Tag Archives: architect

The Catholic Issue

February 21, 2017 by

The March/April issue of Omaha Magazine hits the streets just as Oscar season comes to a close. Meanwhile, the subject of Omaha’s best-known Oscar-winning story is up for an even greater recognition—sainthood. A tribunal from the Vatican is currently scrutinizing Boys Town’s founder, the late Father Edward J. Flanagan, for canonization.

Boys Town (the movie) tells a fictionalized story of the real-life Father Flanagan. Released in 1938, the movie was actually filmed on the grounds of Boys Town. Spencer Tracy won the Academy Award for Best Actor with his portrayal of Father Flanagan, and Tracy’s Oscar sits in a protective case at the Boys Town Hall of History.

The Village of Boys Town was engulfed by Omaha’s westward sprawl. But Boys Town itself has grown significantly, too, with satellite locations throughout the metro (and nationwide). This year, Boys Town enters its 100th year of operation.

Should Pope Francis designate Father Flanagan to be a saint, the Village of Boys Town would become a place of holy pilgrimage. Add that to Omaha’s list of annual pilgrimages (a cherry—or maybe “halo” would be a better word—on top of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting and the College World Series).

Although Father Flanagan’s earthly remains now rest in a tomb adjoining Dowd Chapel on campus, if he is canonized a saint, the village would need a shrine to accommodate the throngs of devout pilgrims (to avoid disrupting the normally calm chapel that was designed by local Omaha architect Leo A. Daly according to Father Flanagan’s own instructions).

Omaha Magazine’s March/April cover story tells the tale of Father Flanagan’s life and his ongoing canonization process. With St. Patrick’s Day, Lent, and Easter taking place during this issue’s distribution period, the magazine has taken on a noticeably Catholic theme.

There is a guide to Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl, a guide to six of the best Lenten fish fries, and a story about the mysterious stained glass windows of St. Mary Magdalene Church (which was also designed by Omaha architect Leo A. Daly).

The cover story’s author, Carol Crissey Nigrelli, converted to Catholicism one year ago on Easter. She has become the magazine’s go-to writer for all subjects Catholic. Nigrelli wrote about the last nuns of Duchesne Academy in the September/October 2016 issue. She also profiled the University of Notre Dame’s president in “From Omaha to Notre Dame” for the cover story of our November/December 2015 issue.

Omaha Magazine’s 35th Anniversary

A publication titled Omaha Magazine has existed in Omaha since the 19th century. The earliest version, according to publisher Todd Lemke, was published in 1890. It was a satirical newsprint publication in magazine format, he says.

Lemke entered Omaha publishing in March 1983 with the first issue of City Slicker, the precursor to his current Omaha Magazine. This March issue of Omaha Magazine marks the 35th anniversary of Lemke’s career in magazine publishing. That history explains why Omaha Magazine’s issue numbering starts with No. 1 in March.

When CitySlicker was initially in distribution, another Omaha Magazine was on the streets. Lemke says the previous Omaha Magazine—no relation to the current magazine—started in the 1970s and folded a few years after he had entered the local media market.

The Omaha Magazine brand name came available in the late 1980s. Lemke secured the copyright, and the first issue of his Omaha Magazine came out in 1989. The rest is history.

Today, Omaha Magazine Ltd. is the parent company of Omaha Publications, which also produces several other local community-focused magazines such as Encounter, B2B Magazine, Omaha Magazine’s Family Guide, and assorted custom publishing products.

For 35 years, Lemke’s Omaha Magazine (previously known as City Slicker) has told the stories of Omaha people, culture, and events. Thanks for reading!

Going with the Flow

August 30, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Southeast of Tekamah, Neb., Jack Savage savors a chunk of watermelon as he peers out over the Missouri River from his picture window. Prairie grass and sapling cottonwoods undulate in the foreground. Just above eye level, purple martins flitter around a Colonial-style birdhouse. That roiling, fickle river flows deceptively placid through the middle ground. Farmland and a stand of mature cottonwoods in the riparian plain of Iowa take the eye to the Loess Hills far beyond.

This is a vantage point he designed more than two decades ago and, with occasional help from Nature, one that has been evolving ever since. The noted architect, arguably the biggest single influence on the skyline of Omaha, designed his dream home in his dream space fully expecting that Change would visit.

Retired now, Savage’s more than half-century career helped nudge Omaha from big-shouldered market town to budding metropolis. Woodman Tower, Omaha Douglas Civic Center, ConAgra Twin Towers, Union Pacific Headquarters, the Mutual of Omaha Dome Addition. He’s had a hand in dozens more iconic structures. In 1975, Savage even led the groundbreaking renovation of the Orpheum Theater.

