Tag Archives: Patrick Mainelli

Life By Design

October 24, 2018 by
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.

Fishing With Flair

October 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Flair uploaded his first video to YouTube at age 15. As video productions go, there wasn’t much to it: four rough-cut minutes of Flair—then a freshman at Millard North—standing on the shore of a pond in suburban Omaha, fishing for bass. 

Flair, who turned 21 this year, has been fishing the waters in and around Omaha nearly his entire life. “As soon as I could hold a reel I was fishing,” he remembers. A love for the sport was passed down from his father, and the first videos Flair uploaded to his YouTube channel, Fishing with Flair, were made primarily for an audience of family and friends. “Just sharing tips,” he says. “Not much more than videos of me catching fish then tossing them back.” 

Quickly, though, Flair was posting fishing videos at a rate of two to three a week. While these early clips left much to be desired in terms of entertainment value, those formative years were, if nothing else, a full-immersion education in video editing and ease before a camera. 

The six years that have passed since Flair’s first upload are, in internet time, an eternity. As of this writing, Fishing with Flair is gaining new subscribers at a rate of roughly 25 to 30 thousand a month. 

What’s drawing them? Flair, mainly. After starring in more than 800 episodes, Flair’s natural charm and enthusiasm have a way of gluing your eyes to the screen. The content is fun, too. There are the “Barbie Rod Challenge” clips, the big-catch excursions to Mexico, and more. One episode finds Flair in full swamp camo, lying in the reeds of a golf course pond, trying to catch whatever he can while avoiding the eye of the fairway police carting overhead. 

As viewership rose over the years, Flair found himself bringing in a modest but regular income from ads placed before his videos.  

The moment of truth came the summer after graduation. Flair remembers, “I had just finished high school, was working at Scheels, and was enrolled to start college in the fall. I’d just bought a new truck but didn’t really have any other expenses since I still lived with my parents. It was all or nothing, so I just went for it.” Flair dropped out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and has been fishing for a living ever since. 

To say that Flair is a professional YouTuber is an oversimplification. More accurately, he is a documentarian, brand manager, fisherman, duck hunter, and burgeoning media mogul with his hand in at least a half dozen business ventures, all of which are connected by a long spool of monofilament line to that original clip of a high school freshman casting for bass one day after school.

While the “work” of regularly passing your days with a line in the water from sunrise to sunset may sound enviable to some, there are a whole host of other labors that are inherent to YouTube fame.   

For one, there’s the editing, reducing several hours of footage into one digestible 15-minute clip. There is also the attendant Instagramming, Snapchatting, Tweeting, and across-the-board brand sustenance required for life as a professional internet personality. All of which, by the way, must occur on a daily (at minimum) basis for fear of losing follower interest.

One can imagine that a less ambitious 21-year-old might stop here. For Flair, though, YouTube fame is only the launching pad to what has quickly become a multi-armed media machine. In fall 2016, Flair partnered with four other YouTube fishing personalities from across the country—each of them charismatic 20-somethings in their own right, producing fun and informative fishing content. The collective dubbed themselves The Googan Squad—“googan” being a pejorative term for the lowest of lowlife fishermen, an epithet often lobbed at the loud-talking, bank-sitting, fresh-water anglers that more seasoned sportsmen hope to avoid.  

The name solidified the young entrepreneurs’ image as a band of rogues, while also allowing them to court sponsors with greater clout. “Once we’d joined together under one name, we could approach advertisers and say honestly that we had access to 3.5 million viewers between the five of us,” Flair says. 

Today, the Googan Squad collectively owns a home in Dallas, Texas, that serves both as corporate office and crash pad for fishing excursions throughout the state. 

For Flair, what started as a hobby now includes a signature gear collection, a clothing line, a printing company, a mobile fishing app, and a private coffee label. 

On July 3, Flair and his teammates unveiled their biggest endeavor yet, their own line of patented bait and lures, Googan Baits. After heavy cross-platform promotion (the Googan Baits Instagram account boasted over 50 thousand followers before even making a single post) the first run of product sold out in 25 minutes.     

With so much momentum at his back, what awaits Flair in the murky waters of the future? “None of this has been done before, so it’s tough to tell,” he says. “I want to ride this out as long as I can. It will definitely come to an end. All celebrity comes to an end. I’d be fairly shocked if this lasts more than five years.” 

For now, as long as the fish and followers are biting, Flair will keep baiting the hook.


Find Flair’s latest videos on his YouTube channel with the simple handle “Flair,” or catch him on Snapchat (aflair430), Facebook (Fishing with Flair), Instagram (Fishing_with_Flair), or Twitter (@fishinwithflair).

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

Between the Lines

August 23, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Cameron McClarty—Contributing Videographer

Cameron McClarty is a young, driven, creative artist who rarely sleeps. His mind is always racing with new and different ideas on how his creativity can be shared with the widest audience. A native of Omaha, most of his education was spent in Catholic school, where discipline was taught to be second-nature. Earning a degree from Metropolitan Community College in video-audio communications art gave him the motivation to keep his vision alive and moving in a positive direction. McClarty continues to follow his passion as a videographer, photographer, graphic designer, editor, animator, and creative director. He recently began a full-time career at Kreative Element and is enjoying every minute of it.

Kamrin Baker—Editorial Intern

Kamrin Baker is majoring in journalism and media communications and minoring in women’s and gender studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. This fall semester, she is the digital editor for the Gateway Newspaper, but in the past she has written for publications such as HuffPost, MTV News, and Gloria Steinem’s Women’s Media Center. When she is not buried in sources and stylebooks, Baker enjoys spending time with family and friends, practicing yoga, traveling, rewatching Parks and Recreation on Netflix, petting dogs, and taking naps. She is vocal about issues that affect her, such as gender equality and the destigmatization of mental illness, and works tirelessly to tell stories that matter. After graduation, she hopes to use her passions to amplify the voices of women (including her own) via creative storytelling and unique leadership.

Patrick Mainelli—Contributing Writer

Patrick Mainelli is a writer and photographer living in Omaha. He is a graduate of the UNO English Department and works as communications manager at The Union for Contemporary Art. His nonfiction, which often explores the natural and human landscapes of Omaha and surrounding areas, has appeared in the journals Fourth Genre, The New Territory, and New Ohio Review among others, and has been featured on the public radio program Living on Earth. He is currently at work on a photo and essay series on the home site of James Baldwin—“Hermit Jim”—in Bellevue’s Fontenelle Forest. His writing and photography can be found at patrickmainelli.com.

Sophia Galardi—Sales Assistant

Sophia Galardi was born and raised in Papillion with her two brothers and one sister. This animal lover grew up with a dog, five cats, horses, chickens, bees, canaries, and pigeons. Galardi is a senior at UNO, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies with concentrations in general administration, communications, and gerontology. She also works as a suite attendant at Baxter Arena. Galardi lives in an apartment with her 84-year-old grandma, and together, they enjoy laughing at silly things, getting pedicures, and eating watermelon. When she isn’t studying or spending time with Grandma, she can be found spending time with her boyfriend, thrift store shopping, working out, and watering her 30 plants. Galardi dreams of being a mom and owning a dog.


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

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.