Some of our recent stories about home construction, renovations and design.
A rustic redo: Family's past brings unique look to outdoorsman's retreat southwest of Beaver Lake
A 60-pound stuffed beaver isn’t your usual living room décor.
But for outdoorsman Daron Smith, it fits.
His 3,700-square-foot home southwest of Beaver Lake, Nebraska, is a blend of his lifelong passion for the outdoors and his fondness for mementos from his family’s past.
“I really love the rustic feel of my place with the barn wood and, obviously, the animals I’ve acquired over the years,” Smith says. “And I love the history” that’s reflected in the décor.
The hunter and fisherman made the outdoors his first priority upon purchasing the eight-acre property in 2000. He replaced a barn, put in a pond and brought in a half-million pounds of rock, including boulders, to give the landscape a northern Minnesota look and feel.
He planted wildflowers in the woods behind his home and created another acre of wildlife habitat to the west, clearing a lot of trees in the process.
“My career should have been in landscaping and habitat management,” says the 52-year-old former owner of Better Business Equipment Co., as he gazes out on the jewel of his work, a 100-by-80-foot pond.
He has since expanded the original parcel to 50 acres and added a nearby 160-acre farm, which he’s turning into a mix of crops and more wildlife habitat.
Turkey, coyote, raccoon, possum and all kinds of birds are familiar visitors to his home.
“I’m close enough to get to Omaha,” he says, “but I feel like I’m in the middle of the wilderness.”
His focus turned inside after selling the family business in 2015. As with many home remodels, it started small.
He wanted to redo a three-season porch that had paper-thin windows and a leaky roof and walls. But he also liked the idea of opening up the area to the kitchen. Soon, the kitchen was down to its studs.
Three weeks near completion of the four-month project, he remodeled the main-floor bath.
“I just decided to go whole hog,” Smith explains.
He provided 30 percent of the ideas, and gave Libby Pantzlaff of Creative Interiors by Libby credit for the other 70. Mike Sassen of Advance Design and Construction also had creative input.
Smith wanted to feel like he was sitting outside, so he sought a rustic feel in the hearth room, with barn wood walls, slate flooring and a great view of the pond and woods.
Along the way the project took on an historic bent, something he hadn’t originally planned.
A wall and backsplash in his new kitchen feature reclaimed Egyptian pavers used in the 1920s to build the Lincoln Highway, which snaked down Dodge Street on its way from New York to San Francisco. Smith and Pantzlaff spent a day reclaiming them from a brick pile at A&R Salvage and Recycling Inc.
The marble counters are done in what Pantzlaff jokingly calls a mossy oak pattern, because it reminds her of camouflage.
“I think it’s just got character,” Smith says.
The frames around the windows in the hearth room and kitchen feature old-growth oak from a western Nebraska barn. Smith estimates the wood could be nearly 200 years old.
In the hearth room, a wall made from reclaimed wood from nearby Murray, Nebraska, has become home to many family heirlooms. Smith points out a log chain and skillet that traveled from Illinois to Kansas in a covered wagon.
“I had a pile of this stuff, and I said, ‘Libby, make it look good.’ ”
The only time Smith balked, then relented, was when Pantzlaff suggested using reclaimed corrugated metal from a barn for the hearth room ceiling. Now he’s glad he went along with the idea.
As an homage to what Smith calls the hunting that runs in his blood, racks from two deer and a 600-pound elk adorn another wall in the hearth room. A spot over the new coat closet is reserved for one of the bobcats that frequents his farm.
The beaver is homegrown, too. It lived in the creek behind his house. When it began killing off many of the smaller trees on the property, Smith trapped it and had it mounted.
It has definitely become a conversation piece with Smith’s guests.
“Most of them are pretty shocked,” Smith says. “Who has a beaver?”
Salvaged wood from Aksarben racetrack helps retired Omaha attorney fulfill childhood dream of building post-and-beam house
A trip to a salvage yard for angle iron 12 years ago turned out to be a stroke of luck for a retired Omaha attorney with a knack for creating things.
The dealer didn’t have the metal, but he did have several hundred Douglas fir beams that once sheltered Thoroughbreds at Omaha’s famed Aksarben racetrack.
The attorney’s eyes lit up.
“I remember as a little kid wanting to build a post-and-beam house,” he shares. “I have no idea where the idea came from, but I’ve always had it in the back of my mind.”
The salvaged beams – 3-by-16, 5-by-16, 5-by-18 and up to 28 feet long – would sit in storage for nearly a decade before he would figure out exactly how to use them.
Back in 2004, the attorney was looking for an acreage where he could make pottery and do some woodworking. He landed on 20 secluded acres in the north Omaha hills. The property had a 7-year-old two-story home, the original 1900s farmhouse, workshop space and scores of hardwood trees ideal for furniture-making, a hobby.
By a stroke of luck, he also found a sawmill on Craig’s List that he’d put to work.
Over the years, he filled in a failed pond and started an orchard just below the house. To keep deer out, he corralled the half acre with a live-edge fence milled from Chinese elms cleared from the property. He scattered wildflower seeds by the thousands, planted 400 to 500 saplings, propagated trees from acorns and educated himself on the surrounding flora and fauna to know what to clear and what to keep.
And he built his pottery kilns.
One day in July 2010, he came home from work, drove his car into the garage and immediately backed out. Smoke was pouring from the house.
A rag with linseed oil had spontaneously combusted, igniting a fire in the workshop. The fire burned itself out but the smoke damage was so pervasive, a decision was made to tear down the house and rebuild on roughly the same site. His post-and-beam dream was about to become reality. Getting there, though, would be an all-consuming exercise of sketching, designing and engineering. He also would have a ton of anxiety to overcome.
“He had a lot of ideas and knew how to work with wood, but had no formal training in drafting and no experience in new home construction. He tapped an architecture student – a former law partner’s son and neighbor – to help him with the base design. Eighteen months later, he arrived at a boxy, shed roof plan that passed a structural engineer’s inspection with flying colors.
Building permit in hand, he still had some trepidation. “It’s sort of like building a great big cabinet,” he told himself to get beyond some lingering self-doubt.
Construction took 3½ years. During that time, the old farmhouse became a place to lay his head.
Every inch of every phase of the post-and-beam project was meticulously calculated and hand-illustrated from multiple angles in a building plan executed by the homeowner and two willing hands with carpentry experience.
Subcontractors were hired for the concrete, electrical and plumbing work and other jobs beyond the homeowner’s ability.
When all was said and done, “I had one beam left over. That was cutting it closer than I planned,” he says, grinning.
“I thought I had maybe three beams to spare.”
The most fun, he says, was putting up the posts and beams. It took two months to cut them to size and to do the intricate joinery. Working with a borrowed crane, the posts and beams were up and connected in 10 days. Roof joists came next, then the fascia boards. “Everything went together so perfectly, it astonished me.”
Today, he calls the home a folly. “It’s whimsical and not very practical,” he says of the minimalistic 1,600-square-foot, one-bedroom dwelling.
In total, the house incorporates 20 species of wood, five from his property.
Both the design and the post-and-beam construction style make the dwelling rigid enough to withstand a 300-mph straight line wind by the structural engineer’s assessment.
Floors are poured concrete with internal liquid heating elements, basement included. In the kitchen and hearth room, the concrete is finished with a marbled epoxy; other areas are finished with oak plank or soda-fired tiles made over three years.
“The house is all about detail,” the homeowner says, pointing out trim work that incorporates three, sometimes four, types of wood. In the kitchen, bur oak cabinetry is meticulously grain-matched and doors and drawers have precision-routed half-circle grabs for an ultra-clean profile.
Countertops feature alternating strips of Douglas fir and walnut laminated together. Walnut planking is used in the backsplash and the back wall of the kitchen in a successful ploy to conceal the basement stairwell.
“There’s still another year of puttering around,” the homeowner says.
“It’s really quite a lot of fun.”
All because he went looking for some angle iron.
Urban oasis: Once an eyesore, 1920s midtown duplex stands out, reflects artsy couple's 'funky and unique' style
In the words of American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “A weed is but an unloved flower.”
Bob Benzel and Gerry Sullivan saw exactly that in a 1920s St. Louis-style duplex near 33rd and Dodge Streets back in 2010. The dwelling — owned by an absentee landlord with neglectful tenants — had the curb appeal of a noxious weed.
“We’re gentrifiers,” Bob says of rescuing and restoring the Georgian brick eyesore with the care of a bird building its nest, step by step, twig by twig. Today, it’s an oasis for relaxation and casual entertaining.
“It’s wonderfully strange, don’t you think?” Bob asks rhetorically as he and Gerry offer a tour of their “very, very urban home.” Every inch, inside and out, is a reflection of the art-loving couple’s delightfully quirky personal style.
“People who come here for parties are blown away because it’s so different,” Gerry offers. “It’s funky and unique and very ‘Bob.’ He’s an artist, and this is just a continuation of his art.”
A quick-witted retired art and humanities instructor at Ralston High School, Bob shrugs and smiles at the compliment. “Gerry said to me, ‘We don’t need any flowers in the yard, just greenery.’ OK, no flowers, I said. And then, petal by petal, I snuck them in.”
Pragmatic Gerry explains, “I was thinking low maintenance. In our old house near 39th and Chicago, we had a very big yard and were watering all the time.”
But there was a bigger lifestyle consideration.
“We were looking for a house that we could adapt for old age,” explains Bob.
Criteria No. 1: A floor plan that would allow for a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor – a scarce commodity in midtown Omaha.
Criteria No. 2: A lot big enough for a garage and driveway that could double as a party area. That’s another tough-to-find amenity in the neighborhood.
When the stacked duplex came up for sale, “We mulled it over,” recalls Bob. “The location had in the recent past some problems with crime, and the house needed a lot of work.”
Midtown Crossing, rising just two blocks to the south, was an undeniable lure.
“We wanted to be closer to Midtown Crossing because we thought things were going to start happening down here,” Gerry recalls. A grocery, bus stop and hospital within walking distance already were ideal amenities for aging in place.
The couple took possession that October, and Bob launched into civilizing the front yard while tenants moved out. A long autumn allowed for reconstruction of the stoop and the stairs, plus construction of a Chicago Gold Coast-inspired courtyard patio with hedges, ornamental trees, flowering perennials and other dense plantings for privacy.
“The yard was a barren wasteland. Nothing was growing,” he reflects. The side yard, where the driveway would go, was a mudhole. “We knew we were going to have a lot of concrete,” he says of the driveway. To soften the look, grass and concrete alternate in a checkerboard pattern for half the length.
A three-car garage addition remains true to the style of the boxy duplex. “We spent a lot of money to build the garage to look old,” Gerry confides. Vintage green tile, found by the roofer at a salvage yard, matches the tile trim on the front of the duplex.
Privacy fencing provides a backdrop for sun-loving ornamentals and three-dimensional art by Iggy Sumnik and Sidney Buchanan.
The homeowners refer to the front patio as their living room and the back patio as their dining room and sitting area. But the latter also is their main entrance. “Whenever people come over, we tell them, ‘come to the front,’ which is actually the back door,” Bob says.
The outdoor room – a “lean-to” of sorts with rafters – is furnished with “wonderful, strange, strange stuff” (in Bob’s words), much of it acquired at Collector’s Choice estate sales. In summer, cascading vines and other greenery form natural walls and keep the space comfortable on the hottest of days. Heat lamps extend the homeowners’ enjoyment of the outdoor room well into fall.
Inside the home, Mother Nature’s warm, earthy tones flow from room to room. While the outside garden spaces are cultivated with wild abandon, the interior living spaces are meticulously arranged. “We have a lot of art, obviously,”
Flashback to January 2011.
“The place was in shambles,” he says. “There was just about no choice but to rip out everything.”
He and Gerry lived on the upper floor for about a year while Bob redid the main level with an eye toward the future. “We added insulation, replaced windows, updated plumbing, etc., knowing the first floor someday would be our main living area,” Bob said.
The homeowners have been together for 15 years. They met at a party in Omaha. Gerry had recently transferred with Union Pacific’s real estate department from San Francisco, and Bob was guest bartending for the host, a mutual friend. Bob retired from teaching 16 years ago to concentrate on his rental properties and artistic pursuits. Gerry retired in 2013. In December 2015, they were married.
The couple have a wide circle of friends and generally have someone over for dinner a couple of times a week. Political fundraisers, wedding rehearsal dinners and art soirees are common occurrences year-round. Last July, they hosted a garden party for 200 in celebration of their own nuptials. “We took the garage and turned it into a junior-senior prom,” Bob quips, alluding to the hand-painted murals, twinkle lights and tissue paper flowers that decorated the space. The menu included pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, brownies and lemon bars. And the affair found its way onto the pages of The World-Herald’s Wedding Essentials magazine.
“We never hire caterers,” Bob says. He does the cooking and the baking; Gerry handles arrangements and setup. Day of the event, servers manage the food and beverage stations while the hosts mingle.
The Arts & Crafts interior is as unpretentious and welcoming as the homeowners themselves.
A small staircase from the back patio leads to a cheery galley kitchen (with a unique touch in the backsplash: hand-painted 1880s Belgium tiles purchased at a street market in Buenos Aries). But you won’t find much cooking here. This two-person space primarily serves as a beverage station and food prep area when the couple entertains. The full-size kitchen is on the second floor.
A combination dining room-living room features a terracotta stone hearth, oak woodwork, hardwood floors with tapestry rugs, and a handsome blend of traditional, Arts & Crafts and Midcentury furnishings. The standout room, however, may be the sunroom-turned-den with its intricately tiled floor. A Bob Benzel original, the pattern is comprised of 1x1 inch granite and quartz tiles to disguise the fact that the walls are not square.
Another charmer: An art room, with a puppet theater in progress for a friend’s grandkids.
A luggage storage area under the back staircase conveniently holds 45 folding chairs and other frequently used party items.
Upstairs, original floorplans of two bedrooms were modified to accommodate a master suite and a guest room, both with full baths.
And then there’s the kitchen, also enlarged for efficiency when the couple entertains.
Tour complete, Bob and Gerry are eager to return to the lean-to, where glasses of wine are poured and the conversation returns to the joys of landscape gardening.
“A lot of people in the Midwest just think of their yards in the summer season,” Bob says. “I’ve strived to have a year-round garden. In September, the ivy wall turns bright orange. It’s stunning. And after a snowfall, the potted plants look like winter bouquets.”
He pauses to survey their oasis. “You really feel like you’re somewhere else.”
'This was my dream': Nebraska woman transforms former schoolhouse built in 1924 into a home, using small paintbrushes, 1800s glazing technique
HUNTLEY, Neb. — The old Huntley schoolhouse was far past its prime. Built in 1924, children once scrambled in and out of its doors, clambered up the stairs, giggled with friends and bounced basketballs in its gym.
But by the time it closed in 1997, the 12,400-square-foot building had just four pupils.
One month later, interior designer Susan Hollertz bought it. Where doubting friends saw only dust and deterioration, she saw gleaming promise in the spacious classrooms, high ceilings and wide hallways. She envisioned it as her home.
“I liked the concrete. I liked the massiveness. I liked the beauty,” she said. “I love creating beauty. I love beautiful things — horses, flowers.”
With blueprints from her cousin, a building engineer in Denver, Hollertz was on her way. Working in intricate detail, she stained and hand-painted walls. She scrambled up ladders and painted ceilings. She created Monument Valley scenes high on kitchen walls.
She turned the two classrooms on the first floor into large bedrooms, one for herself and the other a cowboy-themed room for guests.
She did not paint with rollers; she used brushes, none more than 4 inches wide. She furnished the schoolhouse with relics from antique stores and thrift shops.
“This house didn’t scare me,” she said. “I was 42. This was my dream.”
In renovating a back classroom into her kitchen, she created her own technique for glazing walls. Glazing is a transparent paint often used in Victorian buildings. She discovered a glazing formula from the 1800s and started hand-painting it in her kitchen.
Hollertz added modern necessities like a microwave, a refrigerator, a range and a sink, but found antique pieces to hold homemade cherry brandy and wine. Shelves hold 100 jars of peaches, chili sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, jelly and more, all of which she canned herself. As a child, she learned how to can from her grandmother.
On the school’s lower level is the old gymnasium with bleachers and a stage and a 25-foot-high ceiling. Hollertz refinished the walls and the floor. In 2003, she and a friend climbed up a stepladder 22 feet high to string twinkling icicle lights to create a crystal cathedral ceiling — “a painstakingly hard and time-consuming task” — for an old-fashioned New Year’s Eve Ball. She also installed a 2-foot-round glass motorized mirror ball that cast lights across the dance floor.
“I wanted to go back in time when life was simpler and create a moment when you could feel the romance and closeness you shared with one another,” Hollertz said. Guests came in Old West attire. Hollertz took their photographs in an old-fashioned portrait studio she created along one wall.
Born and raised four miles northwest of Ragan, Nebraska, Hollertz graduated from Holdrege High School in the early 1970s.
By age 20, she headed into the mountains west of Denver to drill for precious minerals. Later, she worked as a camp cook for 25 drillers and geologists in Wyoming. She has lived in St. Louis, Denver and Los Angeles.
She bought the school in Huntley on June 28, 1997. On June 19, 1999, she married Jim Robinson on horseback in a sunset ceremony on the property with more than 300 guests.
Jim, who owns a ranch in Bloomington, helped restore pastures, dig holes and put up fences around the 3.67-acre property. They built a barn for the horses. He caulked brick overlays and worked on roofs.
Throughout the schoolhouse renovation, she continued her business, SaddleCreek’s Interior Arts. She did wall finishes for George Brumbaugh’s Little Mexico Restaurant and the KN Energy building, both in Kearney, among others. Today, she works with silk and laminated fabrics and has developed her own line of hand-tooled leather wallpaper.
