On & Off The Walls

Working on a commercial installation project in conjunction with designers to meet or exceed their initial vision can be challenging. Still, with the right approach, the result can be spectacular. Such was the case at First Baptist Arlington in Arlington, Texas, where a single project showcased an array of hardwood applications, including stair treads and a large vertical wall.

“This project was a children’s area inside of the First Baptist Church of Arlington. It involved stair treads, a small stage, and flooring at the top of those stairs,” explains Rick Farrell, architect and design consultant for Woodwright, in Dallas, Texas. “However, the installation would also feature a large, two-story, curved wood wall located in an atrium.”

“The design firm, Beck Architecture, asked us to clad the curved wall outside of a set of stairs with a vertical application of wood planks,” says Farrell. “While it was an option, they did not want to use veneers. Instead, they wanted tongue-and-groove planking.”

Using wood flooring kept it simple enough for Farrell and his team at Woodwright to manufacture in-house. Other than installing vertically on the wall, what was created would install just like standard wood flooring. Due to the wall’s curvature, Farrell convinced the designer that the best approach was a narrow plank that Woodwright would create in-house.

“Because of the tight radius involved with the planks being installed vertically, we had to convince the architect to go with a narrower 3” wide walnut plank,” explains Farrell. “They agreed to this, but they did want us to match a unique color. We ended up bleaching walnut ourselves, and then put a light stain on it. They also wanted us to build an 1/8” reveal in between each plank and paint it black.”

“To install, we put plywood substrate up, used a Bostik adhesive, and pin nailed it as necessary to hold it on the wall until the adhesive dried,” explains Farrell. “It worked out really well, and we ended up installing more than 1,700 square feet of walnut on the walls.”

One surprise that Farrell and his team did not account for was a portion of the wall that would feature an aquarium.

“They wanted to clad all around the aquarium, including a section above the aquarium that hydraulically hinged up to allow for maintenance access,” explains Farrell.

In a situation like this, Farrell advises that sometimes it is best to let others tackle these challenges, depending on your experience and comfort level.

“Sometimes, it is good advice to know when to stay in your lane and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Know when to divert things back onto other subcontractors,” says Farrell. “In this case, we let them build the necessary substructure needed to provide aquarium access. We then clad over those panels.”

With the wood-clad wall complete, Farrell and his team tackled the rest of the project.

“We went to work on an upstairs section of flooring, a stage area below the stairs, and the stair treads. The flooring used on both of these locations was a pre-finished, edge-grained beech product called Baubuche, made by a German company named Pollmeier,” says Farrell.

In total, installation took three months to complete, with exploring possibilities and planning beginning a full year prior. Farrell also made sure time was allocated for documentation along the way.

“If you are in a position to communicate with the architect or design firm, the key is to help them expand their vision,” explains Farrell. “It’s important to let them know that they don’t always have to do things traditionally. Send them inspirational images from other installs that showcase what you and your company are capable of, with materials that you can either make or acquire.”

For those looking to challenge themselves with commercial projects like this of their own, Farrell others this final advice: “Go out and talk to the architects, show them what you can do and what you can make for them, and then when a large project eventually comes up, you can engage with them and help them bring their vision to life.”

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