Designer’s Notebook: Fun and Function

by Kyle Clapham

At Irons Brothers, we’ve been seeing a definite movement toward more creative and unique home designs, as our customers are ignoring trends and neutral finishes and instead opting for designs that make them happy. This project is a perfect example. Our clients wanted to update an existing bar space to better reflect their fun and creative personalities for their own relaxation and also for entertaining.

They had an expansive daylight-basement family room with a bar area and exterior access, but they wanted something with a bit more pizzazz: a cocktail bar that would make a memorable impression on their guests.

The design and build process for “Chrysanthemum’s the Word” Steam Punk Speakeasy began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with construction commencement and completion occurring during its height. We transformed the existing tiki bar that was barely a functional space into a steam-punk inspired bar.

The challenge that we ran into the most was locating materials based on the clients’ style and desired steam-punk theme within the planned construction budget. Their design request was “steampunk speakeasy, but with a nod to the atomic ’60s,” with a goal of creating an eye-catching entertainment space that wouldn’t be too out of line with the mid-century modern design of the rest of the house.

The result is a fun bar with a mix of metals and patterns, some mad-scientist inspired light fixtures, and a truly unique riveted-metal ceiling.

Riveting New Design

The biggest challenge we encountered was the ceiling. The clients knew they wanted something to set the bar apart from the adjacent family room space and were initially thinking of a modernized version of a Victorian tin ceiling. Then we started exploring other materials, including wood panels in a striking chevron design, but the products we liked weren’t recommended for ceiling use.

Once we located the perfect metal material for the ceiling within their budget, our team had to determine not only the exact size of each panel to be cut, but also the order of installation for the overlap that we wanted to show. The finished celling is truly one of a kind and was worth all the effort for the end result.


The clients decided they wanted a riveted metal design on the ceiling to mimic the look of a 1940s airplane wing. We were able to find a company that would create custom riveted panels, but at a cost of $35,000. The design and development team went to work looking for other budget-friendly solutions. The construction project manager located and sourced galvanized sheet metal panels.

This material not only was cost effective but, with the work of an orbital sander, a soft and reflective glow was added to the metal sheets. It worked perfectly. We were able to provide the dimensions and layout to our metal fabricator, who drilled the holes and finished off the edges.

The material was then installed to the ceiling with “rivets.” These rivets are actually nickel furniture nails burnished with steel wool. The final cost of the ceiling panels was less than $1,000 in materials. The panels were installed over the plywood ceiling, and 580 nails were hammered in.


As a finishing touch to the ceiling design, the creative homeowner sourced balsa-wood gears and painted them in a metallic finish. Magnets hold them in place on the ceiling as well as on other areas of the bar’s metallic surfaces.

Reduce and Reuse

As part of this room’s remodel, we improved the daylight-basement’s room connection to the exterior. This was done by extending the new quartz countertop under the window for easy indoor/outdoor service. The homeowners were able to find a stainless steel table that’s the perfect height to place just outside the window, saving the expense of adding an exterior countertop and new pass-through window.

All cabinetry installed was made locally in the Pacific Northwest, including the island and countertop. We were able to reuse some existing elements, including a set of stainless steel shelves that fit with our mixed-metal design.


We had also hoped to reuse the existing free-standing island—just replacing or recovering its countertop—but ultimately decided on a custom island with a riveted flame-hammered copper top to match the rest of the new cabinets. The engineered hardwood flooring and existing millwork (base and casing) were salvaged, reinstalled and adapted to the newly designed space.

While the space was designed for fun, it is also packed with function, including added storage and shelving for bottles and barware. We even left a dedicated space for a tall juicer. Extending the countertop to the exterior means the parties can go on indoors or outside, while a movable island gives guests a place to sit and enjoy the bar action while still enjoying the adjacent family-room space. QR

Joseph Irons, GMR, CGR, GMB, CAPS, CGP, is the president and general manager of Irons Brothers Construction, Inc., a design-build firm in Shoreline, Washington.

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