Hollertz has restored only the first floor of the schoolhouse. Classrooms upstairs look like they did years ago. Hollertz uses them for storage. She has installed thick blinds on the windows to keep out the fierce summer heat and bitter winter cold.
She leaves the house only in the winter. Every January, Hollertz drains all the water in the schoolhouse and moves to the Bloomington ranch for two months to be closer to her animals. Along with old houses, Hollertz loves Morgan horses. She talks fondly of her beloved Morgan horse Treka, who died a few months ago at age 37.
This spring, Hollertz decided it’s time to sell her Vintage Huntley School and move on. She has listed it with Steve Coram of Home Real Estate in Kearney.
The $229,000 asking price reflects the 20 years of intricate labor and creativity she put into it. She believes the school would make a good hunting lodge, a winery or microbrewery, a bed and breakfast, or a personal retreat. “My work here is done,” she said.
Meanwhile, she is eyeing rambling Victorian houses, perhaps in Kearney, in which to work. “I feel led from place to place,” she said. “I’m an artist. Everything has to be in its place, including me.”
From drab to dream: Owners bulldoze half their Fairacres home to fulfill their vision
Place the photos side by side. Look for signs of how these pictures could possibly show the same house.
One photo shows a long home with a Pizza Hut roof. The color is drab, the driveway is cracked and the front door is depressed and almost obscured by a front deck. Compared to its million-dollar neighbors in Omaha’s Fairacres area, it’s a misfit.
The other picture shows what appears to be a completely different property. Five white gables poke up toward the trees. The house is a creamy tan stucco with jumbo windows, a valet-style driveway and a grand, direct approach to a front door, creating a focal point where there was none before.
Look again, closely, at both photos and you’ll see the big pin oak tree out front. Note the location of the garage and a few windows on the west side. How about the trees in the background?
Yes, it’s the same house. But, my, has it changed.
Rob Johnson, a co-founder and former CEO of Javlin Capital, and wife Lisa bought the house at 6729 Davenport St. in 2004. In 2013, they decided to reimagine the 8,000-square-foot home.
Their goal was to create an exterior that better fit in the neighborhood and an interior designed to be deliberate, useful and, ultimately, homey.
“It’s got to be easy, it’s got to be convenient. I just wanted it streamlined,” Lisa said. No nonsense. Or, as their architect put it, no “Gobbledygook.”
Photos: 8,300-square-foot Fairacres remodel 'was a puzzle,' but now it dazzles
The Johnsons hired general contractor Don Stein and architect Steven Ginn. At one point, Ginn told them that creating the house they envisioned might be better achieved by completely bulldozing the structure.
“It was a puzzle,” Ginn said. “It’s much easier to start from scratch and tear down and start over. It probably would have been much cheaper in the end. But they liked what they had, and the idea of starting over, cleaning the site and throwing everything in the landfill, didn’t really appeal.”
So they settled for half. Just east of the front door, they cut the house in two. The west half remained. The east half was bulldozed, enabling the Johnsons to create a deeper basement.
The entire project took two years, and by its end, the Johnsons also had extended the facade of the house, pitched the roof, redesigned nearly every room, overhauled the backyard and built a new detached garage with space and utilities overhead to allow for a future loft.
“There’s 60 sheets of drawings to do this house,” Ginn said. “Doing most houses, there’s six or seven sheets of drawings.”
The Johnsons wanted to ensure that the house was functional, not just pretty.
Some changes were relatively conventional, like moving the washing machine closer to the kids’ bedrooms. Others took more ingenuity. In the new master bedroom, bathroom and closet, wall panels conceal shelves and nightstands, hiding phone chargers, toothpaste, beauty products, etc.
Behind the kitchen, the family now has a pantry and a fridge/freezer, just steps from the back door. Outside that entrance, they installed a heated walkway. When Lisa comes back from Costco with groceries in the winter, she takes just a few cozy steps from her car to unload all the loot.
“For me, everything had to be easy,” Lisa said.
But just because the house has purpose doesn’t mean it can’t dazzle. Visitors lucky enough to get a tour will find plenty that pops.
Large windows throughout the home flood the interior with light and frame snapshots of exterior greenery and a picturesque backyard.
Above the dining room table, secured by a thick chain, hangs a modern, bold chandelier with star-burst crystals. Along the wall are quarter-sawn vertical grain walnut cabinets, custom made here in town.
In the master bedroom, a TV is hidden away at the foot of the bed. It’s designed to rise to eye level when it’s time to watch a show, and it can rotate 180 degrees to face a couch placed beneath a window on the opposite side of the room. That window allows a glimpse of the backyard pool and a spill-over hot tub. Wall panels conceal the entrance to a walk-in closet and a spacious master bath, which itself has a clean, simple aesthetic, thanks to another hidden door, this one obscuring the toilet.
In seemingly every room, the Johnsons display the paintings of their oldest son, George, an art student in Minnesota. (George’s room in the basement features a wall painted with chalkboard paint.)
Two stairways, one on each end of the house, lead visitors to the 3,000-plus square foot basement. There, you’ll find heated concrete floors, two seating areas, an arcade basketball hoop, an air hockey table, a glass-encased theater room, a large exercise room, a guest bedroom and bathroom, George’s bedroom and a stunning centerpiece bar.
With four seat-back stools, the bar sits in the middle of the basement, opposite a giant magnetic wall-mounted Scrabble board. The alcohol is stowed behind a wall of glass, just out of reach of kids. A locked glass door secures a well-stocked wine room.
Ginn said the basement was built to withstand a house full of tall, lanky teenagers.
“One of the requirements Lisa had for this basement was for somebody to be able to throw a ball down here and not be able to cause damage,” Ginn said.
In order to make the bigger, better basement possible, a portion of the house had to be dug 24 inches deeper. To do that, the Johnsons cut off and demolished nearly half of their house and rebuilt the east wing, cutting just east of the front door.
Back on the main level, you’ll find a backyard as serene as it is useful. A detached garage sits at the end of the driveway near the west end of the home. A veranda, connected to the garage, hangs over an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, just steps away from the pool.
Up the hill, the kids have a fenced-in basketball court with Creighton University logos painted on the surface. Nearby, there’s a trampoline and twin hammocks.
Inside the garage, the Johnsons mounted another basketball hoop. The game comes in here when it’s too cold to play outside.
The family uses the property to host several fundraisers. Last October, about 60 guests attended a wedding for Rob’s brother and Lisa’s lifelong friend.
The house looks grandiose from the front — and it is. But Lisa said she ultimately wanted to create a place for family and friends to gather and make special memories.
Papillion family's dream house includes a sports court with a steel slide inspired by those at Gene Leahy Mall
Big, flat lot, but not too big. Basketball court. Speakers with TV in kitchen, living room, outside and basement.
Those were just a few items on the wish list Jeff Stearnes keeps on his smartphone. Titled “Dream House,” it’s a reminder of the ultimate family residence he and his wife, Lisa, set out to create for their children: Maddie, 6; Kate, 9; and Ben, 12.
Lisa, a stay-at-home-mom, and Jeff, an OB-GYN physician with CHI Health Clinic, began compiling their dream amenities while living in their first home, a modest 2,300-square-foot residence. They spent years researching floor plans, scanning the Internet for inspiration and touring Street of Dreams homes.
“Both of us are very visual people,” says Lisa. The couple turned to Advance Design & Construction for a blueprint that would incorporate all their must-haves and to Libby Pantzlaff, interior design consultant and owner of Creative Interiors by Libby, for an interior that would have a familial ambiance.
Considerable thought, Libby says, went into each space and how to make it useful, interesting or fun. The dreaming, building and decorating paid off when the Papillion family moved into the 7,000-square-foot home in November 2015.
Most emblematic of the family-first approach is the steel slide just off the kitchen that plummets to the lower-level sports court. Inspired by the giant stainless steel slides at Gene Leahy Mall in downtown Omaha, the quirky amenity is the reason the home has its own gymnasium in the first place.
“We had seen a slide on Houzz, and we asked the builder if he could do one,” explains Lisa. “I wanted it to be hidden, but we couldn’t hide it anywhere, so the gym was born.”
Plus, she adds with a chuckle, “I wanted a pool, Jeff wanted a gym. We got the gym. He’s a huge I-want-my-kids-to-have-fun guy.”
So is Jeff’s dad, Butch. When Jeff’s sister, Jill, found the ideal slide at American Playground in Anderson, Indiana, Butch fetched it from his home in Pekin, Illinois, with his flatbed trailer. Jeff’s Uncle Ed went along for the 14-hour, 1,000-mile round trip.
“It’s 19.9 feet long and weighs 600 pounds,” says Jeff of the indoor novelty. “It took 10 of us to walk it into the house.”
Other family fun features include an indoor putting green, water fountain, billiard room and granite bar outlined with LED lights that extend to the inside of a glass-front refrigerator and cast a soft glow across the ceiling.
“We can change it to any color according to what’s going on,” says Lisa, demonstrating with a push of a button. “We can do red for Valentine’s Day, green for St. Patrick’s Day and blue for Cubs games.”
For the bar rail, a friend at Union Pacific tracked down a 90-pound track rail. Installed, the 100-plus-year-old rail is about 15 feet long and weighs 450 pounds. “Lisa’s dad, Luke, worked for UP for 45 years, so I thought it would be a fun conversation piece,” Jeff explains. His dad’s flatbed was enlisted again – this time to transport the rail from Fremont to Papillion.
“My dad and I went to several bars to measure for the ultimate height for a bar rail,” Jeff grins.
Asked how many bars it took to gauge the proper height, he calculates for a second. “We went to four in one day.”
“Jeff is very, very detail-oriented,” interjects Lisa with a knowing smile. “He spent hours on the rail making it perfect. He’s adamant about these things.”
It’s no wonder the bar was the place to be last New Year’s Eve.
“We had over 100 people here,” recounts Lisa. “There were over 50 kids. The gym was packed!”
That, for the devoted mom, makes all the hours of dreaming, researching and planning worth it – even if she and Jeff didn’t get everything on their Dream House wish list.
“We wanted this to be the ‘fun house,’ and we have tons and tons and tons of fun in it,” she says. “That’s the whole point — to have people over. There’s no point to keeping the house to ourselves. I’m so happy to be able to share it with friends and family.”
Artsy couple who work from home have builder tweak floor plan: Raise ceilings and move fireplace, staircase, windows
It was 2005 and their house at the time needed new carpeting. So Sondra and Jason Gerber starting looking at model homes for the latest ideas in flooring. He teasingly said to her, “You know, a new house comes with new carpet.”
With that, their search took a new direction. The question foremost on this garden-loving couple’s mind: How cool would it be to find a huge lot that could be sculpted into a work of art?
“That’s what I was most interested in,” recalls Sondra.
They found their “perfect lot” in The Grove, a Benchmark Homes subdivision in far west Omaha. But for them, the floor plan of the developer’s standard model would take some tweaking.
The couple both work from home, Sondra as a metal artist and Jason as operations manager for their Blue Pomegranate Gallery. “We had some aesthetic and functional needs because of that,” Sondra explains.
Their builder agreed to modify the floor plan. Ceilings were raised. A fireplace and staircase were relocated. A mud-and-laundry room was added. And, perhaps of most importance, windows were moved to maximize views of the yard and flood rooms with natural light.
The changes ultimately would allow Sondra to have a design studio in the lower level and her metalworking shop in the garage.
The house sits on a one-acre lot bordered by a creek and woods on two sides. “Others had passed up the lot because they didn’t want the (yard) work,” Sondra remembers. “We loved it because it had tons of room” and healthy willows, oaks and cottonwoods.
The interior of the home is a reflection of her artistic nature. She decorates just as she creates — in 3-D, striving for an element of surprise in depth, color and texture.
“I’ll let spaces sit unfinished until I find the perfect elements for them,” Sondra confides.
For her, DIY is an art form. “I’m a project junkie,” she admits. “I wake up thinking about what I’m going to do next.”
Botanical themes recur in the décor, with eucalyptus leaves a signature element. Circles have a significant place, too. “When we were married, the pastor talked about circles of influence in two lives,” Sondra explains.
“Design-wise, circles give an organic feel to a space.’’ Vintage chairs and family heirlooms mix and mingle with the modern vibe of IKEA furnishings and accessories. Original art, to no one’s surprise, anchors every room.
Curtains and drapes? No need. “The trees are natural screens,” Sondra says.
The couple share a compact home office and a common understanding. “We have the headphone rule,” Jason says. “When they are on, we don’t bother each other.”
In addition to his Blue Pom duties, Jason jokes that he is “director of chaos’’ for their endeavors, which includes online commerce for the gallery. In addition to operating an Apple consulting company, Jason is a technical whiz in sound and lighting design and audio-video integration. All of that makes for a home that’s wired for convenience.
A customized “good night” panel in the master bedroom controls lights, thermostat, audio-video – “everything but locking the cats (Bonnie and Clyde) in the basement for the night.” He has even engineered a goodbye and welcome system at the front door.
Sondra has been the engineer of their garden. Watching it mature has been especially rewarding. “I get my green thumb from my dad,” she says. A bonus: He lives nearby.
“I’ll look out the window, and there he is, my little garden gnome, weeding, watering and doing maintenance.”
The Gerbers don’t keep this bit of paradise all to themselves. Each Memorial Day weekend, they host a garden event for Blue Pom customers and friends.
“Every artist has a personal payoff,” Jason says. “Sondra’s is seeing her vision come to life. She throws it around in her head and then executes her plan without as much as a drawing.”
The garden is a vivid example. It’s meticulously planted according to color, texture and height, yet whimsical in its design. “I like to let my sense of humor come out in the garden,” Sondra says. “I love that I can make people smile and laugh” along the garden paths.
The view from the kitchen table is a favorite. “No matter what the weather is, it’s always beautiful,” Sondra says.
“We start our day sitting side by side at the table, looking out the window,” Sondra says. “Whoever is up first makes breakfast.
We’ll make our plans for the day, go off and do our thing and then get together in the afternoon for coffee.”
Evenings, they eat on the patio as the sun’s golden rays stream through the trees. “It’s our favorite time of the day,” she says.
Star Quality: Local actress's home in middle of suburban horse country has plenty of high style for a busy family
She has soared from the rafters of The Rose Theater as Mary Poppins, trilled Pitti-Sing’s part in “The Mikado” at the Orpheum Theater and perfected Elle Woods’ “bend and snap” in the Omaha Community Playhouse production of “Legally Blonde.” From May 26 through June 25, she’ll return to the Playhouse stage as Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Leanne Hill Carlson is one of Omaha’s most recognizable stage presences, and unsurprisingly, her home has the kind of elegant glamour you’d associate with a versatile leading lady.
It didn’t start that way. When Leanne and her husband, Mark, an obstetrician with Methodist Physicians Clinic, purchased their home in August 2014, it was a bit – make that a lot – dated. Built in the late 1980s, it had low ceilings, small rooms, maroon carpeting and track lighting.
The selling point was the property itself, which featured beautiful landscaping and an in-ground pool. The home was located in Elkhorn’s Skyline Ranches neighborhood in the middle of suburban horse country with a rustic sign in the neighborhood reminding visitors that “children and horses have right of way.”
“I hesitated,” confesses Leanne. “The house hadn’t been touched since 1987. But we wanted land, and it was so beautiful and peaceful out here. Mark watches HGTV and had always wanted to do something. He said, ‘We can change the house, but we can’t change the amount of land.’ I don’t have any vision when it comes to grand design, but Mark does.”
His vision involved completely transforming the interior. “We knew what we wanted to do,” Leanne says. “The one challenge was re-configuring the space for the way we live.”
That meant tearing down some walls that separated individual rooms to create an open floor plan. Gone was the ceiling that closed in the entryway and made it feel hemmed in. In its place, a grand foyer with a soaring staircase.
The couple repeated the tactic throughout the rest of the home, which now boasts a wide-open circular flow perfect for 3-year-old Nora and 6-year-old Henry, and their cat Phil.
Leanne also wanted a lot of natural light to make the rooms feel airy and bright. “I wanted as many windows as we could put in. I said, ‘Bring in the light!’ I love that about our house.”
She entrusted the interior design to Paul Hanson of Paul Hanson Design in Omaha. (He played opposite her in “Legally Blonde” in 2012.) Leanne knew Paul could pay homage to Skyline Ranches while maintaining a chic sensibility.
“We really wanted to bring in the neighborhood’s charm,” Leanne says. “I remember coming to this neighborhood when I was a kid, because my parents had a friend out here, and I was just mesmerized by the horses and the barns.”
The designer combined materials like leather, metal, glass and wood, using neutral colors and rich textures to achieve a sophisticated look that’s simultaneously luxurious and laid back — perfect for the Carlsons’ easy-going lifestyle.
“We wanted our home to represent us, and it does,” says Leanne. “We wanted it to be a wonderful place to come home to, which is a very cliché thing to say, but it’s important. This just feels like us, and we use every room every day. I can’t think of anything I would want more. It turned out wonderfully.”
Owner of 100-year-old Field Club home paints battered linoleum floor in basement to look like wood
A drop ceiling, dull paneling and a battered linoleum floor. The basement in a couple’s 100-year-old Field Club home was anything but inviting. But if owners Dot Stovall and Craig Lee wanted to transform the dark, dingy, dated room into a light, airy space, they would need to get creative. Fortunately, they had some creative talent at their disposal.
Dot is a photo stylist with Oriental Trading Company, and Craig brings magic to the local stage as a scenic stylist for the Omaha Community Playhouse and Blue Barn Theatre.
