Tag Archives: downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Homecoming

February 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Alexander Payne’s new tragicomedy Downsizing imagines the fate of an overpopulated world hanging in the balance due to depleted natural resources. When scientists find a way to miniaturize humans, adventurous souls choose going small as an act of conservation or exploitation. Matt Damon plays Paul, an average Omaha man whose pioneering micro-me experiences range from surreal to sublime.

The Omaha native’s big-budget sci-fi satire premiered in December at the newly reopened Dundee Theater, where Payne practically grew up. His debut feature Citizen Ruth also played there.

Now that this prodigal local son and world- class filmmaker is 56, remarried, and a papa— daughter Despina Evangeline Payne was born in Greece last fall—he’s downsizing from hurly-burly L.A. to his laid-back hometown with wife Maria and baby in tow.

Putting down roots is important to Payne. His mother Peggy, extended family, and close friends live here.

“I love Omaha and have been looking for a chance to be there full time,” says Payne, speak- ing from Greece before his relocation. “I miss Omaha very much when not there, and having quiet time in town with the new kid feels like the right move…and I hope to find some other trouble to get into.”

The active Film Streams board member brings Hollywood to Omaha. Making this his main residence only further enriches the local cinema culture.

“He and I have always fantasized about pro- grams we can plan, people we can bring to town, and ways he can be even more involved with what we bring to Omaha when he has a chance to spend more time here,” says Rachel Jacobson, Film Streams’ founder and director.

Payne is no stranger to making movies in his “backyard.” His latest, Downsizing, shot three days here—a fraction of the time he spent on his first three locally filmed features.

“Of course, I wish I’d shot all of the scenes per- taining to Omaha in Omaha, but it just wasn’t possible,” he says. “What I really missed about shooting in Omaha was the extras.”

On Toronto soundstages, he recreated a Creighton Prep class reunion and a farewell party at Jam’s Old Market.

“It was a drag having to train Torontonians to behave like Omahans. Once, when I caught two gals pretending they hadn’t seen each other in years kissing on both cheeks, I about had a heart attack,” Payne says, adding that he was glad to have captured some key local scenes in the film. “One of the great locations I was able to shoot in Omaha—complete with the people who actually work there—was Omaha Steaks,” he says.

The well-traveled and socially conscious auteur has made his most issues-oriented film of international scope at this mature career point, though he doesn’t concede to middle age.

“I don’t feel as though I’m at the midpoint of life; I still feel as though I’m at the beginning,” he says. “I can’t help but feel I’m still barely learning how to make a film, and now that I’m a father, well, that’s a new sense of beginning. My friends all have grown children. My best friend from college is a grandfather twice over, and me, I’m just now wading into these waters for the first time.”

He can taste the irony of his words: “I remember seeing [Akira] Kurosawa speak in 1986 in L.A. to promote Ran. He said, ‘I’ve made 30 feature films, I’m almost 80 years old, and yet I feel as though I have less of an idea now of what a movie is than when I was younger.’ I thought he was just trying to play Mr. Humble. Now his words are haunting. I think my gravestone will read, ‘I was just getting started.’”

Downsizing pushed Payne to the limit with its complex storyline, epic scale, and special effects. It took a decade getting made from when he and co-writer Jim Taylor completed the script’s first draft. Once shot, fixing on a final cut proved elusive.

“I’m just glad it’s over and I can get on to something new,” he says. “It was a very long process. The script took a long time to corral, finding financing was nearly impossible, and the movie fell apart three times before finally jelling. Production was long and costly, and it was tricky to pinpoint the final movie in the editing room. It’s a film I had to get out of my system—Jim and I believed in it for all these years, believed in its wacky but very interesting idea, and we finally got it made.”

Payne and longtime casting director John Jackson of Council Bluffs assembled an impressive international acting ensemble. As Paul, superstar Damon (the Bourne franchise lynchpin who recently starred in the Coen Brothers’ 2017 film Suburbicon) takes us on a wild, downsized journey.

“He’s a wonderful actor,” Payne says of his leading man.

Of Kristen Wiig, Paul’s spacey life partner, (who previously starred alongside Damon in Ridley Scott’s 2015 film The Martian) Payne says: “Lovely woman, super-funny, able to be either subtle or overt with the same level of commitment and humor.”

