Made in Eastern Iowa: The Sky Factory and creating a soothing ceiling

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FAIRFIELD, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Two steps into The Sky Factory's open-floor office building in Fairfield, the eye is drawn up to the ceiling.

The Sky Factory, in Fairfield, employs about 35 people in the process of creating soothing images on ceilings and walls.

Is that an actual sky?

Of course not as there are no shadows. This sky looks too... perfect.

The curious eye looks for the minute details within a vibrant image.

Skye Witherspoon is the company's CEO. He said his father came up with the idea about fifteen years ago and bartered with a dentist to paint the panels for a ceiling.

A company soon followed.

"Not just a pretty picture that goes onto a ceiling," said Witherspoon. "We start off with a 6500 Kelvin lighting system that goes behind this which uses LEDs. We use this color temperature because it mimics daylight and we’re trying to use a very accurate light source."

The result is an image that is meant to draw stares but also meant to soothe. Think of wherever a serene yet realistic image of the sky can draw in the eye of a person but not the ire of a stressful setting.

"We call ourselves a fine art and technology company," said Lauren Steingraeber, company president. "The idea is, by paring the two, you really get a realistic illusion of sky. We’ve done research studies, with Texas Tech University, on the result for people in a health care setting. It showed a 50 percent reduction in acute stress and 34 percent reduction in anxiety."

These "windows" to the world - whether on the ceiling or for a wall image - are slowly filling the world. The company has a mobile, called the Skymobile, to take the products and the possibilities anywhere.

"It’s on the road, basically, the entire year, visiting architectural firms, health care facilities and all of our customers," said Witherspoon. "That’s out there all of the time."

The turning moment for The Sky Factory came in about 2000 when, Witherspoon said, the technology of printing reached the point where the images and scope of the outdoors could look like the real thing. Part of the process of building and crafting the illusion.

"The image is lifted up about an inch and a half off the bottom of the ceiling grid," said Witherspoon. "It gives the whole thing depth. You’ll notice how three-dimensional it feels."

Just as The Sky Factory is working with the edge of the current technology, the company itself is also a bit unusual for Iowa. Witherspoon said a farm just outside the parking lot can provide produce for the 35 workers to eat. Solar panels also fill the acreage to help with the power footprint.

"We have an open office plan and that relates to our management structure," said Witherspoon. "We practice something called ‘open book management’, which means all that our financials are open. Anyone can look at a financial statement."

Leading to the potential for limitless possibilities for future custom products.

"One that we did recently was an oil refinery in Kuwait," said Witherspoon. "We, basically, had these virtual skylights that spanned the length of the room, which was about 100 feet."

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