Tag Archives: OmahaHome

Lincoln Fairview Historic District

November 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Seamonds, former president of the Lincoln Fairview Neighborhood Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Burke-Woodward House at 510 Oakland Ave.

How Old is Too Old for Home-Canned Food?

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

Preserving homegrown produce is a favorite pastime for Midwestern gardeners. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

2018 ASID impactFULL Awards

October 24, 2018 by

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

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

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


Design Impact Award Winner 

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Designer: Stacie Muhle, Allied ASID 

Company: Artistico

Photographer: Thomas Grady

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Designer: Marian Holden, ASID

Company: Designer Touch Inc. 

Photographer: Amoura Productions

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


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

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

Old World Meets Suburban Omaha

Photography by Thomas Grady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MEET THE DESIGNER

Stacie Muhle 
Allied ASID, Artistico

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


Visit artisticodesign.net for more information.

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

Custom-Made Paradise in the Woods

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission accomplished.


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

Life By Design

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Basement That Dreams Are Made Of

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After 19 years in the home where she and her husband raised three children, “It was time to do some updating,” Stacy Stenger says. 

The house that had once been featured on Street of Dreams was still beautiful, but they wanted new features like a lower-level bar and enhanced entertainment area, and they hoped to address some inefficiencies in layout.

They soon discovered that the renovations they wanted most were structurally impossible or unreasonably expensive. “The cost would have been excessive,” Stenger says. “That drove us to start looking at existing homes. We looked for over a year and couldn’t find exactly what we wanted.” 

Ultimately, instead of settling for not-quite-right, she says, “We decided it was best to build.”

Friends recommended Elizabeth Monical of Elizabeth Monical Interior Design, who collaborated with the Stengers and builder Dave Boltinghouse to design the perfect home for the family in a new Bellevue neighborhood.

The new design incorporated every feature on the Stengers’ wish list and more: a ranch-style floor plan with an open layout, a cigar room, canine-friendly luxury vinyl flooring (the family has four rescue dogs), great flow, and a transitional look with interesting textures, natural finishes, and a warm-yet-modern vibe.

“It’s user-friendly and functional, and everything is where I wanted it to be,” Stenger says. 

And best of all, the Stengers now have the deluxe lower level they dreamed of. 

“We really like to have friends and family over,” Stenger says. “There is a lot more space and more areas to congregate; the house is so much better set up for entertaining.”

The space first and foremost boasts an element the family has wanted for years: a full wet bar. Roomy enough to seat four with a view to a large wall-mounted television, the area also functions as a kitchenette with prep space and storage.   

In their former home, the Stengers felt hindered by load-bearing posts. Advances in residential engineering make it possible for their new home to have the open entertainment space they envisioned, with 10-foot ceilings and room to seamlessly accommodate both shuffleboard and pool tables. There’s also a fireplace sitting area with multiple TV screens, and a large table seats up to six—equally perfect for card games or meals. A popcorn machine is another fun touch to the basement.

Extending from a golf simulator room (“My husband’s favorite room in the house,” Stenger says) are golf-themed décor details. There is a custom-made, oversized mixed-media art piece dedicated to Augusta National Golf Club (created by local artist Jennifer Radil), a floor-to-ceiling golf course wall mural, and appealing artifacts throughout the space. 

Monical, who decorated and furnished the entire home, “made it all come together,” Stenger says. “She really did some personal touches that surprised me.” The homeowner’s favorite? A “Wally’s” sign honoring her late father. 

“She would always say, ‘Wait until you see the final vision,’” Stenger says. “And it was awesome when it was finished.”

“The thing that makes this house so successful is the amount of trust they had in our service as a design firm,” Monical says. “We really got to know their family, friends, and daily needs. We selected finishes that they approved and proposed ways to make certain areas extra-special…It was so amazing to be a part of their life story.” 

Stenger says she and her husband intend to stay in this home through their golden years, so their experience with building and designing the new home was truly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

“Hire someone you trust and who you can bounce ideas off of,” she says. “When you work with a professional, they think about all those functional things. It’s so worth it in the end because you end up with the design you want, the functionality you want, and the look you want.”


Visit monicaldesign.com for more information about Elizabeth Monical Interior Design.

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

Setting the Table

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s face it, there isn’t much enthusiasm for Grandma’s china these days. Fine chinaware is a forgotten treasure for many families.

Too many Generation Xers and baby boomers are content to treat their kitchen islands like buffet troughs (or they just eat out). Hardly anyone wants to whip out the fancy stuff these days. 

I’m guilty, too. I have neglected my grandmother’s rose-patterned china for 15 years. But with my children grown, I’m discovering an appreciation for old heirlooms and how they can be incorporated in fresh ways to enliven my own home.

And what better occasion to try than the holidays? In this DIY article, I demonstrate a proper holiday table setting while incorporating the china that I have inherited from the family.

But who says chinaware is only for the fanciest of occasions? For this issue’s DIY, I present a less formalistic table setting for four people.

First impressions begin with the table setting (also known as “place setting” or “laying the table”).

Making certain the eating utensils are located in just the right spot can be tricky. The precise arrangement of tableware has varied across cultures and historical periods.

As I did my research, I found that there is a whole sector devoted to churning out new ideas for table setting.

The Western craze for dressing the table seems to have taken hold in the late-18th century, when European aristocracy turned table setting into a form of artistic expression. 

As dinner party fashions trickled down to the middle class—especially in the 19th century—women began to use the table setting as a way to express their own creativity and personal taste.

Follow along to serve a dinner consisting of salad, bread, beverage, and the main course.

Have fun and don’t forget: No matter how beautiful or antique the china, a dinner party should be more about the people gathered around the table than the table setting.

Instructions

1. Dust Off the China

I was fortunate to have cherished family dishware passed down, but you can find affordable china easily. Just check garage sales, estate sales, auctions, or local thrift stores. Don’t be afraid to mix and match.

2. Plates

Place dinner plates approximately 2 inches from the table’s edge. Center them squarely in front of each chair. I also chose to incorporate gold chargers to bring out the gold in this beautiful china (also called service plates, chargers go under your dinner plates). 

 3. Bowls, Salad Plates, & Bread Plates

Soup bowls typically sit atop the dinner plate; salad plates go above the forks (on the left side of the dinner plate); and bread plates belong slightly above the salad plate, closer to the dessert fork/spoon. I modified the typical arrangement, placing the salad plate on the main dinner plate and altogether skipping the soup bowl. 

4. Utensils 

Flatware should be laid out in the order that the guest will use it. Work your way from the outside in. Forks belong on the left of the dinner plate; table knives and spoons go to the right. Knife edges should always face the dinner plate. Butter knives should be laid flat on the bread plate with the cutting edge, again, facing in the direction of the dinner plate. Dessert forks/spoons can be placed horizontally at the top of the dinner plate.

5. Drinks

Place water glasses above the dinner knife. Optional red and white wine glasses or champagne flutes should be staggered around the water glasses.

6. Napkins

There are options here. Napkins go to the left side of the plate, inside the drinking glass, or folded in the center of the plate.

7. Assigned Seating

(Optional) Write guest names on place cards. They work best placed above the dessert utensil, centered with the plate.

8. Table Decorations

Do not forget to dress the table with flowers and lots of candles. The ambiance makes a difference. At the end of the day, however, dining is about getting people together. And there is nothing cozier than entertaining at home.


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

OmahaHome Entryway

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien

With the holiday season approaching, my thoughts turn to family traditions—both old and new. 

Sometimes dusting off family heirlooms can bring a fresh take to the dinner table. 

With my children grown and on their own, I decided it was time to dust off my grandmother’s china. 

The fine dishware had remained neatly stacked in an old chest for 15 years. But it was still in the same immaculate condition. 

Readers who have followed my DIY projects may have gathered that I am all about repurposing and/or pairing the old with new. The trend continues this issue, too.

For the holidays, why not start a new-old family tradition by pairing a beautiful family heirloom with a proper holiday table setting?

Mixing the old with the new can yield remarkable results. Whether the heirloom is antique chinaware or something more modern, anyone can do this.

Regardless of how your family sets the table, one thing is certain, it’s not which side of the plate the fork goes on that matters most. The important thing is the togetherness with friends, family, and relationships nurtured by a meal prepared with love.

From all of us at OmahaHome, happy holidays to you and yours!

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

The Devil is in the Detail

October 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Jenny Gradowski drives up to her home each evening, she says the scene still gives her pause. “This is my home,” she says with awe. 

Gradowski and Joe Pittack live in a spacious white home at 3402 Lincoln Blvd., a grand place steeped in history. Their story here started last year, as they added their own touches to their new home. 

The couple shared what they know of its narrative one warm summer night on the house’s porch—a key selling point for Gradowski, who works at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. While the home lacks central air, and summer heat can be a challenge, the porch (luckily) remains a cool place to chat.

“It’s not really a wraparound, but it’s curved enough to feel that way,” she says. “The views, though—the views were enough for both of us.”

Designed to make a statement, Pittack and Gradowski’s home reigns over the Bemis Park Landmark Heritage District from its hill on a large corner lot, much like it did when it was built in 1902. The neighborhood was one of the first in the city to be designed with the contour of the land in mind. The view today consists of towering trees, a playground in the distance, and further afield, Cuming Street. 

The 14-room home was one of several homes that prominent architect Frederick Henninger designed in Bemis Park. The neighborhood was a prestigious one when the home’s original owners resided there. It boasted the city’s finest Victorian-era homes and proximity to the Cuming Street streetcar line. Bemis Park remains quietly impressive, with a location that allows Pittack and Gradowski to walk to dinner and Pittack to bike to work. He co-owns Ted and Wally’s, with locations in the Old Market and Benson. 

The home has more than a century’s worth of stories. Pittack says they started looking into them only after they moved in. There are funny ones, tragic ones, and even the odd tale about a religious sect.

The 6,000-square-foot home was built for a well-loved restaurateur named Tolf Hanson and his wife, Jennie. 

Tolf was a Swedish immigrant who got his start selling sandwiches on the streets of New York before moving to Omaha and opening a popular restaurant, Calumet Café, in 1893. He went on to open Hanson’s Café Beautiful on 16th Street in 1906. It was supposed to be the “finest restaurant west of Chicago,” but failed in its first year and sent the Hansons deep into debt. Tolf Hanson went to New York to regain financial footing, but he ultimately committed suicide there.

Pittack says he knows that, tragically, another of the home’s former occupants also committed suicide. John Bryant was the new president of a farm implements and machinery business when he bought the home in 1912 from Louis Nash, an officer of the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Co. Bryant had some trouble at work and, following disagreements with the company’s board of directors, drowned himself in a cistern in the backyard in 1913. That same year, the Easter Sunday tornado severely damaged the home, ripping the roof from the house.

It’s the home’s lighter stories, though, that Pittack shares more animatedly when he gives people tours. He shares one from the Gerken family, who moved in in 1954. The story involves one mischievous Gerken boy convincing his siblings to send him down the laundry chute. He got stuck midway and had to be rescued. 

Other owners came and went through the decades. There was the saloon owner Henry Keating and his socialite wife, Helen; the attorney Lysle Abbott and his wife, Mary; and the real estate developer George H. Payne. But not many homes have had a New Age religious monastic order as one-time occupants. The Holy Order of MANS moved into the home in 1975, converting it into their new “brother house.” Pittack believes religious services were held in one of the basement rooms. When the national monastic order dissolved in 1984, the Holy Order of MANS moved out.

In 2017, Pittack and Gradowski moved in and began a yearlong renovation. They installed a new boiler and water system and painted some interior rooms. When a hailstorm struck, the roof needed to be replaced and the exterior repainted. They’ve repurposed areas of the home while leaving the structure untouched. An old indoor phone booth is now a coat closet, the butler’s area is a food pantry, and one bedroom with an original coal fireplace is now a yoga studio. Furniture from Pittack’s grandmother’s home, which was nearby, is part of the décor now. 

By making this home their own, the couple adds their personal story while keeping hints of past inhabitants intact. 


This home is one of 10 Bemis Park residences included in Restoration Exchange Omaha’s 13th annual neighborhood tour on Oct. 13-14. Visit restorationexchange.org for more information.

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