Drive the lonely gravel road for several miles from Highway 75, wind in through cottonwoods along the river and you arrive at a structure that, knowing some of his groundbreaking work, is almost anti-climactic at first glance. It looks like a farmhouse with common ag-land out buildings.

The mastery is in the details, for one, in the crafted open-space livability and flexibility, absolutely paramount in Savage’s mind when he thought of his ideal living space. Openness. Light. Views in all directions. A connection to this land, now a federally designated conservation easement. A place he could decorate in tune with his wildly eclectic tastes and penchant for whim buys and new hobbies. This is not a modern masterpiece of design. It’s a place that fits this particular guy and his peculiar menagerie of interests.

“When you’re younger, you’re trying to make your name and impress people with new things and bold ideas,” he says. “I wanted a Nebraska feel here, something comfortable that fit this place and fit me. I don’t have to impress anyone out here. It’s just my little corner of the world.”

Eclectic and evolving. Early on, Savage went on a bit of a salvaging binge. The carriage house brags a cupola from a fallen barn, for one. Most notably, perhaps, visitors pass through the dark oak doorway and dual coat closets that once graced the entry to the law offices of William Jennings Bryan.

Next to the small antique table where Savage eats his breakfast sits both a banjo and a ukulele. The furniture throughout the house comes from myriad design eras. Look closely, though, and you realize many of the pieces (and works of art) could just as easily be displayed in a museum.

His reading chair, which also looks out over the river, is surrounded by books that range from beginning music guides to the grand tomes of literature. Currently, Savage says, he is using the solitude of this perch to “try to figure out” Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. “I think I’m getting some of it,” he says sheepishly.

“There’s a big difference between solitude and loneliness,” he says. “Solitude is peace. This is my place of solitude.” As part of that solitude, Savage has cultivated a preserve. “With that Conservation Easement designation, this will be a lovely habitat for birds, animals, and fish forever.”

This refuge, both for the architect and fauna, was always designed to evolve. It weathered the great flood of 2011. (The house stayed dry. The road to the property had to be rebuilt, utilities restored. Savage still is chain-sawing downed and dead trees). The work has had unintended benefits, he says. “You haul a chainsaw around a lot, you get in shape.” (Savage even whips out his bicep for his guest. Pretty dang buff for an 83-year-old).

A side room designed as a small theater has morphed into a first-story bedroom. He has increasingly lost interest in television. At the same time, he wanted a sleeping space on the first floor. He has reconfigured several spaces for the enjoyment of his grandkids.

His favorite space all along, though, has been the picture-window view of the river. Savage even purchased land across the river so “it couldn’t become a dump I had to look at.” When he first saw this piece of land while hunting back in the late 1980s, this spot was where he imagined himself at sunset reading a book, ham-handing a new instrument, or chewing on concepts of space/time.

“I love it,” he says. “Lovely solitude. It just feels right.” 

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The Art of Architecture

December 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When asked about the design principles behind his contemporary, DIY home, Joel Holm employs a more-than-pregnant pause. Finally collecting his thoughts, he borrows—intentionally or otherwise—from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“The idea,” he says, “was to do…something completely different.”

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But there is so much more than “something completely different”—as dramatic as it is in this case—about the plot of land just a few doors south of Leavenworth on 52nd Street. The home, which he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their three children, is something of a forever-in-progress DIY project for Holm. He built most of it himself. More than just a basement workshop tinkerer with a table saw and tool belt, Holm is a remodeler whose H Aesthetics business recently merged with Workshop Unknown.

The design vision for the home and everything that followed became for the Holms an exercise in 
simple living.

“I’ve often thought about why we use this material instead of that material in homebuilding,” Joel explains, “especially when it would be cheaper, friendlier to the environment, and would last a heck of a lot longer if we used what we normally think of as industrial materials—and used them in new ways.”

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Square Hardie Board panels form a blocky geometrical array on the home’s exterior. Affixed with rivets that are proudly left visible and with the material’s aquamarine hue, the home almost takes on the vibe of a vintage seafaring vessel, that of an algae-encrusted steamer or battleship. Abutting those lines and introducing a contrasting motif is corrugated, recycled roofing material in red. The material’s striated ridges disrupt the cube theme that could otherwise dominate the façade. Adding to the industrial look are heated cement floors, commercial windows, and a CMU, cinder block-style 
block foundation.

