Tag Archives: house

A Fresh Homemade Kitchen

August 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Out of all the genius quotes from world-renowned architects and designers, Kylie Von Seggern’s favorite comes from a celebrity chef.

Her profile on Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture’s website lists the words of Anthony Bourdain as her favorite quote: “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go.”

The mantra manifests itself throughout the architect and interior designer’s professional work and private life.

Von Seggern prefers adaptive reuse to high-profile mega projects, and she embraces community engagement and activism. Her responsive ideology is likewise evident in the renovation of her home in the Hanscom Park neighborhood.

Kylie Von Seggern

While house shopping in 2015, she wanted to find an older home with built-in character. That’s exactly what she found in her current residence, built in 1908.

The previous owner had lived there for 50 years. The warm gray interior featured dense wood trim, exquisite detailing, and the creek of wood floors. It was the perfect combination of good bones and room for updates.

For the interior remodel, she proposed “more of a modern upgrade” than a total overhaul. The kitchen, however, lacked the rest of the house’s inherent character.

She recently renovated the kitchen to achieve a crisp, airy gathering space. She replaced the limited cabinetry and floors. But she kept the kitchen’s existing plaster walls.

For Von Seggern, the kitchen is important because everyone is always there—regardless if there’s a party or not. Part of the reason stems from her roommate being a chef.

Throughout and beyond her home, Von Seggern’s approach to design and architecture resonates with creative culinary instincts: Like a great homemade meal, “It tastes so good because you made it,” she says. 

Growing up in Lincoln, design-oriented interests eventually led her to the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While at UNL, she participated in a 2010 study abroad program to Guatemala where she learned vernacular cinder-block building techniques.

In Guatemala, she began hypothesizing the duplicitous meanings of a home. Von Seggern ultimately realized, “Not everyone wants a McMansion,” and more importantly, “functionality over aesthetics” takes precedence.

She also studied abroad in Germany before completing her degree in Nebraska. With such international experience, her attraction to the Bourdain quotation becomes obvious. The preceding sentence of the full direct quote is: “If you’re [young], physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel—as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to.”

She began working at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture after completing her Master of Architecture in 2013, and she began lending her voice to local architectural advocacy efforts as a volunteer at Restoration Exchange Omaha.

Von Seggern’s volunteer work allows her to have a direct impact in Omaha while developing skills in navigating city bureaucracy and finding ways to remain responsive to older architecture instead of reactively always looking for the new.

Back in her home on the edge of Hanscom Park, her kitchen is a perfect example of her finding this balance on her own terms.

Visit alleypoyner.com/kylie-von-seggern for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

A Glamorous, Functional Basement Remodel

August 14, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Grady

Seeking a grand basement remodel, a client came to me with hopes of creating a unified space with smaller intimate areas instead of an open floor plan. The original space felt very disconnected with no visual interest.

My solution focused on two separate spaces of the floor plan. Both sections of the basement would feature multiple functions: one area revolved around a sunken kitchenette/bar, and the other was an empty space transformed into a theater/display area.

The first part of the challenge was to create a properly lit display while providing storage within the bar area. We needed to add a dynamic visual element without altering the integrity of the existing brick veneer.

Our solution was to add horizontal reclaimed wood panels that pull the whole space together while providing a pub-like entertaining area. The resulting contemporary space makes use of layers of depth and dimension to provide a central focal point for social gatherings.

The asymmetrical design of the sunken bar area is enhanced with LED lighting, which further enhances the sophisticated environment. Bespoke finishes infuse rustic charm into the modern basement, forming the perfect union of domestic utility and alluring elegance. Displayed sentimental objects stand in harmonious contrast with time-worn salvaged materials and the interplay of light and shadow.

A large circle on the bar wall offers a crucial design element unifying the space. The scale of the circle balances the weightiness of the massive bar. Radiant light offsets and enhances the circle, giving the illusion that it is floating in air. The circle’s LED under-lit shelves provides plenty of space for the liquor bottles, and the offset shelving allows for additional personal items to be displayed.

By adding the walnut shell and lights to the existing metallic wood console table, it became repurposed and connected to the bar area.

Two guitars on an adjacent wall, mounted on a wooden circle, became a piece of art grounding the empty space leading to the guest bathroom.

