Tag Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

Sentimental Journey

May 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Michael Heaton had a royal curiosity, which he ultimately satisfied by buying a palace.

Eleven years ago, Heaton and partner Barry Burt happily occupied an adorable English Tudor home in Florence, which they had lovingly remodeled. That’s when the Chiodo Palace came calling.

“I never thought we’d leave [the Florence house], but my friend Christy, who’d just started with NP Dodge, said ‘Michael, you’ve got to come look at this amazing house with me,’” Heaton says. “So, we came to look four times and would just sit on the floor fantasizing about living here…then we just went for it. I’ve never regretted it. It’s been an adventure.”

The Chiodo Palace, near 25th and Leavenworth, was built in 1922 by Vincenzo Pietro Chiodo. Burt and Heaton, together nearly 20 years, have worked diligently to preserve the legacy of one of one of Omaha’s more unique, storied homes since purchasing it in 2006.

Chiodo immigrated from Southern Italy to the United States in 1885 at age 16. He studied in Chicago before settling in Omaha, where he operated a tailor shop, then found his fortune in real estate.

“He owned 50 homes in the area,” Heaton says. “This was one of many he built, and his primary residence.”

According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, Chiodo wasn’t so much an architect or builder himself, but he had ample vision and funds to support the proliferation of his real estate empire.

“He was billed the first Italian millionaire in Omaha and was also very politically active,” Heaton says.

In fact, Chiodo was an Elk and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. His titles included Italian Vice Consul of Omaha, State Supreme Deputy of the Sons of Italy, Knight of the House of Savoy, and Cavalier of the Order of St. Gregory.

Heaton lights up when sharing stories of days gone by in his abode, many of which were relayed by longtime neighbor Angelo Bonacci, now deceased, who worked at the Chiodo Palace as a young man when it functioned as the consulate.

“Chiodo was very popular, and described as an elegant man,” Heaton says. “He could be seen walking the neighborhood and his domain wearing a long, white fur coat. When the Santa Lucia Festival parade made its way through the neighborhood, they always stopped in front of the Chiodo Palace and saluted Vincenzo, who’d be sitting up on his veranda. You can just picture him up there with the crowds passing by.”

“‘Chiodo Palace’ is what Angelo said they called it,” says Heaton, who believes the moniker comes from “palazzo”—Italian for a large, palatial building.

Chiodo passed away in 1949 at age 80, but his grand domicile lived on to weather years of general dirt and disrepair, water damage, and updates like ill-placed drop ceilings and gaudy, yellow wallpaper that spoiled or obscured the home’s unique character and verve.

Heaton and Burt, who are members of Restoration Exchange Omaha, purchased the house to preserve its history.

“We knew it had been an important house in the past and, seeing the sad condition, we thought we could have some fun, restore its appeal, and get the history back as much as possible,” Heaton says.

For Heaton, who owns and operates Legacy Art & Frame in Dundee, preserving historical homes and objects is a longtime interest.

“The house is a mix of styles,” he says. “The outside is very Craftsman. There’s some Italianate detail with the dentil molding around the tops of the eaves. The stained-glass windows are a mix: Some [feature] traditional designs, but in the dining room there’s a very Frank Lloyd Wright Mission-style design. So, there are unexpected elements here and there.”

The interior swims with stunning, rich mahogany woodwork, accented by a striking fireplace constructed of rough-hewn, imported Burmese stone. Colorful, original tile surrounds the floor of the fireplace, featuring a horseshoe that’s open into the room and closed toward the hearth.

“That was to deter unwanted spirits from entering the home through the fireplace,” Heaton says.

In the sunroom above another fireplace, a large painting in memoriam to Chiodo’s wife and daughter, both named Caroline, remains molded right onto the wall.

Ornate, hand-painted, original murals on linen grace the tops of walls throughout the main floor.

“Each of these murals depicts different aspects of Italian culture and Roman life,” Heaton says of the incredible illustrations of accolades, life phases, arts, animals, and plants.

“I love these dragons,” Heaton says, zeroing in on a mural. “They’re griffins, protectors of the empire, and their protection allows wealth and prosperity to extend from them, so they turn into these leaves. I’m just so glad no one ever ruined them.”

Part of one dining room mural suffered water damage prior to his ownership, so Heaton completely—and 100 percent convincingly—reconstructed it.

“I rebuilt the wall, put linen on the top, created a stencil off another wall, transferred it, and then, over about four weeks, hand-painted it,” he says.

With the scope of work Heaton puts into his home and a handful of rental properties, you’d think he had extensive training, but no. He says just the occasional HGTV show or YouTube video help him complete home projects.

“My grandfather was a real hands-on kind of guy, so I learned lots about working with wood, building, and fixing from watching him,” Heaton says. “He could do it all, so I just kind of hung out with him a lot.”

Like Heaton and Burt, Chiodo himself preserved Omaha history.

“Chiodo was a preservationist way ahead of his time,” Heaton says. “He got the salvage rights to the original county jail and courthouse, and used all of the marble, stones, cobblestones, and other materials he harvested from that in several of his other properties.”

We’ll never know whether Chiodo was a sentimental preservationist, simply a cunning businessman, or perhaps both. As for Heaton, that case is closed.

“I’m painfully sentimental,” he says. “That’s my inspiration.”

Visit Legacy Art & Frame on Facebook for more information about the homeowners’ business.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Stuff

July 17, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Home.

Kathryn Piller’s century-old house on Dodge Street doesn’t scream Prairie School, but it does quietly carry many of the features of that school of design. The strong horizontal lines; an attention to fine craftsmanship in the walnut woodwork.

Some of the telling features are hidden, though, she says. Over the years, the house has been through a few ill-conceived updates. Piller says she plans to keep renovating to bring the home more in line with the Prairie School aesthetic.

“I want to go back to the original Prairie [School] look as much as possible,” she says. “But all that isn’t cheap.”

Prairie School architecture is most associated with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. But while he is probably the most famous American architect of the time, he was actually one of numerous architects in this country shooting to create a distinctly American design at the end of the 19th century.

To some extent, their work was a reaction to the Greek and Roman classicism used in nearly every structure for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. This architecture, Wright and his contemporaries believed, said nothing of this land in this time. It was all just an echo of a distant time in a distant place.

Wright and the other Prairie School architects promoted the idea of “organic architecture,” meaning, in essence, that the structure should look as if it was a natural part of the landscape it inhabits.

There is very little that is vertical in the American prairie. The dominant lines are horizontal. The colors are muted grass and wood tones. A Prairie School structure becomes part of its Midwestern surroundings.

Piller’s home near 50th and Dodge streets was built in 1916, not long before Prairie School design began to fall from favor. It’s generally believed that the tumult of World War I caused homebuilders’ attitudeS to turn more conservative.

In Nebraska, the vast majority of homes built at the time were already very conservative. It was not Prairie School work that dominates the landscape, but rather the simple “Prairie Box.”

While Chicago—the birthplace of the design philosophy—brags many homes designed by Wright himself, there are no known Wright-directed projects in Omaha. Indeed, the only structure designed by Wright in Nebraska is in on the other side of the state in McCook. For Wright and Prairie School aficionados, though, the five-hour drive to see the extraordinary Harvey P. Sutton house is well worth the hassle.

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A Tale of Two Homeowners

December 25, 2012 by
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.