Tag Archives: Mid-Century Modern

The Flying Saucer on Dodge Street

August 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A flying saucer landed on 1818 Dodge Street. The white circular structure with tall windows appears ready for takeoff to another planet.

Maybe Mercury.

It is rumored to have been intended to look like Mercury’s helmet. The building was first designed for Omaha National Bank, so it seems a good possibility. Mercury is, after all, the Roman god of financial gain.

Bike-Union1Others believe architect Nes Latenser wanted something futuristic when the “UFO” first emerged on Dodge back in the 1960s. Far-out and groovy things, such as a man landing on the moon, made anything otherworldly imaginable.

Today, this alien structure holds something far more valuable than money—heart.

Miah Sommer invaded the space to open a bike and coffee shop. In the center, the small spherical space is perfectly divided. To the right, anyone can grab a cup of joe while getting a bike repaired to the left. The ceiling is fanned out with bright lights, a bit like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Racing and mountain bikes frame the calming blue walls.

Yet, this isn’t just any coffee/bike shop. Sommer launched the Bike Union in 2014 as a way to mentor at-risk youth who have aged out of the foster system.

It is a place where former foster kids can mend their bruised and broken wings. Sommer acts as a mentor to ensure these young adults gain the necessary skills to achieve their goals.

Sommer has three males and one female under his guidance between the ages of 17 and 23.

According to Jim Casey of Youth Opportunities Initiative, one in five foster kids will become homeless and only half will be employed at age 24. Sommer says three of his former foster kids were not working or receiving an education, and it is something he wanted to change.

BikeUnion3Instead of fending for themselves, each member has been learning a mix of technical and soft skills while earning a paycheck and financial mentoring, 20 hours a week, for a year. Cooking classes, mindfulness training, and a book club round out the education.

“If you want to make a positive change, it requires attention,” Sommer believes.

Take Bre Walker, 21.

A so-called “crack baby” as an infant, Walker headed straight into foster care with emotional and physical problems looming over her tiny shoulders. Walker’s life became a cycle of drifting from home to home—25 or 30 in all. She never unpacked.

“It’s scary. You never know if you are ever going to have a place to lay your head,” she says.

When she aged out at 19, Walker had nowhere to go. After couch surfing and other housing attempts failed, she received help from Youth Emergency Services and Project Employment. Walker began working at the Bike Union in January.

She was failing two classes at Metropolitan Community College. Then, with tutoring help from Bike Union mentors, she turned her grades around. In her recent class, she earned her first A. Mostly though, it was just finding people who believed in her.

“They have faith in me. (Sommer) is more of a father figure than a manager. He wants the best for us,” Walker says.

When her year is up, Walker thinks she will be sad rather than scared. Most importantly, she will have the confidence to walk out the door.

“I live down the street, so they can’t get rid of me completely,” Walker says laughing.

Visit thebikeunion.org for more information. B2B

BikeUnion2

Sitting in Style

April 29, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The form can get a bad rap nowadays, thanks to its ubiquitous abuse by the schlockiest of manufacturers. That $19 chair with the plastic frame and cheap metal legs at the big-box store is probably a rip-off of a design marvel from the mid-20th century. Just go with the old adage: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

All the imitations actually support the basic design principals of the movement, which were to create minimalist, comfortable forms that the common man could afford. But only the best reproductions of today meet the final two criteria: The furniture should be elegant in its simplicity, and, also, it should be built to last.

Here are some of those finer takes on Mid-Century masterpieces we found at
Allens Home.

Hutch

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It all started with a hutch.

From the moment Nick Huff and Brandon Beed traveled to Lincoln to retrieve the cabinet furniture piece, they knew that the thrill of finding the hutch would ignite a passion for preserving and selling Mid-Century furniture. Shortly after that trip, they transformed that passion into Hutch, Inc., an antique and vintage furniture shop with Huff and Beed both serving as president.

Hutch, Inc., specializes in “high-end, Mid-Century furniture finds.” Anything from lamps, coffee tables, and couches to record players and dishware can be found at Hutch, but each item must fall into the Mid-Century style—something modern with a Danish influence.

