Tag Archives: DIY

Succulent Style

May 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Succulents are a hot trend, blooming in popularity not just because of their unique beauty—they’re also easy to propagate and nearly indestructible.

More than 25 different plant families contain succulents, with varieties ranging from cacti to yucca, aloes, agave, bromeliads, and even orchids. The word “succulent” is derived from the Latin word sucus, which translates to “juice” or “sap.” The plants are native to deserts and arid climates.

“All cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus,” says master gardener Kathy Bokelman-Zeeb of Papillion. “I couldn’t even take a guess at the number of succulents. They would be at least in the thousands.”

Before starting this DIY project, I decided to get an expert opinion. Gardening gurus directed me to Bokelman-Zeeb. I also searched the web to educate myself on the do’s and don’ts of succulents.
One common mistake is overwatering. This is (most likely) the No. 1 way for a novice gardener to kill their succulents. Succulents need watering when the soil feels dry, but Bokelman-Zeeb says each calls for different care.

“Preferably, you water on a sunny day so they dry out better—rather than a cool day because succulents don’t want to sit in water—you don’t want to encourage rot or mold in the soil,” Bokelman-Zeeb says. “In warmer months I water a lot more, but over the winter, you might only water once every month to keep the little rootlets from drying out.”

She recommends using very loose soil that drains well (there are several brands of potting soil intended specifically for succulents/cacti) and a pot that has holes for water drainage. Non-draining pots can be used but require more attention.

To ensure longevity and beauty of the plants, make sure to fertilize. Bokelman-Zeeb says the fertilizer should be diluted to one-fourth strength in water.

Above all, have fun with your succulents—whether you choose to group them for slower growth, or pot them alone and watch them grow. Let your imagination go wild. Possibilities are endless when it comes to planting succulents. No matter the style of décor—rustic, classic, or modern—they go well everywhere!


Items for this project:

  • Shallow bowl, preferably with holes (which can be drilled if not already present)
  • 12-15 succulents in many varieties
  • Succulent fertilizer
  • Succulent/cactus soil
  • River rocks or small pebbles
  • Activated filter carbon (found at pet stores)
  • Decorative moss (optional)
  • Battery-operated string of lights (optional)

Instructions:

  • Step 1: 
Place a layer of activated filter carbon on the bottom of the pot for drainage.
  • Step 2: 
Add your succulent soil. Fill 1/4-inch from the top of the pot.
  • Step 3: 
Take each succulent out of its container. Place them on top of the soil (move them around until you find the best placement).
  • Step 4
: Scoop out soil for appropriate holes. Plant succulents in about the same depth as their previous container/pot. Tap firmly around roots to set plants securely.
  • Step 5: 
Place a thin layer of pebbles or granite chips on the soil for top cover. This helps keep the moisture away from the base of the plants.
  • Step 6 (optional): 
Use some decorative moss and battery-operated lights to illuminate the arrangement.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Horses, Mavericks, and Pitbulls—It’s an Animal of a Weekend

April 12, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Thursday, April 12 to Sunday, April 15: The International Omaha (Horse show) is back! If you go, be sure to attend the InIt2WinIt, featuring local ladies Brooke and Karen Cudmore. Don’t have a ticket? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of free fun at the Horse Discovery Zone and in the tailgate lounge. The daytime competitions are also free. No time for horsing around, though. Get all the details you’ll need here.

Friday, April 13: “What happens when art behaves badly?” If this is a question you’ve asked yourself but have yet to discover the answer to, then you should get to I Like Your Work: Art & Etiquette Opening Reception at the Omaha Creative Institute. Interdisciplinary artist Sarah Hummel Jones is bringing together artists from Brooklyn, Montreal, and Omaha who challenge art world etiquette. Joel Damon will give a performative lecture on that topic. Learn more here.

Saturday, April 14th: The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s student newspaper,  The Gateway, will host its first-ever fundraising Run the Press 5k fun run/walk at Memorial Park this Saturday. The Gateway has been the university’s source for news and opinion for students, faculty, and alumni since 1913 and we want to ensure they keep going. So Omaha Magazine is proudly sponsoring this event in the hopes they keep growing and guiding UNO students in the communications fields. Please register here to help us keep a good thing going.