The basement didn’t stand a chance.
For the most part, design decisions were easy to make. Ceiling tiles were removed to expose beams and ductwork, instantly making the room seem bigger. Tired wood paneling was scrapped in favor of clean, smooth drywall.
The problem — a very big one — lay underfoot. The floor bowed and bulged.
“We had one-foot-square linoleum slabs that were really wavy,” says Craig. “We priced a bunch of materials like hardwood and vinyl laminate — anything to make it look flat — but we would have had to lay subflooring, which would have cost more money, and we would have lost much of the height we gained taking out the ceiling.”
Dot had an idea. Craig was a master of painted set pieces. Why not apply the same skilled approach to the basement floor?
“I do a lot of planks for scenic work,” Craig explains. “What were a few more?”
He got to work, first sanding the existing tiles smooth before coating them with an oil-based primer, followed by a wood-colored base coat.
From there, Craig deployed everything he had in his artisanal arsenal.
He tinted latex paints in several shades of dark brown. After wetting the floor thoroughly with water, he dragged a paintbrush dipped in the desired color across the surface, carefully manipulating the bristles in chevron, driftwood and knot patterns to create an appearance of wood grain. He added splatters here and there for dimension.
Once finished, Craig topped his masterwork with several protective layers of polyurethane.
It was a meticulous, time-consuming process that involved about a week and a half for the painting and another several days for the top coats. Craig completed all of it freehand.
“I’d come down into the basement, and he’d be standing there using two brushes in two hands,” Dot recalls.
She now uses the room as an office and loves the look of the floor. “It’s bleached and aged-looking and a little different from the rest of the house. It makes the basement so comfortable.”
The floor also requires very little care — just regular wipe-downs with a damp mop.
“It’s a really good solution for a problem like ours,” says Dot.
How does Craig feel about his masterwork? “Everyone comes down here and remarks on the floor, but honestly, what I’m really proud of is the drywall!”
Omaha couple restore 125-year-old Blackstone mansion once abandoned by a fugitive heir
Few homes have a backstory like this one.
The 6,000-square-foot mansion of Jim and Barb Farho sits behind iron fencing at the northeast corner of 38th Street and Dewey Avenue. Today, the yard is well-manicured, and the interior is restored to its once-regal nature.
But when the Farhos bought the home in 2002, the trees were overgrown and the house had become haggard. Inside, it was missing chandeliers, wall sconces and furniture.
Its condition deteriorated during 60 years of ownership by the Baum-Allen family, caretakers to one of Nebraska’s oldest businesses and whose name eventually was associated with a $26 million tax fraud scheme. The home, one of the lasting legacies of the family, was awarded to the Internal Revenue Service as a result. The Farhos were the highest bidders.
The couple, two longtime community volunteers and parents of four kids, had a lot of work to do. They spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars reviving this Blackstone District home.
“Visually, it was scary,” Barb Farho said. “The house itself, the structure, was maintained, but he just never put any money into decorating.”
The he in this case was David Allen, the sole living heir to the Baum-Allen fortune. His hard-to-believe story goes a long way toward explaining the state the house was in.
When his father died, Allen inherited a fortune, left his house and escaped to Europe, taking his riches with him, an ocean away from the tax man.
Once in Europe, he was good at lying low. So good, in fact, that it’s not known whether he’s alive today. There are few, if any, pictures available of a wealthy man who lived at least into his 80s.
Allen’s father, Sloan Allen, once owned Baum Iron Co., known today as Baum Hydraulics. The Old Market business dates to the days before Nebraska became a state.
Gallery: Jim and Barb Farho's Blackstone mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Blackstone District mansion
Sloan and David Allen were known for being frugal, private and perhaps a little eccentric.
Consider this: Despite their wealth, father and son used to walk 25 blocks to and from work each day — no matter the weather — dressed in their best business attire. Some days, they would return home carrying cartons of fruit on their heads.
And this: Sloan Allen reportedly kept his own special pickle jar at the Omaha Club, and he was seen tying a kite to his big toe at the Omaha Country Club swimming pool and using the kite to navigate his way across the water.
And this: When David Allen vacated the home, he summoned employees to help him remove 17 large deep freezers.
“They were full of blueberries, every one of them,” said Ernie Buttry, who now owns Baum. “David was a big nut on blueberries.”
Perhaps all of this helps explain why David chose not to publicize his father’s death in 1987. His mother had been gone for years — Margaret Allen died in 1970 — and Sloan’s funeral lasted 10 minutes. It was attended only by David, two funeral home employees and a clergyman.
Then again, a low-key funeral could make it easier to commit fraud. In 1987, court records say, David Allen began to funnel his father’s fortune into foreign bank accounts and shell companies.
The IRS marked Allen a wanted man, seeking the $26 million for unpaid estate taxes and other estate income tax liabilities. But the charge didn’t come until nine years after Allen fled to Switzerland.
It took the IRS until 2002 to gain control of the mansion and sell off some of Allen’s property. To Jim and Barb Farho.
The couple bought the house at auction for $290,000. They barely touched the house for several months, fearful that Allen might return to reclaim his property. He never did.
The Farhos mended checkerboard marble floors, pulled back wool carpet to restore hardwood floors and repaired cracking plaster on a hand-painted mural. They replaced the home’s two boilers, fixed plumbing, renovated the kitchen and rejuvenated landscaping, which has about 100 ornate trees on the one-acre lot.
In years where money was available, they spent as much as $100,000 on repairs. When it wasn’t, they still invested at least $8,000.
The aim was always to preserve the 125-year-old home’s history, not to how it was in Allen’s era, but to how it looked in its elegant early days.
The Farhos used old photos from the early 1900s to try to restore the house. To achieve that, the Farhos needed help from a fugitive at-large.
Jim obtained Allen’s phone number from sources at Baum. Farho and Allen talked, once in 2003 and again in 2004. They negotiated for the sconces and chandeliers that Allen had removed. Jim asked for blueprints.
“He said, ‘I’ll give ’em to you if you just say that you want them,’ ” Farho said. “Then he promptly asked for money for them.”
Even after the move overseas, Allen regularly called Baum employees in Omaha, Buttry said. The calls stopped about five years ago.
The last time Allen and Buttry spoke was Christmas Day, 2011. Allen had just broken his hip in a skiing accident, and he had suffered a stroke not long before. He was in his 80s at the time.
“I haven’t heard from him and no one else has either,” Buttry said. “I’m not gonna assume anything, but from not hearing from him, your guess is as good as mine.”
Thirty years have passed since Sloan Allen died. It’s been 27 years since David fled Omaha.
Fourteen years ago, a pregnant Barb Farho walked into the house, peered beyond the thicket and imagined what this mansion could become again.
Today, the lawn is manicured.
Flowers bloom along the sidewalk.
The 125-year-old mansion has emerged from 60 years of retreat.
Habitat for Humanity pro lives up to nonprofit's 'simple, affordable' motto for projects in his 100-year-old Dundee home
When David Klitz gave his partner, Tony Green, a Christmas present in 2014, he packaged it with extra care and even more creativity. Inside were paint swatches, fabric samples and decorating ideas galore.
It was a mood board in a box, a gift that wouldn’t be enjoyed immediately, but instead held the promise of a light-filled living room that would showcase the couple’s eclectic love of art and travel.
Not that the house really needed major work. The four-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot Dundee home built in 1916 was move-in ready when the couple purchased it in the late 1990s.
But late 1990s it was, especially the kitchen.
“It had dark oak cabinets, a fruit backsplash and a whole lot of beige,” recalls David.
Fortunately, David knows a thing or two about home improvement. He’s a family service project specialist with Habitat for Humanity. Before taking that position in January, he helmed the organization’s ReStore for nine years. The home improvement store carries new and gently-used furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances, with proceeds benefiting the construction of new and renovated Habitat homes.
Working there wasn’t without its occupational hazards.
“I’ve ‘rescued’ things a little here and there,” David admits. Over the years, many have made their way into what he wryly describes as “basement projects,” a treasure-trove-in-waiting.
Though unwilling to allow a public peek at the home’s lowest level, he says some projects take a while to come to fruition.
“We had a sink and a faucet in the basement for three years before we installed them,” he says with a laugh.
How does Tony feel about the basement projects?
“He always enjoys them when they’re done,” David says.
Tony, though, was delighted with the living room project from the start. Over eight months, the couple transformed the dull space into a chic great room, focusing on “a chunk at a time,” ultimately creating an aesthetic that better showcases art and sentimental objects.
“We started with the paint color,” David says. The room’s “very beige walls” were transformed in Lazy Gray by Sherwin-Williams for a cleaner, calmer contemporary look.
New, sleek furnishings came next.
“Our furniture was outdated,” David says. “It was 15 years old — big monster stuff.”
The makeover wasn’t without glitches. A corner of a brand-new area rug was promptly chewed by Nico, the couple’s mischievous lab-shepherd mix.
“The rug was inexpensive, and thank God!” David laughs. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? I’ve had it a few minutes! This is why I can’t have nice things. What are you going to do? It adds character.”
David and Tony have added character of their own, albeit the kind they’re far more inclined to show off to visitors.
When a supply line in the upstairs toilet tank caused severe water damage to the dining room ceiling in April 2014, the homeowners saw opportunity instead of disaster.
“We came home and heard dripping. We looked up and just watched pieces of plaster fall to the ground. It took a few months to figure out, but we decided to wallpaper the ceiling. We put up drywall, taped the middle and started hanging. It was a big job.”
David is glad they didn’t dive into major remodeling early on.
“You have to be patient, take your time and do things just a step at a time. There’s a lot of stuff you can do yourself, it just requires planning and patience. It might not be perfect, but it looks nice — and it fits with the Habitat mission of creating housing that is simple, decent and affordable.”
All three apply to David and Tony’s home and are encapsulated in the living room Christmas gift.
“I wanted the room to be big, open and comfortable,” David says. “I really wanted it to be timeless, so that we could hang on to it for as long as possible. It may not be perfect, but it looks nice. I just wanted it to be us.”
No more 'kitchen peninsula': Boys Town couple's remodel uses open concept, adds light-filled spaces for comfy living
A kitchen peninsula. That’s what Bill and Nisi Wax jokingly dubbed the long counter that divided their kitchen and made for a cramped space. Dark overhead cabinets made the kitchen seem even smaller. After finally committing to a major overhaul, the Boys Town couple decided in 2015 to bring an open-space concept to the 1970s ranch they’ve owned since 1991.
“The kitchen and dining room were so closed off,” says Bill. “We had had it!”
Out came the Shaker-style cabinets. In their place went sleek white ones that immediately brightened the room. Formica countertops were scrapped in favor of polished ebony oxide laminate.
For the backsplash, the Waxes jettisoned tried, true and tired tile for distinctive, distressed red brick. “It’s different, and it’s timeless,” says Nisi.
While she initially thought she’d prefer a wide-open kitchen, she ultimately chose a kitchen island capped in riverstone quartz. It’s perfect for food prep, and guests inevitably mingle around it before dinner.
“It’s perfect for buffets,” Bill says. Overhead, minimal industrial pendants cast just the right amount of light.
Vinyl plank flooring is elegant and eminently practical, chosen for its ability to handle moisture.
“You can actually put it in a bathroom or beach house,” says Bill. “We love the way the dark color works with the white cabinets,” Nisi adds.
The Waxes ditched the dining room entirely, turning the seldom-used space into a cozy sitting room. A window added to an exterior wall fills the new space and kitchen with natural light. A wall separating the original dining room and living room was removed to increase the space-enhancing effect.
“The dining room was always too small because of the wall,” says Bill.
In a swap, the Waxes gave their massive dining room table to their daughter in return for two comfy armchairs.
“We use the room now more than we ever used the dining room,” chuckles Bill.
“We enjoy the openness of it,” he says of the revamped floorplan. “We lived with confined spaces for far too long. It’s ideal for the way we live now.”
With Omaha couple tested by cancer and fire, family and friends step up to lead home remodel
They came armed with brooms, mops and sponges.
About 50 of them, friends and family all, gathered at Jim and Claudia Fowler’s home on a sunny Saturday in May 2015, to help the Millard couple with spring cleaning.
The group’s effort was no small gesture. Just four days prior, Claudia had been diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer and lung cancer, so the Fowlers could use a hand or two.
The cleaners scoured each room and tidied the backyard with one simple objective.
“So all Claudia had to do was be a good cancer patient,” Jim Fowler said.
As a thank you, the Fowlers planned to light the grill and prepare 20 pounds of ribs. As the guests ran home to rinse off, Claudia took a seat with a friend, and a relative fired up the burners to cook off the grease from lunch.
Then the grill ignited.
Flaming grease splashed out of the grill and onto cedar shingles siding the rear of the house. Flames surged across the roof.
As Jim and Claudia sprinted through the house, Jim turned to look back through his office window. All he could see was fire and smoke.
“Literally in a minute or two the house was consumed in flames,” Jim said.
The Fowlers fled. Firefighters sprayed the house for two hours. The flames reignited, and firefighters applied water for another 90 minutes.
When the smoke finally relented, very little was unscathed. Rafters were charred, siding had melted and whatever had been untouched by fire was drenched in water or reeked of smoke.
Jim Fowler called a friend and asked, “What can I do?”
Todd Sanwick, president of Sanwick Remodeling Contractors, had known the family for years — their sons were friends. Sanwick made a promise to remodel the Fowler home and get them back in it in just six months.
The Fowler kids, Logan and Katie, both in their 20s, volunteered to lead the remodel so mom and dad could focus on Claudia’s health.
Initially, Jim and Claudia wanted to rebuild the home just as it had been. Blue countertops and cherry cabinets in the kitchen. A master bedroom upstairs with Claudia’s walk-in-closet; a separate closet for Jim down the hall. The kids decided otherwise.
“I said, ‘Well that’s not seizing the opportunity we have to make this house awesome,’ ” Logan said.
Logan did the majority of design work, while Katie focused on raising a newborn daughter. Logan, now 24, devised a plan to modernize the home with some help from Sanwick and Kim Hansen, owner of Absolute Design Interiors.
Logan built a Pinterest board of ideas; some his parents rejected and others they liked. He tried to find ways to design the home for his parents’ retirement while incorporating their love for the home’s Cape Cod style.
Despite the fire, they decided to keep some of the cedar shingles that gave the home its personality.
With an eye toward Claudia’s love of family and togetherness, the plan called for a roomy, open kitchen. Sanwick opened things up further by framing a second doorway to a front sitting room. Previously walled off, the space became an overflow room for dinner guests and a perfect place for Jim’s piano.
Early in the remodel, Claudia’s health improved. Her tumors shrunk. For six months, she and Jim lived in a nearby apartment, waiting for the remodel to finish.
As time passed, however, she began to weaken, and apartment life took its toll, Logan said. “She kept saying, ‘I just want to be home, I just want to be home.’ ”
Claudia’s loss of strength was palpable. Before the fire, she often escorted Cubby, the family Chihuahua, outside every hour. Now, she had the strength and trust in her balance to do it only once a day.
She could no longer drive across town to visit her baby granddaughter. Her cognitive skills began to degrade.
Meanwhile, Sanwick’s crews were making progress. They fogged most of the house to eliminate the musk of smoke. They rebuilt the frame from the studs.
Working with the insurance company, Sanwick found a way to rebuild the home the way the Fowlers wanted it within the budget of the insurance check.
The finished product includes a kitchen with a Carrara marble backsplash, a large island and an airy seating area.
In a nod to retired life, Jim asked that Sanwick raise countertops 2 inches to match the kitchen island’s 38-inch height.
Another Jim request: The new main floor includes a living room with a wider-mouthed fireplace mantel.
Remodelers also chose to swap the space for Jim’s office with that of the laundry room, creating a combination laundry room/mud room/changing room for backyard pool users.
Upstairs, the master bedroom is simple, with no dressers or excess furniture. Instead, there’s a department store-style walk-in closet and a bathroom with a two-person handicap-accessible shower, built so Jim could help Claudia shower as her illness advanced.
Jim said the plan stayed on budget by choosing affordable options in lesser-used rooms, like the guest bathroom. He wanted tile; the budget called for a fiberglass insert.
Through it all, the project wrapped up two weeks short of the appointed six months. Jim and Claudia were home by November.
Just as the Fowlers weren’t alone in dealing with Claudia’s cancer diagnosis, they had help with the move back into their house. Sanwick gathered a team of eight people to unpack about 100 boxes.
By this point in her illness, Claudia had weakened to the degree that she was “almost emotionless and apathetic,” Logan said.
Not so on the day of the move-in. She smiled and wept.
“It was much more than just getting home,” Jim said. “It became a sacred place.”
Those first two weeks back in the house, with the family together again, were special, Jim said. Thanksgiving, in particular, was memorable.
“(Claudia) was herself that day,” Logan said. “I remember she grabbed a can of whipped cream and sprayed it in her mouth and pushed her tongue up and pushed it through her teeth,” making her 1-year-old niece giggle.
The next day, the mood changed when the Chihuahua crawled onto Claudia’s chest and stayed there.
It was the first time the dog had done that, Jim said, and he viewed it as a signal. “Claudia went the next day.”
At her wake, photos from when the kids were younger showed a laughing couple in front of the teal fireplace mantle. They showed the cherry cabinets in the kitchen. They showed a slip-n-slide in the backyard before the family built the in-ground pool.
It was a happy time. Before the cancer. Before the fire.
This weekend marks another happy moment — the house will be part of the NARI Remodeled Home Tour.
Sanwick said it’s common for those who lose a loved one to consider a remodel as a way to scrub away anything that might create a painful memory. He usually declines those projects. It’s too soon, he tells the homeowner — give it time so you won’t regret it.