On two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (the Nazi antagonist in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds), Paul’s amoral guide in the new world, Payne says: “A very smart, very funny, very committed actor. We disagreed a couple of times, but something very good came out of it.”

Newcomer Hong Chau (who starred in P. T. Anderson’s 2014 film Inherent Vice) plays an activist who gets under Paul’s skin. Payne echoes what others say about her breakthrough, Oscar buzz-worthy work.

“A star is born,” he says. “I often get asked why my movies ‘always’ seem to be about adrift, middle-aged white males. But in fact, I’ve had the most fun, midwifing, terrific performances by females: Laura Dern [Citizen Ruth, 1996], Reese Witherspoon [Election, 1999], Kathy Bates [About Schmidt, 2002], June Squibb [Nebraska, 2013] and Shailene Woodley [The Descendants, 2011]. I’d say Hong Chau really takes the cake.”

“It was the right role finding the right actor at the right time,” Payne says, “and she all but steals the whole damned movie. Matt Damon calls her a ‘thoroughbred.’”

Chau confirms what others note about Payne.

“I have so many feelings for Alexander,” she says. “He’s an amazing person, an amazing director. It’s really been a joy getting to work with him and also getting to know him as a person. It’s the first time I’ve worked on something where I feel like he’s going to be my friend for life.”

His “gentle” directing style suited her.

“I don’t feel the heavy hand of directing,” Chau says. “All of the redirections are tweaks—a very small degree or two on the dial where to turn an emotion or a word in a sentence. A lot of his writing is filled with comedy, so there’s some precision needed in order for the humor to land the way it’s supposed to.”

Payne invited her to observe the editing pro- cess. She marveled at what he cut to make the film leaner.

“It really showed how disciplined he is to telling the story and keeping it sharp in terms of what the audience should be receiving,” Chau says. “It’s why Alexander has become one of the great American masters.”

Leading up to its debut in Omaha, the film gen- erated strong word-of-mouth from trailers and festival screenings. It opened to uniformly warm praise at the Venice Film Festival, where Payne, in attendance for the first time, was joined by Damon, Chau, Wiig, and new Paramount head Jim Gianopulos.

After the high of Venice, Downsizing receiving mixed reviews at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and the Toronto International Film Festival.

“Some people really dig it. Others think it maybe bites off more than it can chew,” Payne says. “Sure, maybe the screenplay is a little greedy, but what the hell? The movie was designed as episodic—a sort of road trip through the world right now. We think that’s what makes it fun.”

Editing footage down to the theatrical release’s 135 minutes (including credits) was an arduous task.

“I kept hearing the same thing all directors always hear from studio executives: ‘Make it shorter,’” he says.

The studio is bullish on Downsizing’s potential.

“It’s Paramount’s big Christmas release,” he says, “and they see the movie plays great with audiences—lots of laughs. They’re expecting it to do well commercially, and I pray to God they’re right.”

With seven completed features under his belt, Payne is eager as ever to make movies. For the time being, this family man is content to wait for inspiration before jumping into the fray again.

“I wish I were making a movie all the time,” he says. “But I also want to speak only when I have something to say.”

Sculpture by Derek Joy

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

Downsizing Home Cameos

November 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne prepares a film, he not only auditions actors but locations, too.

The writer-director insists on actual locations whenever possible. When he films in his hometown of Omaha, he’s extra keen to get it right. Just as local homes brought authenticity to his films Citizen Ruth, Election, and About Schmidt, Omaha homes earned supporting roles for Payne’s new film Downsizing during a mid-April 2016 shoot here.

Omaha figures prominently in the sci-fi dramedy (starring Matt Damon) that played major festivals in Venice, Italy; Telluride, Colorado; and Toronto, Canada. Its first half establishes Damon’s character, Paul, as an Omaha Everyman. The script called for him to reside in an inner-city duplex and, thus, location scout Jamie Vesay and counterparts in Toronto, where much of the film was made, scoured prospective sites.

Two matching 1920s-era, two-story brick duplexes on Douglas Street (in Payne’s childhood Dundee neighborhood) stood in for Paul’s home.