“We define Mid-Century to be 1950s to early 1970s. Now, not all pieces during this time are what we want. We specifically focus on the modern, bright color, pointy leg with beautiful, clean wood pieces,” Huff explains. “We have rummaged the Midwest to bring Omaha the finest Mid-Century furniture under one roof.”

What makes Hutch different from other antique shops is that Huff and Beed preserve the furniture themselves. Whereas similar shops may paint or distress the furnishings, Hutch focuses on making the original character of the furniture shine.

“The furniture is so iconic and beautiful as it is that the only thing we try to do is make it look like you went back in time and were buying these pieces new,” Huff says.

In July, Hutch moved from a shared basement retail space in the Old Market to their own shop in Midtown Crossing. Huff says that the reaction from the Omaha community was humbling, and they hope to continue that success at the new location.

“We always thought Hutch would be a hobby—something we do just for fun,” Huff says. “We thought we would sell a few pieces online here and there, and always keep our finger on the pulse of Mid-Century furniture. We couldn’t be more excited.”

Hutch
3157 Farnam St., Ste. 7111

402-995-9842
facebook.com/hutchomaha

Indian Hills Village

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With subdivisions and shopping centers cropping up in one-time croplands west of the city, it is difficult to remember that the Crossroads and Westroads Malls were once shopping meccas located on the edge of town. But as the city developed west in the 1950s, families sought the quiet living of suburbia. Only suburbia wasn’t 204th Street; it was 90th. Neighborhoods like Indian Hills Village, tucked between Harney and Dodge and 84th and 90th Streets, were born.

Forged over 50 years ago, Indian Hills Village was advertised as an “ultra-modern community,” a forerunner of the avant-garde concept that is mixed-use development, says Darcy Beck, Realtor with DEEB Realty and resident of the Indian Hills neighborhood.20121204_bs_6606 copy

So what is considered hip and ‘au courant’ now—mixed-use developments like Midtown Crossing, for example—actually has its roots in the past. Mixed-use development refers to the combination of complimentary commercial, residential, and rental properties in one neighborhood, Beck explains.

Barbara Naughtin has a long-time connection with Indian Hills Village. Her mother and step-father bought a low-rise condo in the neighborhood 30 years ago. Now, she has lived in Indian Hills for the last seven years. As a member of Restore Omaha, she played an integral role in the October 2012 Mid-Century Modern tour of homes. Naughtin is a history buff who attributes her affinity to Omaha’s colorful past to her own family’s connection with it: “My great-great-grandfather was the first Omaha blacksmith in the 1850s.”06 Febuary 2013- The city of Blair is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

Not that long ago, Regency was in “West Omaha” and land beyond 132nd was still farmed. Boys Town was “out in the country” and driving to Elkhorn was considered a “trek.” Such was the case for Indian Hills in the ’40s and ’50s. During World War II, Harold W. Glissman carved an 18-hole public golf course out of farmland between Dodge and Harney streets and 84th and 90th streets. If you were not a member of one of the country clubs, golf in Omaha was limited. But Indian Hills Golf Course offered players the chance to take in panoramic views of the growing city while satisfying their need to hit a little white ball around an undulating course adorned with over 500 evergreens. The course was situated on the city’s highest point, 88th and Indian Hills Drive (now the location of the Lincoln Financial Group business complex). Thus, players claimed they were “golfing the hill” as they set out for a day on the links. Green fees were only 50 cents for Saturday mornings and weekdays, and $1 for Sundays, giving credence to the course’s “Poor Man’s Country Club” nickname. The clubhouse sat where Swanson Towers, a neighborhood anchor, currently resides.

In the early 1950s, the golf course was sold to Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson who recognized that the city was expanding westward. The brothers envisioned a business and residential development and secured the services of Leo A. Daly architectural firm to help them realize their dream.20121204_bs_6595 copy

Leo Daly, whose company has been located on Indian Hills Drive since 1959, developed Indian Hills to accommodate all income levels. Swanson Tower was created as the area’s high-end, high-rise living option. Condos appealed to middle-income residents. Apartments filled the housing gap as the most economical option. Single-family homes were also constructed with over 80 percent of the homes boasting two-car garages. A church (First Covenant), school (Swanson Elementary), shopping center, hotel (the now defunct Indian Hills Inn), and park rounded out the development.