In the Fowler house, he saw the opposite effect.
“I’m looking at this fire as a blessing to Jim,” he said. “Unfortunately, we lost Claudia, but he has a new house, so he doesn’t have to struggle so much with living with all the past stuff of the house and so many painful reminders.”
That time, almost two years ago, was chaotic and stressful. Remodeling the house was an escape and a family collaboration.
For that reason, Jim cherishes his house.
“I get to live in a home that was designed, inspired, etc., by my wife, my son and all that,” Jim said. “And we designed it for retirement, so it’s not only good now.
“While I lost my wife, and I miss her dearly, I just love living here, I do.”
Remodeled Home Tour
What: A tour of eight remodeled homes presented by Omaha’s chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
When: Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Tickets: $10 per person, available for purchase at the door of each home on the tour; a portion of proceeds benefit Nebraska Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Over 25 years of restoration work on century-old home has taught this Omaha couple a thing or two
Paige and Mike Lewis botched plenty of jobs while restoring their century-old home over more than 25 years.
They’re proud of that fact, sort of.
“You learn from screwing up,” Paige said.
The Lewises, now in their early 50s, bought their house in 1990. Built in 1904, the house needed a lot of work. To date, they’ve worked on almost every room in the house.
“We made so many mistakes,” Mike said.
They should have never torn out some of the plaster walls and replaced them with drywall, he said. They could have saved themselves hours of work by stripping painted-over wood trim in place, instead of tearing it all off the walls to do the work. They should have kept the hardware for some of the original windows they replaced. The list is long.
Nowadays, they’re trying to do their house justice. They want to honor its history and they’re willing to learn some new tricks or hire the right person to make it happen.
They credit much of that enlightenment to Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Restore Omaha conference. To be held this weekend, the conference brings old-home craftsmen and owners of old homes together to make connections and share tips.
“It’s just this great networking and support group,” said Kristine Gerber, executive director of Restoration Exchange Omaha. “It’s like family now. I know I’ll always see Paige walking around the halls.”
Paige has been to every single Restore Omaha conference, except one when she was sick. She and Mike learned to repair plaster there, and they learned the value of repairing old windows instead of replacing them.
The skills and knowledge would have come in handy when they first got the keys.
Off-white paint was slathered in layers over original woodwork and doors. Office-style carpet was glued over laminate on top of original wood floors, including the dark and unwelcoming kitchen. Aluminum siding on the house diminished its curb appeal, which is today arguably the house’s greatest strength.
Some walls, when Mike tore into them, had scorch marks. The roof had five layers of asphalt roofing, plus cedar shakes underneath.
They started in a front room and a dining room, gutting, insulating and adding drywall.
They then opened up a wall in the kitchen, rebuilt existing stairs and installed skylights where a drop ceiling once was. They installed a wrap-around porch out front with columns, by Mike, and they removed the aluminum siding, exposing original lap siding.
One room at a time over a quarter century, they patched up the old house and added color and warmth, using pieces from antique shops and thrift stores to fit the era in which the house was built.
But some projects were just too time-consuming. After attending the conference, they learned to let go a little bit, to make sure it was done right, and faster.
“We would just get so overwhelmed,” Paige said.
So they called craftsmen they met at the conference, including David Lawrence, and they offered to pay him a fixed sum per week. Do what you can for that amount in that time, they said, and we’ll see where we get over time.
Lawrence, who has 15 years doing restoration work and more years working as a contractor, estimated that his crews spent 1,000 hours just working in the Lewis’ hallway with the grand staircase.
He remembers feeling the same way about his own home as the Lewises did when they came to him for help.
“My story was like theirs, where you get into it, it’s a big house and you have to learn it,” he said. “How do you learn it? Trial and error. I spent years trying to figure all that stuff out.”
Work continues on the Lewises’ house, and may continue forever. This spring, they plan to re-deck the wrap-around porch, and Mike and Paige are still working on the entryway and front parlor, with the basement set as a future project for a man cave and workspace.
In total, including the $39,000 purchase price in 1990, they’ve spent about $175,000 on their house. They want to leave it in good shape for future residents.
It’s not just about their house.
“We want old neighborhoods to be livable and vibrant,” Paige said.
They’re considering taking on another project. They’re trying to acquire the condemned property across the street to fix it up, too.
They have the confidence to do it now. When they bought their South Omaha house, with the slathered-on paint and the termite damage, they bet on themselves and they bet on their neighborhood. And, mistakes aside, they love what they’ve accomplished. That’s why they want to do more.
“You don’t have to find one of those neighborhoods you heard of,” Paige said. “We looked at Field Club or Dundee, but we couldn’t afford to live in a name-brand neighborhood. Just find an old house.
“We had no idea, but this has turned out to be the best place ever.”
RESTORE OMAHA CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION
What: Conference for property owners, community leaders, developers, architects and real estate agents
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday (reception Friday)
Where: Institute for the Culinary Arts and Mule Barn at Metropolitan Community College, Fort Omaha Campus, 5300 N. 30th St.
Tickets: $50 for the conference, $75 for both the conference and the Friday reception. Discounts for Restoration Exchange Omaha members.
Keynote: “Why Old Places Matter” by Tom Mayes, vice president and senior counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation
40 years ago, Omaha couple's house was a fairly conventional split-entry. Now it has grown to 90 feet across two lots
A Motel 6 in the middle of a residential neighborhood?
Omahans Frank and Nancy Metzler get teased about building just that in Maenner Meadows.
What started out as a fairly conventional split-entry home nearly 40 years ago now sprawls 90 feet across two lots on a quiet block near 90th Street and Western Avenue.
“We have more talent than sense,” Nancy says of the house that grew and grew.
The metamorphosis — in two major expansions — has been a passion for the now-retired couple, who initially knew little about construction and carpentry, had a family to raise and an auto-body repair business to run.
“We did it all without borrowing. And we did it between Frank’s four heart attacks and seven heart bypass surgeries,” Nancy shares.
“We’ll look at the early pictures and ask ourselves, ‘How in the world did we get from there to here?’ Frank would come home at 5 or 6 p.m. and work on the house until 1 or 2 a.m., and do it all over again the next day — for years,” Nancy recalls. “It’s our journey. It has been the glue to our marriage. I can’t tell you how many Sunday mornings we have sat at the kitchen table and talked about what we’re going to do next.”
Nancy and Frank chose the house together just before they were married.
“It was outdated,” she says. “One day, I pulled off a strip of flocked wallpaper, and that was the start of it.”
“I should have known,” Frank says. “One time she put a hole in a wall just to get me to move it.”
It’s a playful yin-and-yang approach. He has his ideas. She has hers.
“Each holds on until one of us gives in,” Nancy jokes.
Frank’s strong suits, they knew, were construction and finance. Hers, thrifty design and maintenance.
“I find the most reward in being thrifty, repurposing and using less-than-perfect items in new or unusual ways,” she says. “I’m all about neat and cheap.”
From the beginning, they have had pet projects. Nancy yearned for an impressive entry.
“When you opened the front door, you had to back up to let someone in,” she recalls.
Frank wanted a master bedroom suite and a study where he could relax and recharge.
Together, they needed a place to entertain family, neighbors, and car and garden club friends.
They take great pride walking through the front door. The entry’s highlight is its “stairway to heaven,” a victory in craftsmanship for Frank and the fulfillment of a dream for Nancy.
That’s no small feat, considering that Frank never draws out plans.
“I’m the kind of guy who looks at something and knows what needs to be done and does it,” he says with a shrug.
“Frank is an analytical precisionist, engineer and fabricator,” his wife observes.
Her mantra: If you don’t know how to do something, start small. “Every project will lead you to a bigger project. Frank isn’t a carpenter by trade, yet he mastered stairs, crown molding, welding ... We love the challenge.”
The Metzlers speak of their remodeling journey in terms of the East Wing and the West Wing, with the original house in between.
“When you are passionate about your dreams, small successes give you the courage to tackle bigger and bigger projects,” Nancy says of the confidence gained with each addition.
Frank’s blueprint for the East Wing — created 20 years ago with an assist from a friend’s architect son — gave the couple a cozy master bedroom suite and a handsome study (or “Rehab Room,” as Frank likes to call it). They also gained a family room and a guest bedroom with walkout patio. Construction-savvy neighbors helped lay the foundation block and frame the addition; Frank went solo on the finishing work, serving as his own general contractor for the electrical, HVAC and plumbing.
The process repeated itself for the West End. The plan called for relocating the double-car garage and open the way for a formal two-story entry with mahogany wall paneling and a sweeping staircase to the main living area.
The Metzler residence is decorated with an eye toward “comfortable elegance,” but Nancy gleefully issues a qualifier: “I want it to look great, but I don’t want to spend a fortune.”
She buys discontinued textiles and “bump and scratch” furniture.
“If something is dented, scratched or torn, I just turn it to its best side.” She’s a whiz at upholstering and makes her own draperies and window treatments. And she has DIY tricks worthy of her own HGTV special.
This spring, the Metzlers will finish the kitchen and then turn their attention to the yard, which backs up to green space once occupied by a 9-hole, par 3 golf course that gave way to an elementary school and assisted living community.
“Our kids say, ‘All you do is remodel.’ Well, it could be worse. We could be sitting in a bar all day,” Nancy teases. “Right or wrong. Sink or swim. We’re over-improved for the neighborhood. But we don’t care. We plan to outlive the giant silver maple in the backyard.”
Interior designer's Regency-area home showcases his love of color, pattern, texture — and Asian influences
Interior designer Leslie H. Berry may well have been the “Pucci of Omaha.”
Just as the flamboyant Italian designer loved geometric prints in a kaleidoscope of color, so too did Berry. Noted in art and design circles both locally and nationally, Berry — who died in April 2011 at age 74 — created a legacy that lies in his unabashed use of color, pattern and texture in home interiors from Palm Springs, California, to New York City.
None may illustrate his talent better than his own home in the Regency area.
Occupied now by his partner of 35 years, who asked to remain anonymous for this tour, the home remains largely as Berry left it. The couple shared the residence for a decade after living several years in Palm Springs. The homeowner recalls it as a blank canvas upon their purchase in 2001.
That changed. Floral prints, plaids and polka dots in rich hues of gold, teal and terracotta find harmony among fine Asian antiques and collected works by Nebraska artists. Each room is a study of symbolism — happiness, wealth, longevity, success — found in ancient Chinese culture, a passion shared by designer and partner.
Symmetry defines every tableau.
“The world needs a little balance,” my host says of Berry’s ability to balance objects with what seems like casual nonchalance.
“Most people like it being in my space and not theirs,” he offers, scanning a spacious living room with seating for 22, a dizzying array of antique Chinese and Japanese furniture, art objects and a contemporary 12-foot-long cut-crystal chandelier.
“I’m never in this room unless I have people over,” he confides as I try an exaggerated wing-back chair upholstered in an abstract floral motif reminiscent of one of Pucci’s signature prints. Its twin sits nearby, with a sassy polka-dot velour ottoman placed in between.
“Leslie believed everyone should have their own space. So after he died, I rearranged the living room into conversation areas for two or four people.”
He swapped out art, too, filling expansive halls and walls with paintings from mostly Nebraska artists.
The ranch-like floor plan allows guests to circulate between rooms — the kitchen, foyer, living room, dining room and back into the kitchen. Sliding doors off the living room allow guests to spill onto a courtyard patio, where an Asian-themed sculpture delights the eye.
The kitchen, painted in high-gloss ginger spice, is mostly for show.
“I don’t cook. I eat most meals out, either at a restaurant or at homes of friends,” my guide confesses. “The kitchen serves as the bar area when I entertain.”
That explains the wallpaper backsplash and stove burner as easel for a Milton Wolsky painting.
An antique Chinese fruit ripener and fine art ginger jar, along with a wooden tea cup caddy from Vietnam, rest on a polished countertop painted by a muralist to look like marble.
“It was a seven-day process,” the homeowner recalls.
The breakfast nook is devoid of a dining table and chairs. Instead, an upholstered settee and a small triangular table crowned with a “very old” ceramic Chinese dragon bowl define the space. Morning cereal with milk often is enjoyed here, or down the hall in a guest bedroom that doubles as a TV room.
No matter the room, corner or wall, Berry’s inimitable style prevails. “Leslie had the ability to walk into a space,” his partner says fondly, “and see what it was going to look like in the end.”
Lincoln couple turns an empty shell into a warm and welcoming home for their growing family
The new house in the new subdivision on the outskirts of Lincoln was a blank canvas just waiting for the right flourishes to make it stand out and shine.
Enter Julia Russell. The Omaha interior designer and owner of Julia Russell Designs was tasked with creating “something warm and welcoming that would work for years to come” for her clients, a young couple who moved in two years ago.
The homeowners, who just learned that their first child was on the way, were drawn to Julia’s elegant-yet-casual decorating style blending classic elements with pops of contemporary flair in color, pattern and texture.
A Julia Russell project typically starts with lighting and moves to drapery fabrics and then rugs. You can really change the way a house feels,” she says of her carefully ordered checklist. “I spend the most time on them.”
The expert made an exception to her sequencing rule, though, for one of the most important rooms in the house: the nursery. While the homeowners were leaning toward a red-and-blue color scheme for their newborn son’s room, Julia deemed it “too old man-ish. It just didn’t feel like a baby.”
Instead she opted for drapes featuring vibrant blue hexagons framed with interlocking bright green squares. It’s a deeply dramatic combination that is both lively and calm.
“I believe color should inspire and energize a room,” Julia says. “I saw the pattern and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I built the whole room around it.”
Bedding and carpentry remained subdued, but Julia brought out the drapery’s rich colors through cushions and throw pillows in stripes and checks. While most people steer clear of combining several patterns in one space, particularly a smaller one, the designer embraces it as a way to create visual interest.
“I love any kind of houndstooth or herringbone. People are afraid of mixing patterns, but I usually like to do three or four in a room. You can break things up but still be cohesive.”
Julia used color more sparingly throughout the rest of the home, often complementing neutral hues with small bursts of color or hints of it in furnishings and upholstery.
For the living room, the homeowners chose gray as the dominate color, using Sherwin Williams’ “Mindful Gray” on the walls and “Dovetail” on the ceiling. A lighter gray sofa pairs perfectly with both.
“My husband and I really like the gray concept,” explains the new mom. “We get so many compliments on it, and we can use more colors with it and add pops of color elsewhere.”
To make the space feel warm, casual and inviting, Julia chose deep blues for the drapes, carpet, armchair and ottoman, adding unexpected color via throw pillows with black and soft purple threads.
“I started by looking at the different colors in the room, and then I searched for the fabrics,” says Julia of her choices. “The main pieces are solid, so the drapes, rugs and pillows have patterns and different textures, including chenille and herringbone. It’s a nice flow, and everything plays well together.”
In the adjacent dining room, a blue and green abstract painting dominates. For that reason, Julia chose dark blue drapes with silver embroidery. “We didn’t want to overpower the art,” she explains. “The silver gives them just enough definition and detail and also picks up the silver of the curtain rod.”
The designer employed that same carefully considered approach throughout the rest of the home. The lower-level family and gathering rooms are neutral, blending both light and dark grays with earthy browns and tans to achieve settings where guests can kick back and relax.
Bedrooms, both main and spare, remain sedate by continuing the deep blues or pops of purple used in the main floor rooms. While each room is unique, the overall aesthetic is coherent and unifying.
The important thing, of course, is how the couple feels about Julia’s work.
“We wanted something our family could grow with, and this will,” says the homeowner.” It’s so nice to be in a home that we really enjoy. We love the look!”
Young designer-stylist creates bold, punchy spaces that burst with color
M Pettipoole (no period after the "M," if you please) approaches decorating with a retro-rad sensibility that belies her oh, so stiff-upper-lip-sounding moniker. Her lively room designs burst with bold color and serve as highly stylized spaces for the people who inhabit them. Her aesthetic is East End edginess meets SoHo chic – with a good, solid grounding of Midwestern Mayberry charm in between.
“M” is Megan, a 32-year-old visual/sales associate at Hutch, the Midtown Crossing mecca for modern, local and vintage furnishings. Her husband, Luke, suggested the lack of punctuation as a design flourish. It just looks “cleaner,” she laughs of the way her name neatly displays on her website and blog.
Megan credits her mother with her eclectic decorating approach both at home and for clients. “I was a military brat. Everywhere we moved, she made the new house a home for my five siblings and me.”
Like mother, like daughter. Megan similarly tackled her new bedrooms with gusto, choosing themes with each new locale. A wreath hot-glued with seashells made for a sweet beach retreat, and bed linens printed with Mickey Mouse created a private Disney World. “My family never made trips there, but I remember finding these sheets that were red with an all-over print of black-and-white Mickeys. It was less about the subject and more about how punchy and graphic the bedding was.”
Punchy and graphic became her hallmark, with kiddie bedding eventually giving way to high fashion as inspiration. “I’ve always gravitated toward patterns and bold colors,” Megan says. “Fashion is a big influence.”
That’s why, perhaps, the designer embraces color so unapologetically. She eschews tried, true and staid shades, instead opting for hues that jar, jolt and jump up interiors.
“Although colors like yellow and cobalt might seem bold, they’re very natural to me,” she says of a favorite combination. “I either like staying on the same side of the color wheel or being on the complete opposite!”
Megan’s use of accent pieces is an outgrowth of her interest in fashion, functioning much as accessories do to complete a haute couture ensemble. She curates her accent pieces with intention, culling them from estate sales, thrift stores and secondhand shops.
