Tag Archives: home

Lincoln Fairview Historic District

November 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the bluffs, an expansive view overlooks the Missouri River Valley and a landscape full of promise.

It’s the same vantage (minus Omaha’s modern skyline) that Abraham Lincoln encountered in August 1859 as he dreamed of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Later, in 1863, as president of the United States, he selected the area as the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1911, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected the Lincoln Monument, a focal point in Council Bluff’s Historic Lincoln Fairview neighborhood

“This neighborhood has a lot of charm and a lot of character,” says Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association treasurer Ken Freudenberg, a longtime resident who works in risk management. “We have three major historical monuments in our neighborhood, so we want to be good caretakers.” 

The Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association has around 30 members, meets on a monthly basis, and has won awards for their efforts and dedication to preserve their area’s historical charm. “We try to get people to do more things and maintain their lawns and their homes so that it is a nice area for people to ride through and tour,” he says. “We get a lot of people that come through here looking at the homes.” 

Past association president Susan Seamands says the group purchased banners and placed benches and a trash receptacle at the Lincoln Monument. “It’s a historic neighborhood on the national historic registry with a very active neighborhood association, which sponsors many activities throughout the year,” she says. 

Susan Seamonds, former president of the Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association

Besides progressive dinners and annual picnics, the group has hosted events such as the Lincoln-Fairview Neighborhood Porchfest (hosting local band Pony Creek). “The band was on the deck and the people were on the driveway. It was a fun time. It was a beautiful night,” Freudenberg says. 

With the neighborhood surrounding Fairview Cemetery, the neighborhood association has also partnered with the city and a Civil War historical group for repairs and plantings at the Kinsman Monument located within the cemetery. The Civil War memorial was built to honor Col. William Kinsman, commanding officer of the 23rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 

“Even though it’s a cemetery, Fairview is considered a walking area. A lot of people go there to walk their dogs,” Freudenberg says. “It’s an incredible view of downtown Omaha. It’s beautiful. You’re way up high and that is nice.” 

A trip down Oakland Avenue features the Burke-Woodward House, a brick mansion located at 510 Oakland Ave. It was the former home to attorney Finley Burke and later John G. Woodward, founder of the Woodward Candy Co. 

A few streets in the neighborhood still bear the turn of the century brick-paved streets. A sleepy weekend day finds many homeowners out tending to their yards. Visitors are treated to pleasing Victorian polychrome paint schemes on the houses, which vary in architectural styles: Richardsonian Romanesque, Victorian, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Foursquare and Craftsman. “It’s a collection of older homes and neat landscape,” Freudenberg says. 

Sheryl Garst and family enjoy their porch in the historic neighborhood.

Some may find it surprising that the same artist who created the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in our nation’s capital, Daniel Chester French, also has a piece of art in the neighborhood—the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial. Chester was commissioned by the daughters of Grenville and Ruth Anne Dodge to create the famous cast bronze sculpture, otherwise known as the “Black Angel” statue. 

Their mother, who was dying of cancer, had a reoccurring dream about an angel with a bowl of water who encouraged her to drink. After the third occurrence of the dream, Mrs. Dodge took a drink and died not long after. 

 “She is just incredible. She is just a fabulous work of art,” Freudenberg says. Her laurel-wreathed winged beauty stands on a pink marble pedestal among hushed gardens, her fingers outstretched while a fountain bearing the “water of life” quietly bubbles from her bowl. The Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association also coordinated efforts to place a security camera overlooking the sculpture, a longtime source of urban legends, and regularly does cleanups of the area.

Freudenberg remembers that a group once sued the city of Council Bluffs trying to get the statue moved back East. They claimed it “wasn’t appreciated out here in the Midwest and that it was too small of a town and that it needed to be someplace back East in a place of prominence so that more people could enjoy it.” 

“Of course, the city of Council Bluffs won,” he says. As do the residents of Lincoln Fairview keep on winning in their efforts to preserve the charm of their historic home and the monuments within.


Visit 712initiative.org for more information about the historic neighborhoods of Council Bluffs.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Burke-Woodward House at 510 Oakland Ave.

How Old is Too Old for Home-Canned Food?

October 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Mady Besch

Preserving homegrown produce is a favorite pastime for Midwestern gardeners. 

In late summer and fall, mountains of cucumbers turn into pickles and baskets of tomatoes become salsa and spaghetti sauce with the help of canners on stovetops. 

A bountiful harvest then fills the pantry in the form of canned jars. Health-conscious consumers get to know what goes into their processed foods while enjoying the harvest throughout the calendar year.

But beware the curse of plenty, as overabundant jars can accumulate into perpetuity. The question then becomes, “At what point should homemade cans be discarded?”

Foods canned at home are safe to eat for several years—says Nancy Urbanec, a nutrition and health expert with the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties—so long as the food was properly canned in the appropriate type of jars (glass mason jars and metal bands can be reused) with new lids (fresh seals), and stored in a cool, dry location.