Reclaimed strips of acrylic ingeniously incorporated into the pivoting front door create a dramatic, twice-daily light show. Viewed from inside the home, the morning sun streams through the door’s acrylic insets. At night and from curbside, the home’s interior lighting hits the slats in reverse fashion. The overall effect is that of electrified neon, and it takes closer examination to discern that there is nothing more at play here than beams of filtered light.

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A passerby’s first impression may be that the boxy, 3,500 square-foot home is a volcano of “contemporary” erupting in the brick-clad charm of the surrounding Elmwood Park neighborhood. But take a step back for a wider view, and you’ll notice that the Bauhaus-ish lines of the home subtly mirror those of the Prairie-esque ones of the property next door to the south.

“We didn’t have any particular architectural influence in mind with the design of this home. When I think of what we did here, it is that this is a just a better way to build a house,” he says of the home that was showcased in the 2011 Green Omaha Coalition Tour.

“Too many homes, to us, look alike,” adds Melissa. “After awhile, traditional homes built with traditional materials all tend to be 
the same.”

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The master bedroom suite is located on the main level while the kids’ bedrooms occupy the upper level. Instead of a standard hallway in a home where nothing standard is to be expected, the children’s bedrooms are connected by a wide concourse that acts as a play and study area all their own. Oversized sliding bedroom doors provide alone time in this most open and airy of settings.

“Having it be a very open space was important to us,” says Melissa. “It’s a lot of house, especially when compared to where we came from [only blocks away]. Our previous home was very quaint and charming, but it was cut up into too many individual rooms. When company came or when we had parties in the old house, it was always that awkward sort of arrangement where four people would have to be seated in another room and then a few more would be tucked around the corner from there.”

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Initial construction of the home designed in collaboration with architect Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design + Urbanism spanned almost two years.

A walking club made up of seniors from Elmwood Tower, a nearby independent living facility, peppered Joel with questions almost daily as work progressed. “I could have talked to them all day about what we were building,” he quips. “I’m sure I lost a month in the construction process talking to them.”

“And we were both surprised how much most of them liked it,” Melissa adds. “We had thought that older folks might not get it—might not get what we were doing—because even a lot of younger people don’t get it. People either love it,” she says with a shrug, “or hate it.”

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Such major additional projects as a fireplace are planned as time allows sandwiched in between a busy schedule of school and other activities for daughters Avery (7) and Kinley (15) and son Kaleb (12).

The Holms are also thinking about getting around to doing something with a pair of “doors to nowhere,” ones  that will eventually lead to a yet-to-be-built deck in one case and balcony in the other.

Mirroring the contours of a softly sloping lot, the home has six distinct levels plus a basement. To travel from the mudroom at the rear of the house to the front door, for example, it is a gradual one-two-three ascent of gently rising levels. In between, the space is full of subtleties that serve to break up the right angles that are otherwise everywhere to be found. A mini-flight of steps leading from the living room down to the kitchen area, for example, is sliced into a wedge configuration. The continuity of the open living room/kitchen space is never completely severed, Joel explains, but is instead merely interrupted in a way that delivers a sense of “roomness” between the two.

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The centerpiece of the kitchen is a custom table crafted by Workshop Unknown. Its acrylic surface and arcing, birch-laminated legs complement the acrylic and birch found elsewhere throughout the home.

“It’s such a simple and elegant wood,” Joel says of the birch, “and it’s a lot cheaper than many of your other choices.”

Expansive walls of glass in the main living area make for wide-open vistas but took some getting used to, Melissa says, especially when the family first moved in.

“We had people showing up outside and cupping their hands against the glass to get a look inside,” she chuckles. “They must have assumed it was a dentist’s office or something like that because our home is so different from everything else around here. I’d be reading a book or watching TV, and I’d catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, and there’d by some guy making nose prints on my windows!”

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If the home was in any danger of feeling cold or sterile, works by area artists and beyond lend a warm and vibrant touch in a color palette grounded in organic ochres.

“That was also an important driving force in planning our home,” says Joel. “We knew we wanted a place where we could display a lot of art, some of it on a pretty large scale.”

Everything about the lines, forms, and spatial composition of the Holms’ place suggest an acute attention to the art of architecture and the architecture of art.

“We do consider the house a work of art,” Joel explains as Melissa nods in agreement. “It’s something of a living sculpture but a very functional one for our family.”

Q&A: Jared Gerber

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Kent Behrens, and Tom Kessler

Inspired by design from a young age, Jared Gerber knew early on he was destined to go into architecture. Today, he makes his living helping homeowners design custom living spaces that not only reflect their personalities, but also fit their natural environment.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background. How did you first come to discover your love of building design?