Quirky tchotchkes vie for space with pedigreed collectibles, dime store-era bric-a-brac with fine objets d’art. The combinations make it look like her clients have lived with the pieces for years, as if the one-of-a-kind items go back to a great-grandfather in Decatur – of course, they might, just not back to one Megan’s clients could claim on their own family trees.
“In some ways, I like to classify myself as a stylist and an interior designer. That’s what you see with the little objects,” she explains. “I collect and collect. It’s the little stuff that makes a room feel personal. That’s what makes a space feel done – and people want something that looks complete.”
That’s why she’ll snap up something like a random needlepoint of a British hunting scene from an Omaha thrift shop or a portrait of a horse from a Kansas City shop. Megan knows the perfect home awaits.
Her decorating passion translates back to people. “My favorite part is sitting down with a client and hearing their story and learning about what they want to create in a room. I really try to build their rooms around them. That embodies what I do. There’s a bit of an art that goes into it.”
'This is fabulous': 116-year-old house overlooking Hanscom Park was a shambles, but owners restoring it to its former glory
“It was awful.”
You couldn’t describe it any other way, Brett Foster says of the 116-year-old fixer-upper he took a shine to in December 2014.
The three-story home, grandly perched on a hilly lot with a sweeping view of Hanscom Park, faced an uncertain future until Brett and his partner, Eric Lotzer, traipsed through the neglected listing with a real-estate agent during a marathon day of house hunting.
The couple was relocating to Omaha after a decade in New York City. Brett had arranged to inspect 11 potential homes. “I left this one for last because I knew it was the one,” he says.
The house was in shambles. No longer a single-family dwelling, it had been divided into five apartments. Debris left by former tenants was strewn everywhere. Paint was peeling, the roof was leaking, and ceilings and walls were suffering.
But Brett, no stranger to renovations, could see that the Hanscom Park house had good bones. French doors, stained-glass windows, quarter-sawn oak floors, brick fireplaces and a butler’s pantry were all priceless features. The grand staircase sealed the deal.
“I fell in love with that staircase,” Brett says with a smile. “It’s the staircase I believed I should have grown up with.’’
The view of Hanscom Park — along their very own Park Avenue — was a major perk. “The park is gorgeous in all seasons,” Eric says. “When you’re used to looking at the side of a building for a decade, it’s just so nice to see that green space.”
Their favorite view is from the second-floor master suite. “When it snows, it’s breathtaking looking toward the park,” Brett says. “I take a picture every single time.”
When they submitted their offer to the seller, Eric remembers Brett assuring him, “It will be cool.”
Two years later, it’s well on its way to being restored to its early 20th-century glory after removing 27 dumpsters filled with debris and the five raccoons living in the attic.
Brett and Eric had a vision for the home from the outset and the confidence to serve as general contractors while tackling most of the demolition work themselves.
“Everything we could do ourselves, we did,” he says. “Anything that needed to be licensed, we hired out."
Home restoration is a hobby with Brett. “Everything I’ve done over the years sort of led me to this.” “I just tailgate,” quips Eric, who manages the project’s finances.
At the onset of this redo in January 2015, acquaintances and subcontractors frequently asked whether the couple planned to flip the house or make it their home.
The latter was always the intent.
“There wasn’t a single house (among the 11 considered) that had this much space, this much character, this much view, this much yard, this much everything. We have twice the house for the money, even when you consider the renovation expense,” Brett says.
“We only worked with subcontractors who shared our enthusiasm,” he admits. Bidders were told: “This is a labor of love. You can either be part of it, or we’ll keep looking.”
Legendary is the vendor who refused to bid on the roof and offered instead the name of someone who could bulldoze the place. The homeowners’ response: “Oh, you’re out. You are so out.”
“It has been cool to have people come through and see the progress,” Brett says. Reactions in the course of the first year went from, “Oh, my God, you guys are crazy,” to “Wow! This is fabulous.”
“We had great friends in New York,” Eric says of their former home. But most vacations and holidays were spent in the Midwest, where family live. “We’d fly from New York to Minneapolis, drive to Iowa and Nebraska and then drive back to Minneapolis.”
“Now we have a house that’s big enough for everyone to come to us,” Brett says.
And they do. In fact, all have helped christen the home – and its new in-ground backyard pool – since last Thanksgiving.
“It’s a busy place. But it’s great,” Brett says.
Mostly, it feels like home.
“We moved around a lot when I was a kid,” Brett says. “My grandparents had the most lasting house, but it was tiny with no room for company. This house was destined for family gatherings.”
The quarter-sawn oak floors on the first level were refinished in a three-stain process that included a top coat of tinted polyurethane for an aged look.
The second-floor landing boasts stained-glass windows, brass sconces and a brick fireplace — all original to the 116-year-old home.
A sparkling tree in the front sitting room has a designer touch trimmed in gold, silver and bronze. Close inspection, however, reveals birds and stars and other ornaments with “tons of sentimental value,” homeowner Brett Foster says.
Over the summer, the homeowners concentrated on curb appeal. The steps leading to the front porch got a face lift with built-in Chicago brick planters.
Below, a screen door from Brett’s grandparents’ home holds greeting cards. This display sits between the kitchen and family room.
Omaha couple use nearly 500 tons of granite — buried underneath garage — to heat home
It’s either the “House of A-ha's” or the “House of Ducts,” depending on your viewpoint.
One is readily evident in this 5,600-square-foot residence’s softly curving Italian-inspired architecture.
The other remains invisible but nonetheless omnipresent thanks to nearly a million pounds of granite in a five-foot pit beneath the three-car garage.
Both combine to create a home that stands out in form and function. Its form is a regal, contemporary take on a 16th-century master; its function involves a rock storage system that controls the home’s temperature via an elaborate labyrinth of 200-plus ducts.
This perfect marriage of form and function was devised by Omahans Pat and John de Groot, themselves married for 53 years. The couple set out with two design goals. Pat, a facilitator for gifted education in the Omaha Public Schools, wanted a home like she first envisioned in a high school sketchbook. John, a senior consultant fellow in strategic assessment and analysis at the Peter Kiewit Institute, wanted an energy-efficient home that could produce its own heat.
“People said, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be the end of your marriage,’” Pat recalls, amused. “But we had an arrangement. I would do the interior, and John would do all of the mechanical and the exterior.”
The couple stuck to the arrangement and brought in an expert team of more than 10 people to assist with the design process. “It was years of planning and meeting after meeting,” Pat says. “They would come up with fabulous ideas, and I would say, ‘Yes, but how’s that going to look?’”
Lead designer Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design & Urbanism played a key role in that look.
“I welcomed the challenge,” he says. “It allowed us to have a beautiful dialogue. They were willing to learn, and I learned from them.”
Santamaria accommodated both his clients’ interests through the work of Andrea Palladio, a 16th-century Italian architect noted for his grand villas, palaces and churches. “Pat and John really understood his methodology and his built environment,” he says.
For the de Groots, that built environment translated into a symmetry that flows from the rounded arches of the exterior into the soft curves of the soaring, vaulted interior.
“When you design a house, it shouldn’t just be an exterior address or a cover to what’s inside,” Santamaria emphasizes. “There needs to be contemplation between what you do in the interior and what you do in the exterior. There has to be a connection to the spaces.”
The de Groots created that connection with a formal vestibule that leads into a grand room, which, in turn, echoes the entry’s vaulted roundness.
That’s where the “House of A-ha's” derives its name. “When you enter the vestibule, you say, ‘A-ha!’” John explains. “Then you enter the living room and say ‘A-ha!’ again.”
The “a-ha's” come as much from the architecture as the design scheme of soft earth tones, dark woods, gleaming Italian marble and lustrous accents of silver and gold. It’s a calming environment, one that hearkens to the dream home Pat sketched in home economics as a teen. “Way back when I was in high school, the Sisters of St. Francis insisted that we learn how to be ‘domesticated women.’ We had to design our own house. As we were getting ready to move, I found my little book, and I almost fell over. The interior of my house was like my sketch."
For his part, John got a rock storage system that controls the home’s ambient temperature via 490 tons of Missouri granite installed beneath the garage. "When we were digging the pit for the granite, the neighbors assumed we were building a pool," John recalls. "And then they thought it was really strange we were filling the swimming pool with the rock."
The granite collects heat from the home’s south façade, which has 40 windows to maximize solar access. When the sun enters the vaulted dining room — the area that collects most of the sunlight — its heat rises and enters the elaborate ductwork system, eventually ending up in the rock storage system.
The design is unobtrusive. Pat kept insisting, "It’s got to look nice. You’ve got to hide this stuff."
Hide it they did. The ducts are out of sight or camouflaged by two duct rooms on the lower level that allow for monitoring the system and controlling and optimizing airflow.
All those hidden ducts prompted Pat’s “House of Ducts” reference. “But I have to spell it,” she laughs, “because people look at me like I’ve said ‘ducks.’”
The de Groot home continues to evolve as a green residence. Last year, the couple added a geothermal heat pump. Future plans involve a rain water capture system and possibly a solar thermal system.
Of course, this might mean a new “House” is added to the “A-ha's” and “Ducts.” It’s a prospect that wouldn’t bother the de Groots. “Our home,” smiles John, “is a work in progress.
A picture-perfect home: A painting from a woman’s childhood inspired her Aksarben-area dream house
When she was a little girl, Annette Connerley used to stare at a painting in her brother’s bedroom, daydreaming.
It showed a brushed-on Italian coastline, mountains forming the backdrop of a little city, a gorgeous house in the foreground with archways, roses and a terra cotta roof.
The image stuck with her.
“I used to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to live in a house like that?’ ”
Four years ago, Annette saw an ad in The World-Herald for a Spanish Colonial-style home with a terra cotta tile roof, arched windows and elegant landscaping sitting on three lots in the Aksarben neighborhood. But by the time she and her husband, Royce, could get to it, an offer had already been accepted.
One month later, Annette needed a hubcap for her van. As she scanned online listings, she saw the house for sale once again — and they swooped.
They bought the 1,600-square-foot house for $245,000 in November 2012.
“It was the most expensive wheel cover in the world,” Royce said.
Sunday, their home will be on Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Fall Neighborhood Tour of Aksarben along with nine other homes and Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. It’s a chance for the Connerleys to show off all they have done to make their new house look even more like the one in Annette’s daydreams.
First, in spring 2013, they replaced all the windows on the first floor — they were original, but they leaked. That cost about $80,000.
On a Mother’s Day trip to the Cheesecake Factory that spring, Annette found herself feeling eerily at home in the restaurant. The faux-painted walls of the chain restaurant, she realized, were just like the ones in her new house. Shortly thereafter, they repainted the living room.
The Connerleys also replaced the front door with a wooden medieval-style one with decorative iron hinges and a peep door with criss-crossing iron bars.
Then, that fall, they demolished the old garage, original to the 1925 house, and built a new one for about $80,000. It’s just shy of 750 square feet, the maximum Royce was told he could build. It has terra cotta tiles that match the roof and even came from the same company that made the original ones on the house.
Perhaps Annette’s favorite little addition was the paprika-colored roses out front.
“Those are rose bushes,” she says, pointing to the painting, “so this has to have rose bushes.”
Photos: Royce and Annette Connerley's home
Of course, the Connerleys didn’t just love the house because it matched the painting.
It also had an easy-to-spell address — 5844 Pine Street — which was a real priority, they said, after living on Duane Avenue in Bellevue. Plus, the 844 in the house number corresponds to a steam locomotive at Union Pacific, a perk for Royce, a 53-year-old senior systems engineer at the company.
Royce and Annette, a 55-year-old customer solutions senior specialist at PayPal, also wanted a house with a four-car garage — which is essentially what they built — and a swimming pool.
“We’ve got our in-ground pool, it’s just in the ground,” she said. It’s buried beneath dirt and turf.
Years ago, there was an in-ground pool, but when it needed work, the homeowner opted to fill it in with dirt. Now, it’s a patch of grass near hostas and yews.
Inside, through the front door, the house opens up into a living room with a high ceiling. To the left is a coat closet with anchor hooks original to the house. They’ve kept several other original features, like a light fixture with a horse and jockey, a throwback to Aksarben’s racetrack roots.
For every piece nodding to the home’s past identity, there are others commemorating its current one.
At the foot of the stairs, leading up to an outlook room and the attic, is a small shelf with trinkets bearing the resemblance of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. It’s a small collection the Connerleys are putting together as a sort of shrine to the new house, which she named Thatcher, and the garage, which she named Churchill.
Annette is a tennis fan and remembers spotting Thatcher’s orange hair in the crowds at Wimbledon on TV. She got a similar feeling driving up the hill to her new house.
“The orange tile, that looks like Margaret Thatcher, sitting up in the Wimbledon seats,” she said.
But why name the house and not the garage?
So Annette dubbed the brand new garage “Winston Churchill.” The British Bulldog, like her husband, loved cigars. That was enough, and the name stuck.
One project, one rose bush and one English trinket at a time, they’re making the house their home.
Of course, there’s still a lot they’d like to do — remodeling the kitchen is a priority — but for Annette, she’s happy just to sit in her office and stare at the same painting she stared at years ago, knowing that the house she always dreamed about is now a reality.
RESTORATION EXCHANGE OMAHA’S FALL NEIGHBORHOOD TOUR
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Free for Restoration Exchange Omaha members; for nonmembers, $15 for single admission or two for $25, available at Mount Calvary Church on Sunday or online at restorationexchange.org
Transportation: Free shuttle to each home departs from Mount Calvary Church, or feel free to walk/bike/drive
Tour stops: Mount Calvary Lutheran Church at 5525 Leavenworth St., 5501 Leavenworth St., 1301 S. 52nd St., 5848 Hickory St., 5844 Pine St., 1310 S. 63rd St., 6239 Poppleton Ave., 6024 Poppleton Ave., 5611 Leavenworth St., 5522 Marcy St.
Interior designer restoring Tudor-style home happens upon treasure map to its past
In the heart of the Bemis Park neighborhood, the Tudor-style house at 1010 Mercer Park Road stands out from the rest.
The clinker bricks covering the late-19th-century British-style home hold strong. The original wrought-iron fence still surrounds the property.
Designed by architect Bilger Kvenild and constructed in 1929-30, the 1010, as it is called, was built for the vice president of K-B Printing Co., Josiah B. Redfield, as a retirement home.
With no knowledge of the history behind the 1010, Carrie Derrick, an interior designer, purchased it in December, intending to renovate and resell it.
Shortly after Derrick bought the house, a young man she had hired to help clean it discovered the original blueprints, bound in a book in an upstairs closet.
The blueprints were like a treasure map for Derrick. Not only would they allow her to restore a majority of the home’s original details, it listed Kvenild’s and Redfield’s names at the bottom.
In February, almost two months after she purchased the 1010, Derrick received a message from Paul Adair, an Omaha resident. He contacted her via her account on Houzz, a website focused on architecture, interior design and decorating.
Adair told Derrick that he had photos from 1930 of the interior of the 1010. He asked whether she would like them.
Derrick arranged to meet Adair at her place of work, Reinhardt & Associates Architects. When they met, Adair gave her the pictures along with the email address of his cousin, Jo Short.
Adair said Short, the granddaughter of Josiah Redfield, recently had contacted him.
Short, 83, lives in California and was doing Internet research on the 1010. She noticed the house had been sold to Derrick. Short had connected with Adair, whom she had never met, and asked him to give the photos to Derrick.
“The rest is history,” Short said.
Over the months that followed, Derrick and Short kept in contact. To inform Derrick’s renovation work, Short would share family pictures, home movies filmed at the house and countless stories.
“Involving her in the process of the restoration has made it so much more meaningful than I ever thought possible,” Derrick said. “The work I’ve done has brought her a joy and happiness that she has expressed to me many times.”
Short even helped Derrick find a secret room. The old blueprints had not shown the space, which was hidden behind a wooden panel.
Derrick said the secret room was empty. Back in the day, Short told her, the room contained her grandfather's important papers, valuables and guns. Short also said that she and her sister used to play house in the room.
Although Derrick had an image of what she wanted the restoration to look like, she still asked Short questions about the original state of the house.
To restore the house to its original condition, much of the interior was stripped. The kitchen was demolished, and new cupboards that resembled the original ones were installed. Bland green carpeting was removed to expose the original hardwood floors. Wallpaper that had been painted over was removed, and the walls were painted to resemble the original color. All of the woodwork, doors, windows and fireplace are original.
Derrick said that Short felt just as much a part of the project through frequent emails and Instagram posts.
After seeing how pleased Short was with the restoration work, Derrick knew she needed to invite her to Omaha to see the 1010.
On Sept. 10, with the renovation process complete, Short and her son, Steve Short, arrived in Omaha. The following day Derrick arranged to meet the two at the 1010.
Derrick and Short hugged when they met.
“I felt like I had already known her for a really long time,” Derrick said. “We just hugged and she said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this.’ ”
For nearly an hour and a half Short walked through the 1010. It was the first time she had been in the house since 1947.
Short told Derrick stories that she remembered and often got emotional as she entered various rooms.
“My happiest days were spent at 1010,” Short said. “So when Carrie invited me to come and see the house restoration, I jumped on the chance.”
The next day Derrick welcomed members of Restoration Exchange Omaha, a local preservation group, to the 1010. After the meeting, Derrick invited Short to meet the board members and take them on a tour of the house.
“She really enjoyed doing it,” Derrick said. “Getting to show it off, talking about how it was her house.”
Before she left on Sept. 13, Short visited Duchesne Academy, where she attended school; the Durham Museum; her grandparents’ graves at Forest Lawn Cemetery; and her great-grandparents’ graves at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
“It was wonderful for me to visit 1010 again, as it was No. 1 on my bucket list,” Short said.
Derrick’s plans have always been to sell the house after the renovation was complete.