“I’m not going to advocate for eating something five to seven years old,” she says. “Food safety-wise, it’s perfectly safe. Food quality-wise, it will change.” Peculiarities in foods stored in cans for many years may include lack of texture, cloudiness, and sometimes disintegration. 

Urbanec advises using canned foods within a year of processing, while the quality is best. She plans her garden with the intention of producing enough canned goods to last until the next year’s harvest. 

She also advises discarding canned items with rusted or bulged lids. Unsealed jars of canned food in the pantry should be discarded to avoid risk of botulism. 

Urbanec suggests removing the metal rings from the lids of cans that have been opened to make it easier to identify unsealed jars. Sticky exteriors of jars may also be a clue that they are not properly sealed. Jars containing fizz or odd bubbles may be suspect, too.

Unfortunately, botulin bacteria cannot be detected easily. But Urbanec says water-bath canning with adequate acidity or proper pressure canning will keep foods safe to eat. 

The methods of water-bath and pressure canning are slightly different in process but identical in result—they kill any possible botulin bacteria.  Both methods produce safely preserved food. 

What about when the prime year has slipped past already? Urbanec recommends not keeping canned items past one year. But when it happens—and it will happen, especially for folks new to growing and pickling cucumbers—Urbanec suggests using surplus pickles mixed with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Pickles can also be mixed with sour cream as a condiment for pita and lamb. Pickle brine with oil makes a delightful salad dressing, and deep-fried pickle spears will disappear off any serving tray. 

Urbanec enjoys sharing her canned produce with friends and family. Before offering them as gifts, however, she always checks to ensure that her lids are safely sealed. So if you have more cans of tomatoes and cucumbers this year than you know what to do with, tie a pretty bow around those mason jars and give them away as gifts. 

If you still have cans of pickles remaining after trying Urbanec’s suggestions—or maybe you just don’t want to share—know that it’s perfectly safe to consume them past one year.


Visit extension.unl.edu for more information about the Nebraska Extension in Douglas and Sarpy counties. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

2018 ASID impactFULL Awards

October 24, 2018 by

Every year, the Nebraska/Iowa Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers recognizes the best of regional design at its ASID impactFULL Awards. 

Judged by an outside panel of designers, the 2018 impactFULL Awards recognized a record 51 projects (including gold, silver, and bronze winners) during a Sept. 27 awards ceremony at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here are the 14 gold-winning residential projects. Stacie Muhle’s design of a local wine cellar received special recognition as the year’s Design Impact Winner.


Design Impact Award Winner 

Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 
Company: Artistico
Photographer: Thomas Grady

The circular design of the room, with LED-lit wood panels, provides a sophisticated environment for displaying an extensive wine collection. Bespoke finishes infuse Old World charm into the modern wine cellar, forming the perfect union of domestic utility and alluring elegance.


Designer: Shawn Falcone, Allied ASID 
Company: Falcone Hybner Design Inc.
Photographer: Amoura Productions

This home took shape as an ideal place for entertaining large groups of family and friends from the early stages of planning. The entry offers an expansive view of the covered deck with an outdoor fireplace. The master suite wing was designed on one side of the home as a private retreat with a sports car garage (accessible by the owners only). The great room’s fireplace detail was designed for dramatic impact as well as the tile specification for the kitchen backsplash pattern. The owners’ entry on the kitchen wing offers a morning kitchen with oven, sink, and refrigerator, along with a pantry, pocket office, large mudroom, and sunglass station concealed by a custom metal sliding door. The family also wanted an open-concept area for the kitchen, dining room, and great room. In the kitchen, one island houses the stainless steel farmhouse sink, dishwasher, and double trash rollout; another island is large enough to house six counter stools and a beverage refrigerator. The open stairwell, with glass rail system, spans three stories with large windows, abstract geometric art, and a gold jack chandelier.


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 
Company: Artistico
Photographer: Thomas Grady

Upon entering the room, one’s attention drops to the floor where porcelain tile (mimicking New Zealand ancient kauri) is laid in a reverse turn pattern, giving a vibrant and exotic feel. The blending of materials creates a visually stimulating experience while the color palette calms the senses, creating a brilliant juxtaposition in a small space.


Designer: Beth Settles, Allied ASID
Company: Interiors Joan and Associates 
Photographer: Tom Kessler

The clients wished to transform this space—which was originally an office—into a wine room. They desired their new wine room to feature a dramatic design emulating a high-end lounge or resort. 


Designer: Shawn Falcone, Allied ASID
Company: Falcone Hybner Design Inc.
Photographer: Amoura Productions

As avid travelers, these owners wanted to build a place to call home that was designed to feel like a respite from the hectic pace of their daily work schedules and travels. In planning the space’s design, form and function were considered to maximize the available area. Both owners are fashion-forward and wanted a home that reflected their cool, contemporary, urban sensibility; therefore, style was a key factor in designing this home.