The story has Paul and wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) visit a suburban McMansion. Vesay scouted that, too.

Jamie Vesay

Two new large homes in Elkhorn’s Five Fountains neighborhood portrayed the for-sale property that Paul and Audrey visit.

Scenes were also shot outside La Casa Pizzaria, Creighton Prep (Payne’s alma mater), Jam’s in the Old Market and at Regency Court, and Omaha Steaks’ distribution center.

The story required a duplex with adjoining back decks to underscore the attachment Paul feels to his mother, who lives next door at one point. Payne loves physical comedy, and the director liked all the business of Paul entering-exiting various doors and navigating steps.

Events fast forward nine years to find Paul’s mother gone. He and Audrey now live in his mom’s old place, and he’s renting out his former unit. It’s a commentary on Paul’s limited horizons before his grand adventure.

Vesay says Payne also liked the Douglas properties for their small, steep front yards. A yard sale unfolds there that comically shows folks struggling with the tight quarters and severe pitch. Sealing the deal was the alley’s confluence of yards, fences, garages, light poles, wires, and its downtown view.

Carol Redwing lived at one of the two Douglas Street duplexes. The exterior of her residence was used for daytime and nighttime shots with Damon and Wiig. The unoccupied unit next door was leased by the production. The same arrangement was used at the other duplex on Douglas Street, where interiors were shot in a unit doubling for the on-screen duplex. More interiors were doubled in Toronto.

In suburban Five Points, Gretchen and Steven Twohig’s home became the McMansion exterior. The home of Ethan and Erin Evans became the interior. Vesay says the sea of cookie-cutter roofs visible from the development caught Payne’s eye.

The exterior of the Twohig home where filming occurred

Long before the production reached out to residents, their homes were scouted from the street. When first contacted, they were wary. Once assured that the Hollywood scout was not a prankster, Vesay, Payne, and department heads came for closer looks. The locals only knew their places were in the running before receiving final confirmation.

When word leaked about the Downsizing dwellings, reporters and curiosity-seekers appeared.

“It was kind of surreal,” says Redwing, who has since moved.

During the shoot, Vesay says producers broke protocol and allowed civilians on set. “People got remarkably close,” he says. Residents who lent their homes to the cause got up-close-and-personal experiences themselves. It was eye-opening.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces and people,” Redwing says. “It was really cool.”

Ethan Evans says he was struck “by how many behind-the-scenes people it takes—it’s quite the production. It was kind of a circus and crazy for a while.”

Hollywood came calling, but as Gretchen Twohig noted, “There’s nothing glamorous or fancy about any of it. It’s just people working really hard to get a project done. You realize all this hard work and all these tiny moments have to come together to make a movie.” She and her husband have school-age children but opted not to take them out of classes for the filming. The Evans’ young children watched. Redwing and her son saw everything.

Twohig echoed the other residents in saying everyone from Payne to the stars to the grips were “down-to-earth, calm, warm, professional, and gracious.”

The Evans’ garage became a staging spot. That’s where the couple hung out with Payne, Damon, and Wiig.

The high-ceilinged, spacious home’s entryway, dining room, and kitchen got the shoot’s full attention.

“Besides moving furniture around to make room for lights, screens, and cameras—and taking pictures down— they sort of kept everything the way we had the house decorated,” Evans says, “It only took a few takes.”

The Evans and Twohigs met one another as a result of Hollywood casting their homes. They’ve compared notes about their Downsizing experiences.

Twohig says after hours of setup at her place, as crew adjusted window blinds and for-sale signs, moved cars in and out of the driveway, and took the family basketball hoop down, put it back up, and took it down again, the actual shoot was over in a flash.

At Redwing’s old duplex, crew did landscaping and made building touch-ups but left her recycling bin, tools, and other homey elements intact. She’s confident her old abode made the final cut since it’s such an essential location as the hero’s home. However, the Evans and Twohigs know their places are more incidental and therefore expendable.

“We’d be disappointed, but we knew going in it could very easily be cut,” Twohig says. “But it would sure be fun if it was there.”

Redwing spoke for everyone regarding anticipation for Downsizing’s December release. “I’m very eager to see it.”