To satisfy the clients, who are avid sports fans, the most challenging part of the basement’s theater space was to showcase their collection of jerseys while allowing the ability to watch multiple televisions at once. At the center of this design, I strived to cultivate a sensory experience that transcends the utilitarian functionality of the theater setting. Contemporary aesthetics find a careful balance of personal whims and fancies in the second of the basement’s main spaces. Relaxing here, the homeowners feel like they are in a high-end Las Vegas casino private suite while watching their favorite teams play.

The design conceptualization for the theater and display area stems from a faithful adherence to well-defined boundaries. JaDecor wall covering offers remarkable appearance with excellent acoustical properties. The round custom fiber optics and the dark-oak Melinga panels in the ceiling add spectacular visual interest to the space that once was a rectangle tray.

I really wanted the sports theater walls to properly light their jersey collection—which changes annually—while not interfering with the theater environment. Back-lighting the twelve individual panels with LED strip lights cleverly works into the overall aesthetic. The picture lights illuminate the symmetry of the jerseys and provide a side drop for the TV wall.

The purposeful ornamentation of the jerseys provides a dramatic display satisfying even the most discerning homeowner.

The experience of the finished project is such an amazing space to entertain and enjoy life with family and friends.

From the bar to the theater, and across the entire basement, the overall design embodies simplicity and modern functionality, leaving a lasting impression that makes you want to enjoy the space in good company.

The end result achieves the client’s goal of balancing personal expression and functional glamour with youthful exuberance. It is a welcoming space for any time of the day—and any season—for many years to come.

Visit artisticodesign.net to see more of the designer’s work.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

100 Years Strong

August 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Bryant-Fisher family reunion celebrates an important milestone in 2017—its 100th anniversary. The three-day reunion event will conclude with a final day of festivities in Elmwood Park.

The “Dozens of Cousins,” named for the 12 branches of the prodigious African-American family, will gather in Omaha on Sunday, Aug. 13, to eat, converse, and renew bonds of kinship while reinvigorating ties to local neighborhood roots.

The first reunion was a picnic in 1917 held at Mandan Park in South Omaha, where family roots run deep. Mandan hosted the picnic for 74 years. Its trails, gardens, and river views offered scenic backdrops. The park is also near the family’s homestead at 15th Street and Berry Avenue, and Graceland Park Cemetery (where many relatives are buried).

The picnic, which goes on rain or shine, relocated to Carter Lake in the 1990s and has since gone to various locales. It is coming to Elmwood Park for the first time this year.

Hours before the picnic, a dawn fish fry kicks things off. With bellies full of fried food, the descendants of Emma Early head for a family worship service followed by the picnic.

Always present is a star-studded menu of from-scratch American comfort and soul food staples: ribs, fried chicken, lasagna, collard greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, potato salad, and more.

The family’s different branches provide tents under which they set up their family feasts. Monique Henry belongs to the Gray tent and says everyone waits for her first cousin Danielle Nauden’s peach cobbler to arrive on the table.

The meals may be the highlight, but the day also includes games, foot races, a dance contest, and a pie/cake baking contest, which Henry says is mainly for the teenagers. The baking contest garners between 20 and 50 entries, depending on the size of the reunion.

Competitions are an intense part of the picnic gathering.

Film-television actress Gabrielle Union, the star of hit BET drama Being Mary Jane, is a descendant who grew up with the reunions. She understands what’s at stake.

“Having a chance to compete against your cousins in front of your family is huge,” Union says. “Some top athletes are in our family, so the races are like the Olympics. Each section of the family is like a country sending their best athletes. You trained for it.”

Union vividly recalls her most memorable race: “I wore my hair in braids but tucked under a cap. I won the race, and then somebody shouted, ‘That’s a boy,” thinking this fast little dynamo couldn’t possibly have been a girl, and I whipped off my cap like, ‘I’m a girl!’”

Although the large family has expanded and dispersed across Omaha and nationwide—and descendants of Emma Early Bryant-Fisher now number in the thousands—the picnic has remained in Omaha the second Sunday of August as a perennial ties-that-bind feast.

Union returns as her schedule allows. The actress grew up in northeast Omaha, attending St. Benedict the Moor. She often visited relatives in South O, where the home of matriarch Emma (a street is named after her) remained in the family.

Union introduced NBA superstar husband Dwyane Wade to the reunion last year. “It was important for me for Dwyane to come experience it,” she says. “No one I know has a family reunion of the scale, scope, and length we have. It’s pretty incredible. It says a lot about the endurance and strength of our family. It’s a testament to the importance of family, sticking together, and the strength that comes out of a family that recognizes its rich history and celebrates it.”