Designer: Michele Hybner, Allied ASID 
Company: Falcone Hybner Design Inc.
Photographer: Amoura Productions

This vacation home was designed with entertaining in mind. The modern 1 ½ story plan includes four en suite bedrooms, a powder room, and a combined locker room/drop zone/laundry space conveniently located near the lake entry/exit door. Just outside the door is an outdoor shower to rinse off sandy bare feet. The couple wanted their guests to feel at liberty to grab a cup of espresso without having to come downstairs to the main kitchen, so a breakfast bar was included in the second level (servicing all three of the upstairs bedrooms). Two of the four bedrooms have walk-in closets. The second level master has a full en suite bath with a relaxing free-standing tub, walk-in shower, toilet closet, and a built-in dresser for ample storage space.


Designers: Gwen Ahrens, ASID, NCIDQ, and Brittany Majestic, Allied ASID
Company: Interior Design Firm 
Photographer: Kayla Wilmarth with Michels Digital Solutions

The homeowners desired a cheerful and efficient lake home. Their ranch-style floor plan now accommodates a large family that spans many ages.


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 
Company: Artistico
Photographer: Thomas Grady

The wood shelves layered on the grand fireplace makes this functional architectural design element the focal point of the room.


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 

Company: Artistico

Photographer: Thomas Grady

A well-lit, fresh, and airy atmosphere welcomes entrants to the room. LED lighting (on top of the basket-weave accent tile) draws attention upward, accentuating the faux-metallic painted ceiling. The overall mood of the space is warm and exciting.


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 
Company: Artistico
Photographer: Thomas Grady

The open floor plan with two-story ceiling gives the main level an inviting and airy feel. In the kitchen, a very large Cambria top island overlooks the living room where custom cornices and drapes, a sleek fireplace, and handmade wall coverings on the back of the TV niche are focal points.


Designer: Julie Odermatt, ASID 
Company: D3 Interiors 
Photographer: Amoura Productions 

Nature was the inspiration for using naturalistic elements: granite countertops, a faux-wood accent wall, and tiles that resemble the variation and characteristics of natural stone. The rich walnut cabinets add warmth in the space while contrasting the soft sand tones of floors and walls, creating a calming oasis.


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 
Company: Artistico
Photographer: Thomas Grady

The warm and calming color palette used in this basement project offers an immediate sense of Zen, inspiring guests and homeowners to stay in and share cocktails with friends and family. The one-of-a-kind Galapagos granite countertop on the oversized island adds an exotic flare, accentuated by lush greenery and architectural floral touches that visually link the bar to the adjacent living space.


Designers: Diane Luxford, ASID, and Dagmar Benson, student member ASID 
Company: D Lux Interiors 
Photographer: Tom Kessler

The owners desired a modern, contemporary home. The designers were able to fulfill that requirement with custom design elements: the fireplace, stair railing, great room ceiling detail, custom cabinets, master headboard wall, custom theater fabric panels, and comfortable modern furniture. Both homeowners work from home, so functional offices on the main floor were needed. The design of the beachfront lake residence flows to the exterior with a series of large doors, exiting to an outdoor fireplace and fire pit with custom seating that drops below the vision line.


Designer: Marian Holden, ASID

Company: Designer Touch Inc. 

Photographer: Amoura Productions

The homeowners awoke the morning after Christmas to devastating water damage throughout the entire main floor of their home. The dishwasher malfunctioned as they slept; escaping water destroyed their main living space. A mitigation crew arrived within hours and announced the entire kitchen had to be demolished. All flooring and anything set on the floor had to be removed (including all moldings, some drywall, and even the fireplace). Since everything had to go, the homeowners decided they might as well update the early-2000s home. This was an opportunity to move away from dark earth tones to create a light and bright space.


Visit ne-ia.asid.org for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Old World Meets Suburban Omaha

Photography by Thomas Grady

Having worked closely with Matt and Laurie Willburn to design their beautiful West Omaha home a few years ago, I was delighted to be invited back to conceptualize their wine cellar. 

Combining function with style was an important aspect of my interior design philosophy during construction of the Willburn home. My design of the wine cellar employed the same approach to create an inviting space for storing and displaying the family’s extensive wine collection. 

First, we had to find enough space for a wine cellar within the oddly shaped storage room to accommodate the vast collection (with plenty of room for friends and family to mingle). 

The existing soffit couldn’t be moved or modified in any way, so the space needed to be reconfigured in such a way that the available structure allowed bottle storage without diminishing the overall design aesthetic.

Additional design requirements included lighting and display considerations (without sacrificing storage space for the large collection). We wanted the display to be functional but also be the focal point of the room. We wanted to create something with a dynamic visual element.

Our solution was to create a design resembling a wine barrel. The fundamental simplicity and modern functionality simultaneously showcased their wine in a unique way. The circular design of the room—with LED-lit wood panels—further provides a sophisticated environment for appreciating the extensive bottle collection. The display also hides the existing soffit, so it was the perfect solution to the challenge of the existing space.

The scale of the room balances the weight of the massive wine collection, which is also displayed on circular wood panels covering the side walls and backlit by radiant LED light. The lighting configuration gives the illusion that bottles are floating in the air, a stark contrast to the brick veneer in between the circular wood panels. 