A: I think the architecture seed was first planted while I was growing up in Virginia. We would take school field trips to Colonial Williamsburg, and I found myself more interested in the architecture of historic buildings than anything else. I really enjoyed studying the aspects that make a building unique—the setting, the form, the details…and trying to discern the things I liked and disliked about a particular building. These experiences also gave me an appreciation for historic preservation.Ascott-07_Web

Q: Where did you receive your education and training in architecture? How did you end up in Omaha?

A: My family eventually moved to Nebraska, and I went to high school in Fairbury. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I decided to take a break and found a job working at an architectural firm specializing in churches in Charlotte, N.C. I loved being two hours from both the beach and the mountains, but I missed the four seasons and my family, so after a couple of years I decided to move back to get my master’s from UNL. Immediately after graduation, I found a job in Omaha. I’ve been here ever since.

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Q: Tell us a bit about your firm. Do you specialize in any niche of architecture or price range? What do you enjoy most about what you do?

A: I founded Gerber Architecture, PC in 2005. I started as a commercial architect but gravitated to the residential side after designing my first house project. I soon discovered that residential design is very rewarding because it has such a direct, personal effect on a client’s everyday life. Today, about 90 percent of my work is residential. I’ve designed a wide range of projects, from simple room remodels to multi-million-dollar additions and remodels to new-construction homes. I enjoy the design phase the most, as that’s the time when the creativity is flowing and there’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy with a project. I also enjoy the beauty of working with different clients. Each homeowner collaboration—discussing their wants, needs, and ideas—creates a house that is truly distinctive, and each offers different problems and solutions. And although most of the drawings are done on the computer now, I still enjoy doing the initial schematic drawings by hand.810-09_Web

Q: Tell us about one of your favorite projects. What challenges and rewards did it offer?

A: One of my favorites was a new house that I designed on a beautiful 40-acre lot south of town that was full of bur oak trees and teeming with wildlife. With a large acreage, you not only design the residence…the creativity extends to the broader view of the site, the approach of the house. Siting the house can be the most difficult task…the vegetation, views, sun patterns, and topography are all factors the homeowner will live with every day. In this case, there was an open, flat area that initially appeared the best placement option. However, after further analysis, pushing [the residence] back to a spot nestled within some trees gave the house a feeling like it belonged…as if it grew out of the site. The finished house is not huge—less than 3,000 finished square feet—but it’s the siting of the house, the quality of the spaces, and the craftsmanship of the details that reflect the homeowners’ personality and make it a great project. The house was featured on the AIA [American Institute of Architects] Omaha Home Tour a couple years ago, and I’m still getting feedback from attendees on how much they appreciated the house.Wehrbein-02_Web

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. Family, associations, and interests outside of work?

A: My wife, Kristine, and I have been married for almost 24 years. We have two boys—Creighton, a sophomore at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., studying archeology, and Drew, a junior at Westside High School. We enjoy traveling, touring houses, and trying out new restaurants. I’m currently on the board for AIA Omaha and help organize various events for our membership. Interacting with my fellow architects helps keep me updated on changes going on both locally and nationally. I’m also a bit of a beer aficionado and enjoy some of the local and regional craft beers and the monthly home brewer’s club at the German-American Society. I’m a former athlete and a huge football fan and often take in a Husker game with my boys.

Educational Building Design

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by DLR Group

School buildings have come a long way from the stately, institutional structures of yesteryear. Today’s newest K-12 environments echo some of the best elements of commercial and residential design trends, say representatives of integrated design firm DLR Group.

“What we really see as far as trends are a lot of renovations, a lot of energy retrofits, and a big push for security measures as well,” says architect and DLR Group principal Pat Phelan, K-12 sector leader.Marysville-Getchell-High-School-Campus_Web

While established structures in longstanding neighborhoods undergo renovation and expansion, most of the new construction has been in elementary schools, says architect and DLR Group principal Mark Brim, K-12 designer. He adds that it’s a matter of numbers related to how school districts are structured, explaining that “for every high school you build, you’re going to be building three, maybe four, elementary schools and maybe two middle schools.”

One lesson learned from the past is planning for future expansion during new construction and major renovation, Phelan says. “With some of the older buildings that weren’t designed for expansion, those present some unique challenges, obviously.”