Saturday, April 14th: Spend the day with some DIY nerds at Omaha Zine Fest 2018. You won’t find a more enthusiastic group of creatives than those at this festival. With over 100 zine creators from around the Midwest and beyond, this is an excellent opportunity to pick their brains and find out how they do it. Besides the free knowledge you’ll gain, there will also be live screen printing, a tintype photo booth, and free coffee from Mug Life. Did we mention the tasty food available from Omaha’s Awesome Eggrolls and Fauxmaha? Get the full day’s rundown here.

Saturday, April 14th: Don’t let the weather deter you from doing good. Rain, snow, or shine, Pasta for Pits! (and All Breeds) is still a great cause to stuff yourself for. Hosted by Helping Hand for Animals, this delicious dinner will help raise funds and awareness for rescue dogs in need of homes and love. So get to Boulder Creek Amusement Park and show your support. There will also be a silent auction and home-baked goodies you can take with you if you’ve eaten too much to enjoy the mini dessert bar. Lend your helping hand by clicking here.

Saturday, April 14th to Sunday April 15th: It’s crafty time! Head to the Pioneer Craft, Antique, and Junk Show at the Mall of the Bluffs in the old Target to find some new additions for your collections. For two whole days, you can dig through handmade crafts, antiques, and repurposed junk until just the right piece jumps out at you. So cross the bridge and start your junk jaunting early. Head here for more details and to find out how you can get a discount on admission. 

Sunday, April 15th: While it might not feel like spring outside this weekend, you can still hear the sounds of spring when you head to Gardens—Flowers—Bugs Concert at the Omaha Conservatory of Music. Be sure to bring the whole family, as children under 12 get in free. Hosted by the Nebraska Wind Symphony, this concert is guaranteed to blow you away, so hold on to your kiddos. Spring into action and get your tickets here.

 

Radical Inclusion

April 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For the uninitiated, zines are small, handmade magazines typically made from standard printer paper folded, cut, and stapled together. Variations of the form exist, and subjects are limited only by interest: journalism, politics, art, activism, poetry, fan fiction, DIY, superheroes. Anything cool, hip, instructive, subversive, or enlightening is fit to print.

No matter how you slice the printer paper, Omaha Zine Fest is cool and getting cooler by the year. How cool? Cool enough for Vice Magazine to include OZF as the Nebraska entry in their series “50 States of Art.” Founded in 2016 by Andrea Kszystyniak, Daphne Calhoun, and Kaitlin McDermott, OZF has grown. The March 2017 fest at The Union for Contemporary Art drew hundreds of artists and fans from the Omaha metro and across the Midwest to buy, sell, trade, share, and learn.

Kszystyniak is a Rhode Island native who studied journalism at the University of Missouri and moved to Omaha in 2013. Her personal philosophy is radical inclusion. Her interest in zines started because she was, like many artists, a discipline case.

“I was grounded a lot as a kid, so I was often trapped at home and forced to amuse myself,” Kszystyniak says. “I spent a lot of time engaging with people online and really growing my understanding of art and DIY culture that way.”

A voracious consumer of music and music journalism, Kszystyniak was influenced by the feminist punk Riot Grrrl scene of the ’90s.

“Zines were a huge part of that culture, so I really grew to love them as a medium that way,” Kszystyniak says. “I used to play around on this now-defunct mail art forum called nervousness.org when I was a younger teen. The website encouraged you to collaboratively make and share work with people across the globe. A huge part of that forum was exchanging art, zines, collages…whatever.”

Daphne Calhoun came to Omaha from Grand Island to study social work and public health. For her, zines are great because anyone can get involved.

“You don’t have to have a resume,” Calhoun says. “You can make anything you want to do: DIY, poetry, science fiction, fantasy. The sky is the limit.”

