodel
To take the condo from 625 sq. ft. of living space to 725 sq. ft., the design called for a two story “corncrib” with the bedroom upstairs and a lower level bathroom directly below.
Halfhill mentions that this contemporized Midwestern structure, a borrowed motif from the agricultural fields of Iowa, also contains a condensed pantry area and furnace room.
“This building used to be a warehouse,” says Halfhill. “Because of the limited space, we had to creatively hide all the mechanicals within 5 in. of space behind the eastern wall? plumbing, venting, conduit, gas and sprinkler lines.”
While mapping the mechanicals to fit into 4- to 6-in.-deep cavities, the real task was to lay out these lines in order to gain premium storage space in the bathroom medicine cabinets.
Other challenges included attending to small details? turning all square head screws the same direction when applying the “barn boards” on the corncrib and installing manufactured steel grating (with a +/- tolerance of ? in.) into a cabinetry context that had little room for error.
“Our most daunting task was to construct essentially a two-story ‘cabinet’ (the corncrib) on an existing floor level that varied nearly 1 in. within its footprint,” says Halfhill, “and still maintain clean lines throughout the room.”
The crew also had to provide a code compliant staircase with riser heights defined by precise spacing of “barn boards” around the perimeter of the cabinet.
As the main focus of the room, the corncrib cabinet needed to be erected as premade MDF and 14-ft. milled stud panels that were then attached to an internal steel fire-rated structure.
“We used a router to cut-in grooves behind each barn board on the long side of the crib,” explains Halfhill. “These grooves held specialty lighting that bounced light off the painted panel interior between the boards to provide a subtle ambiance throughout the halls and great reading light in the bed area.”
Creative spacing solutions
Space was a big concern—Silent Rivers was only dealing with 725 sq. ft. of living space. To incorporate all that this “single, jet-setter” wanted in his home, many creative space solutions were included in the plan.
“Our remodel includes a large kitchen island and wall cabinet that defined the kitchen/cooking area,” says Halfhill. “The island also serves as a built-in for television viewing from a small sitting area.”
Other space-saving solutions include a built-in desk area attached to the back of the corncrib, and a desk chair that also substitutes as a filing cabinet.
The condo also offers a large closet, simple bathroom, laundry room and storage space. “We didn't skimp on anything in this condo,” adds Halfhill.
“This project reflects a simple living attitude in a highly contemporary household —not for everyone, but certainly a polished and expressive resolution.