By John Wyatt
The folks at Artisan Ceiling Systems & Acoustical Specialties, of Waterloo, Iowa, know the value of what a premium ceiling system constitutes. And what that means is when you have a strong work ethic, delivering a quality product, the value is that it leads to a greater path of success vs. someone installing shoddy work. The pretty much exclusive ceiling contractor’s core business is acoustical ceilings and related acoustical treatment (wall panels, baffles, etc.), as well as an increasing amount of other types of specialty finish products.
Founded in 2008, ACSAS got its start when it bought out Dyball Acoustical. Prior to that, both of ACSAS’s owners, Matt Rowenhorst and Casey Dyball, worked at Dyball.
Rowenhorst started dating his now-wife Robyn when he was 17. Robyn’s father, Ron Dyball, owned Dyball Acoustical, and Rowenhorst started working at this company two weeks after graduating high school in 1993. Casey Dyball also worked at the family company during high school.
The specialty ceilings contractor is a member of CISCA and Master Builders of Iowa.
“We do all kinds of ceiling work, acoustical treatment and specialties—but if we have a niche, it has become some of these higher-end projects. We’ve never shied away from a lot of projects that scare other contractors away—either because of the technical difficulty or sheer scale,” says Rowenhorst. “We love the challenge that comes with new products and creative designs. We have teams in place that can handle anything that comes at us, and in the end, the jobs that really stretch us are usually the most rewarding jobs to be a part of. It’s fun to visit some iconic structure that will stand in our community for generations and know that you had an intimate part in bringing it to life.”
The company took the solid foundation that Dyball Acoustical had in the ceiling industry and tried to build on that to become one of the largest and most reputable ceiling contractors in its region, says Rowenhorst, who manages a staff of approximately 30. The company has had years of explosive growth, years of steady growth (and years of no growth) depending on the economic conditions. The years of steady growth are the easiest to handle but the company has learned a lot from all of those situations. To the extent that ACSAS can control its volume, there is a sweet spot of moderate growth that it hits.
Right now, (the first and second quarter of 2021), ACSAS is experiencing some of the busiest times it has ever had as a company.
“This year started off slow but things picked up with a vengeance late in the year and it’s been busy since,” says Rowenhorst. “Like everyone else, we’ve had to evolve to deal with different access issues and protocols related to COVID (not to mention navigating some serious supply line issues and price increases) but we’ve kept fairly nimble and dealt with problems as they’ve come up.”
Rowenhorst says he gets excited when the company looks at jobs with really creative applications that require a lot of thought or design. He loves to look at a project and breakdown what the installation will take, and then design processes to achieve the best quality in the least amount of time.
In regards to what the hardest aspect of the job is for the company, Rowenhorst says: “Our brand and reputation are important to us. That’s why we try to outperform schedules and over-deliver on expectations. But one of the hardest aspects in commercial construction is dealing with the constant onslaught of unrealistic schedules and compressed durations. Interior finish contractors, as some of the last boots on the ground, are always under pressure to make up for lost time.”
Regarding the rest of the year workload, ACSAS is booked out pretty full—it should be a good year for the company.
“We want to build something that we can be proud of and that doesn’t just apply to our projects—it applies to our company as well. We will steadily build a business focused on people inside and outside our organization,” says Rowenhorst. “We strive to attract, retain, and reward the most talented people we can find, as well as cultivate relationships in our community. In addition, we’ll continue to stay on the cutting edge of any new products we can offer to diversify our services as we grow in our markets.
“I’m really impressed with some of the newer products out there using materials that I wouldn’t have expected—such as felt being bent into various shapes—we’ve been doing a lot with felt recently,” says Rowenhorst. “I think it’s cool when we work with materials or products recycled from something else that takes on a new role aesthetically or acoustically. I’m also really impressed with some of the manufacturers that can take dimensions and info from us and completely engineer shapes and products to fit a space using computers and CAD technology.”
“Generally speaking, I would say technology is a strength of mine because of my interest in it,” says Rowenhorst. “Specifically, I do a lot with photography and video editing. I also really like to use programs like Sketchup or AutoCAD for design work. It translates well into my work with Artisan too, as it’s extremely helpful to be able to professionally draw a solution or condition to convey to contractors and architects. And it’s fun to make time lapse videos, etc., of jobs to show later on social media.”
Architect: Substance Architecture, Des Moines, Iowa.
Owner: State of Iowa (Board of Regents)
General Contractor: Neumann Brothers Construction, Des Moines, Iowa.
The Iowa State University Sports Performance Complex is a large four-story building overlooking the Jack Trice Football Stadium.
“I should note also that we were a subcontractor of Heartland Finishes who did the steel stud-framing and Sheetrock,” says Rowenhorst.
The subcontractor handled all of the acoustical ceilings and specialty ceilings, including various wood and metal ceilings.
“The architect specified some really cool products, installed in some very difficult ways. For example, we had to do a 3-D geometric shaped perforated ceiling installed in the shape of an ellipse with exact set-backs from the elliptical walls. And then the wood blade ceiling around it was not parallel but expanded in a sunburst pattern, which demanded a completely custom layout. Even the ‘normal’ acoustical ceilings were clouds and lined up with each other throughout the building.”
The company installed Tectum Cloud ceilings, USG acoustical ceilings and ceiling clouds, Hunter Douglas metal linear ceilings, a custom geometric perforated metal ceiling by Gordon, wood grille ceilings by Rulon, and another custom wood-blade ceiling by Rulon.