Brim adds: “We’ve had the opportunity to work with the rapidly growing districts here in the metro area. In those cases, the new buildings we were involved with, we did master-plan those to expand as enrollment increases.”IMG_8674_Web

District residents also have a vested interest in their school buildings, and today’s schools include spaces that can be adapted to serve the community for activities from public meetings to presentations and receptions. Of course, durability is also a consideration when it comes to school buildings with a life expectancy of 75 years or more.

“It’s selecting the right yarn type so the carpet will hold up, or high performance paint,” explains Melissa Spearman, DLR Group senior associate and interior designer leader.Creighton-Preparatory-School_Web

“A school is going to have a lot of traffic. It may not have a lot of money to fund a lot of maintenance,” Brim adds. “Energy efficiency is always a concern, but also sustainability with the push for green architecture, and not only on the energy side but also with use of more environmentally friendly materials and recycled materials.”

Spearman says function now drives form when school interiors are planned.

“We’re seeing how the teachers interact with the students or how the students can work in small groups, how different collaboration zones are set up, or how maybe they’re studying in common spaces and those are becoming more gathering spaces,” she says.Joplin-11th-&-12th-Grade-Interim-Campus_Web

“We’re really focusing more on the learning environment overall,” Phelan agrees. “That involves bringing natural light into as many spaces as we can, it means comfortable climate, it means transparency so students are more engaged in what’s going on in different spaces.”

Phelan explains that engagement elements range from wi-fi to adding more display areas for student works to considering environmental features evocative of where students naturally congregate, like the comfortable, portable seating in malls or coffee shops.

“We think that research supports the fact that the learning environment has an impact on the performance of students in the classroom. As a result, DLR Group has become the number-one K-12 firm in the country,” Phelan says. “That’s something that we take a lot of pride in, and we don’t rest on that; we know we have to continue to always look to the future, look to innovate, and listen to our clients.”

Q&A: Rebecca Harding

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha native and a principal with TACK Architects shares her passion for design, the people who inspire her, and the reasons she’s excited about working in her hometown.

Q: Tell us a bit about TACK Architects. What makes the firm unique?

A: We are an Omaha-based architectural studio founded in 2011 by Jeff Dolezal, Chris Houston, and myself. We’re a fairly young but tested firm, combining 45 years of experience between us. In that time, we’ve created thoughtful, unique projects, integrating our passion for detail and design. We work with a wide range of clients across the nation, providing works of architecture and interior design in the form of high-end residential, commercial, and cultural projects. TACK references a course of action, or method, in order to achieve a goal, especially one adopted through rigor and critical thinking. This is especially true of our work, where good design is a process that vets out and tests ideas. Our design philosophy explores notions or craft, tectonic expression, sustainability, and contextual specificity, while working hard to understand our client’s objectives, budget, expectations, culture, and mission.

Q: Where does the name “TACK” originate from?

A: We wanted to differentiate ourselves with something meaningful that referenced our work and disposition; something people would remember. Within the context of sailing, to “tack” means to change the direction of movement of the sail in order to maximize the benefit from the wind. We felt the term evoked a sense of freedom and determination. Leaving our comfortable corporate careers behind was scary, but exhilarating at the same time. The three of us have been friends and collaborators working on several projects together for over 10 years. We trusted each other’s talents and passion to build a company together at a pivotal time in all our lives.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue your career in Omaha?

A: Returning to Omaha in 1994, after receiving my Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and traveling abroad over a six-year period, was a choice I made for several reasons. Omaha was at the inception of major architectural developments and making its mark as a changing and dynamic Midwestern city. The opportunity to begin my career with well-established architects was ripe and I was ready to reconnect with my roots. My time away from Nebraska and having the opportunity to study in places like Italy, Russia, and Scandinavia provided me with priceless educational experiences in different cultures and the ability to view works of art and architecture that have influenced me over the years. I returned to Omaha with an appreciation beyond my expectations. Omaha is a very special place where people are passionate and hardworking, with ethical beliefs in line with my own. As the city is in the process of expanding new redevelopment efforts, such as the Riverfront, Aksarben, and Downtown and North Omaha, I have the unique opportunity as an architect to help shape the future physical environments in and around Omaha that the next generations will enjoy for years to come.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

Q: Any mentors that have influenced you? Other influences on your design tastes, methods?