Calhoun worked previously at Valiant Studios, an art and music studio for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“One of my favorite zine memories is compiling an art zine with them. Accessibility is the only thing that matters to me, and zines are such an accessible medium,” says Calhoun who once got her grandmother to make a short zine about interdimensional space aliens. “You don’t need to be an expert or have any expensive equipment. All you need is paper and some scissors and anyone can make a zine.”

In the spirit of radical inclusion and accessibility, Omaha Zine Fest has a safer spaces policy to provide for an open-minded, nonthreatening, and respectful environment where participants learn from one another. It is the essence of the festival, according to Kszystyniak.

“The everyday person needs an outlet to speak out against injustice or even just to teach others things,” Kszystyniak says. “Our No. 1 goal is to make sure everyone comes in and is comfortable and feels safe spending time in a creative community with everyone else there. Our priority is always accessibility, safety, and radical inclusion. It’s really the reason we started the fest in the first place: to make sure everyone has a place at the table.”

Visit omahazinefest.org for more information. The 2018 Omaha Zinefest is April 14 (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) at The Union for Contemporary Arts.

From top: Andrea Kszystyniak and Daphne Calhoun

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Moroccan Door DIY

March 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Costa Rican fine artist Elisa Morera Benn and her husband, Dr. Douglas Benn (a professor in the Creighton School of Dentistry), are patrons of the arts. Their stylish home located near Leavenworth Street features great views of downtown Omaha and a vast array of compelling works of art—a mix of hers and others.

Benn’s surrealistic artworks are also showcased around town at places like the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, the Jewish Community Center, and Hot Shops Art Center. Benn—whose work has been featured at the Louvre in Paris—studied with art masters in Costa Rica and has been a professional artist for over 35 years. A popular theme of her work is children and women who have overcome obstacles.

Just off Benn’s home art studio in the basement, however, is a guest room that features a fully functional and wholly different type of art. Benn transformed the back of an ordinary bookshelf into a pleasing, extraordinary work of art—a portal, if you wish, to other lands.

The bookshelf divided the guest room that also includes a small office area. So, Benn painted the back into the style of a mythical Moroccan door to transform it into an “attractive, surrealistic gateway for the guest.” Her inspiration? The royal arches and neon lights of Morocco. “I love the Morocco style. I have never been in this country, but it is on my bucket list,” she says. 

The project took her about three days and cost less than $75. She was inspired to create the door after finding the Moroccan handles on sale at a craft store. Her array of tools also included acrylic paint, masking tape, dimensional texture acrylic paint, some chalk, glass tiles, flat and clear glass gems, flat and round metal pieces, and a ruler. 

She first Googled examples of Moroccan doors, then she chose her favorite model. “I transferred the design to the back of the bookcase, measured it with a ruler, and then marked it with chalk.” She then put masking tape around the border to prepare for painting. She used Moroccan blue, brown, white, and black. After painting with the plain colors, Benn used a dimensional fabric paint for clothes called “Tulip Slip Black” to paint the flowers and symbols. “This gives you an acrylic texture,” she says.

Benn then finished by adding the handles, round metal, flat and clear glass gems, and glass tiles. “The glass gives you the sensation of looking at a wall with a nice Moroccan door.”

Through her handiwork, Benn created a passageway that often surprises and delights visitors to the Benns’ home. The creative door serves as a continual reminder of her wish to travel to Morocco one day and gives her guests something nice to look at. “As an artist, I love the intervention of making artistic things with normal pieces. Blending new things with old things is part of my inspiration.”

Items used:

  • Free-standing bookcase
  • Moroccan handles
  • Acrylic paint: Moroccan blue, brown, white, and black
  • Dimensional fabric paint (Tulip Slip Black)
  • Ruler
  • Masking tape
  • Chalk (two pieces)
  • Pieces of flat, round metal (approximately 16) the size of a nickel
  • Flat, clear glass gems (approximately 26)
  • Glass tiles (1-by-2-inch tiles, approximately 200)

Visit the artist’s website at artistamorera.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Entryway

February 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Spring has officially sprung, and I am itching to spruce things up around my house—inside and out.

