Tag Archives: MidCentury Modern

Such Great Heights

September 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The first thing you notice about Wyman Heights is the beautiful view facilitated by the storied neighborhood’s riverside, hilltop perch. The petite enclave, situated on the cusp of Florence and Ponca Hills, spoons with a deep bend in the Missouri River where views of the adjacent waterway and nearby city provide an entirely unique perspective.

Speaking of perspective, Jody duRand has an interesting one, having grown up in Wyman Heights in the ’60s and ’70s, and returning to live there in 2010 when she and husband Roger duRand bought their dream home. 

“Most people don’t know it’s there—this little gold mine in the hills,” she says of Wyman Heights.

Her parents left the neighborhood in 1991, and the self-described “North O girl at heart” lived for a time in a Florence home designed by her father, Del Boyer of Boyer & Biskup Architects.

The duRands nearly closed on a house in the Memorial Park area when her favorite Wyman Heights home—the one she’d admired since childhood, the proverbial belle of the neighborhood real estate ball—came up for sale. 

Cathy Katzenberger

“I loved this house more than anything in the world,” duRand says of her 1933 home. “When we got the chance to buy it, it was day one, full offer, we’re taking it as is. It’s a really special, beautiful house with so much charm and a view you just can’t get anywhere else in the city. Plus, this [neighborhood] is my home.”

Kristine Gerber, executive director at Restoration Exchange Omaha, agrees that Wyman Heights is a “hidden gem.”

“Very few know where it is,” Gerber says. “Its views of the Missouri River to the east and downtown Omaha to the south are incredible. Neighbors love that it’s this quiet oasis, yet in minutes they can be on I-680 to get to wherever they need to go.”

In 1905, Omaha real estate agent/banker Henry Wyman took a shine to the hills north of Florence—then known as Florence Heights and Valley View Heights. Wyman envisioned the area, with its breathtaking views, as the perfect spot for “an idyllic retreat for Omaha’s elite,” according to research gathered by Restoration Exchange Omaha in preparation for the organization’s 2017 neighborhood tour. Wyman spent two decades gathering land, planting trees, and grading and paving North 29th and 30th streets before the neighborhood was replatted and rechristened “Wyman Heights” in 1925.    

Tudor Revival homes populated the area from the late 1920s into the 1940s, when World War II and a national housing shortage slowed development. But by the mid-1960s, Wyman Heights was fully developed, with midcentury modern homes filling in the gaps. 

“I always have to explain that the house numbers are totally out of order,” says resident Cathy Katzenberger, who loves the area’s peace and quiet, perfect views, and combination of seclusion and accessibility. “It’s because the neighborhood started with great big lots. Then, through the years as people sold off parts of their lots, new numbers were put in.”

Katzenberger has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, in two different houses. She grew up in nearby Minne Lusa and was always determined that someday she would live “up on the hill.” Her current abode is informally known as the Hayden House (not to be confused with the welcome center on UNO’s campus), named for Dave Hayden, proprietor of Omaha restaurants from days of yore, such as the Birchwood Club and Silver Lining Restaurant.

“This [neighborhood] originally started off as the weekend country retreat for people who lived in central Omaha—now we’re talking back in the old days,” says Katzenberger, who recalls the hill being home to “all the fancy people.”

Between the stunning views and architectural diversity, Wyman Heights was indeed a magnet for Omaha’s interesting and elite, just as Wyman envisioned. According to Restoration Exchange Omaha, the neighborhood was home to many a local movers and shakers, including Claude Reed, owner of Reed’s Ice Cream; William Sealock, president of the Municipal University of Omaha, originally located at 24th and Pratt streets and now known as University of Nebraska at Omaha; Harry Shackelford, Nebraska State District Attorney; and Genevieve Detwiler, prominent socialite and local proponent of the Girl Scouts. 

Roger and Jody duRand

Wyman Heights retained its allure into the ’60s, attracting prominent residents like mayor Gene Leahy and artist Tom Palmerton.     

“[The neighborhood] was filled with successful, smart, interesting people,” duRand recalls.

While the neighborhood has become more economically diverse, duRand says Wyman Heights hasn’t changed too much—still offering its lovely views and solid, neighborly network. 

“If you can find a house up here, you’re lucky. It’s a safe neighborhood and the neighbors are wonderful,” duRand says. “It’s nice to be able to look back all these years and see how it’s changed yet how it’s stayed the same.”

Katzenberger is pleased to see traditions like the annual neighborhood party endure, while several young families have moved into the neighborhood and livened it up with a new generation of kids at play.

“We’ve got very good neighbors. People are connected here,” says Katzenberger, noting that despite the lack of through traffic, children’s lemonade stands always do very well, as the neighbors all make a point to stop for a glass.

Katzenberger and duRand appreciate the unique blend of pastoral respite and urban access that comes with living in Wyman Heights.   