It’s not so much the hard work that makes it difficult to let go, she said, it’s the emotional connection that has developed.
“It kind of breaks my heart to sell it,” Derrick said. “I still feel an attachment to it, and I think I always will.”
Big ideas for small spaces: How to make the most of a tiny apartment or nook
Small dwellings have become a viable option for young adults who either can’t afford or don’t want larger spaces, and for empty nesters looking to downsize. So how does one make the best use of such bitty spaces?
Just south of downtown in Little Bohemia, Omahan Kathy Rathbun, 33, gave us an inside look at her small space at the Casa Blanca complex along South 16th Street.
A small ceramic bowl holding a trove of knobby succulents rests on her teakwood kitchen table. An old wooden TV gutted and turned into a wet bar sits in the corner. Cage wire baskets mounted on the wall double as shelving near a wooden stag.
The aesthetic vibe inside Rathbun’s home was achieved after countless hours of scouring thrift stores, estate sales and online sources for handmade treasures, and shopping retailers such as Hutch and Ikea for mod furniture. Her style is hipster Scandinavian — minimalist, modern and somewhat eclectic.
Outfitting a tiny apartment or loft or — for the traditionalists — a nook in your home is no easy feat. It requires budgeting, planning and patience.
“You spend a few minutes visualizing what you would like the space to look like,” Rathbun said. “What doesn’t belong, figure out what’s essential and find a place for the rest.”
It might have taken a few months, but Omahan Jamie Bell, 27, finally finished decorating her two-story Dundee apartment. It’s inside a refurbished house that’s been divided into micro units.
“It feels like my own little house,” she said.
She spent three long months of meticulously tinkering with the placement of her retro-chic furniture and 1970s-circa artwork. Her showpiece is a giant vintage map that hangs against her bedroom wall.
“I’ve moved it at least three times,” she said.
We asked several local interior designers and small-space dwellers Rathbun and Bell to share their tips on how to create a Pinterest-worthy small space. Here’s what they had to say:
Take your time
It’s your space. There’s no rush. Study the space you’re decorating. “Take it room by room — 15 minutes at a time,” Rathbun said. Not everything will immediately have a dedicated spot, but eventually it will.
Use baskets, drawers and shelving to stay organized with mail, magazines, TV remotes, etc. “I have a lot of decorative bins. Different wire baskets to keep the smaller stuff organized,” Bell said. “Any kind of armoire and smaller cabinet where you can keep things behind doors.”
Natural light can make a space feel bigger. So take down those curtains and let the light shine in, Rathbun said. Or invest in lights. “Lighting can make or break a space,” said Lorrie Williams, president of Fluff Interior Design, 12100 West Center Road. Buy a few floor or hanging lamps to brighten up a corner. For example, Rathbun added a globe hanging light above her sectional couch in hopes of brightening a tight corner. It worked.
If it doesn’t serve a purpose, then put it away or donate it. “Getting rid of clutter — once you master that it makes it really easy to make a space beautiful,” Bell said. “Keeping things clean. In a small space, if one thing is out of whack it throws the whole space off.”
New styles that peel off without harming the wall allow you to add an accent wall without the messy commitment of paint. Wallpaper comes in many scales of patterns, textures and colors that provide something paint cannot, said Brittany Majestic of the Interior Design Firm, 705 N. 114th St.
When possible, use shelves and storage units that are tall and narrow, Rathbun said. For instance use your walls for storage. Add floating shelves or turn a wicker or wire basket into a shelf by mounting it on the wall. Any time you can get things off the floor, you make things look bigger, Williams said.
Use light colors on the walls and save the pops of bright colors for accents, such as pillows, plants and artwork.
Don’t just buy a table, get one that has drawers so it allows you to keep items in it, Williams suggested. An ottoman is nice, but one with a lid that lifts and has space for storage is even better. Take a small, traditional desk and turn it into a room feature. “We love mixing the oversized 24-inch pillows with the standard 18-inch to give more varieties in size,” Majestic said. “You can even throw the oversized pillows on the floor to be used as a pouf.” A pouf — a large, solid floor cushion — is versatile: It can be used as an ottoman, a chair or stored in a closet when in the way.
Less is more. When shopping for furniture, avoid bulky pieces that sit on the floor, Williams said. Try a couch with legs, for example.
Plants are popular accent décor for living spaces. Succulents and air plants are good, especially for those who don’t have the time or know-how to care for traditional house plants, said Natalie Massie of Fluff Interior Design. Air plants, popular in the 1970s, are back in sleek arrangements, Williams said. The plants, which draw moisture from the air, can be grown in natural wood or be suspended in the air from a piece of twine.
Small canvases are an easy way to add art to your space without putting a bunch of holes in the walls. Simply lean them on your desk or on a bookshelf, Majestic said, or use a plate stand. Fabric can be used for more than a pillow or a blanket, she said: Frame a piece of fabric or wrap it around canvas to be used as art.
Use the corners
Buy a corner desk to effectively “hide” a workspace and make it blend into the room, or use a corner curio for storage or display space.
'There’s nothing dainty about me': A look inside this artist/stylist's eclectic 1940s Loveland home
“There’s nothing dainty about me,” Vanessa Barrett deadpans about her unabashed eclectic style.
Originality defines all facets of her life – herwardrobe, interior décor and work as an artist and a stylist.
“Not in a wild way, though,” she hastens toclarify. “I’d call my style ‘refined eclectic.’ ”
Midcentury. Neoclassical. Bohemian. DIY. Vanessa loves playing with the mix, whether wall-to-wall or head-to-toe.
An authentic home, she says, “has to reflectyou as a person and what’s meaningful to you.”
For her, that means original art, books, antiques and three housemates: Stella, a Yorkie; Elton, a Maltipoo; and Lola, a silky Terrier.
Decorating inspiration, in part, comes from art and interior design books (lots of them, kept close at hand on tabletops and footstools in every room), museums, fashion magazines and social media feeds. It also derives from Vanessa’s lifetime of visual and retail pursuits: window dresser, boutique owner, interior decorator, jewelry designer, style consultant.
Her passion for antiques, she surmises, may have gotten its start as a young girl drawn to an antique Asian box at a fine art fair at Joslyn Art Museum.
“I remember a sophisticated-looking woman telling me, ‘That’s a very smart box you’ve chosen.’” In the coming decades, hundreds morewould find their way into her modest but richly layered 1940s home along Ridgewood Avenuein central Omaha’s Loveland neighborhood.
A jewel-tone palette dominates while blues and grays maintain a soothing presence from room to room.
A decade ago, her home reflected a morerestrained decorating style. No layers. No wallsfilled with art.
“My former husband had good taste,” she offers as explanation. “Our styles just clashed. He was a minimalist; I’m a maximalist.”
After their divorce, her passion for collecting took over.
“I’m on my own now and can do anything I want,” she explains. “I don’t have to take anyone’s style and taste into consideration.”
Her salon-style wall décor features pieceswith very personal meaning — paintings by hermother, who passed away earlier this year; contemporary collages by her artist son, Dylan, and her own art photography.
Architectural salvage commands her attention. columns, ironwork and ornately carved wood have a place in nearly every room.
Leopard print is a classic neutral.
“It always shocks me when people say they don’t like animal prints,” she says.
A dresser in the master bedroom provides a clue to another passion: vintage jewelry and handbags.
“Oh, my gosh! I’m obsessed!’’ Vanessa admits. She also designs statement jewelry incorporating re-imagined vintage beads, stones and gems.
“I love to treasure-hunt. I just hardly have room for more in my home,” she says.
A new entrepreneurial venture may solve the dilemma. At press time, Vanessa was curating antique and vintage home furnishings and fabrics for a late September pop-up shopping event at The Loft at Remlo Studios, 51st and Leavenworth Streets.
The Loft, according to business owner Autumn Foland, will feature “carefully curated Canadian and European ready-to-wear brands in a luxury showroom setting by appointment.’’
Vanessa will lease space for her design services and special shopping events throughout the year. The vibe: “Boho meets Barneys New York.”
• Vintage shops for furniture, clothing and jewelry
• Art supply stores for handmade papers (used on lampshades and walls for visual interest)
• Estate sales for furniture and home accessories
• Flea markets for architectural salvage
• Lauritzen Gardens Antique & Garden Show for tabletop and wall accents
To peek into more homes with eclectic style, click here.
Elkhorn family's home — a 'sanctuary' where kids want to hang out — includes projection room, pool, 'sports court'
When building a home, most homeowners focus on creature comforts: a sunken bathtub, walk-in closets, maybe a hot tub. When these homeowners made plans for their new residence, they had one thing in mind. Make that four: their three sons and daughter.
They wanted a house that would be more than a home. They wanted a place for their children to invite their friends, a space where kids from elementary through high school would want to hang out after school and congregate during summer breaks.
They wanted a sanctuary.
They got it, both literally and figuratively. Not only does their home provide more than enough activities for their kids, but it’s also located in an Elkhornsubdivision fittingly called Sanctuary, where 100-year-old buroaks nestle gently among scenic rolling hills.
“We wanted a home that would grow with us.” says the busy mom of four.
She and her husband more than accounted for what that might entail. The spacious property includes a projection room, craft loft, pool and perhaps most notably, a space they fondly refer to as “the sports court,” an indoor gym with a ballet barre and two basketball hoops. “Our boys are really into it,” grins the homeowner. “They use it every single day.”
They also wanted a new home that felt old. “My grandparents had an older home in Midtown, and my mompatterned our home after it. That’s definitely been an influence.I’ve always felt at home in more traditional spaces.”
The homeowners worked with interior designer Lisa Cooper of Interiors Joan and Associates to create a traditional French country-inspired interior, one that’s casual and cozy as well as elegant and luxurious. pieces were carefully curated with an antique aesthetic in mind.
" 'You want it to look acquired,’ is what our interior designer used to say when picking out things,” laughs the homeowner.
The family moved into the residence in September 2014,and today the doting mother is more than pleased with how her children have adapted to it.
“I think the most important thing is that this is where our kids want to be,” she observes. “It’s a place for them and their friends to be together, and they’re not just idly spending their time here. I want my kids to be actively engaged in something. This house accomplishes that. We wanted a home we’d never want to move from, and we have it.”
When couple decided to build perfect home decades ago, architect husband designed it at 45-degree angle, 'slid it in between' the trees
It started with a tree. Make that a vacant lot with several trees. When Laura and John Cameron purchased their wooded property in Omaha’s Loveland neighborhood in 1979, it was an opportunity for them to build the perfect home.
“We like established neighborhoods. We were living in an apartment and tried to buy in Happy Hollow for years,” recalls John, a retired architect and design principal with HDR whose projects included the Durham Science Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the John Gottschalk Freedom Center for the Omaha World-Herald and numerous hospitals worldwide. “We looked and looked and looked and kept looking for the perfect house. The price range (for existing homes) got up to where I thought we could build. But we needed to get a lot.”
They found it, thanks to John’s eagle eyes. While driving to work one day, he spied a “Lot for Sale” sign on a corner. He swiped the sign and called the owner to inquire.
John and Laura ended up snagging one of the few remaining half-acre lots in the area. Not wanting to cut down the tall maple and oak trees that dotted the property, John designed around them. “We had to obtain a waiver,” he says of the home’s unusual positioning. “There was no way to put up a house without cutting down some trees, so I designed it at a 45-degree angle and slid it in between.”
The primary silver maple on the property was about 18 inches in diameter when they purchased the lot. Today it’s well over 40.
And as that tree grew, so did the Camerons’ family – which now includes three adult children – and the house. Over the past 37 years, their home has gone from a modest 1,700 square feet to a more spacious 3,500, including an addition in 1995 for a room that houses John’s extensive vinyl collection.
The architect kept the original specifications simple. He liked the Craftsman style and designed a home with high ceilings and plenty of light. “No matter where you stand, you can always see out two different directions,” he says.
Although the couple didn’t need it when they first built, John had to design a home with three bedrooms, because the bank refused to give the couple a loan to build a contemporary residence with fewer bedrooms.
“They said this house would never sell unless it had three bedrooms, so we called the office a ‘banker’s bedroom’ just to satisfy them,” Laura says.
Paintings, prints, posters, objects collected during trips, family photographs and a blend of modern and antique furniture comprise the décor. It’s an eclectic blend, one that has been built up over the years and speaks to the couple’s wide-ranging interests.
One of them, particularly for Laura, is cooking.
“My wife is an excellent cook, and we entertain a lot, so we needed room to do both – although that never stopped us,” says John of the decision to expand the original kitchen from a mere 130 square feet to a whopping 400 in 2015.
“Everybody said, ‘Why are you doing the renovation? Your dinners are already great!” Laura laughs. “I said, ‘Oh, no!’”
Now she has more than enough room to pursue her hobby – and the equipment to do it. The kitchen boasts four ovens, two dishwashers and all the cabinet and counter space required to whip up meals for a crowd.
“It’s just amazing at Thanksgiving!” says Laura. “I can make the turkey, casserole and rolls with no waiting. It just works out great!”
“This was one of the things we put off forever due to the expense,” John says of the major overhaul. “But we said, ‘Let’s do it – and let’s do it the way we’ve always wanted.’”
TOUR THE HOME (CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE)
For the 2015 renovation, John designed a sleek, contemporary kitchen with glossy cabinetry and minimal hardware. He used 2-centimeter Piracema white granite for the countertops and 3-centimeter granite for the 4-by-12-foot oval kitchen island, which keeps the kitchen’s lines soft. “I’m big on the thinner countertops. It’s simpler and cleaner.”
Some of the kitchen key elements include a ceiling that is actually Morning Star Bamboo the Cameron's found in Pearl City stain from Lumber Liquidators. “No one in Nebraska is putting in white flooring, so it was inexpensive,” says John.
White Miele appliances include a built-in refrigerator that disappears with the cabinetry, an induction stove and a convection oven. Custom cabinetry by Eurowood opens with a touch.
The couple found the large, bright green apple sculpture at a gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s been a real conversation piece,” says Laura. The blue dinosaur cookie jar was a favorite of the Camerons’ children. It holds treats for their dog, Zoe.
GET THE LOOK
Backsplash: Glass panels painted by Elite Glass Services with Sherwin-Williams Raindrop SW 6485
“We like volume and big space,” says John of the 25-foot vaulted ceilings, which give the residence a lofty, airy feel. The couple made the most of an expansive wall space by hanging a painting of their home by artist Carol Pettit, a mirror that belonged to Laura’s grandmother and enlargements of cherished family photos. Two leaded-glass windows came from a now-defunct architectural salvage business in north Omaha. The large sculpture was discovered at Hot Shops Art Center, and the hanging bells are by Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect. “They’re not the bronze ones he’s known for, but I liked the shapes of the clay. They don’t sound that great – they ‘thunk,’” says John.
An original M’s Pub poster dating to the late 1970s hangs next to the window. “I gave it as our first wedding anniversary (gift), which is paper. I think I bought it for 20-some dollars,” says Laura.
John made the most use of the home’s soaring wall space by installing a built-in bookcase above the living-room windows. He designed the glass-top end tables that flank the living room’s main sofa. “We wanted to keep it light,” he says. “They’re curved and provide a softer way of coming into the room. If they were square, you would have had to move all the furniture. You use curves when you have limited space. It flows better.”
A curved glass block wall delineates the front entry from the living room. “It’s not too high and lets the light in," John says.
“Big Blue,” an 8-foot-tall painting by Robert Weaver, dominates the wall. A huge train buff, John acquired the painting when a friend found it was too large for his Washington, D.C., apartment. It's flanked by vintage Omaha Symphony posters by Omaha artist Allan Tubach.
Next to the stairway, a framed Cambodian temple rubbing found on one of John's numerous business trips picks up on the warm tones of the table's base. A red leather roadster chair from Room & Board positioned next to a glass-top Eileen Gray side table adds visual punch. “The space cannot be filled up with heavy furniture,” says John. “Things you can look through and see through keep the space light.”
Artist transforms South Omaha building — which once housed barbershop and bakery — into a home, studio and urban garden
When Christina Narwicz rolls out of bed in the morning, she only has to travel about 8 feet to get to work. The next room is stocked with brushes, paint tubes and canvases – everything the artist needs to create one of her nature-themed works.
She loves her commute — and its close proximity to downtown. Her 1,800-square-foot South Omaha live-work space, which was built in 1927 and originally housed a barbershop on one side and Rotella’s Italian Bakery on the other, is nestled on an industrial stretch of road less than a mile from the Old Market.
Passers-by would never suspect it contains an airy painting studio, stylish home and secluded garden, all of which Christina shares with an irrepressible rat terrier named Duck, who lets her know with great enthusiasm when the mail arrives.
She purchased the property sight unseen, won over by the opportunity to cultivate an urban garden. “I’d always loved this building. It was cute as a button,” she recalls. “It’s a nice, little anomaly that’s in the city and has land.”
Land was the determining factor. Christina is an avid gardener, and nature inspires and informs every facet of her dynamic, ethereal paintings.
“I’m obsessed,” she says. “I wanted to duplicate a European-style building with a fenced-in courtyard that nobody could see from the street so I could have my garden.”
The artist didn’t mind discovering that major renovations would be required to transform the space, which in intervening years had become a storage facility for antique furniture. “I couldn’t just move in,” she says. “It had lots of problems, but I always wanted to redo a building.”
She got her chance. Joists were rotten, the roof leaked and interior walls were painted a dull, dismal gray. “We had to gut a lot.”
“We” included Tim Ernst of Botanicum Design, who designed with the renovation plans, and master carpenter and fellow artist Sean Ward, who specializes in restoration. They tackled the building by sectioning one half as a studio and the other half as a main living area, making sure the two spaces had a seamless flow.