In other words, spring cleaning. Washing the windows is typically the first item on the list, but this is not as fun as changing my throw pillows or creating floral arrangements to add something more colorful and lighter to coordinate with the new season. Combining succulents with bold colors and metallics is a hot trend (and I’m planning to experiment with them at my own home). I also take the opportunity to weed through my closet and transition to my spring/summer wardrobe.

Normally I create a spring DIY project, but after my yearlong room makeover we decided to change things a bit and feature some new creative talent out there in our city. This issue spotlights a painting project by a professional artist whose love of Moroccan style helped turn an ordinary bookshelf into a portal of sorts.

Omaha architect Steve Ginn spent five years designing a picturesque woodland masterpiece situated on 20 acres in Tennessee. If you love nature and being surrounded by it in almost every sense, you will love this tranquil home.

Does mixing old and new styles ever get old? The Nabitys would say no, as that is exactly their style—rustic elegance. It turns out you don’t have to live at Cape Cod to get the look and feel of being there, minus the ocean.  Hopefully some of these homes or projects will inspire warm weather decorating ideas of your own.

I enjoy that spring is also the beginning of yard sale season. It’s a great way to pick up some great bargains for new weekend projects on a budget.

If you have something you just have to share with the rest of us DIYers, email me at sandy@omahapublications.com. I love to hear from fellow decorators and creatives. 

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for Omaha Home.

Makin’ Bacon

February 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Perfecting a fat slab of bacon at home is a skill worth practicing. Your friends and family will thank you.

Bacon is made by dry-curing or brining pork belly and then smoking the slab(s). Most store-bought bacons use nitrites and nitrates as a preservative, come from commercial farms, and are often frozen and thawed. If you have access to pigs—or know a farmer—you can make bacon locally sourced from organic pork, and you can make fresh bacon without the synthetic preservatives.

Nitrites and nitrates save the bacon’s color, prevent the fat from going rancid, and inhibit bacteria growth. But there are competing opinions about the health impact of consuming nitrites/nitrates, and the World Health Organization has linked the compounds to cancer in humans.

As an alternative, salt can be used in larger quantities to brine and essentially cure your at-home bacon. It won’t keep as long as nitrite/nitrate-rich bacon, but you’ll find the slab disappearing quickly once you get a taste of it.

SMOKED JALAPENO BACON RECIPE 

I use the same brine for many things that end up on the smoker. The ratios are easy to remember and simple to adjust as needed. In the end, it produces consistent results. It is actually a modification from a Betty Crocker turkey brine recipe I found many years ago. A similar whole brined turkey recipe is still offered by Betty Crocker. I have been toying with the same basic ratios of that recipe and they work for many meats.

The duration of the soak and the presence of additions such as brown sugar and sliced jalapeños make this brine a bit different than that of your Thanksgiving turkey.

—3 pounds pork belly
—1 pound sliced jalapeños
(or more)
—1 gallon water
—1 cup kosher salt, or more to taste
—1 pound brown sugar (or if you’re me, you’ll use the whole bag—be warned, this bacon will then burn in the frying pan if not carefully tended to. But it’s worth it.)
—1 tablespoon peppercorns
—1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Trim the skin from your pork belly, if you prefer.

In a large bowl, crush the jalapeño slices thoroughly. This aids in extraction.

In a large boiling pot, boil one gallon of water. Remove from heat.

Stir in salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and jalapeños. Simmer until cool.

Submerge the pork belly in the brine. Refrigerate for 7-14 days.

Remove the pork belly from the brine after 7-14 days and rinse. Pat dry.

Rub the pork with ground pepper if you like.

Smoke indirectly at around 200 F for 3-4 hours.

Your bacon is done. Slice it. Fry it.

Go ahead and try a strip, and then tell me if you don’t eat the whole slab soon after.

The same general recipe works for other smoked meats with minor modification to the instructions. For example, try this same recipe with trout, but don’t leave them in the brine for more than 24 hours. Try it on chicken breasts (depending on the cut, smoke for 2-4 hours) or pork ribs (which could smoke for 6 hours or more). Be adventurous.

Feeding your friends and family delicious homemade bacon is a great way to make them appreciate you.

