Tag Archives: Contrivium Design + Urbanism

The Divine She.la

May 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I’m divinely happy where I am,” She.la owner Sheila Christ says of her store’s new location. In fact, you could almost say her choice of location for her women’s and children’s apparel business, in the Sterling Ridge development near 132nd and Pacific streets, was “divinely” inspired; Christ was attending a memorial service at nearby Temple Israel when she was struck with the realization that she had finally found the perfect site—after a year of searching—for relocation.

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“I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, the light out here is magical,’” she says. “It turned out to be a beautiful fit for us. We knew our lease was up and we had been looking at all kinds of options including the purchase of our own building, and we just couldn’t find the right size and the right corridor of the city…long story short, I come out here after looking and looking and looking and struck a deal with the Lockwood Development people within about 36 hours. It was very quick.”

So, in November, after 18 years (and two remodels) at Countryside Village, She.la moved three-and-a-half miles directly west into its new 4,000-plus square-feet location. Excited to have the opportunity to start with a vanilla shell for the first time, Christ worked with Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design + Urbanism to design the new space. Santamaria, who Christ calls a “visionary,” had served as Christ’s architect for several residential projects and the last remodel for the former She.la.

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“He ‘gets’ us,” Christ says. “His architectural eye will weigh in and make you think outside of what (you think) is possible…If the architecture will allow for it and the pocketbook will afford it, anything is possible.”

The former location encompassed two floors, and Christ says having all operations on one level ensures all employees feel connected. The new She.la also boasts a flexible space including a kitchenette, which was first put to the test with a successful trunk show in January. And the sky’s the limit for potential events; Christ is considering everything from wine tastings to meditation seminars to hands-on art demonstrations for children.

“It’s a space that allows for complete intimacy but you’re able to have a connected event happening,” Christ says.

Moving after 18 years was an inspiration to streamline, Christ says, and the new store has an upscale, spacious feel. It retains, however, some longstanding features familiar to established patrons, including its signature shade of orange. A careful selection of lighting elements and major fixtures were transferred or replicated. New décor was incorporated, including creations by local Hot Shops artisans like fabric art from Kris Khan, metalworks from Chris Kemp and glass art by Valerie Spellman Batt. With both northern and southern exposure, the space is filled with natural light that showcases both environment and merchandise.

“It’s high-style but it has warmth. That was important to me,” Christ said. “And it’s an absolutely unbelievable space to work in.”

It sounds magical.

Visit shopshela.com for more information.

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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.”