“I wanted to create a place I would never have to leave, so I could concentrate on my work. I don’t treat my painting practice as separate from the other practices I have in my life. My home had to accommodate all of it.”
That meant incorporating two sleek new bathrooms and a gourmet kitchen into the existing footprint. It also involved staining the pine floors a darker hue and painting white the exposed brick walls and original tin ceiling in the studio to give Christina’s work space a light, airy feel.
In contrast, the artist stuck to darker colors in the rest of the home, creating a warm, cozy effect that demarcates where she lives from where she works.
Christina tackled the outdoors with relish, creating three distinct garden areas that include space to entertain, meditate and enjoy the solitude of nature in the heart of downtown.
“It’s the whole idea of being in a condensed urban environment in the midst of everything but having a garden reprieve from that.”
The artist says her work-live space offers everything she needs. “I have to have my studio space where I live. I can’t have a separate studio, because my work is so tied to my life, otherwise the integrity of the work would be compromised. All I really want to do is to paint and garden and be with my dog and family, and I can do all of that right here.”
TOUR THE HOME (CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE)
“One of my obsessions is bowls,” Christina says. “I just love the form, their utilitarian nature and their symbolism of holding things that are good for us.” An extra-tall Summit refrigerator saves space in a small kitchen and takes advantage of soaring ceilings.
The artist also collects wooden spoons, which fill an aluminum pot she found in Paris.
A quiet nook features a still-life painting by Christina’s mother. “She made it the year I was born,” the artist says softly. The art prints of children in Danish costumes and the porcupine quills in the ceramic vase were gifts from friends. “I’m not a tchotchke person, but these are all items that mean a lot to me,” says the homeowner.
A window provides a view to the artist’s garden. A whimsical mobile by Nebraska artist Larry Sosso depicts sardines fleeing a sardine tin. Vintage nozzles line the upper shelf.
The bedroom features a sewing nook. Two watercolor paintings by Christina’s mother, Loretta, hang over the sewing machine. The antique prayer rug is from an outdoor market in Istanbul. The artist’s studio is on the opposite side of the wall. The small windows permit light and air to circulate between the spaces.
A curio cabinet houses sentimental objects, including small sculptures, fanciful boxes and jars of shells gathered while living on a yacht in the Caribbean. “This hasn’t been updated lately, but these are all objects I love,” she says. An Eames chair with a small black pillow pulls the space together and balances the expanse of the flat screen television.
A simple wooden table provides room for the artist to sketch and work on small paintings. Tim Ernst of Botanicum Design created the vertical storage system for canvases.
Canvases await the artist’s finishing touches while Duck, rescued from a local shelter, snoozes on the settee. Christina loves the 13½-foot ceilings and patterned tin ceiling tiles. “Painted white, they remind me of wedding cake,” she says.
“I call my gardens living spaces or rooms,” Christina says of the three distinct areas of her courtyard. The seating area under the trellis provides a quiet area for conversation or a break from the studio.
A small table, nestled next to the artist's birch garden, is perfect for intimate dinners. The artist planted the trees as a reminder of where she grew up in New York. “They have a lot of importance for me,” she says. “This has turned into my secret shade garden. It’s where I do my morning meditation.”
A wrought-iron gate leads from the driveway into a “secret garden” courtyard invisible from the street.
'It’s better than a speed bump': Modern ranch home built with Styrofoam blocks, concrete drew gawking from passers-by
It’s not every day that a house of Styrofoam and concrete springs up in your neighborhood.
“It’s better than a speed bump,” Louis Moisset quips about the double takes his eco-friendly modern ranch gets from passing motorists. The gawking started the day the hole was dug in the summer of 2013.
Word spread quickly — not always accurately — that a “concrete house” was going up in Northern Hills Estates, a relatively new northern Douglas County subdivision with mostly conventional homes.
Nervous neighbors initially wanted to know, “So, what’s the outside going to look like?” The homeowner, for the most part, alleviated fears of a Flintstones’ cave or a lunar module.
He and his wife, Deanna, were building a modern-style ranch of his design using green materials, Insulated Concrete Forms, and geothermal heating and cooling technology. To conform to neighborhood covenants, the concrete exterior would be finished with earth-tone paint, cedar planks, lap siding and stone.
“I’m a conservative guy,” says Louis, who served as his own general contractor. “I wanted to build as green as possible without being a tree-hugger. I’m a ‘sensible green,’ not a ‘political green.’ If I can have the same or better outcome with less in a sensible way, you have my attention.”
Though he found “excellent options” in alternative materials for his 2,400-square-foot home, “some did not fit my build or fell too short of my requirements for cost, energy efficiency and sustainability,” he says.
Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) technology snagged high marks on those three points. The construction method — a system of interlocking Styrofoam blocks filled with concrete — is strong, energy efficient, airtight and sound dampening.
Key among the geothermal unit’s selling points: service now is available from most HVAC contractors, the in-ground system relies on constant and predictable groundwater (in this case, pumped from a pair of 200-foot-deep wells on the property), and OPPD estimates that the system could pay for itself within seven years.
A bonus, Louis says, was a 30 percent tax credit that brought the geothermal cost to within $1,100 of a conventional heating and cooling system.
Planning the house on paper was one thing. Executing the build was another. The project took nearly 22 months to complete.
“We are in the Midwest. We have many great contractors but only a very few are willing to step outside the box,” Louis explains. “My floor plan was basically two intersecting rectangles. Yet, since I wasn’t using typical materials and the house looked different from most projects, it took time to find the right contractors.”
The Moissets did a lot themselves. “Way too much, with full-time jobs and family life,” Louis says. “But it all turned out great in the end.”
The home embraces modern European design inside and out. That’s not surprising, since Louis is a native of France.
Industrial modern elements such as exposed ductwork and raw particleboard ceilings provide architectural interest and economy for a building project on a super-tight budget.
For the ceilings, Louis handpicked the boards to avoid any hint of unsightly manufacturer’s stamps. He smiles, sharing that visitors frequently ask, “When are you going to finish the ceiling?”
In the great room, tall windows face east and south to maximize solar heat and capitalize on views of trees and rolling countryside.
The open ranch floor plan is a departure from the multistory home the couple originally thought they would build on a narrow urban lot purchased about eight years ago.
When Northern Hills Estates sprang up just east of the North Omaha Airport, an acre lot in a quiet neighborhood sounded more practical.
“You’re in your 40s; do a ranch,” Louis rationalized. The floor plan is not completely zero step-entry. But it could be, if the need arises. “You gotta plan for aging,” Louis says, pointing to “mini” steps in a hallway that could be modified into ramps, and door frames, hallways and walkways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
“She’s my ‘break,’” Louis says of Deanna’s way of critiquing proposals with a raised eyebrow and a playful admonishment, “Really? Did you think that through?”
Case in point: In an early interior rendering, the kitchen was in the middle of the house, where the living room now stands. The couple decided better placement would be along the south wall of the open space.
The kitchen is a home chef’s dream, with stainless steel appliances, extra-deep work surfaces, a walk-in pantry with sliding door and a center island with seating.
“The cooks can cook and guests can visit,” Louis says of the island. A conversation piece in itself is its stainless steel tabletop in the shape of Nevada, manufactured by Hempel Sheet Metal Works in Omaha.
Other countertops are Cambria quartz – sans backsplash. “It killed Lou when I said that I didn’t want them,” Deanna remembers.
“Retaining walls,” Louis says. “I’ve got to have an outdoor summer project, right?”
If you’re in the neighborhood, look for the ranch with the angled roof. “We’re that house,” the homeowner says with a wide, eco-friendly smile.
TOUR THE HOME (CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE)
Draperies running the full height of the windows soften the hard angles of the ceiling and walls in the great room. The panels, made by Deanna’s mom, Lil Chatfield, hang from gas pipes as rods. To save money, Deanna and her mother painted the entire interior.
A recessed wall pockets a 70-inch television for a home theater experience, and a loft room tucked under the ceiling serves as a kids’ hideaway and nifty overlook. For Deanna Moisset, the loft kindles fond childhood memories of playing at a friend’s house. “You always wanted to go to Brook’s house because of the loft.” The Moissets’ version is only accessible by ladder.
LIVING ROOM & KITCHEN
The living room and kitchen share an open floor plan.
The kitchen features stainless steel appliances, extra-deep work surfaces, a walk-in pantry with sliding door and a center island with seating, where meals on the run are eaten.
Family meals are shared around a stone-topped dining room table that actually is two tables pushed together. The industrial look is softened with a pair of upholstered wingback chairs.
The centerpiece is a hollow tree limb that the homeowner cleaned and varnished.
The master bathroom features a zero-entry shower with 3-D waterproof wave tile and radiant heat flooring.
The master bedroom is 12 feet by 17 feet with a 20- foot ceiling. Reclaimed wood attached to a wall shared with the bathroom gives the illusion of a headboard.
JACK AND JILL BATHROOM
The Moissets’ two children have a Jack-and-Jill bathroom with private sinks and a shared toilet and shower. The cabinetry is vinyl-wrapped here, as well as throughout the home.
Click here for more innovative eco-friendly design in the Metro.
It took 2 decades, but couple restored one of Wahoo's oldest homes to its 1880s grandeur
A lot of “Hart” has gone into the Victorian home at 10th and Linden Streets in Wahoo, Nebraska. Surrounded by a hand-hewn picket fence, the restoration of this architectural treasure has been a long time coming.
Back in 1996, Barbara and Eric Hart knew their newly acquired house would be a challenge. But they didn’t expect to take two decades to return the Queen Anne — one of the town’s oldest homes — to its 1880s grandeur.
“The house was in incredibly poor shape inside and out,” says Eric, flashing back to the summer when he and Barbara became its sixth owners. Eric had assured his wife: “Six months and a little elbow grease, and we’ll have this house looking great.”
“Almost 20 years later, we’re still working on it,” Barbara says. “We’re just glad we didn’t know then what we know now.”
The first night in the house, the kitchen ceiling came crashing down. “We both cried,” Barbara says.
The Harts were living in a multilevel house in Papillion when they first started searching real estate listings for a fixer-upper in an older neighborhood.
“It was my dream to live in a historic home,” Barbara says.
They zeroed in on Wahoo at Eric’s suggestion. “Eric thought Wahoo was the most adorable little town, but I wouldn’t hear of it at first,”
Barbara admits. She reconsidered after seeing the historic homes and concluded that small-town life would be a positive for their three children, who then ranged from the fourth to ninth grades.
A tight housing market forced a bold move. “We put an ad in the Wahoo newspaper,” Barbara says. It read: “We want your house. Any price. Any condition.”
“We got a few calls from people wanting to know if we were making a movie,” Eric says.
One party, however, had an intriguing property that the Harts didn’t feel they could let go. “We bought it on the spot with a handshake.”
After an initial jolt of buyer’s remorse, Eric rolled up his sleeves and dove in.
“He’s the workhorse here,” Barbara says. “Very few things were hired out.”
A former corporate executive turned self-employed music publisher and software developer, Eric had the flexibility to put in the time required for such a large undertaking.
Eric worked methodically – no easy task in a house that previous owners had modified into four apartment units. Sometimes it wasn’t clear if a wall was structural until he tore into it.
“We were so overwhelmed,” Barbara recalls. “For the first three years, Eric and I slept on a mattress and box spring in the parlor amid the construction.”
“It looks fun in a movie like ‘The Money Pit,’ but not in real life,” Eric adds.
Today, their comfortable home is enjoyed by the Harts’ three grown children and eight grandchildren who range in age from 1 month to 7 years.
Presently Eric is putting the finishing touches on a sun room he built over the winter between business trips to Nashville and starting-up ScriptClaim Systems, a software venture specializing in prescription claims processing.
Compliments from locals have been a constant since the Harts came to the house’s rescue. One anonymous admirer wrote: “We’ve been watching you refurbish the house. Thank you for beautifying Wahoo.”
Such feedback is gratifying, even reaffirming.
“It makes you feel really good to hear that,” Barbara says. “We love the house, too. That’s why we stuck with it.”
TOUR THE HOME (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)
The Hart home’s earliest date of record at the Saunders County Courthouse is 1906. However, receipts in attic floor joists and square nails in staircases suggest that the home may date to 1879 – nine years after Wahoo’s founding.
“Outside at night? Oh, goodness. It’s finally what I dreamed it could be!” says Barbara Hart, a master gardener, of the landscaping.
The picket fence includes 500 hand-hewn cedar planks stained to color match the house – a three-year project completed last summer.
The home’s front door features hand carvings that replicate architectural detailing on the home’s exterior. The wallpaper is a Victorian-era reproduction by Schumacher. The rosewood-and-walnut staircase took seven years to strip of paint and refinish to its original glory.
Barbara admits to being “obsessed” with clocks. “The ticking is soothing to me,” she offers as partial explanation. The above grouping is in her den, where the couple enjoys reading.
The reclaimed tin ceiling is from a general store in Liberty, Missouri. When suitable authentic tin cove molding couldn’t be located, a reproduction was installed and faux-painted to look antique.
Fabric-covered walls make the living room a favorite spot for Barbara. The peacock print, a period reproduction, is from Textiles Inc. in Omaha. The room has oak woodwork and soft white pine flooring that are original to the space.
The dining room features a period sideboard and antique tea set.
Upper cabinets, original to the kitchen, are incorporated into this sideboard created by a local carpenter. The design shows off a cherished collection of ironstone and provides space for seasonal displays and buffet items when the family entertains. Other cabinetry is new made to look old.
Previous owners left behind a shabby 9-foot-long soda fountain bar, and the Harts immediately saw its potential as a kitchen island. The massive piece was repaired and refinished by a local craftsman, adapted for a cook top and capped with granite.
In true Victorian opulence, the main-floor powder room features a tented ceiling with 67 feet of fabric. Barbara faux painted the walls and hired an artist to do the vine detailing.
The bedrooms feature elegant furnishings, including four-poster beds, and sumptuous fabrics, a passion of Barbara's.
The master bath décor incorporates two of Barbara Hart’s loves: architectural salvage and vintage linens. Eric is too tall for the clawfoot tub, so this space is designated “girls only.”
The handsome attic room, completed in 2005, has its own
heating and cooling system and reinforced floor joists to support a pool table and other furnishings. The stained-glass windows are original; the reclaimed maple flooring is from the Wahoo High School gymnasium.
“This was one of my favorite projects because, at the end of the day, I could shut the door and walk away,” Eric Hart says. “We didn’t have to live in the middle of the mess.”
SHOP THE LOOK
• Garage and estate sales
• Secondhand stores
• Junkstock and other flea markets
• Walnut, Iowa’s Antique City
• B & M Antiques, Newman Grove, Nebraska
• Conner’s Architectural Antiques, Lincoln
'I was so afraid,' Gretna woman says of consulting interior designer, but the result — a mix of modern, antique — is a perfect fit
Teaching moments.” That’s what Ranae Upton loves to call all the times Jessica McKay has ridden to her design rescue. The 37-year-old stay-at-home mom, who shares her stylish Gretna home with husband Tim, daughter Addison, 9, and son Hunter, 6, as well as a playful golden doodle and a more reserved cat, loves to decorate and has a special knack for it. Still, she struggles when it comes to some of the finer points.
Enter Jessica , owner of Birdhouse Interior Design Consulting. The interior designer worked closely with Ranae to get the right look for the family's lifestyle while encouraging calculated visual risks in the overall décor.
The decision to go with a professional wasn’t without trepidation. “I’ve always been a little reluctant with interior decorators. I enjoy the design process, and I love to do interior design,” offers Ranae. “I’m very comfortable with neutrals, but when it comes to adding flair or something different — something I love when I see it in someone else’s home — I was so afraid. It was hard for me to just hand it over to someone else. You wonder, ‘Is the design truly going to show what I want?’”
It did. The collaborative process yielded a home filled with an eclectic blend of antique, modern and contemporary details. “Tim and I loved the idea of an old home, but location-wise we’re in new construction, so we wanted different thoughts on creating our spaces,” says Ranae.
Jessica provided guidance on how to attain character. Antique furniture sits next to contemporary wallpaper, gilded frames house modern art and pops of color brighten neutral palettes.
Throughout the process, Ranae discovered that working with a design professional elevated her aesthetic to something extraordinary. “When I got to the point where I was overwhelmed and wanted to do something fun but was scared, I could get Jessica’s help.”
Case in point: the living room. Ranae found the couches and sofa table, but that was as far as she got. “I was pretty proud of myself. And then I froze. I didn’t know how to take it from there and put the rest together.”
Jessica saved the day – and space – with a carpet that picked up the furniture colors and a sleek lighting accessory that grounded the room.
“With this house, I was so comfortable with the process,” Ranae says. “It was really collaborative.” And fun. “It’s my style and what I wanted.”
TOUR THE HOME (CLICK ON IMAGES FOR EXPANDED VIEWS)
Ranae wanted a stately feel to the entryway, so she used wainscoting. “I knew I wanted a defined entry space,” she says. “The paneling gives it a sense of formality.” She found the bench from Schoolhouse Electric and the lighting fixture from Dwell. “It’s contemporary on the outside, but inside it looks antique.”
A dark slate fireplace greets visitors to the Upton household as a watchful Stanley keeps guard over his domain. Ranae paired a midcentury-style lounge chair from Allens Home with a contemporary brushed bronze side table from West Elm and a white sheepskin rug. The image over the fireplace is one of Ranae’s all-time favorite Instagram snaps of her family. “I had a print shop create an architectural print. I was going to put glass over it, but I love the raw quality of it. It makes it seem like a vintage photo.”