Visit Betty Crocker at bettycrocker.com/recipes/brined-whole-turkey for the brined whole turkey recipe that inspired this smoked jalapeño bacon recipe.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home.

My Thrifty Oasis

January 8, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With a new year, we all like to start with a clean slate. It’s a chance to do things differently, with more attention to purpose. That was my intention when I started this yearlong renovation of an unused room in my home.

My goal was to create a personal oasis that was not only functional but also serene. I wanted a simple, clean, and elegant look that would stand the test of time.

As I assessed the space, I struggled to decide on the color palette. I finally chose a white-on-white scheme with gold undertones. Actually painting the room, however, would have to wait until the end of the year because my focus would be on each and every DIY piece going in the space.

These individual installments were the basis of my yearlong DIY series in Omaha Home. Starting each project, I had to consider the sequence and time of year for each installment. Photo shoots were outside, which allowed me to add a personal touch to the visuals of the story without spoiling readers’ anticipation for this grand reveal.

Let’s recap the five projects that led to this point. For any readers wondering about the black dress I wore in each photo, you can read the backstory in my opening letter to this issue. Catch a glimpse of the dress in the photos of the finished room, too.

Coffee Filter Light 

Lighting is crucial for setting the mood of any room. But who knew coffee filter light fixtures could turn into something this glamorous?

My first project in this series showcased my first-ever attempt at creating a coffee filter lamp. After 15 hours of folding and hot-gluing coffee filters, this turned out to be much more time-intensive than I had anticipated. The end result, however, offers a great bang for your buck.

Wall-mounted Vases

Having a beautiful arched window in my room was pure luck, so I didn’t want to hide it with heavy window coverings. I wanted to accentuate the window’s design elements. I love what shutters do on outside-facing windows, so I tried to duplicate that look on the inside. Using some dock wood leftover from a prior DIY project, and some paint, the reclaimed wood made the perfect backdrop for my wall-mounted vases.

Repaired Vintage Chairs

Some might see junk at thrift stores. I see winning lottery tickets just waiting for me. It’s all about perception, right? A pair of classic vintage chairs—discovered while thrifting—found a new home in my remodeled room. The happy duo are fabulously seated in front of the window. They also happen to be my favorite DIY project to date.

Repurposed Vanity

A buffet turned vanity? Yep, you can repurpose any piece of furniture, and this shining star got a head-to-toe makeover in soft metallic gold paint. The paint I splurged on (funny how far you can stretch one little jar of paint if you get creative).

Mantel Makeover

The mantel offers a decorative focal point to the room. All it needed was a good sanding (and a coat of the same white paint used throughout the room remodel) to tie everything together.

Once the DIY projects were complete, I recruited my professional friends from Marco Shutters to help me maximize the small closet space. They even designed additional shelving for shoes, jewelry, purses, and accessories. Although I wanted to add softness around the windows, I needed something for privacy while adding elegance. Shutters were the perfect finishing touch.

While all of this was underway, I got to work painting the walls, trim, baseboard, and ceiling. My steps were inverted compared to how I would normally approach a room makeover, as I typically paint a room first, adding the furniture and design components later. Nevertheless, it all came together perfectly. As the grand reveal drew closer, I felt so good about each design decision made along the way.

My favorite part of the remodeling process was placing all of the DIY projects in their designated spots and decorating the completed room. The end result was the boutique-like experience I was seeking, a seamless balance of design and function. As it turns out, you do not have to sacrifice elegance for being thrifty.

Visit readonlinenow.com to review the six previous installments in this DIY room remodeling series in Omaha Home

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Omaha Home Entryway

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Happy New Year!

I finally made it to the finish line on my yearlong makeover, which began in our January 2017 edition. It’s a special treat to feature the results in this first independent issue of Omaha Home.

Previously, Omaha Home appeared as a section inside the full subscriber-edition of Omaha Magazine, with an overrun edition of Omaha Home printed as a standalone magazine available at select distribution points around town. Now, the magazines are being printed altogether separately.