The circular space presented additional design challenges when it came to choosing materials that could be manipulated on a curved surface. The solution was to apply a thin brick veneer and wood panels made of imported hardwood veneer layers, allowing the panels to bend and fit the curved wall. ​

We added finishes to infuse Old World charm into the modern wine cellar, forming the perfect union of domestic utility and alluring elegance. The resulting space inspires drinking wine with good food in good company. 

A repurposed door from a grandparent’s family home in Colorado adorns the entry from the basement, adding deep sentimental value to the balance of personal expression and purposeful glamour. 

Like a glass of fine wine, the Willburns’ wine cellar leaves a lasting impression. The room is truly a space to be enjoyed.


MEET THE DESIGNER

Stacie Muhle 
Allied ASID, Artistico

​Muhle received her Bachelor of Interior Architecture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She applies her stylistic vision and attention to detail to commercial, corporate, and residential projects. Innovative design skills allow Muhle to transform clients’ design wishes into unique and practical spaces in reality.


Visit artisticodesign.net for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Custom-Made Paradise in the Woods

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tracy Zaiss never gets tired answering the inevitable question from first-time visitors to the family’s hilltop home.

“They always ask me, ‘Are you sure we’re still in Omaha?’ And I always say, ‘Oh yes, this is Omaha. It’s Omaha Public Schools [for neighborhood kids], and we’re really just minutes from downtown.’”

The understandable skepticism begins along John J. Pershing Drive heading north, as the two-lane road follows the Missouri River. Turning left onto a road that leads to Hummel Park, surprised travelers immediately experience the wonders of nature, especially in late summer when the flora and fauna reach their peak of beauty and diversity. 

They find themselves under a canopy of trees so lush that rays of sunlight barely reach the pavement. Emerging from that dark tunnel, visitors then navigate deeply rutted, unpaved roads—with no street signs—that keep twisting and curving up a steep grade. 

Their journey ends at a smooth concrete driveway and a two-story natural stone house sitting high above the Missouri River Valley.

Built in 2011, the Zaiss (pronounced Zayss) home combines a classic, timeless design with contemporary materials.

Contractor Mick Smith of Mick Smith Construction used rough-cut, split-face stone with copper tones on the exterior. Long rectangular copper tiles, now a shade of green due to aging, accent the roof. The look complements the home’s rustic setting.

“We knocked down the original house on the property and built the new one around the same spot,” says Smith, now retired and working part time. He also installed a geothermal heating and cooling system underground “because there’s no natural gas up there.” 

Everything about the house and the setting still stands out in his mind. 

 “I’m telling you, that area is unbelievable, right in the middle of the park,” Smith says. “It would cost a fortune to build that same house today.”

Although Design Basics of Omaha drew the blueprints, Zaiss (who started her own marketing and research firm, Zaiss and Co., in 1989) and her husband, Rick (a social worker by profession and avid bird-watching hobbyist), came up with many ideas. 

For instance, Zaiss salvaged the thick red bricks from the original driveway to create a path that leads to the home’s long, arched entryway. “I wanted the front doors recessed to minimize the amount of mud people track in but it has never really worked,” she says with a laugh.  

As if to preview what vistas lie beyond the entryway, each of the two heavy wooden front doors has a window with the image of a rising sun etched into the glass. When opened, they reveal a magnificent expanse.

Sunlight streaming in through a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows along the back wall draws the eye into the wide-open living room. Even the freshly tuned grand piano in a corner of the room seems small under the vaulted ceiling. 

The wood-burning fireplace on the west wall features the same stone motif as the exterior of the house. A large oil painting takes up most of the space above the fireplace mantle. Titled “Wheat Fields,” it depicts birds flying above wind-swept acres of golden wheat. 

But the artwork doesn’t outshine the view behind the Zaiss house. Make no mistake: the land is the star of this show. 

Ten acres of deep, untouched woods extend as far as the eye can see, sloping downward to the river. The land teems with the green of cottonwood and black locust trees, the same variety that form the leafy cathedral at the entrance to Hummel Park. Apple trees laden with red fruit grow close to the house. Wildflowers and wild turkeys abound, as do fawns wobbling gingerly along the sizable backyard. When nighttime brings a blanket of deep darkness, Zaiss says she listens to the stillness. The only sounds come from nature and the only light comes from stars that shine exceptionally bright far from the city’s glare. 

Zaiss and her husband met while students at Hastings College and married in the ’70s, shortly after graduation. They felt particularly lucky in 2006—while living in their longtime home near 108th and Harrison streets—when a house with a stunning view came on the market in an area of North Omaha that rarely sees a “For Sale” sign. They took their time planning their dream home, while using the original structure as a weekend getaway and entertainment hub.

“This house is a result of five years looking at architecture and home magazines, getting design ideas,” Zaiss says.

Her thorough design exploration resulted in a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath, 4,714-square-foot home that maximizes enjoyment of its natural surroundings.