The Uptons’ lovable golden doodle sometimes gets mistaken for items like the Restoration Hardware throw draped on the couch (pictured left). “Once, we were at a fast-food drive through, and he was asleep in the back seat. When the French fries arrived, he perked up and startled the cashier, who said, ‘Oh! I thought he was a coat!’”
Ranae ordered the sage blue crushed velvet couches at Room & Board and the coffee table from Blue Dot. Interior designer Jessica McKay added the accessories, a midcentury-inspired floor lamp and a rug that subtly picks up on the furniture’s color palette. “I never would have brought in the pink, but I love the contrasting piece,” she says of the bright Dash & Albert throw pillow. “That one unexpected element completes the room.”
A modern oil painting from Lee Douglas Interiors is mounted in a gilded frame and represents Ranae’s eclectic style. “I love contemporary and modern styles, but I also love antiques. That’s what makes a home feel warm to me. Before, I would have thought you’d have to be just straight contemporary, but I love the blend.”
Ranae designed most of the kitchen, including the quartz countertops and cabinetry selected from Millard Lumber. Jessica pulled the room together through details such as the brushed gold and aged bronze hardware, both from Schoolhouse Electric. “I would have gone stainless steel to match the appliances,” admits Ranae, “but I love the mixture of metals.”
“I struggled with the barstools,” admits the homeowner of her kitchen’s seating. “Jessica had shown me how much fun you can have with color, so I was looking at bright stools. She was really good at bringing me down. She said, ‘Let’s stay neutral.’ She selected these [from Crate & Barrel], and they quiet down the space. It’s exactly the feel I wanted.”
“I originally got them for the master bathroom, but they were too overwhelming. Jessica said to use them in here,” says Ranae of the Crate & Barrel light fixtures. “They just float, and I like that they have a modern design, but at the same time they’re like candelabras. It’s a nice mix of vintage and modern.”
“I knew I wanted a wood wall, and I wanted it dark,” says Ranae of her dining space’s distinctive backdrop. “The vertical board treatment provides texture. It’s clean, but still has character. I found the chandelier at Euro Style Lighting; it just pops against the wall. I love the contrast.” The rustic dining table is from Restoration Hardware.
For seating, Jessica opted for head chairs from CB2 and six Eames side chairs, two each in white, taupe and robin’s egg blue, from Design Within Reach. The mix of colors keeps the room from being overly formal.
The Uptons commissioned the large-scale painting from an artist in Italy after Ranae spotted his work on Etsy. “It was kind of scary at first. We showed him pictures of the interior and told him we wanted something to complement the décor. It works with the style.”
Hallway & Study
The hallway off the kitchen features “Stanley With Glasses,” a fanciful portrait of the family pet created by the homeowners’ daughter. “Displaying children’s artwork is a big thing with me,” says Ranae. “It makes it feel like home.”
Ranae found the study’s custom wallpaper, “Smarty Pants Deer,” at Spoonflower. “My husband is a hunter, and this combines my style with something he enjoys. Plus, I love wallpaper. It’s fun, but not permanent, and you can put up something different to totally change the space.”
The family wall features artwork, a flat screen TV and plenty of family photographs. “There are always all those pictures on your phone or camera that you scroll through and love, but you don’t really display them. It’s always the professional photos,” observes Ranae. “But these make me happy. They’re all our best moments. It’s our memory wall.”
A classic black leather Eames lounge chair sits underneath a pair of antlers from one of Tim’s deer hunting excursions. A Fatboy beanbag chair in muted gold, perfect for the kids to stretch out on, picks up on the two ottoman upholstered with fabric printed in a tribal motif from Lee Douglas Interiors in Omaha. The leather sofa is from Restoration Hardware.
The master bath features hexagon tiled flooring, marble countertops and geometric wallpaper with calming grays and vibrant pops of pink. “Jessica pitched this wallpaper for the entryway, but I decided to use it in here,” says Ranae. Called “Triangles,” it was created by artist Lisa Congdon for Hygge & West and is no longer in print. A pendant light from Schoolhouse Electric and brushed bronze hardware add warm luster to the otherwise cool palette.
A restrained, airy feel dominates in the master bedroom, which includes a cowhide rug and dark brown leather chair. “We wanted a homey feel, and since this isn’t an older home, the paneled wall adds more warmth than just drywall,” says Ranae. She found the fireplace sconces at Crate & Barrel and the bed at West Elm. The small chest of drawers next to the bed was an antique store find.
“Emerald City” wallpaper from Flat Vernacular packs a lot of drama in the main floor powder room. “I wanted a floor-to-ceiling wall covering and a large mirror,” explains Ranae. “They make this small bathroom seem huge.” The copper lighting fixture picks up the warm tones of the simple marble sink and wood base.
“Jessica told me, ‘This is really going to push your boundaries,’” chuckles Ranae of the fanciful Hygge & West “Daydream” wallpaper designed by Julia Rothman. “I fell in love with it and put it in the laundry room. It’s so fun. And if you have to do laundry, you might as well have fun!”
The table is from the dining room in the Uptons’ former home. They cut it in half and mounted it to the wall as a folding surface. The chairs are also from the previous dining room. “These were my initial, ‘Agh! They’re not neutral!’ moment. Size-wise they didn’t work in our new home, so I use them in here. They’re some of my favorite chairs.”
SHOP THE LOOK
Furniture: Allens Home, Blue Dot, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Design Within Reach, Fatboy, Lee Douglas Interiors, Room & Board, West Elm
Lighting: Crate & Barrel, Dwell, Euro Style Lighting, Schoolhouse Electric, Etsy, Land of NOD
Cabinetry Hardware: Schoolhouse Electric, Target
Art: Etsy, Lee Douglas Interiors, Pearson & Company
Type A kitchen: Event planner’s organizing skills help to create a tidy renovation
Open Candace Kalasky’s kitchen cabinets, and you’ll find everything laid out with pinpoint precision. The 28-year-old has a passion for organization — as well she should. She’s the owner of Lovestru.ck Weddings + Events, and planning is her business.
The original kitchen in the home, situated in the Westside school district, didn’t measure up to Candace’s rigorous standards when she and husband Rich moved in three years ago. The space was poorly laid out and had limited counter space.
The couple worked with Bruce Frasier Architects to develop a master plan that would remedy those issues. The footprint of the 18½-by-12½-foot kitchen didn’t change, but doors and windows were moved and cabinetry added to accommodate the planner’s penchant for tidiness.
“I’m Type A, and I wanted a home for everything I own,” she says. “I made a list of all my bowls, pots and pans and then made a list of where I wanted them to go.”
That included strategic placement of major appliances, such as the dishwasher in close proximity to the flatware drawer for easy unloading. Flip-down panels conceal outlets, and custom cabinet doors camouflage a refrigerator.
“I wanted the kitchen to look really clean,” says Candace. “I like to have everything tucked away. I knew that I needed things in specific areas, and I fine-tuned from there.”
Big style on minimal budget: Kitchen remodel latest DIY upgrade to couple's 116-year-old Hanscom Park home
One Friday evening in 2012, Rachel Boshart looked at the wall in her dining room and decided it needed to come down. Now.
She and husband Matt had discussed remodeling the kitchen and removing the wall that made the cooking area feel cramped and tiny. Matt wanted to delay the demolition – at least for one day.
Rachel was undeterred. She grabbed a hammer and launched herself at the plaster.
“It was five minutes before Matt was over here telling me how I was doing it completely wrong,” recalls Rachel. “Before I knew it, he was doing the whole thing himself.”
“It was cheating!” interjects Matt, teasing. “It’s like when guys screw up the laundry really badly so they don’t have to do it anymore. I think she did that on purpose.”
Purpose certainly describes the couple’s deliberative approach to renovating their 1,400-square-foot, 116-year-old home owned since 2008 in Omaha’s Hanscom Park neighborhood. Now shared with 2-year-old Violet, the couple started painting before they moved in, systematically remodeling every room to achieve a contemporary interior with a vintage vibe.
It helps that Rachel has an artistic eye, thanks to her graphic design background. It’s also a bonus that her father, who is a mechanic, owns a salvage yard. Over the years, he has found one-of-a-kind architectural design elements that now give the Boshart home a unique aesthetic.
“He has a lot of treasures,” Rachel says about her dad. “He has been very generous in giving us things. He’s happy to see them go to a good home.”
It’s also fortunate that Matt knows his way around tools. The IT expert and proprietor of Reboot Roasting, a gourmet coffee roasting business, credits his can-do, DIY talent to growing up on a farm. “My dad taught me a lot,” he says. “And honestly, buying an old house and having Rachel do a lot of projects made me learn a lot of handyman skills. We’ve done the whole home, and the running joke is that she’s done,” he chuckles. “But that’s never the case!”
'I want my home to make me smile': Council Bluffs woman uses 'nervy hues' to evoke retro vibe of 1970s Palm Springs
Linda Meredith loves a “Nervy Hue,” which is a good thing given it’s the name of the cheery apple green Sherwin-Williams paint that runs through her two-story home in Council Bluffs’ Timbercrest subdivision. “I want my home to make me smile, and it certainly does,” Linda says.
Twelve months ago, the brilliant green — or any other bold stroke of paint color, for that matter — would have stuck out like a sore thumb in her guacamole and burnt orange country décor. And Linda definitely wasn’t smiling.
Vacationing in Palm Springs over the years, though, had gotten Linda and her husband, Dick, thinking about ways to enjoy a similar vibe here. Their home, Linda lamented, was boring. “It’s not fun. It’s not happy,” she told her retired husband last January.
Today, color is the spice of life in a contemporary design scheme that captures the mod, retro vibe of 1970s Palm Springs. An Indianapolis 500 party over Memorial Day weekend put the whole-house redo on a fast track to completion. Linda would need help and found it in Jerome Bergmeier of Interiors Joan and Associates, whose portfolio included design work in Southern California.
Jerome's inspiration boards for the Merediths popped with color, pattern and texture inspired, in part, by an iconic Shag art print his clients had purchased a few years earlier but never hung. “We loved it but didn’t have a place for it because the décor was all wrong,” Linda explains. Today, that print figures prominently in the living room.
The couple talks about their home in two distinct periods. “Before Jerome” and “After Jerome.” “Like Pre-Columbian and Post- Columbian,” Dick explains with a smile.
The Palm Springs vibe, Linda says, wakes up her senses and makes her feel happy. “Jerome nailed it.”
Color Is Key. Want to sell your home? It all comes down to the right hue, says realtor
Hardwood floors from France. A custom-made spiral staircase. Show-stopping chandeliers. Killer window views. A 6,000-square-foot Bennington Lake home had it all. Yet it sat on the market for more than a year.
Potential buyers couldn’t get past one thing.
“All you could see when you walked in was the yellow,” realtor Kelly Kontz recalls. “The color was very personalized to the décor. If you weren’t a ‘yellow person,’ the color was a disconnect.”
Kontz suggested a change of hue when the sellers re-listed the property with The Key Group.
“Color can make or break a home sale,” Kontz explains. While many sellers may not think twice about remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom to enhance a sale, they often will overlook the basic step of repainting.
“In staging a home, I look at color first. It’s extremely important,” says Kontz. “You can set the stage for an entire space with the right wall color.”
Architectural features drive Kontz’s recommendations. A room with a high vaulted ceiling, for example, will benefit from a wall shade that’s deeper than the ceiling to make the angles stand out.
The seller of the lake home, Kontz says, was initially reluctant to repaint. “Changing color is the one thing I get the most opposition to. However, once sellers see how far a fresh coat of paint goes, they understand the return on the dollar. They realize it’s a wonderful investment. Changing color helps their homes sell quicker.”
In the case of the Bennington Lake home, it sold within three days for the asking price of $1.1 million, proving color was, indeed, key.
TRENDING WITH RESULTS
Kelly Kontz's SELLER TIPS:
WALLS: Gray all the way. “For some people, it’s too much, so we combine it with tan tones for a custom color called ‘greige.’’’ Gray is quickly surpassing yellow, teal and chocolate, which are waning in popularity.
FIXTURES: Brushed brass. “The new brass is a combination of silver and gold in a soft finish.”
CABINETRY: White is right. “Cabinets used to be espresso – dark, dark, dark. Now the trend is toward sleek and clean marbled whites.”
“People don’t want colorful carpet. They just don’t. If it’s
burgundy, it has to go.” Ditto for hunter green – anywhere
His family’s ranch-style house near 114th Street and West Center Road was sold. He, wife September and daughter Lena found a bigger and nicer place in Florida, September’s home state. But after seeing it in person — the heat and moisture left the house dilapidated — he reconsidered. Doug just couldn’t leave Omaha.
So, right before closing on the two sales, he chickened out.
“It broke the people’s hearts that were supposed to get this place,” September said.
If they could only see it now.
Over the past six months, while the family lived in an apartment, construction crews took the roof off the house and built an entire second story, more than doubling its square footage. They redid every room inside except one bathroom and Doug’s basement office.
They added decorative columns and lions, they hung chandeliers and laid stone tile throughout the house. They knocked out walls, turning three tiny bedrooms into two huge ones. And they covered up support structures, like a long, steel beam in the living room, with elegant touches of decorative rock and built-in multicolored lights.
“It’s a little over-the-top, but that’s what we wanted,” Doug said.
Doug didn’t want to leave, he reasoned, because daughter Lena, 12, fit in at the her school in the Westside district, the neighborhood was in a convenient spot near the Interstate 80 and I-680 interchange, and the tax rate was fair.
But they wanted something bigger and nicer than the old 1,600-square-foot home — a sort of celebration of the family’s newfound economic stability.
For most of the past 15 years, Doug worked as a technician for a few communications companies while September worked in home health care. Since buying their home in 1998, Doug said they struggled to make house payments as they moved in and out of jobs, at times toeing the poverty line.
In 2010 he and a friend started their own business, competing with their former employer for bids doing structured cabling, wiring and installation at hospitals around the country. Within three years, the business loan was paid off.
“This is the final crowning achievement of ‘we finally made it,’ ” Doug said. “Now we’re just ready to relax and live.”
Most of the houses on the block are ranch or split-level homes. Even before the construction, some neighbors referred to the Krussel home as “the White House” because of its white siding, columns and pointed entryway that stood out. Now it stands out even more.
Neighbors had mixed opinions when asked about the project. One was upset that the runoff from the house now floods his yard. But others liked the finished house, or were at worst indifferent.
“I have no problems with it — to each his own, right?” said Jill Stoffel, who moved in across the street in July. “Yes, it doesn’t fit in the neighborhood, but it doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Stoffel wondered if the project might raise the value of her home. Jeff Rensch, an associate broker with NP Dodge who sells homes in the area, said projects such as these almost always boost the property values of the houses around them.
“It encourages other people in the neighborhood to do the same thing,” Rensch said.
Most of the houses in the neighborhood sell for between $150,000 and $200,000. Usually, Rensch said, projects of the magnitude of the Krussel house don’t recover their investment, especially in the short-term, but it depends on factors such as location, style and structure.
On the outside, the home’s four white columns and two lion sculptures frame the entryway, which opens to a landing and stairs covered with travertine tile. The stone continues through much of the house, even serving as skirtboard for the stairs.
The living room and kitchen are separated only by the stone-covered steel support beam overhead, which has a white column at each end. The kitchen has chocolate-colored cabinets with rope molding and a window framed by a carpenter-crafted arch at the top. Oversize appliances had to be wheeled in through the back door and placed carefully, to avoid cracking the expensive tile.
Before construction, a doorway to the backyard was positioned between the kitchen and a four-seasons room, but that doorway was covered up during construction to lengthen the kitchen. A new door was created on the other side of the four-seasons room, which is now a dining room with heated floors and a gold-colored ceiling hung in sheets by Doug. The house was extended by 6½ feet to the south, making room for the door and small outdoor staircase, and about 2 feet forward.
Down the hall is Lena’s room. Before, her cramped room was one of three on that floor. Now the walls have been knocked out and most of the three rooms have become one, with pink walls, a faux fireplace and a walk-in closet.
She inherited the family’s 65-inch HDTV and now has her own Hollywood-glam makeup station. She’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, having acted in locally filmed movies “The Scientist” (2010) and “Lucky” (2011).
Upstairs there’s a sitting room — with a wet bar and a wine fridge — that can also serve as an office. Above the stairs is one of a handful of white, three-dimensional rings that frame a chandelier.
Head straight from the top of the stairs and you’ll face Doug and September’s master bath, framed by an archway. Take a left into the full bathroom, which has a balcony overlooking their backyard party patio. On the other side of the bath is a walk-in closet that could fit a king-size bed, if it weren’t for the protruding shelves.
The adjoining master bedroom has a fireplace, a chandelier and a Greco-Roman four-poster bed — the loudest statement piece in the house, except for maybe the kitchen.
When planning the project this spring, the Krussels argued with their first contractor over things like travertine tile and eventually cut him loose. September asked Roger Schuller of R.D. Schuller Remodeling to take over the job. He shared her mother’s maiden name, seemed knowledgeable and trustworthy and, most important, he didn’t fight against what they wanted.
But he did have to fight nature.
In addition to the challenge of distributing the weight of an entire second story, he had to battle sheets of rain. His construction crews dragged equipment through 4-foot-deep ruts, racing to set the footings for the second story before rain hit this spring. By the end, Schuller called it one of the most challenging projects in his 42-year career.
“This is about as hard as it’s going to get,” Schuller said. “We did a $1 million addition a couple of years ago, and this one was more stressful than that, mostly because of the weather.”
Despite the rain, the project was completed in about five months. Additions to the original plan brought the final tab to about $450,000.
Doug said he realizes it’s an investment he likely will never make back. But that’s OK.