A tradition of this duration is rare for African-Americans given the historic struggles that disrupted many families. Bryant-Fisher descendant Susan Prater James says, “The reason for celebrating the 100th is that we’re still able to be together after everything our ancestors went through.”

“There’s nothing I can complain about [in terms of facing] adversity [that] someone in my family has not only experienced but fought through, and not just survived but thrived,” Union says. “I come from a long line of incredibly strong, powerful, and resilient strivers, and I pull from that daily.

We recognize our uniqueness and specialness, and we never take that for granted. I think with each passing year it just gets stronger and stronger.”

The family tree gets updated with a new history book every five years. “Dozens of Cousins” social media sites keep the grapevine buzzing. The family migrated from South Omaha to North Omaha many years ago, and also once had its own North O clubhouse at 21st and Wirt streets. The Dozens of Cousins, Inc. became a 501c3 in 2016.

A century of gatherings doesn’t just happen.

“We get together all the time, and anytime we get together it’s a celebration,” says Bryant-Fisher descendant Sherri Wright-Harris. “We love on one another. Family has always been instilled as the most important thing you have in this life. This is a part of the fabric that makes us who we are.”

“We don’t know anything different,” says Henry, another Bryant-
Fisher descendant.

“That’s ingrained from the time you’re born into the legacy,” family historian Arlett Brooks says. “My mother committed to her mother, and I committed to her to carry this tradition on. This is my love, my passion. I just think it’s important to share your history, and I want our youth to know the importance of this and to treasure what we have because this is not a common thing.”

The reunion has evolved from a one-day picnic to include: a river boat cruise, skate party, memorial ride (on a trolley or bus) to visit important family sites, banquet dinner-dance, and a talent showcase. Milestone years such as this one include a Saturday parade. Headquarters for the 2017 reunion will be situated at the Old Market Embassy Suites.

The reunion’s Friday night formal banquet means new outfits and hair-dos. But renewing blood bonds is what counts. “It’s a way for young and old to reconnect with their roots and find a sense of belonging,” Prater James says.

Representing the various branches of the Bryant-Fisher family takes on added meaning over time.

“No matter how old you are, no matter how down you get, on that day everything seems to be looking better,” Marc Nichols says.

Cheryl Bowles says she “felt sick” the one reunion she skipped.

Arlett Brooks says she has never missed a reunion, and she’s not about to miss the 100th. “You only get the centennial one time,” Brooks says.

New this year will be a family history cookbook complete with recipes, stories, and photos. Catfish, spaghetti, greens, and cornbread are faves. The history cookbook is expected to be printed and ready for sale at the reunion.

Union says fun and food aside, the real attraction is “hearing the stories—the important stories, the silly stories—and learning the history before people are gone.”

Visit bryantfisherreunion.com for more information.

Monique Henry

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Living Large in the Backyard

July 31, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If there were but one thing to consider before building your very own epic backyard party central, equipped with all the essential grilling and barbecue fixtures, it is this: Your guests don’t have to live with whatever outdoor Franken-kitchen you cobble together from your inner Cro-Magnon desire for fired meats.

No, they rub their bellies, hopefully thank their gracious hosts, and go home. It’s you who must live with what remains.

The better approach, it appears, is the path Stephen and Joy Abels took on their West Omaha home.

From left: Stephen, Joy, and Chelsea Abels

“Be patient,” Joy says. “The best design is probably not going to be your first or second design.”

The Abels thought long and hard about what they wanted their backyard to be. They hosted regular gatherings, a tradition they knew would continue. They like pizza about as much as anyone else, but not so much that an outdoor pizza oven made a lot of sense.

And they knew they enjoyed hosting friends and family, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be a caterer—just grill some fine meats, maybe smoke the occasional brisket or prime rib roast. That would be sufficient.

From a practical design perspective, they most desired a space to spend comfortably warm afternoons and evenings with their guests.

But the Abels also knew their kitchen table overlooked the backyard from large facing windows. They didn’t want an expansive gray slab of concrete (with a few deck chairs anchored together by some sort of monstrous outdoor fire pit) to mar their daily view.

So they saved. They scratched out ideas on napkins and random scraps of paper. And they spent countless hours stalking the internet for other inspirations on websites like houzz.com.

They began planning three years ago, when Stephen went for an evening stroll through the neighborhood.

A few doors down, he noticed a neighbor’s impressive backyard fireplace. Stephen had no idea who the neighbor was, but in that moment, he turned up the driveway and knocked on the door.