Borrowing heavily from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Midwest-inspired Prairie style, the house features an open floor plan with free-flowing spaces and lots of windows as focal points. The windows don’t have coverings, except in the guest bedroom and bath. 

Lighting brings another architectural impact in the living room. The wall lights shine either up or down toward the floor to avoid any glare on the windows. 

Sliding glass doors in the back of the kitchen provide easy access to a concrete patio that spans the width of the house. 

Glass doors also open to a separate screen-enclosed eating area off the east side of the kitchen, “which we can use about nine months out of the year,” Zaiss says. “It’s always fun to have guests and eat out here.”

The kitchen sink, installed inside the granite-top center island, faces the patio door, providing scenery to the lucky person tasked with cleaning up. 

A large pantry next to the formal dining room contains a second, fully functional caterer’s kitchen with open shelves that display colorful dishes and serving pieces. 

The garage holds another of Zaiss’ innovations. A third garage door in the back of the structure allows the riding lawn mower to zip in and out with ease. 

“So much of what we wanted to achieve up here was comfort,” Zaiss says quietly. 

Mission accomplished.


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Life By Design

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In all built things, the real story lies in the space between intention and fruition. The place where design meets application is a point of contact. Across space and time, builder and user enter into a collaboration. 

In the architecture of homes, this moment of connection occurs constantly. In every room, at every minute, the idea of life runs headlong into the actual living of life. If an architect has done their job right, this is, ideally, an amicable collision.

A.J. Vacanti’s home in Omaha’s Regency neighborhood masterfully reflects this communion of design intention and thoughtful, everyday use. Conceived and built by renowned Omaha architect Donald Polsky in the early 1990s, Vacanti’s home embodies a tasteful, modern simplicity. Though the space is, by any measure, a masterpiece of the mid-century modern style, it’s not ostentatious. In fact, when seen only from the street, the house is downright plain—little more than a white windowless rectangle. 

Of course, the real story is found inside. At the heart of any home’s design is an architect’s notion of how best to choreograph the activity of life. “Polsky understood that no one lives in the front of their house,” Vacanti points out. “The impulse is always to move deeper into the sanctuary of the space, thereby allowing oneself to go deeper into one’s consciousness. This aspect is why all the windows here face the backyard instead of the street.”

In fact, many windows in the house are arranged so subtly—in long narrow rows along the ceiling, for example—that it can be surprising to realize the entire space is illuminated only by natural light. 

“The use of artificial light is rare when the natural sunlight filters in,” Vacanti says. 

The home bares many hallmarks of the modernist architectural movement: clean lines, flat roofs, open spaces that blend and breathe into one another. Other elements, though, are more unexpected: moveable walls, dramatic framing, a basement sitting room with the highest ceiling in the house.

However, the most striking detail of Vacanti’s home is the way in which his own creative energy has made a space for itself within Don Polsky’s signature design aesthetic. The elegantly understated architecture makes the space an ideal setting for displaying Vacanti’s ever-growing collection of primarily original art.

While there are a few purchased pieces prominently placed here and there in the home, the majority of the collection, including dozens of paintings, are Vacanti’s own creation. 

Though not an artist by trade, Vacanti’s talent certainly holds its own against the masterwork of Polsky’s design. Drawing direct inspiration from a wide number of artists he admires, Vacanti’s own artistic vision is broadly diverse, yielding a collection that very much seems like it has come from the hands of several different creators.    

“When you walk through the home you’re walking through separate stages of the collection,” Vacanti explains. “Each stage reflects a point in my life. In each painting, I’m working with the material of different moments of experience. There’s a progression. Polsky designed the home to have an art gallery kind of reverence for space. I took Polsky’s linear approach and created a nonlinear reality within the space. I’ve just tried to honor that by expanding on Polsky’s vision through my interpretation of his work.”

 These days, most consumers with the financial means to invest in a custom-built home approach the design process like they would any other service relationship, often dictating their own vision and desires to an architect or builder.  

“Today, homeowners have become so used to telling an architect: This is how we want to live our life,” Vacanti says. “It wasn’t always like that. It used to be that architect stayed true to their own vision. The building itself would say to the owners: This is how you’re going to live.” 

This appreciation for the pure vision of a master architect left to his own devices compelled Vacanti to become something of a collector of Donald Polsky’s Omaha homes. 

“This is my third Polsky,” he adds with pride. Though he’s never owned more than one Polsky-designed home at a time, in the early 2000s Vacanti did find himself moving just one house over, from one Polsky to another, when his neighbors’ house went on the market. 

“I’ve always been interested in modern homes, ever since I was a kid,” he says. “I just like clean lines. Coming from a commercial real estate background in my family, I’ve always been attracted to industrial designs, which you don’t see a lot of in Omaha.”

It’s this sensitivity to the integrity of the designer’s vision that gives every room in the Vacanti home the feeling of thoughtful intention. Every space, it seems, has its purpose.    

“Even though it is open and flows, it’s still compartmentalized,” he says. “You don’t feel like you’re in a gigantic space, wondering what’s happening on the other end of the home.”

