Remodeling and Home Design

Stairway to Fame

Reprint of article from "Marketplace Magazine" November 1, 2006

Written by Margaret LeBrun

Extreme Home Makeover

While the regional media swarmed a home under construction in Dundee, Fond du Lac County, last month, a Neenah manufacturer of fine staircases hosted some of the same crew from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition".

"Extreme" star Paige Hemmis turned up at Arcways in Neenah last month in pink work boots, pink work gloves and her famous pink tool belt and "went to work", filming a segment that was scheduled to air Oct. 29 on the hit ABC-TV program that features total construction of homes for deserving families, completed in seven days.

"We like to take advantage of local artists," said Hemmis during her visit to Arcways. "This is not just a staircase; it’s a work of art."

The show, which has won back-to-back Emmy Awards as Best Reality Program, was working on a farmhouse for an Iowa family. Their home was destroyed in a fire before Christmas and they were living in a trailer, Hemmis explained. The house was designed with a spacious entry that called for a dramatic element.

"We wanted to give them something that when you walk through the door, it’s spectacular. Their house had burned down, and they have had just three steps, going into a trailer. We wanted to give them the most opposite of that."

Extreme Home Makeover

Arcways owner Tom Stilp (featured on the cover of "Marketplace Magazine" in March, 2003 with his sister and co-owner, Sharon Stilp-Kressin), said their crew was happy to oblige the "Extreme" crew. The company fulfilled a request to design, build, ship and install an elaborate staircase in under seven days for the Iowa home. Plans for the project were well under way when the producers of the show realized the foyer was lacking in pizzazz. They called Stilp at the 11th hour.

"We were only given – get a load of this – seven days’ notice," Stilp said. "We were sort of an afterthought. They looked at the foyer and their interior designer just had an issue with it. It wasn’t dramatic enough. So she called me and asked whether we could do a miracle."

The original design called for two plain L-shaped stairways, one on either side of the foyer, leading up to a catwalk. The producers researched companies that could build something more grand, and a high-end homebuilder in Ohio referred Arcways. They were sold when they discovered that Arcways had been featured on an Emmy-nominated episode of "This Old House" in 1999.

Stilp spent a few hours sketching a design, which he sent to them with the caveat that they approve it within 24 hours in order to beat the seven-day installation deadline.

When they got the go-ahead, the frenzy began.

"We did the extreme thing here, we worked around the clock, and on the weekend," Stilp said. Arcways keeps a seven-month backlog of orders, so fulfilling the request meant some major juggling.

"We’re just swamped here," Stilp added. "So the guys in the shop and the girls in the office said, ‘Let’s do it, we’ll burn the midnight oil to accomplish it."

Arcways drafter and designer Patty Managan created the shop drawings and Steve Van Fossen, supervisor of the curved stair department, oversaw the work. They cut the materials on a Friday, and by the weekend they set the stairway up. The rails went up on Monday, and by Tuesday it was on the truck and delivered to Iowa by Van Fossen and Rick Kressin, who supervised its installation. Ordinarily, such a staircase would take Arcways six to eight weeks to complete and install.

Extreme Home Makeover

"We constructed this really tricked out S-Shaped free standing curved stairway for them," said Stilp. "They were just blown away; they were so impressed with our product when we delivered it."

In Iowa, the production crew for "Extreme Makeover" filmed about four hours of the Arcways stairway coming off the trailer and being delivered through the front door. It took about 90 minutes to install the staircase and rails. The curved stairway, which extends 150 degrees in one direction and then curves back the other direction as it rises, was tricky to install, Van Fossen said.

Arcways, which prides itself in donating time to build Habitat for Humanity and Women Build homes in the Fox Valley, donated time and materials for the staircase, valued at $42,000. Stilp said the family was "very deserving".

"Every one of their projects is for a very deserving family that had had hardships. They’re tear-jerking episodes, that’s for sure."

Stilp, along with Stilp-Kressin, Managan and project estimator Brenda Bolwerk went to Iowa to watch the family’s reaction as the ritual bus was moved to reveal the finished product. In each "Extreme Makeover" program, the homebuilder enjoys the honor of handing the key off to the homeowner. The owner of the Des Moines building company that did the job, Hubbell Homes, invited Stilp to join him in the ritual.

"He invited me as really the only subcontractor to come up and be in and amongst all the Hubbell employees," Stilp said. "I thought it was quite an honor."

Copyrighted material, reprinted with permission of Marketplace Magazine, (920) 735-5969.