“I introduced myself, said, ‘Love your fireplace, tell me about it.’ He said, ‘Come on in.’ And he gave me Hugh’s name,” Stephen says, referring to Hugh Morton, co-owner of Sun Valley Landscaping, the company that would eventually redevelop the Abels’ backyard.

The Abels wanted to create a space that felt “like Nebraska.” Morton was happy to listen and accommodate their wishes. The finished product fits perfectly in place.

Morton’s design includes native trees and bushes in the landscaping, brickwork resembling quarried limestone from Ashland, and even the calming white noise of a stepped water feature. Everything seems a natural fit.

Perhaps the neater trick is the elegant flow into the style of the house. Although built years apart, the outside living area transitions seamlessly with the style of the indoors.

“The challenge for Hugh was I wanted it to feel comfortable for four people or 40,” Stephen says. “And I think he did a good job.”

There’s plenty room for the epic backyard barbecue, if the mood strikes; or a tranquil afternoon of quiet study for the family’s four home-schooled children; or just another one of their weekly church group nights of about two dozen people.

It’s exactly what they need it to be, when they need it. As it should be.

They put in the time, making sure the space was just right.

“And whatever you think it’s going to cost,” Stephen says, “round up.”

Visit sunvalleyomaha.com for more information about the company responsible for the Abels’ backyard space.

From left: Christian, Cameron, Stephen, Chelsea, and Joy Abels

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Vintage Charm Restored

July 10, 2017 by

As the saying goes, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. Last year, I struck gold with two vintage chairs that I uncovered during a thrifting trip.

The find just goes to show how little things can bring the greatest joys in life. Looking at these chairs in the thrift shop, I could already see how to revive them with a little work and creative thinking.

Normally, I have a rule for thrifting: Always designate space for a piece of furniture before dragging it home. But these chairs were an exception. Home with me they came.

They sat in a spare bedroom until I decided how to incorporate them into my year-long Omaha Home room remodeling project.

With this particular installment of the project, I wanted to achieve a classic look (with a little glamour added, of course). That’s where the white and gold paint came into play for the color scheme.

Choosing the right fabric would either make or break the look I was trying to achieve. Just throwing any old material on them was not going to work. I wanted something timeless, classic, and durable enough to stand the test of time.

I have many different pieces I’m bringing together for this entire year-long project. Each component will bring something unique stylistically to the room. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different styles and textures; it adds more interest to the room.

DIRECTIONS:

There are several steps that you need to get right when staining or painting wooden furniture. These steps ensure that all of your hard work pays off, and you can then proudly display your piece. You cannot skip the important prepping steps.

Prepping

Step 1—If you have a seat cushion on your chair, remove that first. Save the old fabric and cushion for later.

Step 2—Sand the chair until you remove all the glossy finish. This will allow the paint to better adhere to the chair.

Step 3—Use a tack cloth to remove all the sanded paint/material from the surface.

Step 4—Prime. I used a spray primer, which was easier to get in all of the detailed parts of this chair. Make sure each coat of primer is a light layer, almost dusting it. This way, your chair won’t suffer from paint runs. You may want to sand between coats if you are seeking a super-smooth finish. Also, using the correct paint is very important. Latex paint worked best for me.

Step 5—Use your hand sponge applicator to get your paint in all the hard-to-access areas and detailed spots. Once you have done this, you can take your foam roller to cover the entire piece. Go over the chair several times (or until you feel there is good coverage).

Step 6—If you are doing a detailed accent color, first make sure all your paint is dry. Then tape off the selected area and use a small brush for all detail work. I used what I had on hand—gold spray paint—but I sprayed it into an old cup and dipped my brush into that. You can also buy a small bottle from a craft store if you require a smaller amount.

Step 7 (optional)—Apply a top coat to seal the paint on the chair. I skipped this step and used a semi-gloss finish instead.

Step 8—Now for your cushion. Remove all the old staples from your chair cushion. You can use a flathead screwdriver and then pull them out with needle-nose pliers. Once the old fabric is off, determine if you need to replace the batting material or foam cushion. Mine was still intact, so I went to the next step.

Step 8—Cut out a piece of new fabric large enough that will wrap around the seat of your chair; leave about three inches of material (you will trim it off later). Or you can use the old piece of material as a template, allowing a few inches all the way around. Lay the seat cushion facedown on your material. Starting on one side, grab the material in the middle and wrap it around the cushion, pulling tightly, and place a staple in the middle.

Then do the opposite side, pulling tightly to the middle and placing a staple. Work your way around each side until you just have the corners left.