Put simply, it’s not over designed. The ongoing conversation between architect and owner—the idea of life and life itself—is richly complementary.  

For Vacanti, his home collecting seems to have come to an end, at least for now. 

“The energy that has been created in this space is magnetic; it draws you in,” he says. “For me to want to leave now would be unrealistic.”


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Aksarben Nouveau

September 24, 2018 by
Photography by Amoura Productions

This home was purchased with a vision of what it could become, and an appreciation for the promise in its old bones.

My clients wanted to move from out west to the up-and-coming Aksarben area. But their new-to-them older home was built in 1948 and in need of a lot of love. There had been very few updates made to the house until we got our hands on it. 

The front door originally opened into the living and dining space, which then led to a wall with a simple, cased opening into the kitchen. The original kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house; it was choppy, dark, and had very little cabinetry. 

The first step was to completely clear the space. We removed the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the first floor and opened up the staircase in the center of the home. After removing the walls, the kitchen was reconfigured to bring in additional storage and extra counter space so the young couple could simultaneously cook and entertain.

We incorporated a modern, traditional feel throughout the kitchen, with marbled quartz countertops, a soft-gray subway tile backsplash, and clean white cabinets that extend to the ceiling to emphasize height. To break up the light colors, touches of gold were incorporated into the space with the lighting and gold hardware used on the cabinetry. 

This view showcases the newly opened staircase with the cedar beam accent. The dining space is now completely open to the kitchen.

We accented the newly open staircase with cedar beams to bring in a natural element and create some interest in the center of the home. This serves as a transition piece between the living room and kitchen and is a great conversation piece when they are entertaining. 

Throughout the entire interior of the home, we refinished the original wood flooring, replaced the doors, and added crown molding. All of the walls were painted a soft gray to create a light and airy feel throughout the main level of the house. The home is simple and refreshing with neutral colors, natural light, and pops of color mixed in with pillows, artwork, and gold finishes. 

A view from the great room into the dining space and open kitchen showcases how open, light, and airy the space has become.

The homeowners now have an updated, modern home in an established neighborhood in the middle of the city. Their goal was to capture the character of the neighborhood without sacrificing the amenities. We were able to achieve this by opening up the floor plan, reconfiguring the kitchen, and adding a master suite on the first level of the home.


Meet the Designer

Alexis Trout (Allied ASID, D3 Interiors) began her design career in 2012 and joined D3 Interiors in 2014. Since that time, she has worked on a diverse range of residential and commercial projects. Her goal as a designer is to create lasting relationships with her clients, bring a fresh creative eye, and create inspiring spaces.


Visit d3interiors.net for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Scent of a Neighborhood

July 31, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Provided

Since 1989, the corner of 108th and Harrison streets has featured an aroma that permeates the air and reminds every passerby that Rotella’s Italian Bakery makes their magic there. 

The bakery originally began in 1850 in Calabria, Italy, with Dominico Rotella selling loaves baked from a small wood-fired oven. His son, Alessandro, immigrated to America in 1909 and eventually settled in Omaha. In 1921, after a strike left him unemployed, he negotiated to buy a small bakery for $25 a month from a local businessman.

Nowadays, the bakery spans four large buildings that occupy most of the block.
It’s no wonder this busy bakery emits the scent of fresh-baked bread to everyone in the vicinity, including the cars driving by.

Paul Schoomaker lives in one of the surrounding neighborhoods and has not yet grown nose-blind to Rotella’s scent. “We’ve lived in the Applewood neighborhood for over 25 years and have greatly enjoyed the wonderful aromas from Rotella’s Bakery over the many years. When there is a soft breeze from the south-southwest early in the morning, the rich smell of fresh-baked bread wafts through the air,” he says. “On many occasions when I would walk the neighborhood in the early morning, the smell of fresh bread was a major motivational factor to be outside. There are few smells like that which create such a comforting feeling.”

Fellow Applewood Heights resident Amy Youngclaus agrees. “Being near Rotella’s is an added perk to our already homey neighborhood. Walking out of the house to the warm scent of bread swirling in the air is like getting a hug from a doting grandma. I feel as though the whiffs of bakery scent add a warm and cozy vibe to our locale.”

Residents of Cimmaron Woods West have similar sentiments about the Rotella’s aroma in the air. “The best smell is when the air is quiet and they are baking garlic or onion bread,” says resident Tom Perkins. “The aroma gets really intense sometimes and is great to smell when you walk outside. The other time I notice it is in the mornings when it just smells like baking bread my grandma used to make.”

Another resident of Cimmaron Woods West, Tom Demory, says the scent from Rotella’s often compels his wife and children to make a trip to the retail store. When asked if the strength of the scent on a particular day has any effect on their desire to go buy bread, he replies, “Without question.” And while he is generally aware of the scent, he says, “I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but I’ve never considered it a negative thing. It’s a pleasant odor.”  

