June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Gabe Kutash, 10, loves playing basketball in his driveway. He often plays in his big yard, rides his bike around the cul-de-sac with his brother, and walks to school with his siblings.

Gabe really likes living in Omaha. “There’s so much room to play outside!” he says, throwing his arms into the air. “It’s great!”

Gabe and his parents, Jeff and Jessica Kutash, moved into their Baywood home almost three years ago. It’s very different from the 1200-square-foot, 1920s-era home they once owned in Oakland, California.

“It was just above a mid-range home for Oakland,” Jessica says. “I was so shocked when we were able to move here and get over four times as much space for a far lower mortgage—even including the renovations we did. It’s awesome.”

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For Kutash, it wasn’t the size of the house, but the quality of the high school that was the first priority in choosing their neighborhood. Millard won. Jeff and Jessica’s three children will one day attend Millard West High.

“Outstanding schools, so much parental involvement, so encouraging and supportive,” she says. “And it is a public school. We were looking at three private school educations had we stayed in Oakland.”

They loved the layout and location of their new home. The bigger challenge was bringing it up to date, and creating a living space that fit their tastes and lifestyle. Oh, and actually having enough furniture. Kutash estimates her existing furniture filled only about 25 percent of her new house. Rather than tackling multi-colored cabinets, and cotton candy pink spaces on her own, Jeff and Jessica enlisted the services of designer Julie Hockney.

“I saw her work in Omaha Magazine, actually. I loved one of her featured makeovers. So I gave her a call,” Kutash says. “She’s amazing. When we walked through the house, she had great ideas. She listened to us and really ‘got’ us. I came to trust her so much that she picked out most of the accessories without me.”

The main level of the home flows easily from room to room with few walls, so the first priority was to create elements of color and design that gently stitched the rooms together seamlessly. The first challenge was the kitchen. The previous owners favored a Tuscan look:  burnt orange walls, light oak flooring, and ornate fixtures. The upper cabinets were white, the lower cabinets stained—a tiled backsplash with yellow undertones just below.

Kutash was skeptical that Hockney could soften the yellow tones in the polished granite countertops. There are a lot of countertops—both the standard “L” plus a large island. “It was overwhelming. I really didn’t want to have the expense of replacing those countertops. It was one of those times I had to trust Julie.”

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Hockney did her magic. All white cabinets, a new backsplash, all new handles and knobs, and voila! She managed to take away the yellow tones and the orange walls.  She picked a light greyish blue as the field color for most of the rooms. Inconsistent wood colors throughout the lower level were painted a deep, rich brown. The fireplaces got new brickwork, and the staircases, which were once the same light oak as the ocean of flooring, were painted to complement the room: white, with dark brown steps. Overstuffed or overly traditional elements gave way to a fresher, uncluttered, and modern look. One thing that remained consistent was the deep and charming plantation blinds along the north side of the house.

While the main living areas are beautiful, Kutash’s favorite room is the main floor master bedroom. “The suite feels as big as our whole house was in Oakland,” She says. The walls are “new gray” with a wide horizontal navy stripe behind the headboard. “It’s the room that takes my breath away every time. I just love it.”

Upstairs, each child has his or her own space. The boys share a bathroom, and the cotton candy-colored walls are gone. “Gabe can actually leave his Lego projects on the floor overnight,” Kutash says. “There was never room for that before, or a swing set. I giggled when we were able to finally buy a swing set for the children.”

In asking the children their favorite part of the house, the basement wins, hands down. A playroom with a mirrored wall offers the young gymnast a way to check posture on the portable balance beam, or for her brothers to blow off steam with the arsenal of Nerf guns. The basement’s guest room and entertainment space houses much of the California furniture. 

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“We made a number of trips to Nebraska Furniture Mart with Julie,” Kutash says. “We were able to find things on clearance too!”

Jessica and Jeff are thrilled with their decision to move to Omaha. They love the culture, the arts, and the philanthropic nature of the city. This aspect is especially significant to Jeff, who leads the Peter Kiewit Foundation. Most of all, they love the sense of community.

“It’s so amazing how much people care. They care about their schools. They care about their city. They care about each other. This is where we belong.” OmahaHome

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