Tag Archives: Omaha Home

Tallgrass Vernacular

August 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The day I met Jim Schalles he was busy with a machete. That spring afternoon, we found ourselves in the far corner of City Sprouts’ half-acre lot on the corner of 40th and Franklin streets in near-north Omaha. Schalles’ goal for the day was to prepare the lumber that, once dry, would frame a small roof sheltering an earthen oven he’d been commissioned to build for the community garden. As we talked, Schalles and the machete stripped long ribbons of bark from the pile of freshly cut eastern red cedar stacked beside him. Cleaning a full trunk down to its smooth blonde core, he would hoist the thing with considerable ease over his head, toss it out of the way, and begin again with a new log. His dog, Adobe, curled asleep in a nest of mulch beside him, was little impressed.

Schalles is an Omaha native who grew up in the oak and cottonwood forests of Ponca Hills north of town. Until recently, though, he’d been passing time in southern Oregon, immersing himself in a rather broad range of disciplines in pursuit of his permaculture design certificate with the Aprovecho Sustainability Education Center. Coursework there included roundwood timber framing, earthen concretes, and clay-based stucco construction. “I left feeling like I could certainly build a house,” Schalles says. 

Permaculture design, at its roots, is guided by the patterns and forms observed in nature. Rather than engineering structures, agriculture systems, and societies in opposition to the natural world, the movement seeks to embody a thoughtful reflection of nonhuman systems and the inherent design wisdom found there.   

While it’s hard to imagine a better environment for a natural builder to cut his teeth than the dewy old-growth forests of Oregon, Schalles found himself drawn back to the hills and scrubby oak forests of his youth.

“I really missed the climate and culture and people back here,” he reflects. “If I’d grown up in the Northwest I probably wouldn’t have left. Clean swimming holes and mountains and redwoods and beaches, all that great stuff. But when I was hiking around the redwoods I never really felt at peace. I was almost on edge with awe. There are these giant trees that you’re astounded and kind of bewildered by, but it’s different from the sense of security and peace that I feel walking around these giant cottonwoods and the oak savannah that I grew up in.”

Reacquainting himself with the rhythms of his native landscape, Schalles recognized an opportunity to provide a service that was currently unavailable in the area. From this, Tallgrass Vernacular was born, a full-service construction and design business which serves to bring the principles, ethos, and aesthetic of natural building back to the Missouri River Valley. 

The name, Tallgrass Vernacular, references the vernacular architecture style, which Schalles describes as “building with things from the locality in which the building is being created. It embodies the nature of the area where you build. If I’m building in the Loess Hills, for example, I like mimicking the geography, the rolling hills with steep edges, so the structure not only is built with the things from the area, but it also embodies the essence and the culture and spirit of the place as well.” 

The community oven at City Sprouts exemplifies this precept down to its foundation: an assemblage of broken sidewalk concrete sourced from only a few hundred feet away. The subsoil clay integrated to the concrete was also pulled right from the neighborhood. 

While such a construction may sound renegade, Schalles is quick to note that his practice is firmly rooted in tradition and techniques that have stood the test of time. “As a builder, safety has to be a priority. If I want to make an argument for the value of these traditional practices, it has to come from within the guidelines of the building code. If we’re just building like hippies in our backyards and keeping it off the main radar, we’re not able to spread the real benefits of these techniques and make them more accessible. In some ways, I want to see the codes progress and be made more inclusive, but in the meantime I’m happy to learn them thoroughly and make sure I’m building things in accordance with the law.”

To watch Schalles at work is to see a person very much in their element. With a casual diligence, he appears fully comfortable with both his material and ability. There is, in fact, little to distinguish Jim Schalles’ professional life from his personal. Which is how he prefers it. 

“I think living in conjunction with the seasons that are around you is really similar to the way that I build things or the way that I live my life in general. It’s all of us being on the rhythm of when’s the best time to plant our seeds—whether that’s the metaphorical seed of your idea or your literal can’t-let-the-frost-kill-your-vegetable seed.”

In fall 2016, a chance meeting in a Ponca Hills bar provided Schalles an opportunity to commit himself to honoring this rhythm of the seasons in a more substantial way.

