Clark and Noel Maxam's Emagispace is anything but an overnight success.
Noel Maxam, a longtime television soap opera producer in Los Angeles, came up with the idea for temporary walls used in theatrical, television and movie productions while he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University and built his first prototype in 1989.
"I had to build a bar for a set and couldn't afford to do that on the budget we had, so I set the scene in the basement of a bar and used a stack of empty beer boxes to reflect that," Noel Maxam said. "I didn't know if then, but it was a germ of an idea. Much later, I started looking at the idea of putting up sets myself and thought 'why not have building blocks for adults?'"
During the next nearly 25 years, he experimented with using aluminum, plastic and wood and had 35 engineering drawings made of the product until he came up with a design that worked - medium-density quarter-inch fiber board made from sawmill waste and interconnecting plastic blocks that are screwed into the fiberboard. The result was a lightweight wall that could be assembled and taken apart quickly, and that didn't require much storage space when disassembled.
Colorado College's Theater and Dance Department became Emagispace's first customer after Paul Martin, the department's technical director, saw a prototype in March and bought three wall sections in August after the company completed its first production run. The college is using the temporary walls to display art in the IDEA (InterDisciplinary Experimental Arts) Space, a gallery, performance and events venue in the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center.
"I like the versatility. You can use them as wall and can install doors and windows quickly. It frees up time for me since a lot of departments at the college look for theatrical flats (large sheets of plywood) to display art," said Martin, who now is a technical consultant to Emagispace. "I can give these to a student to install on their own. Most of the time in the theater world, you spend 80 percent of your time building the set and the rest making it pretty. Now we can spend more time on making it pretty."
Noel Maxam's brother Clark, who manages the company from his Larkspur home, said the only tool needed to assemble the walls is an electric screwdriver, and assembly of a 10-foot-by-10-foot wall takes about 30 minutes. When taken apart, the walls take up a 3½-foot by 4-foot by 9-inch space. He said the speed of assembly and small storage footprint mean the wall components also can be used for temporary office space such as co-working venues, in retail stores and perhaps even in the rental storage unit industry for temporary shelving.
"It has taken a while to get the right design, but once I did I got my brother on board and because he really understands business, finance and serving more than just one market, we started to make it a business," Noel Maxam said.
Clark Maxam, a former professor of entrepreneurial finance at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, teamed with former UCCS colleague Michael Larson and his Mind Rocket product development company to hone in on a workable design. It didn't hurt that Clark also had dabbled in the construction industry and had built more than a few walls, though usually with drywall panels nailed to wood studs.
"Michael had the design, engineering and prototyping that we needed, and over the course of a year to a year and a half, we honed in on how to do the connections (between the panels) and use the medium-density fiberboard to make a stable wall component," Clark Maxam said.
The brothers formed Emagispace in Larkspur in mid-2013 and immediately got a patent for the temporary wall design. They spent the next year in research and development with prototypes to make sure the product could be easily manufactured.
"We had three or four versions and were still refining our design at the very end. It is a simple idea, but it took a lot of time, though, engineering and design to get the product to where it is today," Clark Maxam said. "We ended up spending between the low- and midsix figures to get to this stage on research and development, patents and production tooling."
Clark Maxam found Little Colorado, a Denver manufacturer of children's toys, to manufacture the wood panels and a Los Angeles company to make the interconnecting plastic components, which are shipped to Larkspur and assembled as the company gets orders.
A 10-foot-by-10-foot section of Emagispace walls sells for about $1,500. For more information, go to www.emagi space.com.