“We’re so close to everything, yet we can sit outside and hear nothing but birds…see a fox running through the yard, or deer walking up the middle of the street,” duRand says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Despite Wyman Heights’ affluent roots, duRand says there’s no pretension here.   

“People here are really just being themselves—and we all are very different,” she says. “It’s classy, but very eclectic. We all have love for the neighborhood and that’s what stabilizes us. If one person has a tree fall in their yard, all of us are there to help; we’re all watching out for each other.”

Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Wyman Heights neighborhood tour takes place Oct. 1 from noon to 5 p.m. Visit facebook.com/restorationexchange for more details.

This article appeared in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Nine and Two

September 2, 2015 by
Photography by Colin Conces

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 edition of Omaha Home.

Some of our friends called it a fortress,” says Kim Dickhut of the early ‘50s home she and husband Randy bought in 2007 as empty nesters. “Others,” Randy adds, “said it looked like a prison…cold…intimidating.”

Messing with a classic is fraught with danger, but the cement panels that now clad various surfaces of the Dickhut’s home not only counterbalance the sterility of the once severe structure, but also serve to amp up the home’s Mid-CeMidCenturyModern4ntury Modern credentials.

The germ of the project was seeded when the Dickhuts’ attended a tour of green homes. There they stumbled onto the work of general contractor Doug Kiser of dKiser design.construct. Kiser brought in the architects and the roster was set for the creative team. Besides doing most of the constructionl work, Kiser collaborated on the overall design and was particularly instrumental in the selection of materials and colors.

Most work today on Mid-Century structures involves the process of subtraction, that of removing layers of once-trendy “improvements” done over time in ill-advised tinkering. The Dickhuts took the opposite approach—one of addition.

 

“The concept was that of a virus,” explains Brian Kelly, a professor of architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He and his architect wife, Andrea (formerly of Randy Brown Architects and now a stay-at-home mom), collaborated with the Dickhuts on the project. “The panels become like a virus. They wrap around the house and intermittently reappear” to sprout again on a chimney stack before being repeated at the rear of the home in punctuating a master bedroom expansion accompanied by a balcony. The street-side panels are, of course, the most noticeable, Andrea says, “But the bedroom and balcony in the back are really the epicenter of the theme.”

MidCenturyModern5Just like the aggressively spreading species of vining plant that threatened to consume the planet in the 1951 British sci-fi flick, The Day of the Triffids, the panels evoke an organic—if decidedly minimal—vibe. Further softening the facade included a focus on the formerly stark entryway (a door…just a plain, unadorned door). The approach was made more inviting with the erection of a latticed trellis, a motif that is duplicated out back in a patio pergola.

And just exactly what hue is that signature orange that echoes throughout the home?

“We just call that ‘Kim’s favorite color,’” Randy says with a chuckle. “It’s our rebellion against beige,” Kim adds.

If the exterior and bedroom were exercises in addition, the mathematics of the interior were lessons in subtraction. Rustic barn wood was lopped from the now crisp, cozy space the couple call the Map Room. Moldings were eradicated like invasive weeds. Visual clutter was pruned at every turn in setting the stage for the couple’s collection of Mid-
Century furnishings.

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“The whole idea was that we wanted the look of simple loft living…but with a yard,” Kim says. She
points to her mother, who studied both architecture and interior design, as having inspired in her a Bauhaus-influenced aesthetic where form follows function.

“I knew who Frank Lloyd Wright was before I knew who Dr. Seuss was,” she says. “And I grew up assuming that everybody lived in a home with original art.”

The living room is decorated in abstract works by local artists Helen Gloeb and Karen Schneph. Gloeb’s piece hangs above a sofa that has been in Kim’s family since 1968. Nearby sits a pair of original Bertoia diamond chairs (first introduced in 1952) that the Dickhuts outfitted in new leather seat pads. The kitchen features an original Paul McCobb dinette set.

Another favorite is a George Nelson starburst clock introduced in 1949 that Kim says they’ve had “forever.” The radial spikes of the clock are rendered in a rainbow of colors, but the arms indicating the nine and two positions tell a story of their own.

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“If we had to point to the one thing that drove the color scheme,” Randy says as Kim nods in agreement, “it’s the orange arms of that clock.”

The Dickhut home is carefully curated, but there is nothing finicky, inaccessible, or museum-like in the finished result. Comfort, they say, was the main objective. And the scale, line, and form that are the hallmarks of Mid-Century Modern are a perfect fit for this couple.

“We are not big people,” Kim says, “so the scale of these pieces suit us well. There is nothing big or clunky about Mid-Century Modern.”

“And it’s very livable,” adds Randy of the 1,900 square-foot space where clean, straightforward lines and right angles are king. “It’s a great place for quite time. It’s a great place for where we are at this stage of our lives.”

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