Subscribers to Omaha Magazine will still receive Omaha Home, and the magazine’s digital presence is still available through omahamagazine.com. The only thing that has changed is that the two magazines will be polybagged together rather than perfect-bound as a single publication.

For those who have been following my room makeover series, you might have noticed the black dress that appeared in each photo shoot. The backstory is simple. I found this vintage dress eight years ago for a mere $10 while thrifting. It sat on my clothes rack all these years. I couldn’t bear to part with it, but I also couldn’t find the right occasion to wear it. All of my DIY photo shoots were outdoors leading up to this issue, and I thought the dress would make a nice unifying element to the series. Look for the dress again in the photos from my room’s grand reveal this issue.

I would like to thank all the wonderful people who allowed us to take photos on their property for this yearlong project. Finally, I could not end without a big thank-you to my “behind the scene guy,” my husband, Richard. He listened to all my ideas, helped me saw wood, load/unload the truck, prop up mirrors for photos, and dressed up and danced with me at an old farm for one photo shoot. (Your constant encouragement and support did not go unnoticed.)

We wish you a year of glorious change and success in 2018. Thanks for reading!

~Sandy

This letter was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for Omaha Home.

Mantel Makeover

December 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something inviting and whimsical about a fireplace—faux or real. I love the way it adds an artistic element to a wall. Even more, it’s a perfect fit for this holiday issue. Who doesn’t like to decorate a mantel this time of year?

It’s not the first time I have implemented this clever idea in a room of my house that did not have an actual working fireplace. I have previously added a mantel in place of a headboard in two prior bedrooms. After moving from these houses, each new owner wanted the mantels to stay.

So, I’m starting over with this mantel makeover project. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find tutorials for putting together a mantel and the accompanying surround, which would provide elegant ambiance and interest to the room.

I found my used surround on Craigslist for $25. Someone was remodeling and simply wanted to get rid of it. If you’re not so lucky, you can buy a new one from a fireplace shop (sometimes they have close-out models). Or check salvage/antique shops and auctions. Maybe you could just build one yourself? I ran across several tutorials on building faux fireplace surrounds online.

Regardless of how you find your mantel, make it your own. It will provide a real focal point in the room.

Instructions

It’s easiest to work on this type of project upright, so I leaned it up against the wall in the garage with newspaper around and under it.

Step 1: Remove any and all nails if you purchased this used.

Step 2: Sand down any rough areas or parts that may come through after painting, or if it has high gloss.

Step 3: Prime the mantel with spray primer, and use a sponge hand applicator to get into hard-to-access areas. I did several coats of spray, then went back over with the sponge roller for a smooth finish.

Step 4: Use top-coat in the color of choice. Seal if desired.

How to Mount on Wall

This part of my project required me to recruit my husband. After doing a little research, I decided the easiest way to mount the mantel without using any screws or nails was to use what is called a “French cleat.” You’ll find lots of tutorials on this procedure on the internet. The concept is simple: two pieces of wood are cut with a 45-degree angle and then interlock. One piece is mounted to the wall and the other to the back of the mantel.

Step 1: Take one piece of lumber (3/4- to 1-inch thick), then use a table saw set at a 45-degree angle to split that piece of wood in half. These two pieces of wood now match together.

Step 2: Take the lower piece and mount to the wall with chiseled face pointing up and out.

Step 3: Mount the other piece to the mantel and then interlock the two pieces.

Step 4: Hang on the wall. Keep in mind, you will want to either remove or notch out your trim boards, where the fireplace legs are, so the mantel sits flat against the wall.

As far as anything on the inside (normally where your fireplace would be), you can get creative depending on how permanent you want to make it. I had an extra mirror left over from a bathroom redo. It fit perfectly on the inside and the reflection makes it more interesting. This hard surface, where the hearth would have been, provided a flat space for arranging candles and decorative items.

Now decorate away! Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to try different and unexpected things. And don’t forget that the grand reveal of my yearlong project will appear in the next issue.