“If you are not looking for cookie cutter, you might be looking for Indian Hills,” says Beck. Two-story, multi-level, and ranch all coexist peacefully, a melting pot of architectural styles. She and her architect husband were drawn to the collection of flat-roof homes in Indian Hills. “Move over, Brady Bunch,” she laughs.06 Febuary 2013- The city of Blair is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

These homes featured heavily in the Restore Omaha Mid-Century Modern Tour. The “ring leader” of these homes was Mike Ford, who built his home on 89th and Harney in the Mid-Century Modern style in the early ’60s. Not wanting his house to be the sole example of modern architecture on his block, Ford bought four additional lots and enlisted Stanley J. How, Jr. as architect of each. Sam Mangiamele designed their interiors.

Sadly, not all architectural and historic gems of the area have survived. The Indian Hills Theater was built in 1962 for $1 million. It boasted the largest Cinerama, floor-to-ceiling movie screen in the country. Sitting in the theater was the visual equivalent to surround sound. In its heyday, ushers wearing tuxedos would escort movie goers to their reserved seats. The theater closed in 2000 and was demolished the following year despite protests from its Omaha fans and Hollywood’s elite.

Timeless. That is still how Beck describes Indian Hills though: “It’s a remarkable chameleon, able to change and grow and reinvent itself for 21st century living while retaining its original appeal and historic relevance. I guess they knew what they were talking about when they dubbed it the ‘ultra-modern community’ back in 1953.”

Mid-Century Modern

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Kristine Gerber

In post-World War II America, a contemporary design style borne of the modernist movement and emphasizing a balance of form and function came to the attention of visionary Omaha developers and architects. The resulting homes and buildings completed in that style made for some distinctive neighborhoods that endure as models of aesthetics and utility and that continue to fascinate owners and onlookers alike.

What became known as Mid-Century Modern is seeing a resurgence in interest today among preservationists and restorers, thanks in part to television shows like Mad Men and their celebration of vintage culture. That interest was never more evident than during a October Mid-Century Modern tour sponsored by Restore Omaha and Omaha 2020 that drew a record 850 participants.

elevation drawing 106 s 89th crop copy

Sketch drawn by architect Donald Polsky

Restore Omaha President Kristine Gerber says it was the organization’s first tour to focus on an architectural style, and the Indian Hills neighborhood offered “the best collection” of Mid-Century Modern. A 2010 Omaha Historic Building Survey of Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods by Leo A. Daly architects Christina Jansen and Jennifer Honebrink offered a blueprint or map for the tour.

For tour participants, it meant getting inside homes they may have long-admired from afar or been curious to see for themselves the various ways in which these structures bring the outdoors “in.”

Mid-Century Modern homeowners like Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill love their residences. “We both feel we have lived here forever and plan no move now or later,” says Manhart.

Gerber says there’s growing appreciation for the style’s ahead-of-its-time characteristics of flat roofs, open floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, ample natural light, and green design-construction elements.

There’s motivation, too, in obtaining National Register of Historic Places status for select Mid-Century Modern structures and neighborhoods that qualify.

Mid-Century Modern can be found in other metro neighborhoods besides Indian Hills, but some intentional decisions made it the prime site for it to flower here.

Food manufacturer brothers Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson, along with architect Leo A. Daly, saw potential to develop a modern, upscale suburban neighborhood taking its name from the old Indian Hills Golf Course. Commercial structures, such as Christ the King Church and the Leo A. Daly company headquarters, became shining examples of this modernist-inspired architectural style.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters is a shining model of modernist-inspired architecture.

But it was left up to a pair of edgy young architects, Don Polsky and Stanley J. How, Sr., to design dozens of residential homes in this new development featuring the attributes, values, and principles of Mid-Century Modern. How also designed one of Omaha’s most distinctive luxury apartment buildings, the sleek Swanson Towers, in Indian Hills. The building has since been converted to condominiums.

Together, the Swansons, Daly, How, and Polksy transformed the “built Omaha.”

“They were young tigers and weren’t necessarily rooted in doing the same old thing, and I think they saw an opportunity to do some things that were really unique and new,” says Stan How, president of Stanley J. How Architects, the company his late father founded. He says his father was “a cutting-edge guy.”