Step 9—Grasp one corner of your cover and pull the point toward the center of the seat cushion, staple. Arrange the remaining unstapled corner fabric into small even pleats, pulling tightly, and staple. Repeat this until all corners are complete. Make sure you don’t staple over the screw holes. At this point, you could add a piece of liner or dust cover (a dust cover is a black fabric that is generally seen under “store bought” chairs, concealing springs, nails, staples, etc.). Adding the dust cover is optional.

Step 10—Attach the cushion back on the chair, and you are done.

Note: I watched several tutorials for “chair restoration” and “chair refurbishment” on YouTube before beginning this vintage chair project. I suggest doing the same video tutorial research before beginning your own project as this can be very helpful. Good luck!

ITEMS NEEDED:

Two vintage chairs (or upholstered seat dining chairs), 1/2 yard fabric per seat cushion, and 1/2 lining per seat cushion

Scissors, tape measure, staple gun, staples, screwdriver, safety glasses

Sandpaper (in medium and fine grit)

Four cans of primer (I used Rustoleum Painters Touch 2X paint and primer), two cans per chair

One quart of latex paint (I used White Dove paint from Benjamin Moore elsewhere in the room, and Home Depot staff helped match the latex paint for the chairs)

Sponge roller

Several hand sponge applicators (different sizes)

One can gold spray paint (or a small bottle of gold paint from a craft store would suffice)

Fabric of choice

Sandy’s yearlong DIY remodeling series began with an introduction to the room in the January/February issue. The first of five projects, a coffee filter lamp, debuted in the March/April issue. Rustic wall vases followed in May/June. Stay tuned for the next installment. Visit readonlinenow.com to review back issues.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

A Frank Look at Hotel Frank

February 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Between adolescence and adulthood, is chaos. No single Omaha building embodies one’s formative years of 18 to 22 more than a dilapidated mansion on 38th and Farnam streets. Although you may not remember the party, you probably partied there. Farnam House, Jerkstore, Gunboat, Lifeboat, and Power Pad: all names affectionately affixed to this broke- down palace of music, art, and madness. All names precursors to the legend of a hotel known as Frank.

From 2006 to 2008, Hotel Frank was ground zero for myriad musical artists and performances. Capgun Coup, Bear Country, Conchance, Dim Light, FTL Drive all called Hotel Frank home. While they were far from the first bands the house on Farnam had seen (previous residents include Conor Oberst and The Faint), figuratively they made the most noise. With Capgun Coup concerts packing in upwards of 200 people, literally the house rocked.

“When everyone was pogoing in unison the floor would give a couple feet,” said Capgun Coup front man Sam Martin. “If you went to the basement you could see cracks in the beams opening and closing.”

While most individuals would not willingly place their residence in such jeopardy, Hotel Frank’s recklessness was equal parts youth and the product of constant home disrepair.

“It was a wretched place to live,” said Martin. “It was February of 2007 and the heat quit working. It was not fixed until March. It would have been a much better house if it was kept up by the owners.”

Capgun Coup, with all of its members one time residing in the west wing of the Farnam triplex, have come to define the Hotel Frank era. With their danceable yet artistic approach to brash spastic rock, the building and the band fed off each other.

While Capgun’s time at Hotel Frank was a relatively small window, Dim Light front man Cooper Lakota Moon resided in the triplex on four separate occasions from 2000 to 2008.

“No one has ever lived there as many times as I have,” Moon said. “In 2008, at 28, I think I was the oldest person to ever live there.”

Moon, with his perspective of seeing the house throughout the last decade and prior, felt the national spotlight that romanticized the Hotel Frank experience around 2009, left some cracks unnoticed.

“You live in that place for a reason, it’s cheap. You don’t live there because it’s cool, it’s not cool,” Moon said. “People tend to romanticize it. People are there because we are broke.”

For every frozen winter afternoon and sweltering summer day, cracked wall, and bucking floorboard, the camaraderie throughout Hotel Frank seemingly trumped all opposing forces. A spirit that exists to this day: with all three wings occupied, vibrant and hosting live, uninhibited rock and roll.

“It was no parents,” said Martin. “The essence of it was hope of not jumping into the same thing you see everyone do. Not jumping into the work force but trying to do something real with your music.”

“I love that triplex,” Moon said. “It was a special time, an amazing creative energy and flow. We certainly had our fun, but we were getting things done.”

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The Yellow House

January 12, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

“You have to be a little crazy to live with 14 people,” says Josh Buckingham-Weibel, “but, for our family, it just works. And I personally have enjoyed every minute that we’ve lived together.”

