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Design on the Move by Moderco

The evolution of modern operable wall systems from their inception maybe 50 years to today has been orderly in terms of panel manufacture, operational demands & configurations but complicated in terms of what the consumer expects.

The initial concept was simply space & sight separation when desired. With the increase in need for rentable space from the hospitality industry & development of more sophisticated sound systems acoustics entered the picture and became a factor in product selection. Soon taller walls, electric walls, panels you could write on, stick things on, walk though by means of single & double pass doors, building deflections resulting from longer clear span needs forced manufacturers into changing manufacturing methods as well as developing different system designs. Change continued and is continuing.

The latest need centers on aesthetics. There is an ever increasing demand for an almost endless requirement & perceived need for different finishes, coverings, appearance etc. And this is positive because the environment in which walls are installed are very often upscale, expensively furnished and the wall systems must complement the décor. The days of the Henry Ford mentality that you can have any color you want as long as it is black are behind us all. At the same time some precautionary thoughts about “special finishes” should be considered.

Let me say upfront that in terms of capability Moderco can apply almost any color, finish, material etc. available, subject to our review & physical limitations, on our operable wall systems. The only real exception is if the material supplier has an in place exclusive agreement with another manufacturer which would prevent our purchase at competitive pricing levels.

Remember and tell all of your customers: “If they can do it, so can Moderco”.

Some words of caution and advice that you should discuss with your customer.

#1. Operable walls are dynamic moving objects that are designed to be relocated on a regular basis and often by people who are not careful or trained. They are designed to withstand abuse. When you introduce a “special” finish that is subject to damage, staining, scratching, marring, breakage etc. you are introducing an element that has to be considered carefully. They will not always look as “nice” as they did when conceived by a designer or when initially installed. Think appearance 12, 18 or even 24 months down the road.

#2. Special finishes are always considerably more expensive to purchase, install and maintain than standard finishes. If cost is a factor both initially and maintenance wise than specials are not the way to go.

#3. Weight: It is probable that special finishes such as metal, glass, windows, wood etc. will weigh more than standard finishes such as vinyl, fabric and carpet. Additional weight requires additional structural support especially in the stack area and will also result in additional deflection over a 12 to 18 month period of time. Will the building structure support the extra weight?

#4. Appearance: Panels are individual units usually 48” wide. Sometimes there are variable width panels in a run. Regardless of the claims of manufacturers the meeting joints where panels meet must have a gap and often with a rolled edge and not a perfectly flat surface. The gap is visible and could affect the desired appearance especially if murals or horizontal panel to panel matching patterns are used. The gap may become more apparent over time as the building “settles” resulting in panels separating and creating what is called an “ice cream cone” affect. This is where the panels are tight together at the top but slightly separated at the base. It is more exaggerated the taller the panels. If this occurs then the panels have to be adjusted & replumbed to eliminate the gap.

#5. Repair: It is inevitable because of the dynamic nature of walls that they will be damaged. Therefore field repair or replacement of surfaces has to be considered. Can the “special” surfaces be replaced easily with a minimum of expense & down time? How long will the “special” surfaces still be available? Consider a mural across the entire width of a wall. If you damage only that portion on one panel can just that portion be replaced or will you have to buy an entire new mural and recover all panels? Look to the future and see what kind of a problem you are creating with the use of “specials”

#6. Storage: One of the most common concerns on any project is where do you store the panels when they are not across the opening? There is never “enough” room. Now, if you add extra thickness as you will encounter with wood, glass and special metals etc., the panel thickness is increased and storage becomes even more difficult. Consider what you will do with the panels when the wall is not extended.

#7. Every wall has a tested acoustic quality usually referred to as an STC. Walls are tested using detailed manufacturing methods and components which are contained in the STC test description. If you attach special coverings that require panel skin penetration or features will this affect the STC of the wall? You simply can’t drill into a tested panel and hope to maintain acoustic results.

Like in many of life’s decisions and circumstances, Murphy’s Law will surface: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. And this is often the case if deviating from proven and tried materials & techniques are not followed.

There is also a lesser and not as well known principle called “Occam’s Razor”. This principle hypothesizes that “the simplest explanation or decision is most likely the correct one”.

Both may apply to the desire to use “special” finishes on operable walls. Keeping it simple minimizes problems & less than satisfactory results.


#1. If “they” can do it so can Moderco
#2. Explain to your customer the potential problems & pitfalls of “specials”
#3. Work with your designer when “specials” are mandatory. Offer the services of Moderco’s designers to make the desired outcome as trouble free as possible