Thoughtful Design: The Art of Building, The Building of Art

Sunset Magazine coversJust over 23 years ago our collaborative studio sparked to life! Our creative expression at the time centered on building outdoor spaces. We explored the transition between house and yard, blurring the line between interior and exterior living.

It seemed like a simple time, an era when decks were wooden and every unique project looked as if it belonged in a faded Sunset magazine.


How ‘Manufactured Styling’ Became the New Normal

Much has changed since then; production of new housing ballooned beyond imagination, then imploded. The deck industry rapidly expanded as building codes matured and product options multiplied at an ever quickening pace. With growth came endless accessories to provide ‘systemized’ aesthetic solutions for the new home marketplace, streamlining the construction process with customizable parts. The result: the consumer received a broad spectrum of luxury options for their home.


This broad spectrum of consumer options, driven in part by pursuit of the “new and improved”, provided tremendous marketplace excitement. But at what cost? The evolution towards manufactured styling has come with an incremental decline to the problem-solving ingenuity of the finishing trades. What has happened to those craftsmen and women that possess the hearts of artists and a generational experience making beautiful things?


Too often the finishing nuances of a house – millwork, art glass, tile – have been relegated to a lower priority because the investment in expansive square footage leaves little room for investment in craft. The unique visual subtleties inherent in thoughtful design and craft are often mistranslated when mass produced. We are left with buildings that, while occupying a large amount of space, are no longer imbued with personal meaning. Craftsmanship becomes a relic from another time, and structure becomes a commodity instead of a  family home.


Signature of a Craftsman

The signature on this window stile from a historic home is indicative of the craftsman’s commitment to his work


A Trend Back to the Art of Building

It is time to heal and nurture the roots of housing as a meaningful part of our lives. Restoring the importance of craft is imperative.


As the housing industry rebuilds from recession, let us hope that pent up demand does not derail a rising commitment to more thoughtful and more conscientious design.  It is time to bring building back down to earth, embracing ideas celebrated by Sarah Susanka in her series of books about The Not So Big House, or perhaps by borrowing ideas and leadership from the Slow Food movement. I imagine a day when our homes are treasured, not just for their return on investment, but also for the satisfaction and support they provide their residents.


Room Screen glass and wood shelving designed and built by Silent Rivers

This Silent Rivers remodel from 20 years ago shows how we took a bungalow near the Iowa Fairgrounds and transformed it with custom design and woodworking.


Consider the influence wielded by the consumer; with each thoughtful decision within your home, every renovation project undertaken, you can quietly restore the spirit of craft and embrace the well-being of your home and the family it supports. The art of building blends heart and mind, and encourages full collaboration rooted in open discourse.


See the true craftsmanship of Silent Rivers design+build projects by visiting our Project Gallery.



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