For some residents living near the bakery, the scent of Rotella’s means so much more than merely the baking of bread. Oak Brook Apartments resident Sara Locke explains: “When my longtime partner was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that resulted in a gluten-free lifestyle, I didn’t think twice about swearing off bread myself. For years, I forwent my favorite foods—pastas, pizza, and my strange addiction to buttered toast. The day I left and moved into my new place, I spent the first long sleepless night sitting on my deck, torturing myself over the decision I had made. As the night gave way to the still-dark early morning hours, the smell was so subtle at first. Just a thought really, like a weird flashback that hasn’t yet taken hold. Then the unmistakable aroma grabbed me and reminded me of seven years’ worth of mornings without toast at breakfast. I sat there until the sun was up and walked over to the store for a loaf of bread. That was when I learned that they have gluten-free offerings, but it’s too late now. I may have ended a long relationship, but I’ve returned to my first love… and I still spend my mornings on that deck, but now I do it with toast and coffee in hand.”

Louis Rotella III isn’t surprised by everyone’s reaction to the Rotella’s scent—he still gets excited when he smells cinnamon raisin bread baking. “Sometimes I get hit with a smell that brings back my childhood,” he says. Occasionally he’ll encounter people who remember the 24th Street bakery Rotella’s occupied from 1965 until they moved to the current location in 1989. “They’ll say, ‘We miss the smell!’” he says, adding that they also miss the bread, but the smell is what’s most often brought up. 

Often, people will stop in at the retail shop to load up on bread to take to their out-of-state relatives. While Rotella’s is indeed a national brand, it can be difficult to find in a store outside of Nebraska and the immediate surrounding states. “Sometimes we’ll get people visiting who were instructed by their families to stop at the retail store and ‘load up’ to bring bread home,” Rotella says. 

Rotella’s Italian Bakery isn’t just a place that pumps out pleasant smells for the surrounding neighborhoods—it’s an Omaha mainstay, active in the local community. “We try hard to maintain the family values that brought us to where we are today,” Rotella says. “We recognize and appreciate the community that supports our business.” In that sense, the pleasant scents blanketing the neighborhoods can be seen as a far-reaching thank-you from Rotella’s to the community.  


Visit rotellasbakery.com for more information about the local Omaha bakery. Residential neighborhoods adjacent to the bakery complex include Applewood Heights, Cimarron Woods, and Brookhaven. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

A Model for 
Remodeling

July 25, 2018 by
Photography by Chris Ruhaak

Talk about adapting.

Since last August, the Minderman home (located west of 204th Street where Elkhorn meets horse country) has been in the throes of an overhaul. The scope of the project—from top to bottom, stem to stern—could send HGTV’s popular remodeling hosts gasping for breath.  

Dr. David Minderman, a neonatologist at Methodist Women’s Hospital, his wife Maria, and their three children have spent the past year listening to a chorus of hammers, saws, and drills. They’ve stepped gingerly around torn-up floors and torn-down walls, reconfigured their living space three times, and have gotten to know managers at several nearby restaurants on a first-name basis. 

Upgrades to the 25-year-old, two-story stone home began innocently enough. 

“We knew when we bought the house five years ago that we would redo the kitchen,” Maria says. “It didn’t have enough natural light and the appliances were outdated. The powder rooms and master bath, which are also on the first floor, needed work.”

Before

One necessity led to another. Adding eight feet to he kitchen required doing the same to the basement. In addition, the natural stone fireplace in the living room malfunctioned and leaked.  The main staircase, which curved at the bottom, called for a redesign to facilitate walking to the new patio door. 

The Mindermans’ contractor, Greg Frazell of G. Lee Homes, understood the couple’s vision and mapped it all out, with one suggestion.

“Greg said it would be best to get the entire first floor and the partial basement remodel done all at once instead of in stages,” says Maria, who grew up on a farm in Honey Creek, Iowa. “So we brought everything we needed upstairs to the second floor. That’s where we lived for over seven months.”

 The five family members, including Olivia (15), Tristan (13), and Brooks (11), made do with one tub, a small plastic shower in a 5-by-8 foot bathroom, and a family room that doubled as David and Maria’s bedroom. 

Meals became Maria’s great adventure. 

A bar in a section of the basement not under construction became the family kitchen. Maria didn’t have a stove, but she added a toaster oven, an electric skillet, and an air fryer to the bar’s small refrigerator and even smaller sink. Mealtime may have been cramped, but it worked. 

Then Maria got that familiar glint in her eye.

“What would it cost to paint the bar area and put in a new sink and a granite top?” she wondered. 

It cost the family home-cooked meals. 

With the makeshift kitchen suddenly out of commission and no sink to wash dishes, the Mindermans dined out during the last month-and-a-half of the first-floor renovation. Hy-Vee’s Chinese buffet, Jimmy Johns, Chipotle (“the kids love anything with rice and chicken”), Mama’s Pizza, and lettuce wraps at Greenbelly filled the void. 

Construction crews came to the rescue of David and Maria’s waistlines in mid-March. They unveiled the main floor, just in time to enter the home in the Remodel Omaha Tour, sponsored by the Metro Omaha Builders Association. The public came away impressed.