Meanwhile, one of the Douglas duplexes’ exterior has been painted. Last summer, its empty units were under renovation. A real estate listing read: “Come live where Matt Damon filmed the movie Downsizing!”

Having glimpsed behind the magic curtain, Ethan Evans says, “I sort of watch movies differently now.” Although he’s certain that he’ll forget the mechanics of cameras, mics, booms, and clappers when he finally sees Downsizing.

One of the duplexes on Douglas Street where filming occurred.

Leo Adam Biga is the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. Read more of his work at leoadambiga.com.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Location Scout and Producer Jamie Vesay

October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When it comes to shooting video, Jamie Vesay of Omaha is a handler, facilitator, fixer, procurer, and—as his LinkedIn site puts it—“minutia wrangler” and “chaos killer.” He works on television commercials, music videos, and feature films. His location scout credits include Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Downsizing.

Whether doing logistics or scouting locations, Vesay says he is “a creative collaborator” helping filmmakers “realize their vision.” He also aspires to make his own films from scripts and stories he’s writing.

The Pottsville, Pennsylvania, native worked odd jobs back East when he got an interview for the special effects (FX) crew on a 1989 Baltimore film shoot. Vesay’s experience as a machinist provided the fabrication skills needed in the FX profession. That first gig came on Barry Levinson’s major studio project, Avalon.

More FX feature jobs followed, as did a move to Los Angeles, before the work dried up and he relocated to Omaha. His talents made him in-demand on shoots. He added location scouting to his repertoire on projects near and far. Payne’s frequent location manager, John Latenser V, got Vesay day work on About Schmidt. But it wasn’t until Nebraska that Vesay worked extensively with Payne. Latenser couldn’t join the project at the start, so Vesay took the reins.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with. Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

-Jamie Vesay

Vesay broke down the script’s locations. Having scoured the state for years, he had mental and digital files of countless sites. Since the story revolved around a road trip by father-son protagonists Woody and David, an excursion was in order. Payne, production designer Dennis Washington, and Vesay made the Billings, Montana, to eastern Nebraska trek themselves in an SUV. With steering wheel in one hand, 35-millimeter camera in the other, and legal notepad and pen on his lap, Vesay documented possible locations they came upon. Everyone voiced an opinion.

“My goal is to present options to the director,” Vesay says. “Many things we’ll drive by, Alexander will say, ‘OK, slow down, stop the car–I want to look at this.’ Sometimes you let him discover it. Other times you guide him. As I’m presenting the options, he’s seeing what’s available and saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s that.’ He’s a rare filmmaker willing to change with what’s available and use a location different from his original vision.”

The Nebraska script called for a Wyoming truck stop but Payne didn’t like any. With the SUV’s gas tank nearing empty. Vesay pulled into a combo gas station, bait-tackle shop, and bar that Payne loved. On Downsizing, Payne rejected South Omaha duplexes for one of his old haunts, Dundee.

“You have to have that ability to bob and weave, change and adapt to the director you’re working with,” he says. “Alexander is so smart about life, let alone the industry. At his core, he’s a guy who will say to you, ‘What do you think?’ And he’s sincere–he wants to know what you think.”

Vesay found the abandoned farmhouse the family visits in Nebraska. Payne called it “perfect.”

Instinct and experience help Vesay find things. Besides, he says, “I know where they’re hiding.”

A location’s look might be right, but it must also safely accommodate cast and crew. Access, sight lines, and noise are other considerations.

Choosing locations is just the start. Protocols require filmmakers to secure signed permission from property owners. During production Vesay does owner relations.

Looking to the future, Vesay urges the state to do more to attract film projects that provide steady work to local professionals.

Visit jamievesay.com for more information.

jamievesay1

The Ortons

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While most homeowners—especially married couples—decide to downsize in their 40s, 50s, or even their 60s, newlyweds Lucas and Andrea Orton opted to do so much earlier.

The Omaha couple had only been married four months when they left their 850-square-foot rental in midtown and began building a 280-square-foot house on wheels. By today’s tiny house standards, that’s slightly larger than most.

Lucas, 33, and Andrea, 34, love the outdoors. They met near the Elkhorn River and married there in May 2015. While camping at Lake Cunningham one morning, they noticed a number of RVs parked outdoors. It was then they began discussing their dream of tiny house living.

Neither Lucas nor Andrea watch much TV. They were not aware of the tiny house trend until they began researching their next steps online.

At-Home-With-5

“We started looking into (tiny houses) and said, ‘Oh, wow. This is a thing,’” Andrea recalls.

Soon after, Lucas and Andrea hosted a garage sale at their midtown home. Organizing items for the garage sale was the first of what would be many eye-opening experiences of separating their stuff: what to keep and what to sell.

“We were literally pulling stuff out of the house for four hours,” Andrea explains. “And we’ve gotten rid of truckloads since the garage sale. One minute you’re saying, ‘I love this. I’m going to keep this.’ And eight months later, it’s ‘I don’t really love that.’”

In September of last year, construction of the Ortons’ tiny house began. Lucas quit his job as a sound engineer to pursue building the tiny house full-time. The couple moved in with Lucas’ father in northwest Omaha, first building the tiny house in the barn. Once the walls, roof, and windows were complete, they hitched the house to a truck and pulled it permanently outdoors. Friends and family unexpectedly showed up to witness the big (or should we say small?) move.

At-Home-With-1

“Pulling it out of the barn and dealing with centimeters of clearance, it was like giving birth,” Andrea says with a grin.

The tiny house now sits a few hundred feet from the barn. Lucas works on the house just about every day, with their spunky French Bulldog/Boston Terrier mix, Gus, by his side. Lucas used to remodel houses, so mastering the basics proved fairly easy. The rest—such as plumbing and electrical—he learned how to do from blogs, websites and online videos.

When it is finished, the house will feature contemporary interior design, with white walls, dark flooring, and natural woods. LED lighting has been installed throughout, but an abundance of windows allows natural light to stream in during the day.

They plan to add a modular front porch, which will provide additional seating outdoors (weather permitting). 

For Lucas (an Omaha native) and Andrea (a Louisiana transplant), building and living in a tiny house has two primary purposes: consolidating their lifestyles and living without debt. The couple has budgeted around $30,000 for the project, and they have been paying for supplies and materials as they go. Most items were purchased locally at The Home Depot and Lowe’s, while others have been ordered online (including windows and the air conditioner). The house has standard electrical but has been wired for solar energy.

And while more is continually added inside (and outside) the house, the purging continues, which Andrea describes as “one crazy ride.”

At-Home-With-4

She adds that getting rid of their belongings has been almost spiritual: “I like to shop, and I work in a retail environment. But even when I go to the store now, I don’t spend nearly as much or get nearly as much as I normally would because it’s not going to fit. We’ve been going through multiple stages of purge, just tapering, tapering, and it’s still too much.”

Lucas and Andrea’s worldly possessions now reside in eight large bins in their temporary bedroom.

At-Home-With-2“Well, that’s not completely true,” Andrea says after a brief pause. “There’s a little bit more spilling into another room, and I’m trying to reel that in. There’s a get-rid-of pile, and every day I’m adding to it.”

Lucas and Andrea continue to research other pieces of living in a (tiny) house on wheels, among them mail delivery and internet access. They eventually plan to purchase a large pick-up truck that will allow them to tow the house as needed, and even store larger items in the truck’s bed.

They expect to park their home at its current address, live in it through the winter, and move it elsewhere in 2017—likely on vacation while exploring parts of the United States.

For homeowners (and even apartment dwellers) intrigued by tiny house living, Lucas and Andrea have a bit of advice: Draft a lengthy list of pros and cons. Look at tiny houses online. Tour them if they’re nearby. Finally, minimalize and consolidate all belongings, and try to live in a single room. 

Visit tinyhouseswoon.com for more information. OmahaHomeAt-Home-With-3

Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

Obermiller4

To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

Obermiller5

The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

Obermiller1

Freecycle

June 20, 2013 by

One of the most daunting aspects of downsizing possessions is trying to figure out what to do with all the excess. Perhaps you don’t have a way to haul that old chest of drawers to Goodwill, or it’s not worth it to you to try to sell your broken lawnmower on Craigslist, or those unused landscaping bricks are too heavy to set out for the trash.

Freecycle just might be the answer to your downsizing dilemma. It’s an online organization devoted to keeping useable items out of landfills by giving them free of charge to people within your own community. Local groups are found in most cities across the United States (Freecycle.org states that its network includes 5,096 groups and 9,332,889 members globally, as a matter of fact). So it’s quite similar to Craigslist, except all exchanges are, well, free. Omaha’s Freecycle group has over 11,000 members, and objects are requested and offered online daily.

“As a green-accredited professional, the whole idea of putting all these samples in a landfill was just abhorrent to me,” says Amy Boesen, an Omaha interior decorator. A friend clued her into Freecycle last year, and Boesen gave a book of wallpaper samples to a guy for use as crafts in his wife’s daycare. Another batch of upholstery swatches were turned into hammocks for an animal rescue. Gazing ball stands were used as birdbaths. “When stuff started moving and I could see how it was being used, it was so awesome for me,” Boesen says.

She, herself, has only requested one thing on Freecycle: fishing poles as event décor. “It’s a fantastic way to very quickly get rid of things you don’t need and find things you don’t want to buy,” she says.

Participating in Freecycle does mean dealing with Yahoo!’s Groups feature, which is inelegantly linked to Freecycle.org. You’ll need a username and password each for both Freecycle and Yahoo!

To join the Omaha group, follow these steps (thank goodness you only have to do this once):

  • Go to freecycle.org. In the Find a Group Near You window, type in Omaha. Select Omaha from the search results, and click the Sign up/Log in button. Choose a username and password, and you’ll be taken to Omaha’s Group Info page.
  • Click Visit the Omaha group and see the posts. You’ll be taken to a Yahoo! Groups page. Click the blue Join This Group! button.
  • Log in to Yahoo! Create a Yahoo! account if you don’t already have one. If Yahoo! isn’t your normal e-mail client, you can choose to have e-mails forwarded to, say, your Gmail address instead.
  • Choose how you want to find out about new posts. Consider opting for Web Only. Don’t forget to click Save Changes.
  • Browse posts. You can also post messages yourself and respond to other members’ posts.

Once you’ve posted an item (called an Offer), your post will go through a moderator who will make certain you’ve included essential info such as a nearby cross street (never put your address in a post). When another member e-mails you (via Freecycle…your e-mail isn’t exposed) expressing interest in that chest of drawers, you can respond with your address and let them know it’s waiting for them outside. They’ll pick it up without needing to set up a specific time and without having to meet you. All you have to do is enjoy your decluttered home and the knowledge that you’ve done your part to save the Earth.

Five Trends in Office Design

Office environments are ever-changing. From height-adjustable desks to mobile work surfaces to LED lighting options—the possibilities are endless. Today’s best offices are designed to reflect the shifting expectations and needs of their employees. Here are five current trends in office design:

  • Technology is key. Technology is now integrated into office environments. Interactive white boards, electrified surfaces, and “touch down” areas that allow for mobile devices to be used are just a couple examples of how technology is breaking down barriers of the traditional workplace.
  • Open workspaces. The lowering of panels or even the removal of all dividers between people can enhance the teaming of groups and sharing of information without even moving away from their work areas. Open spaces can make people feel more comfortable and not so boxed in, which can create greater productivity and efficiency.
  • Collaboration. Collaborative areas are designed to get people more involved and connected with one another. Meeting spaces are being created to encourage collaboration between staff members. This might include lounge areas, benches and tables, or even café areas. Collaborative areas can take the place of formal reserved conference rooms or even private offices.
  • Decline in available space. The economic recession has led to companies purchasing smaller offices or downsizing current offices, which means individual workspaces are shrinking.
  • Fewer private offices. Having fewer private offices provides useful space for more collaborative areas. Today, furniture that is mobile, adjustable, multifunctional, and adaptable is just as important as private offices.

When companies incorporate modern design into their workplace, they will retain and attract the best talent and increase their overall productivity.

Visit the All Makes showroom at 25th and Farnam streets in Omaha to see the latest office furniture and design trends on display. The All Makes team is trained to help you make design and furniture purchases that fit your office atmosphere, your work style, and your budget.

Distressed About Downsizing?

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Moving out of your house can be challenging for anyone. But when the house you are leaving has been your family home for the last few decades, it can be even more daunting.