Polsky apprenticed with superstar modernist architect Richard Neutra in Los Angeles and borrowed concepts from his mentor and others for the work he did in Omaha. He says Mid-Century Modern’s appeal all these years later makes sense because its forward-thinking approaches and emphasis on clean lines, simplicity, and efficient use of space are what many homebuyers look for today.

“We were green before its time, we put in a lot of insulation, we shaded our windows, we oriented things towards light, and brought light into the home. We used insulating glass, we planted trees to give us shade, we broke the wind from the north, and we worked with the client’s budget on the configuration of the sight,” Polsky says. Passive solar features and energy-efficient systems were rarities then.

Stan How says his father began practicing architecture for Leo A. Daly right as the modernist movement caught on. “He started his career at a perfect time to absorb all these new things going on. When he went out on his own, he had some clients who had the guts, he’d always say, to explore some of these ideas and let him toy around with that.” Mike Ford became a key early client.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

“Mike was a young guy who wanted to do something really new, so my dad floated out the contemporary style or what we now call Mid-Century Modern, and Mike loved it. But he also didn’t want to be the only one on the street with a house like that, so he bought four lots and said, ‘Let’s do four spec houses,’ and that’s what they did.”

One of those Stanley How-designed homes, built in 1963, was later purchased by Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill. Homebuyers like Ford were the exception, however, not the rule, as Mid-Century found relatively few takers.

“We’re a pretty conservative [town], Omaha. It’s not Los Angeles. I thought you’d just show a few things and they’d be beating a path to your door, but it didn’t turn out that way,” says Polsky. “There’s still a limited supply of buyers for this type of architecture but you do what you can, you carry the torch.”

Polsky marveled though at the huge turnout to see his homes and those of his old colleague, Stanley How, Sr. “It’s amazing how many people showed up,” he says.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk, circa 1979.

Stan How says designs by his father and Polsky are the antithesis of the overblown, oversized McMansions many homeowners reject today. “I think people are coming back to simplicity.” Indeed, Mark Manhart says, “the clean lines and classic simplicity” of his home are major attraction points for he and his wife and the many inquirers who call on them.

The only regret How has is that his father wasn’t around to see all the love his homes are getting today. “He would have absolutely reveled in it. He would have loved it.”

The March 1-2 Restore Omaha Conference will once again offer a strong lineup of expert preservation and restoration presenters, says Gerber, who promises a dynamic host site that gives attendees an insider’s glimpse at some landmark. For more information, visit restoreomaha.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

A Designer’s Perspective

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Updating modern architecture from 50 to 60 years ago with interior design true to the period was an exciting prospect for me as a designer. The style was in vogue as I was finishing college…in 1969. I love the design concepts [of Mid-Century Modern], form follows function, the simplicity of design, bringing the outdoors in. Famous architects of the period, such as LaCorbusier, inspired me so much that I was married in one of his French churches, built in 1955. In 1977, my husband Rob and I traveled to France, and we were married on July 7, 1977 (7-7-77) at Notre Dame du Haute. Fast-forward and 43 years have flown by, but there’s still a spot in my heart for the era.

When asked to help Dr. Paul and Kim Coleman of Omaha update their Mid-Century Modern home in Indian Hills, it wasn’t necessary for me to visit a library or go online to research what would be appropriate. I found the Colemans’ residence a wonderful canvas to execute the flavor of the architect’s design and re-emphasize the mood, materials, and focus of the home. Incorporating some of the same tiles available during those years, but with an updated color scheme, we brought the home’s bathrooms into the present. (Unfortunately, the tile company has just recently gone out of business.)

It was popular to use “scrim” style casements for draperies…sheer enough to see the garden through them. This year, the final touch was installing new draperies on the glass walls that cover the entire backside of the home. The Colemans’ style is exactly what would have been considered the best choice for this architecture.

All the furniture of the home takes its inspiration from the styles popular at the time, lighter-colored fabrics and leathers and touches of black as accent. Lighting that is functional, such as by Omaha’s own famous lighting designer, Cederic Hartman, created floats in front of the windows. Large, colorful but minimal art and hand-crafted accessories supplement the more modern-style accessories to compliment the space and bring color to the quiet, restful spaces.

