October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In all built things, the real story lies in the space between intention and fruition. The place where design meets application is a point of contact. Across space and time, builder and user enter into a collaboration. 

In the architecture of homes, this moment of connection occurs constantly. In every room, at every minute, the idea of life runs headlong into the actual living of life. If an architect has done their job right, this is, ideally, an amicable collision.

A.J. Vacanti’s home in Omaha’s Regency neighborhood masterfully reflects this communion of design intention and thoughtful, everyday use. Conceived and built by renowned Omaha architect Donald Polsky in the early 1990s, Vacanti’s home embodies a tasteful, modern simplicity. Though the space is, by any measure, a masterpiece of the mid-century modern style, it’s not ostentatious. In fact, when seen only from the street, the house is downright plain—little more than a white windowless rectangle. 

Of course, the real story is found inside. At the heart of any home’s design is an architect’s notion of how best to choreograph the activity of life. “Polsky understood that no one lives in the front of their house,” Vacanti points out. “The impulse is always to move deeper into the sanctuary of the space, thereby allowing oneself to go deeper into one’s consciousness. This aspect is why all the windows here face the backyard instead of the street.”

In fact, many windows in the house are arranged so subtly—in long narrow rows along the ceiling, for example—that it can be surprising to realize the entire space is illuminated only by natural light. 

“The use of artificial light is rare when the natural sunlight filters in,” Vacanti says. 

The home bares many hallmarks of the modernist architectural movement: clean lines, flat roofs, open spaces that blend and breathe into one another. Other elements, though, are more unexpected: moveable walls, dramatic framing, a basement sitting room with the highest ceiling in the house.

However, the most striking detail of Vacanti’s home is the way in which his own creative energy has made a space for itself within Don Polsky’s signature design aesthetic. The elegantly understated architecture makes the space an ideal setting for displaying Vacanti’s ever-growing collection of primarily original art.

While there are a few purchased pieces prominently placed here and there in the home, the majority of the collection, including dozens of paintings, are Vacanti’s own creation. 

Though not an artist by trade, Vacanti’s talent certainly holds its own against the masterwork of Polsky’s design. Drawing direct inspiration from a wide number of artists he admires, Vacanti’s own artistic vision is broadly diverse, yielding a collection that very much seems like it has come from the hands of several different creators.    

“When you walk through the home you’re walking through separate stages of the collection,” Vacanti explains. “Each stage reflects a point in my life. In each painting, I’m working with the material of different moments of experience. There’s a progression. Polsky designed the home to have an art gallery kind of reverence for space. I took Polsky’s linear approach and created a nonlinear reality within the space. I’ve just tried to honor that by expanding on Polsky’s vision through my interpretation of his work.”

 These days, most consumers with the financial means to invest in a custom-built home approach the design process like they would any other service relationship, often dictating their own vision and desires to an architect or builder.  

“Today, homeowners have become so used to telling an architect: This is how we want to live our life,” Vacanti says. “It wasn’t always like that. It used to be that architect stayed true to their own vision. The building itself would say to the owners: This is how you’re going to live.” 

This appreciation for the pure vision of a master architect left to his own devices compelled Vacanti to become something of a collector of Donald Polsky’s Omaha homes. 

“This is my third Polsky,” he adds with pride. Though he’s never owned more than one Polsky-designed home at a time, in the early 2000s Vacanti did find himself moving just one house over, from one Polsky to another, when his neighbors’ house went on the market. 

“I’ve always been interested in modern homes, ever since I was a kid,” he says. “I just like clean lines. Coming from a commercial real estate background in my family, I’ve always been attracted to industrial designs, which you don’t see a lot of in Omaha.”

It’s this sensitivity to the integrity of the designer’s vision that gives every room in the Vacanti home the feeling of thoughtful intention. Every space, it seems, has its purpose.    

“Even though it is open and flows, it’s still compartmentalized,” he says. “You don’t feel like you’re in a gigantic space, wondering what’s happening on the other end of the home.”

Put simply, it’s not over designed. The ongoing conversation between architect and owner—the idea of life and life itself—is richly complementary.  

For Vacanti, his home collecting seems to have come to an end, at least for now. 

“The energy that has been created in this space is magnetic; it draws you in,” he says. “For me to want to leave now would be unrealistic.”


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.