Sunlight pours through new windows into the kitchen, which now shares an open floor plan with the adjoining sitting room. The kitchen addition, with its separate entrance off the driveway, contains a huge pantry, laundry room, and desk.

Walls and cabinets match in pale gray, accented with white trim. The panel-ready refrigerator mimics the cabinets, its wooden doors painted to match and adorned with the same hardware. 

The industrial stove’s Carrara marble backsplash, with an arabesque pattern cut from antique mirror, adds an intricate and delicate touch.

 The kitchen sink now rests inside a 10-foot-long center island, allowing the family to look into the sitting room and talk to each other or guests while cleaning up.  

A dark-stained beam fashioned out of barn wood runs along the ceiling above the island. A single light pendant with smoked glass, weathered iron, and a huge throwback Edison bulb hangs over the island—just two of many eye-catching touches Maria discovered while working closely with Angie Hall, design consultant with G. Lee Homes.

“We have very similar tastes,” says Hall, who also serves as project coordinator. “Maria didn’t want anything trendy that would date the house in a short time. The look is classic and comfortable with touches of rustic.”

Normalcy lasted only until the end of the home tour. By early April, the entire second floor was shut down for a complete overhaul.

This time, the family set up three beds in the newly refurbished basement and dragged bedding, all the kids’ clothes, and the necessary electronics downstairs. 

Did any family revolutions break out?

“My husband is a really easy-going person and the kids did really well,” Maria says. “But there were a few skirmishes about ‘mom and her stupid idea to remodel,’ after we had to stop sleepovers with their friends.”

True to her nurse’s training, Maria remains cool, calm, and loving, but holds fast to the plan. 

“I keep telling them to remember our motto: ‘No crying until August 2018.’” 

And if construction goes beyond that date?

Maria thinks for a minute before answering with typical wry humor, “Then, we’ll talk about it.”


Visit omahasbuilder.com for more information about the home’s contractor, G. Lee Homes.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Be Your Own Pit Boss

July 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up on a farm in northern Minnesota, barbecue enthusiast Gary Dunteman learned many skills. “When you’re a farm kid, you’ve got to be your own mechanic, you’ve got to be your own carpenter—you’ve got to learn how to do everything.” 

At 13, his dad taught him how to weld to fix machinery. Now his welding comes in handy as he tries out various techniques to create the perfect smoker.

Dunteman once built a 120-gallon smoker with a customized rotisserie rack out of an old air compressor tank from a service station. “People look at it and ask, ‘What is that?’” he says. “I can do 16 racks of ribs at one time.” 

He competes in statewide barbecue competitions on the team Hawgenz Heroz, and he gets a lot of looks when traveling to contests in his decommissioned ambulance. “I call her Rosalie,” he says. The ambulance used to serve the village of Rosalie, Nebraska. “Everybody should have an ambulance. An ambulance has a lot of storage room.” 

Dunteman, who works in packaging sales, first became interested in meat smoking when his former warehouse manager built a barrel smoker. “He brought it into work one day and made some ribs on it. I thought that was the most awesome thing that ever happened.” So Dunteman taught himself how to make his own smoker by watching “ugly drum smoker” videos on YouTube. 

Dunteman says his specialty air compressor smoker would be difficult for most grilling enthusiasts to make (due to the types of tools necessary). But he says that anyone can build their own barrel smoker. Dunteman built his in an afternoon and it cost him around $100 in materials. 

Steps: First, treat your barrel by “starting a big old fire” in it with wood and charcoal to season it. “You want to get it smoked up before you actually start cooking the meat in it.” He then took pieces from an old 21-inch Weber Grill. He repurposed the racks and used the bottom of the grill to make the lid. If you don’t have an old grill, you can purchase a smoker cover and a replacement cooking grate for the racks separately. 

To make the coal basket, he attached four carriage bolts to the bottom of the rack and then attached a 6-inch piece of expanded steel around it to make a basket. “I wrapped it around it and wired it to the rack.” He removed the handle from the side of the grill and put it on top of the smoker lid. He then drilled holes in the bottom of the barrel and attached caster wheels. 

He also put in a suspended water pan (a disposable aluminum dish) between the coal basket and the rack of meat. “The water simmers and keeps it moist and steams the meat as it’s getting smoked, so it doesn’t dry out the meat.” He recommends buying a smoker cover to protect from the rain. Dunteman says if taken care of, a barrel smoker will last a very long time, giving the user many years of savory memories.

Materials Needed 

  • 55-gallon refurbished steel barrel ($29.99 from Jones Barrel Co.) 
  • 4 caster wheels
  • Replacement cooking grate or a secondhand grate sourced from a 21-inch Weber Grill
  • Expanded sheet steel (12-by-24 inches)
  • 4 carriage bolts
  • Smoker cover
  • Disposable aluminum dish for water pan

Aside from the 55-gallon barrel, all of these parts can be purchased at local hardware stores.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome.