Story by Alexis Swenson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
This month, Dahms Design showed us how in a little over three months, he transformed a completely concrete basement into an entertaining utopia. You may remember Scott Dahms as the architect and builder who purchased a grain elevator in Baker, Minnesota in 2016. While at night he spends his free time converting the massive elevator into a custom-designed home for him and his two sons - by day, he designs and builds for clients with an ingenious twist, often using the original steel and wood from his elevator abode. When West Fargo homeowners, Matt and Jessica Christenson, made the decision to finish their newer home's lower level, they knew it needed the craftsman character only Dahms Design could deliver.
It's Five O'clock Somewhere...
The first feature Dahms built for the Christenson family was the lower level's bar front, derived from salvaged elevator steel. With seating for four, Dahms added industrial pipes for the footrest and inset LED lights for illuminating the steel panels. Using the same rusted metal found on the bar front, Dahms was able to create a floor-to-ceiling, curved entry with dramatic appeal. “It helps define the space so well. The face that we see right now is the face that was down. Grain would hit the top of it, the pressure would start embossing that wood texture in there, and over time the moisture rusted it to this design. You could never recreate that; it’s all mother nature and time,” said Dahms.
To create the finger-jointed bar top, Dahms used a laborious wood technique with stunning results. Extended from ceiling to floor, the salvaged wood is designed with a waterfall-edge, resin bar top. “Because of the organic nature of the reclaimed wood, it’s always off gassing so it was not easy to create a smooth finish without bubbling. Finishing this project took us around three weeks in the shop,” said Dahms.
Behind the Bar
As in any quality wet bar, performance is a must, thus warranting the beverage cooler, ice maker, sink, built-in taps and liquor shelving. For display, Dahms chose a corrugated, polycarbonate material often used in greenhouses for the shelving walls, then chose one-inch thick, clear plexiglass for the shelves. At the center is a backlit hanging mirror suspended on brick panels to create the illusion of depth. Dahms handmade every aspect of this project, including the bar's unique wine rack, made with pipe tees, using a flange and spacer to secure it.
To create a custom theater that would rival the basement's dramatic design, Dahms reached out to Rod Shafer of Fargo's Arctic Audio. "Our job is to make it fit, but again, like Scott, deliver a high level of quality," explained Shafer. "The theatre offers a hi-def projector with a 120-inch, acoustically transparent screen and Dolby Atmos surround sound, the latest technology in home theater systems."
Atmos surround sound means that there is usually at least one pair of speakers directly overhead which creates the effect of sound moving realistically around you. “It used to be just kind of a nebulous cloud of surround that gave you an idea of what was going on, but now it’s so specific that they use two to three speakers to make a sound effect in three-dimensional space,” said Shafer. "We consulted with Scott on the acoustics of the room, not only in making it sound good within the room, but keeping the sound in the room. He took the trouble to make good thick doors that are going to stop the sound. The ceiling is a double layer of rock with a soundproofing product called Green Glue in between. That two layers of rock with Green Glue is like having five layers of rock on the ceiling. It’s a tremendous acoustic stop."
“We also worked very closely with Scott to make sure the lights are zoned appropriately. Any light shining on the screen competes and makes it look washed out. Backlighting along the sides gives you a nice lighting, wonderful theatre look and effect without being intrusive to the space and ruining the imagery,” explained Shafer.
“The homeowners wanted a theatre, so I started to look at connections from the bar area, like watching a Bison game, places to put crock pots, and spaces for people to come together,” said Dahms. To comfortably create flow and additional seating, Dahms designed a high-top bar at the back of the theater with a clear, bar top resin - again creating a waterfall edge to the floor, coordinating with the main bar's design.
“When the room is completely open like this you have to look for good ways to connect the spaces. Everything has to talk to each other,” said Dahms. Thick doors made of wood from his own elevator, feature industrial knobs to match the pipe footrest of the table tops, and the curves of the theatre acoustic panels match the curve of the steel bar entry.
“The bar dictated the height of the wainscoting design that can be seen throughout the main area. It’s a custom wainscoting I came up with for the space - it’s essentially a high-quality plywood, but I put a veneer on the edges and made my own own panels with aluminum metal strips, securing it in between,” said Dahms.
Designing for Family & Friends
The Christenson family has two young kids, but they also wanted to entertain guests, so Dahms needed to design for both family and friends. To meet their contrasting needs, he incorporated a built-in bench with custom fabric and lower toy storage all along the window. "Each space has to coordinate, so I treated the whole basement as one palette," said Dahms.
“I have a problem having any walls that are just bare. I like to have a design on everything,” said Dahms. The combination of the whitewashed grain bin flooring on the wall, the soffited ceiling, reclaimed, wood-flanked columns from Dakota Timber Company, and stacked stone surrounding the fireplace, give the family room comfortable character.
Powder Room Perfection
Even though the lower level bath is a powder room when entertaining, it still had to be welcoming to overnight guests. The design begins with a contemporary, acrylic vanity top, sleek gray cabinetry from Amazon and backlit mirrors which offer brighter, cosmetic lighting at the touch of a finger. "This whole design is focused around the shower because, to me, the shower is where you start your day and end your day,” said Dahms. The custom glass door by Frontier Glass & Mirror opens to two shower heads and intricately designed porcelain and stone tile by Travis Buzick of Tile-N-All. "Completing a shower like this with the custom cut drain is a tremendously labor intensive job. He’s very talented at what he does," said Dahms.
With the challenge to design a state-of-the-art workout room on a budget, Dahms got creative, custom crafting the mudroom-style lockers and cork board with their family of four in mind. While the flooring is a cost-efficient sports floor from Menards, Dahms created custom, J-channel trim to secure massive mirror walls.
Trust is a Must
Dahms considers delivering high quality work and client relationships a top priority. But, he insists that to have both, it requires the ‘trust factor’. "I like working with just a schematic plan and then letting the design be organic, allowing for change as we go. For every project that I’ve been able to do that with, opportunities have arisen to make the design better,” said Dahms. "I will never compromise quality for time. Because this house is new, this project is kind of an anomaly for us; we normally focus on remodels. This time, we were able to come in and it was a blank slate. We were able to do everything and have some fun with it,” said Dahms.
"We’ve been watching Scott’s work over the last few years and knew we wanted to work with him when we finished our basement. After our first meeting with him, we both felt confident and excited about what Scott wanted to create for us. We wanted something warm and inviting, but also different and unique. On top of meeting our wants/needs, we gave Scott and his team free reign to add their own creative style to the project. They didn’t disappoint. We love what they’ve created for us. It was a joy to watch everything come together and see all the little details unfold. The work they did to create such an amazing space for our family has been above and beyond our expectations."
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