A: My father is an oral surgeon and an amazing artist. As children, he used to show my sister and me some pretty gruesome slides of some of his surgeries. I was fascinated by how he could turn a mangled face back into something beautiful again. The precision with which he manipulated bone, muscle, and cartilage while controlling proportion and angles was magical. The combination of science and artistry was a concept I have been obsessed with since I can remember. The practice of architecture is very similar (although a life is not on the line). Other influences include Bauhaus architect, Le Corbusier, for his pure and streamlined designs in architecture and furniture; and Modernist architect, Sverre Fehn, for his sensitivity to context and beauty. Both of these elements can yield very diverse design solutions, but to me, they are very important to the foundations of architecture. It’s true that beauty is somewhat subjective, but beauty can be universal elements like proportion, scale, rhythm, etc. For me, it manifests itself in everything from a field of corn in the middle of summer (viewed from any elevation or angle), to the reflection of the sky in a puddle of water in the driveway.

Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in residential and/or commercial architectural design in Omaha?

A: When I first started practicing in Omaha 16 years ago, it was difficult to get clients to stretch out of their comfort zones. Reputation and trust comes from past projects and what you’re able to physically show the client that’s real. Most people have a hard time understanding abstract concepts or unusual materials until they see them, or can touch them. However, architecture isn’t just about design in the physical sense. We work with many clients on strategic facilities planning; where we help them make decisions on how much space they really need or can grow into. I think this type of service is what makes us really valuable, not just that we’re good designers but we also help people plan their projects and make good decisions at the beginning of the process. This planning works for most project types: residential, commercial, retail, corporate offices, etc. We definitely are seeing an upswing in the market right now.

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. What do you enjoy in your leisure time?

A: I was born and raised in Omaha and attended Westside High School. I was a competitive figure skater up to about the age of 12. When I retired the skates, I took up many other sports and have continued to be active in my adult life. I enjoy running…Not only is it great exercise, it’s great therapy. The stresses of life and work seem to melt away with every step on the pavement. I hope to sign up for another marathon in 2013. I have been married to Brinker Harding for 13 years and have two daughters, Elizabeth (10) and Grace (7). I am truly blessed by them! They remind me what is really important in life—family, humility, love, joy.

A Designer’s Perspective

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Updating modern architecture from 50 to 60 years ago with interior design true to the period was an exciting prospect for me as a designer. The style was in vogue as I was finishing college…in 1969. I love the design concepts [of Mid-Century Modern], form follows function, the simplicity of design, bringing the outdoors in. Famous architects of the period, such as LaCorbusier, inspired me so much that I was married in one of his French churches, built in 1955. In 1977, my husband Rob and I traveled to France, and we were married on July 7, 1977 (7-7-77) at Notre Dame du Haute. Fast-forward and 43 years have flown by, but there’s still a spot in my heart for the era.

When asked to help Dr. Paul and Kim Coleman of Omaha update their Mid-Century Modern home in Indian Hills, it wasn’t necessary for me to visit a library or go online to research what would be appropriate. I found the Colemans’ residence a wonderful canvas to execute the flavor of the architect’s design and re-emphasize the mood, materials, and focus of the home. Incorporating some of the same tiles available during those years, but with an updated color scheme, we brought the home’s bathrooms into the present. (Unfortunately, the tile company has just recently gone out of business.)

It was popular to use “scrim” style casements for draperies…sheer enough to see the garden through them. This year, the final touch was installing new draperies on the glass walls that cover the entire backside of the home. The Colemans’ style is exactly what would have been considered the best choice for this architecture.

All the furniture of the home takes its inspiration from the styles popular at the time, lighter-colored fabrics and leathers and touches of black as accent. Lighting that is functional, such as by Omaha’s own famous lighting designer, Cederic Hartman, created floats in front of the windows. Large, colorful but minimal art and hand-crafted accessories supplement the more modern-style accessories to compliment the space and bring color to the quiet, restful spaces.

Another influence popular during this era was the use of Oriental themes for simplicity…usually more Japanese than Chinese. The sleek, minimal styles blended well and the colors were wonderfully compatible. In this case, I worked in Celedon vases and branches that compliment the Oriental theme and drew the nature influence into the mix. (I am told the home was decorated with an Oriental style originally.)

The materials common in flooring were practical and durable, such as tile, stone, wood, cork, and in this case, terrazzo. We repaired the materials when possible or found similar materials to replace them.

The over-scale landscape by Nebraskan Hal Holoun was a perfect touch. The scene of Nebraska’s big sky at sunset is stunning and serene, casting a spell of calm as evening comes on. The classic fireplace at the opposite end of the living room flickers with it’s comforting glow.

