September 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. issue of Omaha Home.

On a small acreage nestled in the rolling sine-wave hills outside Springfield, Nebraska, Todd Middleton set the gold standard for the man cave. This husband and father of two built a manly oasis in his barn—decorated with old duck decoys, John Deere curios, barbed wire, a rusty raccoon trap, and cow-skull art made of washers—reflecting the family’s passions for antiques and the outdoor life. The taxidermied duck, forever flying off the wall, looks perfect.

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Middleton, owner of Double T Lawn and Landscape, first conceived the idea for the project when he built an office in a different barn on his property. “I said if I ever build another barn, I’m gonna build me something that I can actually sit down in and kinda get away from the wifey.”

“It’s okay, the feeling’s mutual,” says Todd’s wife, Aimee, who directs the marketing and clerical side of the family business. “It gives me time in my kingdom. By myself!”

(“She sheds” are fast becoming the counterbalance to the man cave. If men have their private dens, it’s only logical that women should have a space of their own as well.)

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Plenty of beer, wine, and Hawaiian Punch await Todd and his buddies; a Yoder barbecue smoker just outside the entrance gives off a faint whiff of pulled pork. Inside is a masterpiece of craft and masculine attention, including a bar, two Frigidaires, a  Shaquille-O’Neal-sized-couch, a 60-inch flat-screen, a bathroom with repurposed galvanized tubs for sink basins—even an old watering can for a showerhead. Cedar and knotty pine panel the walls, giving a fresh-from-the-forest look. Whereas most builders worry out every little knot and kink in the wood, Todd purposely let imperfections remain in order to give the place an outdoorsy feel.

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You don’t want anything perfect,” he explains. “You don’t want anything straight, clean. When you do stuff like this, you want it a little rough.”

In keeping with the theme of roughness and wilderness, the bar, made of fieldstones, supports a syrup-colored, knotty pine countertop that is lacquered on the sides and topped with a self-leveling epoxy mix to give it a glassy, uncanny sheen. He wanted to go his own way on its design. “Everybody’s got granite, onyx, whatever. This is something different.”

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Working alone, Todd built his cave a little bit at a time. Aimee says the antique collecting actually took the longest. The family enjoys hunting for rare finds at flea markets and auctions like Rural Route Rust in western Nebraska and Junkstock, and on websites like eBay. It’s an impressive collection, a mini-museum devoted to the rustic life.

In fact, their one-of-a-kind endeavor could serve as a valuable homegrown marketing tool, introducing the concept of manterior design to Nebraska.

“We’re putting this on our website,” Aimee admits. Todd has already been offered a few renovation jobs because of influence from social media sites like Pintrest.

“She put it on Facebook, a lot of people were kinda going nuts,” Todd adds. “There’s just so many cool things out there that people think of and that you can do.”

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