Imagine a back-door setting that rivals the headiest expanses of Fontantelle Forest nestled just seconds off busy Center Street. Such a dreamy place does exist and it’s home for two men of the arts—Lester Katz, interior designer with LK Designs and Jack Becker, executive director and chief executive officer of the Joslyn Art Museum.
“It’s like a tree house. There aren’t many views like this,” Becker says. “It’s a great little refuge in the city.”
The duo purchased the home in May 2013. “We got into serious remodeling mode immediately the day after we closed,” says Katz. The five-bedroom Mid-Century Modern home was built and designed in 1968 by Omaha architect Gary Goldstein.
You can’t miss the mounted head of a wildebeest lording over the inviting living room. It’s befitting that his domain is the “tree house.” Wildebeests, who are natives of Africa, prefer life among the open woodlands.
The walls are treated with grass cloth in a cozy caramel hue. “It’s warm and it has texture,” says Katz. “In a way, it gives it a dressy look, but also a very relaxed look. I think it fits the room perfectly.”
Katz says he had a vision when he first walked in the house. “I wanted this bright, open feel when you walked in.” He chose a unique porcelain tile for the flooring. “It’s made to look exactly like Calcutta marble. It creates this expanse that you don’t get with a hardwood.”
The newly made bookshelves hold a treasure trove of titles on the subjects of art, architecture, and design. They make for perfect reading to cozy up in front of the linear flame fireplace with their faithful Terrier-mix pooch, Tilly, nestled on a lap.
“We’re mixing things up,” Becker says. “We have some vintage things that we found here and there. This is 1930’s French Deco, there’s an 1820‘s South Carolina sofa. The little tables are original Saarinen,” Becker says.
On a wall opposite the den which houses a fantastic Egyptian Revival chair from the 1960’s hangs Andy Warhol’s original “Cow Wallpaper.” The first in a series of wallpaper Warhol designed from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. “It was cut out and framed,” Katz says. Art dealer Ivan Karp famously said the cows were “super-pastoral” as noted in the book Popism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett.
Katz and Becker keep active by walking the wooded trails in their Oakdale neighborhood. They do a fair amount of travelling, which is their main source of discovery for all of their fabulous furniture finds. They recently visited the dreamscapes of Ravello and Positano in Southern Italy with a stop in zany, hectic Naples.
The duo admits to a shared aesthetic, which makes choosing designs virtually pain-free. “If it’s a problem, it’s because we like so many different things,” says Katz. He mentions the neutral, patterned fabric for the chairs in the dining room. “We went through
so many choices.”
They created some open space by tearing down the passageway between the kitchen and the dining room. Afterward, the dining room needed something special to offset it from the kitchen. A copper border inlaid in the porcelain floor was the perfect solution. “People are pretty surprised by it,” Katz says.
“You want it to age and kind of turn brown, which it is doing,” Becker says. The duo regularly host dinner parties and their guests help with this tarnishing task. “Where people walk on it is where it is aging the most,” he says.
The basement is home base for LK Designs. The large space was the perfect place for an impressive fabric library that contains a dizzying array of textures, hues, and patterns. “It takes a long time to collect all of these,” says Katz, who earned his Interior Design degree ten years ago from Watkins College of Art and Design, located in Nashville.
It is there just outside his workspace that clients can sit on adorably petite 1930s diner chairs from Paris flea markets to discuss their own design dreams with Katz.
Back upstairs in the living room on the coffee table is a tiny metal sign, the type that one would set on their desk. It says “Reproductions” in a cool font, possibly from the 1930’s. It is a fitting little logo for their creatively engineered lifestyle of altering objects and spaces to suit their tastes and collective desires.
“Someone gave it to me,” Becker says. “They bought it at an antique store. I’ve always had it. I just dropped it here.
I don’t know why.”
“I think it fits,” says Katz.