Still fresh from his time in Oregon, Schalles found himself trading rounds with a retired local farmer in need of a hand. Today, in exchange for a few hours of farm labor each week, Schalles and his partner have been allowed to build a home for themselves on a segment of land nestled against the Loess Hills State Forest. 

Of course, the Schalles home is no conventional affair. The main living quarters are an elevated yurt supported by reclaimed lumber and local cedar. The home is warmed by a wood-burning masonry heater, also designed by Schalles.  

“To have this been the first winter I spent in the yurt, in something I built, in the Midwestern winter, was really cool. To know that we survived, but to look at it in hindsight now that we’re past the worst of the winter and wonder, okay how do we make this more habitable for next winter.”  

It’s in hard-earned conditions like these that the seeds of utopia are sown. A solar shower, a wood-fired bathtub under the stars, a straw bale sauna—Schalles’ plans for the future are as ambitious as they are enviable.

“If you’re committed to keeping your costs low, you can afford to work a full-time job in your garden growing food,” he says. “And what more do you need? When you’ve got your shelter and food taken care of, your mind starts to go wild with these ideas.”

Like many great optimists, though, Schalles’ bright visions of the future are held against a vivid recognition of the dark places we now find ourselves in, culturally, ecologically, and architecturally. 

“We’re in this crisis right now in the way that we build things. The bottom’s going to fall out sooner or later, and hopefully it’s not detrimental when it does. Hopefully we’ve figured out enough ways to mitigate it and to do things better. Rather than just trying to engineer our way out of these problems I think that we can look toward the past to move into the future with sensible solutions.” 

It’s this recognition of the limitations of modern conventional architecture, and a sincere passion for creating structures that are at once functional, economical, and sustainable that propels Tallgrass Vernacular. 

For Schalles, these principles find their clearest expressions in fire appliances like the community oven at City Sprouts. 

“Fire was the origin of a lot of things. Probably the origin of language,” he says. “The act of us coming together around heat and a communal source of cooking our nutrients opened the door to a lot of things culturally. We’ve lost that. And putting fire appliances in central places like parks and community gardens can help bring that back.”


Learn more about Tallgrass Vernacular and its natural building and permaculture services at tallgrassvernacular.com. 

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

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.

A Real-Life Fairy Tale

July 11, 2018 by
Photography by Joshua Redwine

Once upon a time, in an outdated suburban kitchen, there was a newly empty-nester mother who dreamed of the most amazing La Cornue range with a large multifunction oven, seven unique cooking modes, and five powerful brass gas burners. As in every fairy tale, one quick phone call to her fairy godmother (at Fritz + Lloyd Interiors) and that new range became the leading design detail in the story of a “down-to-the-studs” whole home renovation. 

Leaving the land of golden oak (floors, trim, and cabinets), with separate living areas and very few windows, the design team set out to open and brighten the space as much as possible. Windows were added for more natural light, walls were painted light neutrals, white cabinets were installed, and the beautiful oak flooring was refinished and stained darker to add a pop of contrast. The design team worked with Nate’s Custom Renovations as the general contractor on the project.

Before

The kitchen working area was doubled by repurposing the dinette space, which was no longer in use with the children out of the home. Full-height, painted Shaker-style cabinets now line the perimeter of the room to hold all the dream appliances, including a Miele glass-front speed oven that doubles as a microwave. The dark cherry island more than doubled in size and allows for two counter-height stools, a perfect perch for weekday evening dinners as well as great storage. 

Over the gorgeous French range (the homeowners’ dream come true) is a custom metallic finished hood. The diamond-shaped mosaic backsplash with raised edges makes for a regal but classic look in white.  

Adding final touches of satin nickel hardware and mercury-glass pendants make this cook’s kitchen shine as the heart of the home. 

Through the now-opened walls, one easily feels part of the dining, living, and sitting spaces—perfect for entertaining friends and large family gatherings. Two windows were added to match an existing window to give the appearance that this was the original design of this 1980s house. The dining room, originally cramped, was relocated closer to the kitchen and fireplace to make a lovely setting for dinner parties and family occasions. Thin-cut ledgestone repeats itself on the fireplace and in the kitchen to add texture and a little sparkle with the quartzite composites.  