Another influence popular during this era was the use of Oriental themes for simplicity…usually more Japanese than Chinese. The sleek, minimal styles blended well and the colors were wonderfully compatible. In this case, I worked in Celedon vases and branches that compliment the Oriental theme and drew the nature influence into the mix. (I am told the home was decorated with an Oriental style originally.)

The materials common in flooring were practical and durable, such as tile, stone, wood, cork, and in this case, terrazzo. We repaired the materials when possible or found similar materials to replace them.

The over-scale landscape by Nebraskan Hal Holoun was a perfect touch. The scene of Nebraska’s big sky at sunset is stunning and serene, casting a spell of calm as evening comes on. The classic fireplace at the opposite end of the living room flickers with it’s comforting glow.

The home’s architect, Stan How, understood the idea of simple elegance and function in his design. This sleek, clean design, spare and open to the sunlit garden, reflects the outdoors and unites the interior to the patio year round. The glass walls include nature in daily living while the extended roofline protects it from the summer’s sun. The winter sun’s warmth flows in when the sun lowers in the sky. During the ‘60s, these design concepts were strong and the beautiful Colemans’ residence is an accurate reflection of the period. We have much we could learn from this practice.

Today, with the desire of many homeowners to be conscious of living conservatively, the examples of the Colemans’ home are a perfect solution.

Justin Schafer’s Mid-Century Modern Coffee Table

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Justin Schafer, a senior graphic designer with Mutual of Omaha, first discovered his fascination with Mid-Century Modern design while studying in college. “[MCM] transformed how we perceived objects and furniture in our homes…The idea that things could be functional, beautiful, and have a streamlined aesthetic is something I gravitated toward. [MCM furniture] was the first to blur the line between something that is purely functional and a piece of art.”

Inspired by his dad (“Growing up, my father was always building something from scratch or fixing something…”) and the works of husband-wife Modern designers Ray and Charles Eames and others, Schafer looked for ways he could express his “right-brain creative side” through furniture design. “I love to look online at Modern furniture stores, but everything in those stores is priced higher…That’s a big reason I finally decided to stop hunting and just build [things] myself.”20121119_bs_4401 copy 2

Looking to DIY blogs and magazines for ideas, Schafer came up with a design for a MCM-inspired coffee table. “I sketched numerous ideas, gradually refining them until I had a solid plan with measurements.” Almost all of the necessary supplies were purchased at a local hardware store, he said. One-quarter-inch birch plywood, layered four planks thick and edges mitered, produced the tabletop base. Raw steel pipe, bent in a classically MCM ‘hairpin’ shape and purchased on eBay for $45, was used for the table legs. A wire brush was used to ‘clean’ the steel pipe. Then L-shaped brackets secured the legs to the tabletop. Lastly, Schafer spray-painted the steel legs black, adding several coats of clear enamel for durability, and glued a cherry veneer over the top of the birch. Wood stain gave the tabletop a rich, dark brown hue. In total, the cost of the project was “minimal, about $100,” Schafer said. “If you tried to buy a similar table in a store, it would probably have cost $200-300.”20121119_bs_4378 copy

Schafer said the most difficult aspect of the project was getting the 45-degree plywood cuts to line up perfectly on each corner of the tabletop. “That’s always a bit tricky, especially if your saw settings are a few degrees off. I’ve learned, however, that it’s best to slow down and take your time.”

Today, the table sits in Schafer’s Midtown apartment, which he shares with his wife, Libby. He loves it when friends visit and, impressed with the table, ask him where he got it. “It’s nice to be able to say I built it from scratch,” he shares. “There’s a satisfaction and pride that comes with saying that.” That pride has spurred him onto other projects, including a similarly built desk and a padded headboard, framed with solid walnut planks.

A Tale of Two Homeowners

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jokingly referred to by its owners as a closet with a house around it, Dr. Linda and Travis Sing’s window-walled home is a study in what’s left in the open…and what can be stashed away.

This reveal/conceal dichotomy plays out from the first moment inside the foyer. To the left is the Sing’s bright living room and dining area with its floor-to-ceiling fenestration that allows the room to capture and somehow magnify even the most elusive beam of light.

Windows to the backyard line the galley kitchen wall.

Windows to the backyard line the galley kitchen wall.

Straight ahead is a corridor flanked by closets, tall and long and limitless.

To the right is another airy room, but this one features a desk that can be hidden…in fact, the very same desk that once belonged to the architect and original owner of the home, Don Polsky.

Peekaboo shoji screen pocket doors separate the two rooms. Polsky, who once worked in the design studio of famed “California-style” architect, Richard Neutra, was a man of his time. And his time was all about clever storage solutions and walls that seemed to float.

Simple geometric lines are found around the house, from a bookshelf in the office to the spare bedroom.

Simple geometric lines are found around the house, from a bookshelf in the office to the spare bedroom.

But the Sings’ home is more than the sum of its partitions. It’s an actual home, built for an actual family. First Polsky’s, now the Sings. The couple serve off their buffet made with original marble from Clarkson Hospital. They store their kitchen items in St. Charles cabinets, such a Mid-Century staple that Frank Lloyd Wright used them at Falling Water and Mies van der Rohe installed them at Farnsworth House. Linda does her makeup in a vanity that lifts up from a room-length credenza…just like a scene from Mad Men. Only when she’s finished prepping her look, Linda typically rushes off to her job as a radiologist, not lunch with the girls.

“Of course, we have to be respectful with anything we do to the house,” Linda says of the updates they’ve made, including replacing all the carpet and renovating a bathroom. “But we can’t live in a museum.”

The master suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding panels for closet doors.

The master suite features floor-to-ceiling sliding panels for closet doors.

It’s a sentiment with which Polsky seems to resoundingly agree. When the couple fell in love with the house and decided to buy, Linda and Travis looked him up (there had been one owner in between). The three became fast friends. The architect even attended the home closing and told stories: here was the flower wallpaper his daughter put up in the ‘70s…there, in the back, is Beverly, the tree. The Sings keep an Omaha World-Herald article from that era, featuring a photo of Polsky’s wife and daughter staged in the very familiar-looking living room.

One of Polsky’s enduring legacies is the enormous map of the world in the main corridor, an homage to his days stationed in the Atlas Mountains with the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s remarkably well-preserved thanks to Travis who, as a historian, endeavors to be archivally sound about gluing any fraying bits down.

A wallpaper map of the world, installed by Polsky, lines the main hall.

A wallpaper map of the world, installed by Polsky, lines the main hall.

“When we have get-togethers, the hall gets jammed because everyone’s looking at the map,” Travis laughs. “Everyone comments on how things have changed, where they’ve been, where they want to go.”

On a facing wall is an original pencil drawing of the home that Polsky gave the Sings last summer.  Those few simple lines on paper offer the same comment about the home.

Living a Legacy

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Susanne and Brent Nicholls decided to return to Omaha from the Denver area 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to live in Indian Hills, near Brent’s childhood home.

“I used to walk through the Arboretum to go to school at Swanson Elementary, and I wanted my sons to experience the same childhood memories that I did growing up in this neighborhood,” Brent explains.

From his office on one end of the house, Brent has a clear view through the living room and into the kitchen on the opposite as his boys—one in sixth grade at Swanson and the other a sophomore at Westside High School—wander in and out of the rooms in preparation for their after-school activities.

Designed by esteemed Omaha architect Stanley J. How, Jr. for himself and his family, the Nicholls’ 1963 ranch is a monument to the Mid-Century Modern suburban lifestyle and its many aesthetic traditions, including an open floor plan and floor-to-ceiling windows, that still endure today.

Gray slate tile, a marble sink, and wood planks on the ceiling lend a spa feel to the master bath.

The master bath has a “spa” feel with gray slate tile, a marble sink, and wood planks on the ceiling.

However, as idyllic as this case study in family life is, the Nicholls happened into their light-filled home almost by accident. While house-hunting, Brent ran into a former Westside classmate at a Husker game. His friend was in the process of purchasing the home, but the sale fell through due to water in the basement.

