This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Home.
Virginia Street ends abruptly at S. 45th Ave. in Sarpy County and morphs into Jim Hampton’s driveway—a long, curved gravel path that transports a visitor to hardscape heaven. Medium-sized boulders encircle several flowerbeds on the vast property and a conical-shaped pile of thin rocks called a cairn adds ornamentation, as does a replica of an ancient petroglyph drawn on a flat, gray rock and hung from a wire stand.
But the “wow” factor lies in front of Hampton’s home and illustrates why the father/son team of Jim and Justin Hampton commands worldwide attention. A vast, smooth patio made from interlocking paving stones with
mosaic-like colorful designs throughout provides stunning beauty. The patio’s centerpiece features a kaleidoscope of swirls that mirror each other, while depictions of three fish lay at the base of a fountain.
The patio, built 20 years ago, marks the first collaboration of Jim and Justin as hardscape artists, and signaled a change of direction for Jim.
“I was a biology teacher for 16 years at Platteview High in Springfield,” says Jim, 63. But after he and Justin, who laid pavers for another company, finished the patio, “I told my wife, ‘I’m going to quit teaching and do this for a living with Justin.’” Luckily, Christine Hampton was fine with his decision and pitches in by doing the books.
Today, Paver Designs LLC fields more requests than the two men can handle, and they don’t even travel outside the immediate area. Pictures of their paver patio designs grace several magazines.
This little Omaha company has won Hardscape North America, the biggest award in the industry, four years running, much to the chagrin of big city contractors who employ several crews of laborers.
“We’re pretty well known,” says Justin, 38, in his soft-spoken, unassuming way. “I had a guy from Dubai call me and said he wanted to copy some of our projects. I thought he was a telemarketer and hung up on him the first time.” The “guy,” who turned out to be the nephew of Dubai’s ruler, was very much on the level. “I told him he was welcome to pull our designs off our website. He offered to pay us, but I told him to send my kids some souvenirs from Dubai.”
Money never overrides Jim and Justin’s love of drawing, excavating, cutting stones, and piecing them together in one-of-a-kind patio installations. They bid on each job and guesstimate the cost, rarely asking for the kind of money they could—or should—command, considering their labor.
“Those swirling “y” patterns on my patio? There are 12 of them and each one took eight hours to cut in,” says Jim. “People tell me we’re never going to get rich because we don’t have crews who can make us money. But that’s not how I define rich,” he says.
For Jim and Justin Hampton, “rich” means the freedom to create, come and go as they please, and spend time with their families—a design for life as structurally sound as their pavers.