Timeless Building in an Instant Age

Excitement for tiny homes, modular house design, and arranging cargo containers as contemporary building blocks continues to motivate Central Iowan media stories about alternatives to the McMansion. Will these alternative tendencies pass the test of time?


What will the grandchildren of our age of information experience fifty, even one hundred years from now? Will these creative renditions be the stepping stone to a new type of housing, inspiring a new generation of housing? Can these re-purposed residential ideas endure, representing the ethos of our times and our current cultural wake, or will the whimsy of today’s explorations serve as a graveyard for commercial shipping left-overs or a testament to high-tech experimentation? As we skip into a fresh year of possibility, encouraged by economic rebound and pent up desire for housing, I wonder: what will it take to build a timeless home in this instant age of social media and ever-changing technology? As society speeds up, how will housing define us and will shelter mimic short-term gains or timeless trends?


Silent Rivers’ staff celebrated the winter holidays recently at the Botanical Gardens of Greater Des Moines, gathering together with friends and family to enjoy a great meal from Trellis, the newly remodeled restaurant operated by chef Lisa LaValle, while honoring another year working together. Interestingly, the evening included some serendipitous coincidences, reminders of sorts, that framed the questions above to provide a dynamic context for our design-build staff to discuss the value of our mission statement, The Art of Building, The Building of Art, and its relevance today.

The interplay of evening conversations, underscored by these four points of happenstance, was amplified by our gift exchange, one that provided insight into company spirit as well as an ongoing debate about how our services fit into the ever-evolving marketplace and cultural landscape of Central Iowa. This debate is a recurrent consideration because what we design and build not only reflects the personality of our clients and their homes, but as part of the larger community, our work captures the evolution of civic ideals and translates these ideals into housing. Below I briefly describe these serendipitous interactions along with the gifting of a new book by Brent Hull, “Building a Timeless Home in an Instant Age,” to team members with hope you will see the connection.


First, coincidental construction connections:

1) Having built a new arbor this past summer inside the main dome of the gardens, staff were proud to return,  sharing their handiwork with spouses and friends. The reflections of the setting sun generated a gentle glow in the dome, establishing an atmosphere that featured the arbor and provided perfect entry into our evening. Meanwhile, the arbor initiated talking points to kick off the evening.

2) Miss Maddie Quick was our gleaming hostess for the evening, and together with a masterful team they prepared and catered a phenomenal dinner – one appreciated by everyone. Introducing herself, she reminded us that Silent Rivers had built a well-suited, thoughtful addition for the colonial home of her parents in Waveland Park when she was a tween. The project has long been a standing favorite of ours because of its ability to sensitively add space, simultaneously honoring the spirit of the family and style of their home. Congruent to our discussion on timeless homes, the Quick’s decided to prioritize long-standing value, modeling an ideal dear to our hearts; the serendipity of Maddie’s presence was uncanny and elevated our already upbeat mood.

3) Of course, as connections continued throughout the evening. It wasn’t hard to recall our drive into the riverside gardens along Robert D. Ray Drive; access to the river revealed the docks to the Jon Anderson White Riverboat, owned by Michael LaValle.  Jon, a passionate craftsman and renaissance man, dedicated himself to the rehabilitation of historic homes in a timeless caring manner, and together with his wife Judy McClure, he helped restore and anchor an new urban building ethic, one rooted in preservation and replacing a culture that had long eroded during the country’s housing boom post World War Two.

Of course, this quintessential riverboat has a special place in my heart for more than its symbolic significance. Michael entrusted a pared-down Silent Rivers staff to assist with its restoration for a couple months while she was still on blocks. Amidst the recession, every opportunity for work was precious; the benefits deeply felt. Helping Michael restore his boat carried our spirits through a dark, uncertain winter. Beyond the discovery and enchantment of rehabilitating an historic vessel, our gratitude for the work runs as deep as the channels it navigates.

4) Finally, we come to the Botanical Garden’s geodesic dome – majestic and distinct. It stands as a reminder of mid-century ideology and style, while also reminding us of the pitfalls that can occur when technology and world vision stretch from convention. The results can fascinate, but do they endure providing a timeless outcome? Obviously, recent renovations to the building have been been incorporated into site overhaul, which included an outstanding array stylistic gardens. However, Buckminster Fuller’s ideological determination and disciplined application of technology is a poetic backdrop to give away Mr. Hull’s new book “Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age,” which was handed out to each team member as part of our gift exchange.


Oddly, this book sharing becomes a fitting example of the connectivity we that aspire to spark within our work, whether in the designs and client experience or within our own company rapport.
Sometimes the joy of the holidays season can be overshadowed by awkward expectations, especially within a company party where personal and work lives overlap for a few hours. However, we spend our year intimately renovating others’ homes, which requires the management a  myriad items, especially personal relationships we have learned the importance of maintaining connectivity and meaning at work too.   It has always been important to

But rather than review the book here, I thought it more telling to share how the book was given to each of Silent Rivers employees and friends.

As a taste of this book, here is a brief collection of quotes shared:

“If our homes are expressions of our ideals and extensions of our personalities, what do these “improvements” say about us? Is cheaper always better? The joy of a product well made, the value of something that is well crafted and well designed, is lost. A well made product not only gives joy and satisfaction to the designer and maker but to the end users as well. Improved efficiency  brings cheaper products, but in perpetually chasing the cheap, we are in danger of becoming a culture without the ability to judge beauty or true value. Just because we have “improved” our products, I’m not convinced we are better off.”

“The process of home building has been so commoditized that we don’t recognize the fact that our choices reflect our values. We see the choice of cabinet doors, hardware, and color as meaningless decisions with no consequence. The decisions we make for our homes weave a tale of our character, value, history and heart.”

“We can build houses that change lives. We can build beautiful and timeless homes that also contribute to beautiful and timeless neighborhoods. A house that is timeless – well made, well crafted, well ornamented, and well chosen – can change the lives of the homeowners, the builder, the craftsmen and even the community for generations to come.”

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