Buckingham-Weibel is a junior in college. On Jan. 15, 2009, just a few days before he turned 16, his three siblings and his mom moved into a house with his aunt and uncle and their five kids. A few months later, his uncle’s sister and brother-in-law joined them. Nine kids—now 10—and five adults have made a home in The Yellow House.

The oldest of the kids, Buckingham-
Weibel was all for it when the families were deciding to move in together. The benefits, in his eyes, included getting to see his family on a daily basis, having cousins who are essentially more like younger siblings, and getting to watch them all grow up. “And you learn so much from everybody else in the house,” he adds. “There’s a lot of different life experience that everyone has had, so there’s a lot to learn.”

The appeal of 
shared parenting

Was it kind of like having five parents? “Well, there’s a lot of accountability, and you really don’t get away with a whole lot,” he says.

That adjustment to the number of parents was one worry that his mom, Amy Lee, had when making this decision. Recently widowed, Lee had become a single parent. “I was concerned about them going from having two parents to one parent to three parents—or three adults in their life every day, nagging them about cleaning their room or whatever. And it ended up being more than three. It’s five,” she says with a laugh.

This idea of community living came about one day while Lee helped her sister with some childcare. “Eric had died almost two years earlier, in July of 2005,” Lee says of her late husband. “In that two years, my sister had two babies.” That’s in addition to the three kids her sister already had. “So she had needed help one day to take her kids to the doctor or something. And I had gone over and helped her.”

That day made her sister wish that Lee lived closer.

“Here I am, trying to figure out what it means to do life by myself. And here’s my sister trying to figure out how to deal with two small babies,” says Lee. “It was really just coming to this place of wanting to support each other. Moms with small kids get to feeling pretty isolated and alone. And moms who are widows get to feeling pretty isolated and alone.”

First the sisters talked about moving into the same neighborhood. However, when they started to look at the options, neither family’s needs could be accommodated in the other’s neighborhood. And that’s when the conversation turned to the two families buying a house together.

The hunt for a place that worked for everyone

“We did some reading, we did a lot, a lot, a lot of talking, and we did a lot of praying,” Lee remembers. “And we decided: We’ll commit to five years.”

The house-buying process took a year and a half—“plenty of time for people to back out; plenty of space for the conversations we needed to have,” says Lee.

Those conversations included drafting a mission statement and other community documents that were specific about things like no extramarital affairs, no alcohol or drug abuse, and what “safe touch” meant. This ensured that they were all on the same page to start out.

In that time, “we looked at, gosh, hundreds of houses. And I’m not joking,” says Lee. They put offers on five other houses that didn’t work out for one reason or another. “Then winter hit. A bunch of houses dropped in pricing, and this house came more into our price range.”

The 3,600-square footage includes six bedrooms and two and a half baths, with expansive front and back yards. “It’s definitely more space than I could ever take care of on my own,” says Lee. But it was perfect for a community living space. (And it’s even been approved by the Omaha Planning Department.)

Adults No. 4 and 5, Amanda and Chad Knihal, were invited to consider living in this community shortly thereafter. As a couple planning to have kids, “I was pretty confident that, if we had children, I would want to stay home with them,” says Amanda. “And the idea of having two other moms who were also at home at that time was really exciting.”

The two years that the Knihals originally committed to went quickly, and now it’s been almost five. The Knihals had a baby last August and have been getting a lot of questions about whether or not they’ll stay in The Yellow House. For now, anyway, Amanda says, “This is just where we live—this is home.”

The payoff of a family that’s closer than ever

Lee has loved having the Knihals around. Before they had a baby and became “real adults,” they were a great bridge between Lee and her teenagers. “Close enough to those teen years that they remember what it’s like, but adult enough to understand where I’m coming from,” Lee says.

And, as far as parenting goes, “I learn all the time from them—all four of them—even though I’ve been parenting longer,” Lee says.

“I really value that my kids get to live with other adults, especially married people. That they get to see two couples who love each other and who respect each other and who work together. They wouldn’t have gotten to see that if we didn’t do this. I think that’s really valuable in life,” Lee says, tears welling up. “On the flip side of that, it’s been surprising to me how that makes me miss Eric a lot, to watch that.”

Lee’s biggest concern in all this was moving the kids out of the house that they lived in with their dad. “That place carried so many memories for them—for us all,” she says. “And it was hard. It was hard to leave there. They’d already been through a lot of change, and so to put them through another one…I was really concerned about that.”