The home’s architect, Stan How, understood the idea of simple elegance and function in his design. This sleek, clean design, spare and open to the sunlit garden, reflects the outdoors and unites the interior to the patio year round. The glass walls include nature in daily living while the extended roofline protects it from the summer’s sun. The winter sun’s warmth flows in when the sun lowers in the sky. During the ‘60s, these design concepts were strong and the beautiful Colemans’ residence is an accurate reflection of the period. We have much we could learn from this practice.

Today, with the desire of many homeowners to be conscious of living conservatively, the examples of the Colemans’ home are a perfect solution.

A Tale of Two Homeowners

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jokingly referred to by its owners as a closet with a house around it, Dr. Linda and Travis Sing’s window-walled home is a study in what’s left in the open…and what can be stashed away.

This reveal/conceal dichotomy plays out from the first moment inside the foyer. To the left is the Sing’s bright living room and dining area with its floor-to-ceiling fenestration that allows the room to capture and somehow magnify even the most elusive beam of light.

Windows to the backyard line the galley kitchen wall.

Windows to the backyard line the galley kitchen wall.

Straight ahead is a corridor flanked by closets, tall and long and limitless.

To the right is another airy room, but this one features a desk that can be hidden…in fact, the very same desk that once belonged to the architect and original owner of the home, Don Polsky.

Peekaboo shoji screen pocket doors separate the two rooms. Polsky, who once worked in the design studio of famed “California-style” architect, Richard Neutra, was a man of his time. And his time was all about clever storage solutions and walls that seemed to float.

Simple geometric lines are found around the house, from a bookshelf in the office to the spare bedroom.

Simple geometric lines are found around the house, from a bookshelf in the office to the spare bedroom.

But the Sings’ home is more than the sum of its partitions. It’s an actual home, built for an actual family. First Polsky’s, now the Sings. The couple serve off their buffet made with original marble from Clarkson Hospital. They store their kitchen items in St. Charles cabinets, such a Mid-Century staple that Frank Lloyd Wright used them at Falling Water and Mies van der Rohe installed them at Farnsworth House. Linda does her makeup in a vanity that lifts up from a room-length credenza…just like a scene from Mad Men. Only when she’s finished prepping her look, Linda typically rushes off to her job as a radiologist, not lunch with the girls.

“Of course, we have to be respectful with anything we do to the house,” Linda says of the updates they’ve made, including replacing all the carpet and renovating a bathroom. “But we can’t live in a museum.”

The master suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding panels for closet doors.

The master suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding panels for closet doors.

It’s a sentiment with which Polsky seems to resoundingly agree. When the couple fell in love with the house and decided to buy, Linda and Travis looked him up (there had been one owner in between). The three became fast friends. The architect even attended the home closing and told stories: here was the flower wallpaper his daughter put up in the ‘70s…there, in the back, is Beverly, the tree. The Sings keep an Omaha World-Herald article from that era, featuring a photo of Polsky’s wife and daughter staged in the very familiar-looking living room.

One of Polsky’s enduring legacies is the enormous map of the world in the main corridor, an homage to his days stationed in the Atlas Mountains with the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s remarkably well-preserved thanks to Travis who, as a historian, endeavors to be archivally sound about gluing any fraying bits down.

A wallpaper map of the world, installed by Polsky, lines the main hall.

A wallpaper map of the world, installed by Polsky, lines the main hall.

“When we have get-togethers, the hall gets jammed because everyone’s looking at the map,” Travis laughs. “Everyone comments on how things have changed, where they’ve been, where they want to go.”

On a facing wall is an original pencil drawing of the home that Polsky gave the Sings last summer.  Those few simple lines on paper offer the same comment about the home.

Living a Legacy

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Susanne and Brent Nicholls decided to return to Omaha from the Denver area 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to live in Indian Hills, near Brent’s childhood home.

“I used to walk through the Arboretum to go to school at Swanson Elementary, and I wanted my sons to experience the same childhood memories that I did growing up in this neighborhood,” Brent explains.

From his office on one end of the house, Brent has a clear view through the living room and into the kitchen on the opposite as his boys—one in sixth grade at Swanson and the other a sophomore at Westside High School—wander in and out of the rooms in preparation for their after-school activities.

Designed by esteemed Omaha architect Stanley J. How, Jr. for himself and his family, the Nicholls’ 1963 ranch is a monument to the Mid-Century Modern suburban lifestyle and its many aesthetic traditions, including an open floor plan and floor-to-ceiling windows, that still endure today.

Gray slate tile, a marble sink, and wood planks on the ceiling lend a spa feel to the master bath.

The master bath has a “spa” feel with gray slate tile, a marble sink, and wood planks on the ceiling.