An energetic DIY guy, Brent was not one to be deterred by the dampness. It doesn’t hurt that Susanne, an engineer by trade, is not only supportive of his (sometimes) guerrilla handyman efforts, she is his partner in priming. “He likes to do the math,” she says of their synergistic reno strategy. “I’ve got the patience for multiple coats of poly.”

While the couple clearly delight in the updates they’ve made (in the basement, Brent points out that he had to drill through four to six inches of concrete to install wi-fi), they’re also ever mindful of the responsibility that comes with living in an iconic home.

New bamboo flooring the Nicholls installed throughout the main level unifies the space.

New bamboo flooring the Nicholls installed throughout the main level unifies the space.

Fortunately, just as the Nicholls began the challenging work of modernizing their ‘modern,’ they came into possession of archived Architectural Digests magazines from the era. The magazines, as well as a resource list of skilled craftsmen and contractors that the previous owners left behind, became a blueprint of sorts for preserving the home’s stylistic integrity while making it practical for modern life.

This is borne out in two of the couple’s biggest projects: the newly laid bamboo flooring that unifies the main floor and the master bath, which includes a marble sink that they ordered online from Italy; and slate floors that pick up on the black color scheme, which threads throughout the house.

“Our former home was arts and crafts style, and it was almost like each room had its own personality,” says Susanne. “Here, it’s nice to see continuity.”

Home is Where the Art Is

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“We’re living in the area my mother always wanted to live in,” notes architect Steven Conley of the Indian Hills home he shares with his wife, Darcy Beck, an Omaha Realtor, interior designer, and home stager.

In a sense, the spirits of both Steven’s mother and Darcy’s parents do inhabit the house. Within moments of welcoming visitors, Darcy introduces them to her late mother, Anna Beck (exotic beauty, self-taught artist, Hindu dancer, and universally adored Air Force wife) via paintings of East Indian dancers the latter created as a teenager; and her late father, esteemed Major General A.J. Beck, via signed Dali lithographs and original rosewood and orange leather Eames chairs that he loved, as well as a humorous coffee-table topper of boxing gloves signed by Leon Spinks.

Two large framed and signed lithographs by Salvador Dali are featured in the living room.

Two large framed and signed lithographs by Salvador Dali are featured in the living room.

Steven chimes in with an introduction to Irma, a bigger-than-life sculpture in the entryway that his mother, also named Irma, purchased for him when she downsized her home.

The couple has complemented the art of their parents with their own collection, including a prominently displayed painting by their next-door neighbor, the artist Jill Rizzo, two large ballerina torsos by another local artist gracing their dining room wall, a turquoise-encrusted bull’s head, redolent of Georgia O’Keefe, mounted in their stairway, and a witty ceramic “paper bag” luminaria that Steven gave to Darcy. “Who gives his wife a brown paper bag?” he cracks with a twinkle in his eye.

Dining room chairs made of woven seatbelt material are surprisingly comfortable and serve as conversation pieces.

Dining room chairs made of woven seatbelt material serve as conversation pieces.

The home, built in 1964, is just what you’d expect from a couple who makes their living bringing life to beautiful spaces. Originally owned by Jay Swanson, whose father, Gilbert, was one of Indian Hills’ premier developers, the cubist-style structure was renovated by the local architect legend, Don Polsky, who added the front porch, as well as the sunroom where the couple and their pets (two standard poodles and a cat, all from the Nebraska Humane Society) like to hang out.

After purchasing the home in 2006, Steven oversaw a second renovation by tearing down interior walls to create a completely open, public space. In the more private sleeping quarters of the house, solid-core doors boast a single, thin gleaming ribbon of aluminum, an adornment notioned
by Steven.

White decorative plates that Darcy bought on clearance are used in a bedroom as wall art.

White decorative plates that Darcy bought on clearance are used in a bedroom as wall art.

To this, Darcy adds her stylist’s eye with an expertly curated mix of high and low. Despite her profession, there’s nothing stagey here. Instead, the home is a deeply personal expression of warmth, elegance, and fun. And something else: the unexpected.

“We’re equal-opportunity shoppers,” she explains, plucking a statuette from a shelf to reveal a Marshall’s $16.99 price tag on the bottom. And that turquoise bull’s head? Right above it is a bleached white one that Darcy picked up at Z Gallerie.