Sandy’s yearlong DIY remodeling series began with an introduction to the room in the January/February issue. The first of five projects, a hanging coffee filter lamp, debuted in the March/April issue. Rustic wall vases followed in the May/June issue. Vintage classic chairs were in the July/August issue. A dresser redo appeared in September/October. Visit readonlinenow.com to review back issues.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.

With A Beard and a Smile

October 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walking into Lookout Lounge is a different experience than entering other music venues around Omaha. Admittedly, it feels a little strange driving into a business plaza just south of 72nd and Dodge streets for a punk show. But what distinguishes Lookout (formerly The Hideout) is more than just location. It is the bearded man sitting at the entryway, checking IDs and working on his laptop, that sets this venue apart.

Raised in Copperas Cove, Texas, Kyle Fertwagner knew from a young age that his destiny lay in music. At 6 years old, he was mesmerized by blues concerts in nearby Austin. “Those experiences are ingrained in my memory. There were thousands of people out there enjoying music, sharing that common bond of whatever that music meant to them.”

By the time he moved to Omaha at age 15, he and his younger brother, Keith, were playing together in punk bands. They got their start at The Cog Factory. Like many area music fans, Kyle is eager to share fond memories of that nonprofit venue, which closed in 2002. “That was our stomping grounds,” he says. “That’s where I basically grew up as a musician, as a punk rocker, as a person.” Before their first show at The Cog Factory, Fertwagner recalls that the owners greeted the band and “it just immediately felt like home.”

Recreating that welcoming DIY vibe is what drove him to quit his job as general manager of a local restaurant and take over The Hideout in 2015. Keith had already learned how to work sound systems, and Kyle had learned how to run a business from years in the restaurant industry.

With “a little TLC” and a lot of elbow grease, the brothers made the place their own. Kyle proudly showcases a sign from the original Cog Factory over the pool table. Next to it is the hand-painted mural featuring the venue’s name and the radio tower logo that has become an Omaha icon. Endless layers of screen-printed posters paper Lookout’s walls, and concert-goers have enthusiastically decorated the bathrooms with a vibrant collection of friendly graffiti.

Kyle describes himself as “owner/operator,” but upon attending a show at his venue it is immediately apparent that he does much more than the typical owner. Besides personally welcoming patrons into shows and tending bar, he works the lights and often shadows his brother on sound. But before any of that can happen, “it starts with the band.”

When asked about his work with local promoters and artists, Kyle can’t quite hold back a grin. Lookout is known around Omaha as a starting point for bands that have never played in public before. Its owner is the main reason for this reputation. His voice softens when asked about his role in helping young local artists get their music off the ground: “I think it’s important when you’re first starting out to have a venue you can call home.” This determination to give back to the music community makes Lookout special.

Kyle’s unique philosophy on booking shows is “to not try to take everything on ourselves.” This means more cooperation between venue staff, bands, and promoters. “It’s a team effort.” The additional networking and communication is more work, but well worth it.

From his days in small punk bands growing up, he knows the obstacles and struggles of getting a band onstage. This knowledge helps him guide others through the process.“We try to use our experience to help younger bands grow,” Kyle says. “That’s good for everybody.” He is always happy to reach out to local promoters and say “we’d love to work with you.”

When Kyle works to foster those relationships to put a show together, that’s when the energy of the DIY venue is created. “It’s ‘Alright, cool, we did it, we sold the place out!’ Instead of ‘I sold the place out.’ It’s more of an ‘us’ thing.” Shows that are assembled with teamwork are more rewarding for the band, everyone behind the scenes, and the audience. Those packed concerts are a staple of Lookout’s imprint on the musical community.

After taking care of the band, Kyle’s next focus is his role as head of security. At any show, he can be seen roaming around the audience, keeping out a watchful eye for any sign of trouble. He accepts personal responsibility in creating a positive energy at Lookout, and takes the security of the audience very seriously: “People shouldn’t feel unwelcome here for any reason.”

In order to ensure that everyone feels welcome, anyone exhibiting abusive behavior of any kind will be personally warned and, if need be, escorted out by Kyle himself. He is quick to explain, “Anything that happens here I take to be a personal reflection on me.”

Visit lookoutomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Kyle Fertwagner