However, as idyllic as this case study in family life is, the Nicholls happened into their light-filled home almost by accident. While house-hunting, Brent ran into a former Westside classmate at a Husker game. His friend was in the process of purchasing the home, but the sale fell through due to water in the basement.

An energetic DIY guy, Brent was not one to be deterred by the dampness. It doesn’t hurt that Susanne, an engineer by trade, is not only supportive of his (sometimes) guerrilla handyman efforts, she is his partner in priming. “He likes to do the math,” she says of their synergistic reno strategy. “I’ve got the patience for multiple coats of poly.”

While the couple clearly delight in the updates they’ve made (in the basement, Brent points out that he had to drill through four to six inches of concrete to install wi-fi), they’re also ever mindful of the responsibility that comes with living in an iconic home.

New bamboo flooring the Nicholls installed throughout the main level unifies the space.

New bamboo flooring the Nicholls installed throughout the main level unifies the space.

Fortunately, just as the Nicholls began the challenging work of modernizing their ‘modern,’ they came into possession of archived Architectural Digests magazines from the era. The magazines, as well as a resource list of skilled craftsmen and contractors that the previous owners left behind, became a blueprint of sorts for preserving the home’s stylistic integrity while making it practical for modern life.

This is borne out in two of the couple’s biggest projects: the newly laid bamboo flooring that unifies the main floor and the master bath, which includes a marble sink that they ordered online from Italy; and slate floors that pick up on the black color scheme, which threads throughout the house.

“Our former home was arts and crafts style, and it was almost like each room had its own personality,” says Susanne. “Here, it’s nice to see continuity.”

Home is Where the Art Is

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“We’re living in the area my mother always wanted to live in,” notes architect Steven Conley of the Indian Hills home he shares with his wife, Darcy Beck, an Omaha Realtor, interior designer, and home stager.

In a sense, the spirits of both Steven’s mother and Darcy’s parents do inhabit the house. Within moments of welcoming visitors, Darcy introduces them to her late mother, Anna Beck (exotic beauty, self-taught artist, Hindu dancer, and universally adored Air Force wife) via paintings of East Indian dancers the latter created as a teenager; and her late father, esteemed Major General A.J. Beck, via signed Dali lithographs and original rosewood and orange leather Eames chairs that he loved, as well as a humorous coffee-table topper of boxing gloves signed by Leon Spinks.

Two large framed and signed lithographs by Salvador Dali are featured in the living room.

Two large framed and signed lithographs by Salvador Dali are featured in the living room.

Steven chimes in with an introduction to Irma, a bigger-than-life sculpture in the entryway that his mother, also named Irma, purchased for him when she downsized her home.

The couple has complemented the art of their parents with their own collection, including a prominently displayed painting by their next-door neighbor, the artist Jill Rizzo, two large ballerina torsos by another local artist gracing their dining room wall, a turquoise-encrusted bull’s head, redolent of Georgia O’Keefe, mounted in their stairway, and a witty ceramic “paper bag” luminaria that Steven gave to Darcy. “Who gives his wife a brown paper bag?” he cracks with a twinkle in his eye.

Dining room chairs made of woven seatbelt material are surprisingly comfortable and serve as conversation pieces.

Dining room chairs made of woven seatbelt material serve as conversation pieces.

The home, built in 1964, is just what you’d expect from a couple who makes their living bringing life to beautiful spaces. Originally owned by Jay Swanson, whose father, Gilbert, was one of Indian Hills’ premier developers, the cubist-style structure was renovated by the local architect legend, Don Polsky, who added the front porch, as well as the sunroom where the couple and their pets (two standard poodles and a cat, all from the Nebraska Humane Society) like to hang out.

After purchasing the home in 2006, Steven oversaw a second renovation by tearing down interior walls to create a completely open, public space. In the more private sleeping quarters of the house, solid-core doors boast a single, thin gleaming ribbon of aluminum, an adornment notioned
by Steven.

White decorative plates that Darcy bought on clearance are used in a bedroom as wall art.

White decorative plates that Darcy bought on clearance are used in a bedroom as wall art.

To this, Darcy adds her stylist’s eye with an expertly curated mix of high and low. Despite her profession, there’s nothing stagey here. Instead, the home is a deeply personal expression of warmth, elegance, and fun. And something else: the unexpected.

“We’re equal-opportunity shoppers,” she explains, plucking a statuette from a shelf to reveal a Marshall’s $16.99 price tag on the bottom. And that turquoise bull’s head? Right above it is a bleached white one that Darcy picked up at Z Gallerie.