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From spark to showcase

mHouse sprung from idea first imagined at CPA marketing meeting

The mHouse is a residential research lab for tomorrow’s modern home. Surface and panel products from around the world were used in its construction, and the finished product truly represents the decorative surface and composite panel industry.

How did this project begin? It involved a bit of serendipity, but first, a little background.

The Composite Panel Association (CPA) represents the North American composite panel industry, including makers of particleboard, medium density fiberboard, hardboard and other composite panel products. In addition, CPA represents the surface material suppliers from around the globe. After all, more than 95 percent of panel products are surfaced in one way or another.

As the publisher of Surface & Panel magazine, I’ve had a seat on the CPA’s marketing committee for many years. The committee’s sole purpose is to educate and promote the value of surface and panel products to an industry that uses them and to the specifiers – architects and interior designers — who select them.  Manufacturers of kitchen cabinets, store fixtures, office and residential furniture, health care and school environments and more are familiar with and are frequent users of these products.

Reaching out to and educating the architect and design community was always a challenge. We struggled with the best way to reach them in attention grabbing ways.  The subject of “how” was always on the agenda.

Several years ago during a marketing committee meeting, I mentioned that we always talked about “how” but seemed to fall short of our goal. Meeting twice each year just didn’t allow for anything dramatic. In a moment of courage –or maybe weakness — I stood and said, “What if I hire a nationally recognized architect and a talented interior designer and build a modern home that contains all of our industry’s materials. It would give us a chance to determine the degree of understanding of our industry materials among the design team, educate them and task them with integrating surface and panel products throughout the home.”

Before I sat down, I looked around the room to the major suppliers of these products and said: “And if we are going to take on a project of this size, I need your support."

To my surprise, many of them stood up and said, “I love the idea. Our company wants in.” While I was excited to hear that the idea had merit, I was also terrified that I had to execute the plan. My father used to say, “Do that which you are afraid to do. Only then can you overcome fear and regret.”

The concept of the mHouse was born. We named the project the materialicious house (mHouse for short) after our design website After all, the home would be a showcase for the world’s most intriguing interior materials.

The Design Team

I’ve always had an affinity for modern architecture. I was fortunate to have been raised in a home designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. The mHouse’s architect needed to have the same affinity for contemporary design and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of European interior design.

Selecting the architect was easy. John Vetter of Vetter Denk Architects was top on the list. We featured one of his properties, the Aperture House, in Surface & Panel magazine many years ago. It was revolutionary at the time and the first to use raw MDF as a decorative interior material. All cabinets and interior walls were fabricated from MDF and lightly sealed to maintain the beautiful golden brown color we all know is a hallmark of the material. Even the bed was fabricated from MDF.

Vetter clearly understood the latest in building materials and was not afraid to use them. He would be perfect for the mHouse. Stretching the limits on “what’s possible” was the project’s overriding theme. Nothing was sacred. If we were going to demonstrate the versatility of our industry’s best materials, it would take an architect not set in his ways and adventurous enough to employ the materials in new and unique ways.

We also needed an interior designer, and Vetter suggested Amy Carman from Amy Carman Design. Carman is accomplished in creating contemporary interiors and has a warm and sophisticated sensibility. Carman is also a registered general contractor — a welcome talent in a project as unique as the mHouse.

Vetter’s concept for the structure was based on a 3-bedroom, 2 ½-bath home that harkened back to mid-century but with a more modern, updated twist. Like most architects, Vetter included features to support the design that he just had to have to make the architecture complete. We didn’t plan on a Marvin Lift and Slide — a 12-foot-by-24-foot sliding glass door — in the center of the home, but in the end, Vetter was right. It is the focal point of the house and highlights everything inside.

Carman’s role as interior designer was just as much about integration. Carman has a wonderful sense of style and visualizes the completed project in detail. She could see the art on the walls long before the sheet rock was installed.

The selection of materials was initially a team approach with Carman, Vetter and their associates. Carman’s vision and confidence prevailed in any tie-breaking decisions, although Vetter frequently challenged. The home’s silhouette, architectural details, windows and doors, interior site lines and lighting were purely Vetter’s domain.

Together, the Vetter-Carman team was perfect. They understood the challenge and embraced it. The result? The mHouse is truly a residential research lab for tomorrow’s modern home. Vetter once said, “This home must surprise and delight.” It certainly does.

Selection, Application, Use

Carman’s material selections were well reasoned and carefully planned. Everything had to work together like a living organism. And it did. Rather than discuss the process, let’s take a look at the result in a tour of the mHouse through words and pictures.


Shell, core are Roseburg engineered wood

The mHouse’s shell and core were constructed entirely from Roseburg’s engineered wood products, including RFPI I-joists, RigidLam LVL, RigidCoat subfloor underlayment and RidigRim rim board.

“There is nearly three-quarters of a mile of LVL in the mHouse,” said John Aufderhaar, president of Bedford Falls Communications, which built the mHouse. “Structurally, the house is like a fortress. I am thankful we used RigidCoat for the subfloor. We had a great deal of rain during this critical construction phase. Any other subfloor would have been ruined and replaced.”

The RFPI I-joists were specified with the help of a construction engineer and the architect, Aufderhaar said.

“We had some spans over 20 feet where it had to be clear with no additional support,” he said. “We also engineered the roof structure to handle the weight of a future green roof system.”

Tim Thorison and Roseburg’s field professionals provided valuable assistance, Aufderhaar said. For example, the 24-foot span above the Marvin Lift and Slide door in the back of the house called for minimal deflection. Thorison and the Roseburg team helped select the proper configuration to meet the required specification, he noted.

Roseburg also provided the walnut-faced hardwood plywood and white thermally fused laminate used to construct the cabinets in the home’s office.

John Aufderhaar is president of Bedford Falls Communications and publisher of Surface & Panel magazine. The mHouse is in Watertown, Wis., the home of Bedford Falls. The grand opening Sept. 30, 2015, was attended by more than 200 members of the industry, architects and interior designers. The mHouse is available for tours and industry-related events. For more information, contact Aufderhaar at