The idea of packing up items accumulated over the years is, at first, a logistical nightmare. Then the sentimental factor sets in and it can be seen, by some, to be a nearly unbearable task. For others, letting go of all this “stuff” can be freeing and symbolizing a fresh start. Either way, it is undeniably a big undertaking.

Many seniors are facing this very situation for a variety of reasons, including simply downsizing, restricted mobility, and being unable to maintain their current home. Just as there are a variety of reasons for moving, there are a variety of services designed to help seniors and their families achieve this goal.

Kris Kircher, owner of Caring Transitions, is one of several local businesses that specialize in helping seniors and their families pack their belongings, spruce up the house, and get everything ready for the old house to sell and the new home to be move-in ready.

“We get [the house] completely cleaned out,” she says. “We [can] do it all for them.” For nearly 20 years, Kircher has been helping seniors and their families sort through all kinds of items, preparing them for an estate sale, for donation, or just to de-clutter and downsize. She can also help to get them settled in their new location.

Kircher explains that, to get the process started, she encourages her clients to focus on their goals. “Normally, it is to clean out the house so it can be sold,” she says. Often, the secondary goal is to make some money by selling unnecessary items through either an estate sale or through consignment. “I try to make sure I’m working with them to meet their goals so that they can have a say on what’s going on.”

Liz Ryan, owner of Once Upon a Time Estate Sales, has been in been the business of offering estate tag sales since 1981. Through her years of experience, she has seen that making this transition can be hard for all those involved. Just like Kircher, Ryan and her staff are determined to make the process as smooth as possible for their clients. “We try to accommodate…a person who is feeling overwhelmed about the potential move,” says Ryan.

Kircher adds that since this can be an exceptionally emotional time, she is careful to be respectful of the client’s feelings about the move. “There is a lot of loss and some mourning when you’re looking at giving up your home that you’ve lived in for 45 or 50 years,” she says. “You’re also mourning the fact that you can no longer live in your home…you can’t maintain it.”

“There’s a lot of sentiment attached to material things,” agrees Ryan. “The idea of moving and leaving the place you called home for many years is daunting, so we try to make that transition as smoothly as possible.”

Both Kircher and Ryan say that they often act as an advocate for the senior, as well as for their family, when a client has decided it’s time to move to a new residence. “When [the client] is looking for someone to work with, they’re really looking for someone to take care of all the details and someone who can do it respectfully,” says Kircher.

In being the advocate for the family, both businesses can take the entire process from start to finish, leaving the family time to focus on other, more enjoyable things.

“[My team] will work with someone in the house; or in many cases, we’re handed a key and we go through everything [in the house],” says Ryan. “We separate everything. Then we clean it, polish it, shine it, set it up on tables with velvet table clothes.” She says that they have sold everything from cars and boats to pots and pans.

The usual estate sale lasts three days. “For the final product the customer gets an entire inventory, piece by piece, of everything that has [left] the house with the item priced.” She says that Once Upon a Time Estate Sales is one of only two local estate sales services that provide the customer with the original cashier’s book. “It’s fun for people to go through because they’re incredulous at what some of [the items] will bring.”

For those who may have items better suited for a collection than a consignment shop, Holly Hackwith with Corporate Art Co. is a certified art appraiser through the International Society of Appraisers. She and her staff work with clients who want to find out the value of their artwork.

“Often, the client will want to know what it’s worth [in terms of] the fair market value because they want to gift different pieces to grandchildren or children, and they want to be fair about it,” she explains. “In other words, they want to be equitable in dollar amounts and they don’t know what [the piece is] currently worth.”

Hackwith also works with clients who are downsizing and are not sure whether to keep something, sell it, or need to have it insured. “Seniors would [also] want to have appraisal…if they want to give it as a charitable gift to an institution. I am accredited with the International Society of Appraisers to appraise anything that needs to be overseen by the IRS or for legal work.”

The idea of packing up a lifetime of possessions and moving on from where memories were made can seem monumental. But when the task is put into trusted hands of experts who respect your feelings and your belongings, it becomes a little easier to bear. And while letting go of our material items can be difficult at first, thankfully, the memories are easily carried with us wherever we go.