The guest powder room made a dramatic change, like donning a formal ballgown, with new large-scale patterned wallpaper to make a bold statement for a small space. The entry closet lost the standard bifold doors of yesteryear in exchange for an open bench design with coat hooks, cubbies, and velvet monogrammed pillows. 

If a kitchen overhaul and first floor renovation weren’t enough, this princess tackled her master suite and guest bath, making a grand reveal on the second story. The master bath was fitted with a furniture style vanity, decorative framed mirror and sconces, and a clawfoot tub for the nightly bather. The full-height bath surround was custom designed, and tiles were laid one by one. The neighboring guest bath turned into an updated modern bath with a dark-stained vanity, gray stone-look tile, a 1/2-by-12-inch pencil mosaic shower floor sloping to a custom-fit linear drain, and pinstripes in the shower wall. 

And so, after four months of living in the dungeon (OK, the finished basement), this couple’s pumpkin became a shiny new carriage and there was rejoicing in all the lands. Fritz + Lloyd Interiors was happy to help them work through revamping their dream home, updating it with all of the best finishes, making it uniquely them, and giving them everything they needed to live happily ever after


MEET THE DESIGNER

Becky Rea Fritz + Lloyd Interiors NCIDQ, ASID

Becky Rea, of Fritz + Lloyd Interiors, creates sleek and sophisticated modern looks across the Midwest. With 18 years of experience, she and her team will help in any stage of a project—new build or renovation.


Visit fritzandlloyd.com for more information about the interior designer’s firm.

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

Entryway

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

July is always a busy time of year—full of activities, family reunions, picnics, baseball games, etc. And don’t forget barbecues! 

This issue, I’m passing the DIY baton to another do-it-yourself guru. Gary Dunteman is a competitive barbecue champ who really knows how to smoke the competition. He shares advice on making a  homemade barrel smoker.

With the current food-themed edition of OmahaHome, I’d also like to share a favorite family recipe—Catalina Chicken—named after the dressing. This dish is simple, healthy, and looks as delicious as it tastes.

Ingredients: 

• 4-6 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (thawed if frozen)

• 1 large can of “whole berry” cranberry sauce
(I use Ocean Spray)

• 1 large bottle of Catalina salad dressing

• 1 packet of dry Lipton Onion Soup Mix

• White rice (serving size enough for each person)

Directions:

  1. In a large 8-by-13-inch pan, mix the whole berry cranberry mixture, 3/4 of the large bottle of Catalina dressing, and the whole packet of Lipton soup mix (this will make a thick sauce).
  2. Place all of the chicken down in the mixture, making sure you cover all the pieces.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.
  4. Place one chicken breast with extra sauce over bed of white rice.

Tip: A Greek salad with an Italian vinaigrette makes a great side for this dish!

Here’s to a safe and wonderful holiday, and don’t forget the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who have ensured the gift of freedom that we enjoy every day.

Also, on a very special personal note, I had the honor of seeing my second grandchild, Stella Rose, come into the world this May. Big brother River, not yet 1 year old, was right there for her debut. These two are so adorable, I could just eat them up. 

Cheers! 


Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for OmahaHome.

A Cathedral for Cooking

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most first-time attendees at Crème de la Crème instructional cooking events enter chef Paula Dreesen’s home as if they are crossing the threshold of a church. Perhaps overly aware of their guest status, they edge in on padded feet and speak in hushed whispers, the kind usually reserved for the gentle echoes of a house of worship.

“They may enter as strangers,” the gregarious Dreesen says with a broad smile, “but they leave as friends. That’s what good food and good conversation does. It draws people together.” 

But the night I became a parishioner at Crème de la Crème was different. And loud.

It was Dreesen’s 150th event, and all the other cooks-in-waiting were repeat guests, longtime disciples with as many as five previous evenings under the belts of their aprons. The only icebreaking required this time around involved that which was needed for a decidedly less than pious procession of mojitos which ushered in the evening.

Teaching, now so seemingly natural for the outgoing Dreesen, was an evolutionary process paralleling the arc of her life in food.

“My mom started me in the kitchen when I was a little girl,” the chef says, “and I worked in and around the restaurant industry for 35 years. Cooking has always meant so much more to me; so much more than just food.” 

After years of being asked by friends for help or advice in the kitchen, she began informal instructional sessions in her previous home, then launched her Crème de la Crème business plan three years ago in the sprawling 1,000-square-foot kitchen of a new home that was designed specifically for such group culinary gatherings.

“People always ask me why I never opened a restaurant of my own,” the chef says, “but I don’t think I have that in me, the seven-day commitment and endless hours that go into making a restaurant work. What I do have is a husband [Dr. Adrian Dreesen], five kids, and a dog. Crème de la Crème is the perfect fit…the perfect way to find and express my creativity and share it with others in a fun, social environment.”

Several globetrotting themes are available for Crème de la Crème soirees and, taking the farm-to-table philosophy to its logical extreme, Dreesen rotates her menus based on the availability of bounty from her expansive backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards perched high on a hill overlooking the Elkhorn River in West Omaha.

Crowd favorites include such Mexican menus as “Casa de Crème” and “A Tale of Two Tacos.” Italian is also popular with her “Pizza Party” and “Cozy Italian” evenings. 

And, in tribute to Dreesen’s culinary idol, Julia Child, there’s even a more highbrow “French Crème Countryside” menu for pilgrims in search of new frontiers.

Dreesen also offers the “Crème Conquest,” a hit with corporate clients that use the experience as a team-building exercise. Groups are split into teams and given a set of selected ingredients, but no recipe. The challenge is to guess the secret recipe from which the ingredients are derived. Even if the food sleuths fail to solve the underlying mystery, they get to battle it out, Iron Chef-style, in devising and preparing a delicious meal to be shared by their co-workers.

But it was the “Grillin’ Cuban Style” menu on tap for the night I attended, where anxious students took turns in preparing pineapple mojitos, mojo-grilled chicken with black beans and crispy sweet plantains, all followed by a decadent tres leches cake.

Although I was present as a journalistic observer—and my culinary prowess is pretty much limited to melting Velveeta—I was also invited to participate.

My assigned task, perhaps mercifully, was to blend the tres leches ingredients into a velvety symphony of num-num-numiness ready for the oven. Based on the baking, cooling, and refrigeration time called for in the recipe, I had accurately surmised that Dreesen had prepared a cake, the one we would later be eating, a day in advance, but I was still resolved to approach my job as if I were engaged in the sacramental rite of turning flour and eggs into manna from heaven. My apron, not to mention my nascent reputation as a capable hand in the kitchen, emerged unscathed. High fives all around.

Dreesen is often asked to take her show into other people’s homes, but now it’s her turn to speak in hushed, reverent tones.

“It’s doing it here that makes it meaningful for me,” she explains. “Cooking right here. Cooking with family helping me. Not just in any kitchen but in my kitchen. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”


Visit cremedelacremeomaha.com for more information.

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

The Perfect Lakeside Patio

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By the time foundations were laid for the first few houses at the Big Sandy Lake development in 2005, all 85 lakeside lots had been sold. Dean Dougherty was one of the eager buyers. His four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot home was completed in 2007, and he feels lucky to be part of the neighborhood. 

“The residents of Big Sandy are all considered family and friends,” says Dougherty, who also enjoys entertaining non-resident family and friends, too. His home has become a favorite go-to destination for outdoor gatherings from spring through most of the Husker football season. The lake is near the Platte River north of Ashland in Saunders County, so Dougherty’s visitors can make it in from Omaha in less than an hour, and his four grown children are his most frequent summer guests. 

Dougherty spends his workdays thinking about food—he’s the director of sales, commercial chain for Waypoint, a major food sales and marketing agency—so beautiful outdoor cooking and entertaining amenities were part of the planning for his lakefront property.

His outdoor kitchen—designed and installed by Heritage Builders of Lincoln—features a 1,100-square-inch grill, which Dougherty says he knew would be a focal point for gatherings. But Dougherty says he has been surprised to get more use out of his wood smoker and his electric smoker than he had originally anticipated. “We also use our outdoor fireplace for the later evening hours,” he says. 

Once the weather warms up each spring, Dougherty mounts a TV outside in a covered area, making it possible for guests to enjoy Nebraska games or other televised events and the outdoors at the same time. The covered area below an upper deck also provides a shaded space for guests to retreat from the sun on scorching summer days.  

The approximately 300-acre Big Sandy Lake is known for its clear water and sand bottom. The homes at Big Sandy offer beachfront access and lead out to docks, so guests can wander right out to the water from the patio to relax on the sand or enjoy some boating. 

Dougherty’s house was designed with a lower-level walkout to make outdoor cooking and entertaining easily accessible, and he says he’s found that because people want to gather there, the upper deck isn’t utilized nearly as much as he had envisioned when planning the house. 

Besides providing shade over the patio, the upper deck offers a private sitting area and a walkout for the upstairs of the home. Minor modifications in the future will expand the functionality of the deck space. 

“There is always a need for shade on hot summer days,” he says. “By 4 or 5 in the afternoon, after enjoying the lake all day, everyone’s had enough sun.” He’d also recommend one other consideration to anyone planning an outdoor cooking and entertainment area: “easy access to refreshments.”

Overall, Dougherty says, he’s pleased with the design and feels his outdoor space has served him well for the past 10 years and will continue to be functional for many years into the future. 

What’s his favorite part of lakeside living? “It’s being outside with family and friends and outdoor cooking,” Dougherty says.


Visit bigsandylake.net for more information on the lakeside neighborhood.

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

Cooped Up in the City

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raising chickens in the city has become more common in recent years due to the popularity of urban farming. 

Brett Kreifels, educator for the Nebraska Extension in Cass County (formerly of the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension), has been around poultry his whole life. He runs 4-H youth development for the county and has extensive education in livestock. His grandfather owned a hatchery in Springfield when he was a child. 

Kreifels says there is a trend in favor of urban farming and raising poultry in cities like Omaha because it’s fun and it teaches sustainability. Eggs are an added benefit. For some, it is comforting to know where their meat comes from.

To get started, he says it is important to know local regulations, noting that Omaha and Lincoln have different rules, and Omaha residents must follow both city and Douglas County rules. Much of Sarpy County does not allow chickens, with the exception of those raised by youth in 4-H programs.

Beka Doolittle raises chickens in a part of Elkhorn that is not annexed by the city but falls within Douglas County. She has a permit from the county, but also advises urban farmers to be aware of homeowners association covenants. She raises egg-laying chickens exclusively. Doolittle selected types that lay a variety of colored eggs—they look beautiful in cartons. If one of her birds were to stop laying, she would keep it as a pet. She says raising chickens teaches good life skills, and she enjoys passing them on to her 8-year-old daughter. She says caring for chickens is therapeutic, noting that their strange behavior always makes her laugh. 

Janine Brooks keeps chickens within Omaha city limits. She has many Seramas (a small breed of bantam chickens originally from Malaysia), and enjoys their eggs. It takes five of their eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Brooks says she got into chickens with her 31-year-old daughter, who is autistic. She says her daughter loves the chickens and also raises turkeys. Rearing poultry and watching them grow has been therapeutic for the family and keeps her daughter occupied. Brooks says chickens and turkeys are incredible pets, inexpensive to feed and maintain, and they are clean animals.   

Kreifels says there are no health concerns with raising poultry so long as you keep a clean coop. Otherwise there are risks of salmonella and E. coli. He recommends washing your eggs and your hands after handling chickens. He has been sick from his own birds on one occasion. He attributes it to lax hand-washing practices. “Don’t kiss your chickens,” he says, partly joking.

To get started in Omaha, Kreifels recommends first contacting the Douglas County Health Department. Let them know you are interested in raising chickens. They will want to know your lot size, whether or not you have a fenced-in yard, and what the coops look like. They will send someone out to inspect the facility. If they approve, they will tell you how many chickens you can have and issue you a permit.

It’s that simple. Raise chickens. Eat fresh eggs. Know where your meat comes from. Learn to nurture yourself by nurturing and respecting your food source.


Visit extension.unl.edu to learn more about the Nebraska Extension’s work with local agriculture and livestock.

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

Residential Nirvana

May 21, 2018 by
Photography by Tom Kessler

Dull. Dark. Overbearing. Heavy. These are not nice adjectives to describe a new home, but this is exactly how our clients felt about the new residence they had purchased.

Before

When the homeowners first stepped into our showroom at Interiors Joan & Associates, they explained their dissatisfaction wasn’t about the house itself; they just needed to realize the potential they knew existed within the home. That’s when they connected with Karie Boggs (Allied Member ASID), a professional interior designer with the firm.

After learning more about her clients, how they wished to live in the home, and how they envisioned it to look, Boggs and the homeowners embarked on a major transformation that completely changed both the aesthetics and the functionality of the home—and they never looked back.

What makes this project unique is that the entire transformation was completed with minimal construction. Cosmetic changes included fresh paint, lighting, and a total overhaul of the furnishings. The father of one of the homeowners is in the construction industry in Dubai; his ability to see potential in the home’s bones proved to be a valuable resource throughout the renovation process, and helped his daughter to see the home for what it could be.

We embarked on a renovation project to create an environment that would match the homeowners’ personality and lifestyle. They required space for entertaining, but also wanted the home to be warm and inviting when smaller groups of family are there. Boggs’ design solution was to transform the dark, dreary, and gray home into a light, fresh, and colorful space that would reflect the clients’ culture and taste.

After

Rooms that were once filled with out-of-scale traditional furnishings, muddy gray walls with white chair rail, and mismatched flooring now boast a brighter linen wall color, elements of architectural significance, and furnishings with bursts of color and interest. The great room features a natural stone wall with floating metal shelves and integrated lighting. This built-in design detail provides the space with texture, and all at once creates dimension in the room. Glitzy elements added sparkle to the space: a furrowed metal table lamp, nailhead detailing on the upholstery, and a cocktail table base fashioned out of chrome, while a color palette of raspberry, gold, and copper repeats itself in the cut velvet fabrics and the large-scale artwork.

Custom draperies create a backdrop for the bright, punchy fuchsia fabric used on the upholstered chairs in the dining room. A sparkling chandelier and abstract artwork complete the new, sophisticated space. A sectional sofa with a streamlined frame and nubby textural upholstery anchor the hearth room.

Colorful pillows in a trio of patterns breathe splashes of raspberry, citron, turquoise, and seal gray into the design. While the actual architecture of the media and fireplace wall were not changed, Boggs had the walls painted and a textural treatment applied inside the niches to create a clean yet interesting space for display. Exotic accessories of glass, metal, petrified wood, and silk florals enhance the visual appeal of the media wall.

Colorful artwork and upholstered dining chairs perfectly appoint the more intimate dinette space. Here, bright yellow, pink, cerulean, and a deep espresso wood finish on the furniture frames replace the once-dark and drab corner of the home. Perhaps one of the most interesting transformations took place in one of the upstairs spaces. What was once a mismatched bonus space for toys was thoughtfully redesigned to serve as a Hindu prayer room for the homeowners and family. Great care was taken to respectfully fulfill every requisite that our clients had regarding the size, finish, look, measurements, accouterments, and requirements of this spiritual space.

Another fantastic transformation was to conceal an inconvenient laundry chute (positioned in the hallway directly atop the steps on the second level of the home). The chute was randomly situated beside a bank of practically useless skinny shelves. Boggs’ clever design morphed the unsightly chute into a part of an artistic installation by disguising the door with a contemporary metal cover that conceals its functional purpose with a more aesthetically pleasing trio of art pieces. The skinny shelves were replaced with floating shelves with LED accent lighting, creating a perfect space for home accessory display.

By incorporating a variety of design elements—crystal chandeliers, mixed metals, antiqued mirrors, lots of finishes, and sumptuous fabrics—the home realized a fresh, colorful, and interesting new personality. The homeowners’ personal tastes, cultural influences, and religious requirements found a residential showcase that is uniquely their own.


Visit interiorsbyjoan.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.