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The River Winds Upward

Functional art—Creating a staircase of meaning, hope and beauty

Story Krissy Taylor  Photos Woodlab

The 2020 global pandemic represents for many a year of challenges, changes and new clarity. For Woodlab Co in Eagle, Idaho, 2020 introduced new people, ideas and vision for the joining of artistry and function. Since its inception in 2016, Woodlab’s  David Gosse has pioneered the use of deep pour and eco-friendly epoxies for hundreds of furniture pieces and art installs. His team was poised and ready to tackle a first of its kind project.

When local residents, Steve and Mindi Roser, entered the shop in late 2020, they were looking for something to commemorate their wedding in Yosemite National Park earlier that year. Married at the Ahwahnee Hotel near the base of Yosemite Falls on July 4, they fell in love with the waterfall/river effect that Woodlab created in its furniture. They were finishing plans for a custom home in Williamson River Ranch with Paradigm Construction Company and finalizing details that would combine the celebrations of their new life together, their love of the outdoors and the faith upon which their lives were built.

While walking among the wood slabs with David Gosse, they mentioned that their home would feature a floating circular staircase framed by a large picture window. Their staircase concept was also an allusion to the awe-inspiring waters of Yosemite Falls and the “river of life” and healing trees as depicted in Revelation 22:1-2.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Mindi turned to David and commented simply about how cool it would be if Woodlab could create the stair treads emulating a waterfall. An idea was born, and for the next hour, they sat together and dreamed up the first of its kind epoxy filled, circular and floating waterfall stair to include special effects lighting that could mimic flowing water. Staring at a recent delivery of a “bunk” of six 14-foot premium, 3 inch thick, local black walnut slabs from a single tree, David Gosse and the Rosers envisioned all the parts coming together.

This set in motion a flurry of vision discussions, the gathering of a specialized team of experts and some detailed drawings of incomparable precision. Design, engineering, fabrication, production, installation and LED lighting were the main tasks to accomplish. A select team of Eagle-based artisans collaborated with the goal of completing it in time for the 2021 Spring Parade of Homes.

With a tight deadline, emails and prototypes began. David quickly summoned design partner, Matt Heim of Heim Design Studio, along with construction and CNC expert Anthony Holzapple and lighting expert Michael Hofer to spec out the actual measurements and design configuration of the stairs. The stringers would be constructed on site by master finish carpenter Parley Perkes, and the custom curved iron hand railing bent and welded on site by Nampa-based Excalibur Metal Design .

The collaboration and detail work was unprecedented. The stair treads needed to fit together like a puzzle, being cut from six sister slabs, each requiring recesses for LED lighting and supports since the stairs were to be floating and visible from beneath. The WoodLab team prepared the slabs for tread fabrication. Using Matt Heim’s design renderings, Anthony Holzapple mapped out and cut the pie-shaped treads using his Laguna CnC machine. The tread “blanks” were then precisely back-cut at 45 degree angles to create the 4” waterfall “face” of the tread with the growth rings perfectly mated to the top of the tread. This painstaking work ensured that not only the river visually flowed from top to bottom without interruption but so did the wood! To allow for lighting, Anthony hand-routered channels into the epoxy, CnC’d wiring channels under each tread and created custom fit and counter-sunk steel mounting plates for each side of each tread. 34 custom designs for each segment of work.

WoodLab then poured the 17 treads, creating a gradient effect in blue: lighter to darker as you go up the stairs. To top off the project, an additional slab went through a similar production process for the upper landing, setting the stage as the “headwaters” for the stairs.

Install was a collaboration between WoodLab and Holzapple, with Holzapple’s 30 years of construction experience leading the way. Finally, Michael Hofer, assistant Sam Reinheart, Holzapple, Josh Human, Tim Jorgensen and Gosse spent 2 full days and a night installing the LED lighting and treads. Michael utilized the latest in LED technology for this project. Chosen for their intensity and ability to handle the entire spectrum of color, each individual light can be custom programmed thus creating different light shows for the owners, from a softly lit river flow to a multi-colored light extravaganza.

The capstone for this project is a 320 lb. sliding barn door that enters into the upper living area. Two local sister Catalpa slabs were book-ended and hand-scribed together with the inspiration verse lasered-in by Holzapple.

Steve and Mindi were thrilled to watch as so many local artisans heavily flexed their artistic expertise and collaborated to make their vision a reality. The end result is now complete as a functional work of art, the first of its kind in the world: a solid black walnut and eco-friendly resin floating spiral river staircase, internally lit with a computer programmed LED system to emulate a flowing river and waterfall.

As we emerge from 2020’s lockdowns and distancing, it is projects like this that shed some light on the talent of the local builders and makers within our community.  These projects sometimes find their genesis in the simplest of questions but that question then allows true artisans to envision something bigger and bolder and allows them to create true beauty.  Standing beside each other, these artisans, along with the Roser’s chose to take a risk on a never before done idea to create a beautiful piece that will daily bear witness to their talents.

The tree-lined banks of the Boise River rest in the backyard of the Roser’s home. The staircase brings those outdoors in creating a seamless transition. The Biblical verses reflect what this project represented, healing for our community to emerge from 2020 in the use of our individual giftings to bring joy to each other. These stairs emulate what is the bigger picture for Steve and Mindi and influences how they live: an “upward” path toward an era beyond this one.

 

Makers who contributed to this one-of-a-kind staircase: Paradigm Construction Company and Parley Parkes– custom builder. WoodLab.co – custom furniture and artwork. Heim Design Studio – graphic design and CAD. Holzapple Custom Designs – fabrication, CnC, laser, installation. Twenty Nine Elevent – building automation, LED lighting and programming.