When she asked the kids about it, they had some questions, but they seemed very positive and interested. And the ways that the cousins have bonded have made it all worthwhile.

“I had hoped that our kids would be close,” Lee says, “but I feel like they really have forged some strong friendships. That kind of stuff anchors you in life. When you have made movies and played games and roasted marshmallows and skated with sparklers on the ice rink in the back yard—what were we thinking? Oh my gosh.”

Traditions like these are what make a house a home, and The Yellow House has no shortage of them. Winter Olympics on that same ice rink, playing Sardines with all the lights off, and countless celebrations mark the passing years. Five will have come and gone in January.

“I’m really grateful for family who were willing to try something that, for our country, is out of the ordinary,” Lee says. “I know it’s not for everybody, but I think more people should try it.”

Choosing a Roofer

August 29, 2013 by

As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz said, “There’s no place like home.” For most of us, our house is our most expensive investment, as well as our pride and joy. Therefore, when choosing a contractor to remove and replace your roof, it’s essential to do some research first.

Following the Omaha hailstorm on April 9 this year, many of us were barraged with phone calls, doorknockers, and direct mailers from roofing companies. It can be overwhelming. Here are a few pieces of good advice to follow when selecting a roofing company for repairs:

  • Take your time and try not to feel pressured into making a rash decision. Remember, you are the customer, and you pay your insurance premiums.
  • Check the yellow pages. Many contractors (sometimes known as storm chasers) come from various places (Texas or Colorado, for example) to set up shop temporarily to get your business. They create a phone number with the local area code, and they would NOT be in the Yellow Pages.
  • Ask lots of questions. Where are they from? Where is their office located?
  • Ask your insurance adjuster, friends, family, and neighbors who they recommend. There are advantages of using a local roofing company, such as creating relationships among neighbors to help build the community. By using local products, local companies do their part to build the local economy.
  • Most importantly, a roofer is not going to guarantee another roofer’s craftsmanship. By having a local roofer, not only will you be supporting your local community, you will save time, money, and headaches if something was done wrong and/or needs to be repaired. The level of customer service is at a much higher standard because of proximity.

For more information or an estimate, visit SosMyRoof.com or call 402-830-0449.

When is the Right Time for a Family Pet?

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

So you just had kids. During the first couple years of raising toddlers, you were under a lot of stress and had a fairly unpredictable schedule. But now that they’re in school, you’ve gotten into a comfortable routine—breakfast, take the kids to school, go to work, pick the kids up from school, eat dinner, go to bed. It’s about this time that you might be thinking, “Hey, we should get a family pet!”

But how do you know if a pet is a good idea? And what kind of pet should you get to fit your family’s lifestyle? Well, there are actually several things to consider before adding a pet to your family.

The first is whether or not you have time you can devote to a pet. “Time is the best judge,” says Cathy Guinane, training and behavior coordinator with the Nebraska Humane Society, who works with owners of new pets regularly. “A family has to have time for an animal. They can’t be gone all the time.”

Guinane, herself, adopted four dogs—three terrier mixes and one poodle mix—and personally prefers to get pets in the summer. “It’s easier to potty-train a puppy or younger dog when the weather is nice. [And] more people are outside in the summer, so there’s more time for walks.”

“The answer is different for each family,” adds Tera Bruegger, director and adoption coordinator with Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization in Auburn, Neb. “One time that can be difficult, however, is around the holidays.” Bruegger says that holiday preparations, leaving town, and constantly having guests over aren’t beneficial to the transition of adding a pet to the family because there’s not enough time to establish a routine.

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“A lot of thought and discussion should go into this life-changing decision,” explains Bruegger. Feeding, grooming, exercise, medical expenses, your home—all of these things must be considered before taking on a new pet.

Always evaluate your home before getting a pet. Do you have a house or a condo that you’ve bought, or are you renting an apartment?

If you have a permanent residence, you’re in pretty good shape. (If you have a yard, that’s even better, especially if you’re thinking about getting a dog.) You’ll just have to get used to the idea of your pet possibly destroying wood floors and carpet, scratching doors and cabinetry, and chewing furniture. But hey, you’ve had kids. You’ve already accepted the fact that your house will show some wear and tear, right?

If you’re renting, however, you’ll want to check with your landlord because you might not be allowed to have a pet; and if you are, there are often breed and weight restrictions, as well as pet deposits and monthly fees. Apartments are getting a lot better about allowing pets, but adopting a giant Great Dane might be better if you held off until you have a permanent residence.

