Grace: Omahan veered off traditional female path to male-dominated field of homebuilding - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:12 pm
her dreams lead down the street of dreams
Grace: Omahan veered off traditional female path to male-dominated field of homebuilding

Could this all be a dream?

I'm sitting in a comfy armchair, under a vaulted, cedar-plank ceiling, near a stone fireplace. This looks like a living room.

Only I'm outside, facing a golf course and the rolling hills of a neighborhood northwest of Omaha.

Homebuilder Nicolette “Nikki” Diamantis and I are relaxing on a patio she built.

Nikki is telling me about her childhood dream of building houses, how her father said that was ridiculous, that girls become nurses or teachers and ...

I drift into a trance. Everything is so beautiful at this custom house at 12769 Craig St. that she has built and sold for “seven-seven-seven,” a figure to which you should add three zeroes.

The exterior of the house has storybook shutters, a stone facade and a fountain in front. The interior, with 4,491 finished square feet, is decorated in country French style, with heavy-beamed, vaulted ceilings, a steam shower, two kitchens, three dishwashers and a workout room with French doors. The finishes, right down to the heated bathroom floors, are exquisite.

No wonder this home in the Deer Creek Highlands subdivision near 120th and State Streets sits on the Street of Dreams.

But I have to snap out of my reverie. I'm not here to write about six-burner Thermador gas ranges, hand-glazed cabinetry and separate butler's pantries, the stuff of my dreams.

I'm here to write about Nikki's dream. Which took years to make happen. Which took a supportive husband. Which took deliberate efforts to move forward through a nursing career she didn't really want, four children she did really want, extra school and doubts that she could compete in what remains a male-dominated field.

Nationwide, according to the latest census data, about one-fifth of single-family homebuilders are female contractors who share the business with a man. Solely female-owned builders are unusual. The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Homebuilders — a trade group that includes contractor entrepreneurs — is 7 percent women. That's one seven. No zeroes.

The contractors employ laborers, who also most often are men.

Cassi Petersen, executive director of the Metro Omaha Builders Association, said there are few female builders and tradespeople. More women work in the related fields of real estate and design and for title companies, she said.

So if this is the modern era, imagine what it would have been like in 1960s Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Nikki was growing up.

As a child, she sewed, made furniture for her Barbie dolls and troll collection and drew floor plans.

“I was obsessed!” said Nikki, now 58.

But Nikki found little encouragement to pursue architecture or construction.

So she listened to her father and studied nursing at the University of Iowa. Then, at age 20, Nikki married a first-year medical student in Omaha and moved.

She became a registered nurse, began working in Omaha hospitals and started having babies.

She felt incomplete.

Her husband, Steve, was pursuing the difficult and time-consuming specialty of cardiology. So Nikki threw herself into home decor, exorcising her creative demons on the first few of what would be 17 homes the Diamantis family would move to in Omaha.

“When you have a husband who is gone all the time, and all you're doing is laundry,” she said, “there has to be something that makes you happy.”

Moving so often would make me insane. But it was good practice for Nikki, who would move, remodel, resell and repeat.

She went back to school when her first child was a year old. She wanted to earn a bachelor's degree in interior design. She graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1983 and then commuted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her master's in textiles, clothing and design in 1989.

Nikki launched Nicolette Diamantis Interiors and worked so much with builders of new homes and Realtors that she became both. In 1996 she earned her real estate license. In 2001 she opened Platinum Builders, which has one builder: her.

In the pre-recession years, Platinum Builders built up to six luxury custom homes a year with price tags in the upper six figures. One sold for $1.2 million.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

When the housing market slowed — it didn't quite crash in Omaha, as in some other U.S. cities — Platinum Builders built fewer big homes and focused on smaller houses with finer finishes. Nikki also used the slowdown to go back to school. She became a certified graduate builder, which involved 11 classes on everything from construction science to marketing.

She also earned certifications in kitchen design; aging-in-place, a specialty for building handicapped-accessible homes; and green construction.

This last certification makes her especially proud.

We spent the most time at 12769 Craig standing in the basement furnace room, a room that in my nearly 100-year-old dream home looks like something out of “The Silence of the Lambs.” But in this brand-new home, even this windowless corner gleams with fresh paint and energy-efficient, robot-looking machines that will heat and cool this house more efficiently (and cheaply) than most other systems.

The home uses a ground source heat pump, a geothermal system of underground pipes that uses the earth's natural, constant temperature.

“This is what I'm most excited about,” Nikki tells me. “There are five wells in the driveway. We went down 205 feet.”

Her home is rated a 44 on the Home Energy Rating System, an industry index. Nikki's score means this house is substantially more energy-efficient than other new houses of similar size.

This house will be the dream home to the family of four who bought it.

You still have time to catch Nikki's work on the Street of Dreams, including a villa at 13007 Craig St. that she designed with empty nesters in mind.

And you can see the other houses, which include some wow factors like an indoor sports court. The public event runs through Sept. 29.

If you go, take some smelling salts.

You may find yourself falling into Nikki's dream.

Or into one of your own.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace

erin.grace@owh.com    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

Teen who worked as a cook is killed in shooting at Benson's Gallagher Park
Sweet deal on suite use has MECA board looking at written rules
Finally. Spring expected to return, stick around. No, really: Warmer-than-average weather in forecast
Home alone: When burglar broke in, 12-year-old locked herself in bathroom, called 911
City Council OKs redevelopment plan for north downtown project
Inmate accused of partially tearing off another's testicles charged with assault
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
Lawyer: Man had right to hand out religious fliers outside Pinnacle Bank Arena
Firefighters put out duplex blaze in N.W. Omaha
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
Coffee with a Cop set for Thursday in Benson
In TV ad, Shane Osborn says Ben Sasse 'beholden to Washington'
Douglas County offices accepting credit, debit cards
Ben Sasse raises more money than U.S. Senate foes Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale
Parched Omaha soil soaks up record precipitation
Engineering student harnesses girl power, starts engineering-science club at Gomez Elementary
WB Dodge Street lane closed
Ex-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub endorses Shane Osborn for U.S. Senate seat
New Doane College program promises free tuition for first class
No more last-minute hiring of Omaha Public Schools teachers
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Lunar eclipse was visible in the Omaha area
2 arrested in west Omaha hotel TV thefts
You can tape a cable TV access show at new city-built studio in Omaha
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Breaking Brad: Next year, Bo Pelini brings a mountain lion to the spring game
Before the spring game, Bo Pelini carried a cat onto the field. With Bo's personality, it'd have been more appropriate for him to carry a mountain lion.
Breaking Brad: Bo Pelini's cat lets spring game intro go to its head
Coach Bo Pelini took the field before the spring game holding a cat aloft. Typical cat. He was undoubtedly thinking, “Sixty thousand people, all cheering for me!”
Kelly: 3 former Nebraskans all take seats at the table of international diplomacy
Three former residents of the Cornhusker State are working together at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and one took part in a recent high-level meeting about Ukraine.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Schweser's
$25 for a $50 gift card to use at Schweser's!
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »