Patrons of the Houghton Pub can’t tell the newly installed ceiling panels are not tin.

It was a bummer for the Houghton Pub. The upscale watering hole that serves the residents of La Crosse, Wis., had caught fire a few years back and had massive damage to the building, including the original tin ceiling that had been installed long ago. The city of La Crosse, whose population is more than 51,000, is nestled on the border of Minnesota. And within the city limits, the Houghton Pub has seen a lot of changes and has been part of the community a long time.

“We’ll never know how it caught fire,” says the Houghton Pub’s owner Jim Wiley. “The fire department says it was very mysterious. They were convinced it was wiring or electrical. But it was all code approved and up to date so we’re not sure what happened.”

What did happen was just days before the money-making Irish celebration St. Patrick’s Day, the bar did catch on fire and the building had to close for 13 months. The building, originally built in 1885, has been everything from a grocery store to cigar factory to theatre and more. Lots of history, along with the original tin roof, gone. 

La Crosse-based ceilings company Interior Systems International Inc. was formed as La Crosse Acoustical Tile Company in 1956. Originally formed as a ceiling contractor, the company expanded its operations in the 1970s by manufacturing customized acoustical ceiling products. These options include custom sizes, scored designs, edge details, and paint finishes to date.

In 2007, Interior Systems International expanded to a new office and showroom. The company uses materials from many manufacturers, as well as the import stock supplied from Globalnex. The company also does painting.

“We take a standard product and paint it to a custom color, even in very small quantities,” says Dan Aspenson, president of the company.

“Doing custom scoring designs is another major niche that we do,” says Aspenson. “We’ll very often work with a designer and/or architect to come up with a design. We use the substrate that is most appropriate that the designer is looking for.”

Aspenson knows the pub well as he is friendly with Wiley and is a regular customer at the traditional Irish establishment, which not only serves Guinness and Harp, but serves Irish food as well.

“The original building had tin ceilings with big metal cornices and it was beautiful, original ceiling. Then they demolished it and rebuilt and the owner stopped in and wanted to do something similar to the tin ceiling. The [original] tin ceiling was nailed up and relatively expensive. The owner liked our concept of the acoustical panel, as it had some sound absorption, which is not a lot, but better than metal.”

Black and Tin

“A top priority for us is to always listen to the owner to determine what is important to them. By understanding the owner’s requirements we can tailor a ceiling system to provide a specific aesthetic they want and also accommodate the sound absorption that is desired in each space,” says Aspenson. “In Houghton Pub’s case, they felt more sound absorption should be used in the dining area and less in the bar.”

By working with the architect’s reflected ceiling plan, Interior Systems International was able to make suggestions to the owner as to what materials would provide the pub appearance of his previous space and yet provide sound absorption in specific areas, Aspenson says. Higher absorption acoustical ceiling panels painted metallic gold were used around the perimeter of the dining space and corridors while the decorative look of metal panels were used in the center feature bays.

The owner selected Interior Systems International’s Look of Metal 2-foot-by-2-foot mineral fiber K5 pattern with a metallic gold finish on a matching metallic gold 9/16-inch grid system. To add even more character to the pub, the company used metal cornice moldings and nosings with a matching metallic gold finish.

To coordinate the typical lay-in metal air diffusers, the company painted them metallic gold to match the rest of the ceiling.

The metallic gold grid system, cornice moldings and ceiling panels were installed just as most standard acoustical ceiling applications.

And what does Aspenson believe is the most interesting aspect to this job?

“I think it’s being able to recreate an Old World look from the turn-of-the-last century-and unless you’re in the industry-most people can’t tell the difference in the look of acoustical and metal tin ceiling. So we got a lot of nice comments from their clientele,” he says.