The big one, though, is whether or not you can afford to own a pet. Purchasing and adopting both cost at least a couple hundred dollars, depending on the breed and age. Then, there’s spaying and neutering, which are highly recommended by vets. Don’t forget licensing, rabies shots, and annual check-ups and vaccines. And just like kids, always keep in mind that there could be a medical emergency, like a broken leg.

So what kind of pet is best for your family? Well, that depends on your schedule and whether or not you’re looking for a long-term companion for your family.

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Smaller animals—fish, birds, reptiles, rodents—require much less time, space, and interaction than a cat or dog. “They’re good for teaching kids responsibility,” says Guinane. In fact, if you’re not sure about whether your family is ready to handle the responsibility of a larger pet, it might be good to start with one of these. Beware, though. These pets have shorter lifespans and may upset younger kids when they die.

With a cat or dog, more time and effort is needed. Both animals crave interaction, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, playing with toys, or simple petting.

Cats are the more independent of the two, explains Guinane. Although they do still need some attention, cats won’t feel the same sense of abandonment a dog will if your family is out of the house a lot. Cats do, however, require a litter box (unless you train your cat to go outside or in the toilet), which will need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Also, most cats don’t do well with roughhousing.

“If you’re looking for a quieter pet that is fairly easy to take care of, cats can make great companions,” says Bruegger.

On the other hand, dogs are very playful and make great family companions. “A dog will love everyone and can handle the activities of an active household,” says Guinane. Not to mention, if you have children who are physically disabled, a dog can provide extra support.

“Dogs can bring so much happiness to a home,” Bruegger adds.  “Some people believe you live longer with dogs, as you are happier, and you may be healthier since you may get more exercise walking the dog.”

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Age is also something to think about with cats and dogs. Kittens and puppies are fragile and require training, but they’re also much more social. “They can grow up with the kids and the activity of the household,” says Guinane. The problem? “They get into everything and chew a lot!”

With an older cat or dog, you have the luxury of only having to train the animal to get used to your home, as they already know basic commands and are potty-trained. “They may be a bit more laid-back or have less energy, which can be appealing to many people,” explains Bruegger. Just make sure you choose an older pet wisely because some of them may not have been around kids before. Usually, animals that haven’t been around small kids find them frightening because their movements are so fast and unpredictable, which can be especially hard on an older animal.

“[An older animal] may also have more health issues,” adds Guinane. “They may not be as game to play and be touched when they don’t feel well.”

Nevertheless, whatever type and age of animal you choose for your new family pet, both Guinane and Bruegger recommend that you adopt from a shelter or rescue instead of going to a pet store.

“Animals at shelters need a home,” says Guinane. “Sometimes, they just need another chance.” The Nebraska Humane Society works closely with people looking to adopt and tries to find the best possible match, depending on personality types, lifestyle, and location restraints.

Hearts United for Animals has a similar process, though they take it a step farther by doing a home visit before selecting matches. “Adopting from a shelter or rescue means you’re not supporting puppy mills [with] inhumane conditions…For many, the thought of providing a home to an animal that needs one fills their hearts with joy, and the bond built with a rescue pet can be second to none.”

Beef Up Your Offer

June 20, 2013 by

With home prices rising, potential buyers need to make their offer stand out. To help beef up your offer, here are five questions you should ask:

  • Do I have a strong pre-approval letter? Get pre-approved for a loan from a trusted lender. This letter is evidence of how much you can borrow and shows that a lender has done a credit check and verified income and assets, so your ultimate mortgage approval can go more smoothly.
  • Do I know what the seller wants? Working with a reputable real estate agent, you should determine the seller’s motivations. In some cases, sellers want to close quickly. Other times, they may be waiting to relocate and a speedy closing is less important.
  • Can I avoid contingencies? Sellers who do want to close quickly may get antsy about contingent offers—such as when the buyer needs to sell a current residence. Try to avoid contingencies if possible.
  • Is my offer price strong? A good real estate agent should be able to advise you on comparable sales and listings in the neighborhood you want. This information can help you strengthen your offer.
  • Do I have the cash to close? It’s helpful to have your cash amassed in a liquid account to cover the down payment, closing costs, and other expenses.

If you answer “yes” to all or most of these questions, then you’ll be on stronger footing when it comes to making an offer on a home.

Mike Becker is a mortgage banking regional sales manager for Bank of the West – Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. Becker lives and works in Omaha and can be reached at mike.becker@bankofthewest.com.