Tag Archives: renovation

My Thrifty Oasis

January 8, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With a new year, we all like to start with a clean slate. It’s a chance to do things differently, with more attention to purpose. That was my intention when I started this yearlong renovation of an unused room in my home.

My goal was to create a personal oasis that was not only functional but also serene. I wanted a simple, clean, and elegant look that would stand the test of time.

As I assessed the space, I struggled to decide on the color palette. I finally chose a white-on-white scheme with gold undertones. Actually painting the room, however, would have to wait until the end of the year because my focus would be on each and every DIY piece going in the space.

These individual installments were the basis of my yearlong DIY series in Omaha Home. Starting each project, I had to consider the sequence and time of year for each installment. Photo shoots were outside, which allowed me to add a personal touch to the visuals of the story without spoiling readers’ anticipation for this grand reveal.

Let’s recap the five projects that led to this point. For any readers wondering about the black dress I wore in each photo, you can read the backstory in my opening letter to this issue. Catch a glimpse of the dress in the photos of the finished room, too.

Coffee Filter Light 

Lighting is crucial for setting the mood of any room. But who knew coffee filter light fixtures could turn into something this glamorous?

My first project in this series showcased my first-ever attempt at creating a coffee filter lamp. After 15 hours of folding and hot-gluing coffee filters, this turned out to be much more time-intensive than I had anticipated. The end result, however, offers a great bang for your buck.

Wall-mounted Vases

Having a beautiful arched window in my room was pure luck, so I didn’t want to hide it with heavy window coverings. I wanted to accentuate the window’s design elements. I love what shutters do on outside-facing windows, so I tried to duplicate that look on the inside. Using some dock wood leftover from a prior DIY project, and some paint, the reclaimed wood made the perfect backdrop for my wall-mounted vases.

Repaired Vintage Chairs

Some might see junk at thrift stores. I see winning lottery tickets just waiting for me. It’s all about perception, right? A pair of classic vintage chairs—discovered while thrifting—found a new home in my remodeled room. The happy duo are fabulously seated in front of the window. They also happen to be my favorite DIY project to date.

Repurposed Vanity

A buffet turned vanity? Yep, you can repurpose any piece of furniture, and this shining star got a head-to-toe makeover in soft metallic gold paint. The paint I splurged on (funny how far you can stretch one little jar of paint if you get creative).

Mantel Makeover

The mantel offers a decorative focal point to the room. All it needed was a good sanding (and a coat of the same white paint used throughout the room remodel) to tie everything together.

Once the DIY projects were complete, I recruited my professional friends from Marco Shutters to help me maximize the small closet space. They even designed additional shelving for shoes, jewelry, purses, and accessories. Although I wanted to add softness around the windows, I needed something for privacy while adding elegance. Shutters were the perfect finishing touch.

While all of this was underway, I got to work painting the walls, trim, baseboard, and ceiling. My steps were inverted compared to how I would normally approach a room makeover, as I typically paint a room first, adding the furniture and design components later. Nevertheless, it all came together perfectly. As the grand reveal drew closer, I felt so good about each design decision made along the way.

My favorite part of the remodeling process was placing all of the DIY projects in their designated spots and decorating the completed room. The end result was the boutique-like experience I was seeking, a seamless balance of design and function. As it turns out, you do not have to sacrifice elegance for being thrifty.

Visit readonlinenow.com to review the six previous installments in this DIY room remodeling series in Omaha Home

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

One Year, Big Life Changes

December 11, 2017 by
Photography by Dawn Kanne, Digital Memories 4U

After the honeymoon, married couples often ask themselves, “What were we thinking?” My clients Bryan and Revé Behrens can relate to the quandary from their newly remodeled home.

Roughly two years ago, Revé contacted me. She was the owner of a local cleaning business that was growing fast. After working hard all day, she wanted to be able to come home and relax in her downtown Omaha apartment. She decided to take a chance and hire a designer to pull things together for her.

Revé already owned many items that she knew she wanted to keep. We made some additional purchases, but it was important to her that any purchases would easily transition to a house one day.

After getting to know her more, I knew the direction we were headed with the design. The apartment would have a quiet, understated elegance—modern and sophisticated, yet comfortable; colorful, but not loud; full of textures and warmth.

We incorporated everything she wished for, and she loved her apartment.

But life happens: Boy meets girl. Girl and boy fall in love. Before long, wedding plans and a house hunt were underway.

Early in their search, Revé and her fiancé found a house to buy. It backed up to a lake, and I could see their vision for the house becoming a beautiful home.

Before Photos

Bryan and Revé also asked me to design their wedding. So, while we were in the process of remodeling, we were also collaborating on wedding plans.

They started remodeling right away to get as much done as they could before the wedding. They wanted to avoid living in the home during the bulk of the renovations, and it was easier to make the bigger changes while the house was empty.

Our goal was to create a modern, updated home without raising the roof or making structural changes to keep costs down for the soon-to-be newlyweds.

Paint, furniture, accessories, some lighting, etc.—all were important. But there were a few other crucial changes that altered the entire feel and appeal of the home.

The fireplace got a much-needed new look. It is now visually interesting while camouflaging their large television with black stone and a custom mantle.

Removing the dividing walls between the kitchen/dining room and the family room created an open floor plan.

New kitchen cabinet doors and drawer fronts were made, and we painted all the cabinets.

We kept the granite countertops but changed the backsplash to something more fitting.

A custom pantry door was made with a sandblasted message of love engraved on the glass as a wedding gift from the groom to his new bride.

A section of upper cabinets were removed to accommodate a large window combination with shades in between the glass so they could appreciate that lake view from morning till night.

The master bath was gutted and built to accommodate Revé and Bryan’s tall statures, and the hinged door was replaced with a wider pocket door.

Reclaimed barn wood was used to make the custom his-and-hers vanity, mirrors, trim, and doors. His-and-hers recessed medicine cabinets are hidden behind the sliding mirrors.

The master bedroom closets became one large closet before custom barn doors were installed.

A custom curb-less tile shower was a perfect fit.

The newlyweds now have an updated home designed for them. It’s an eclectic mix that feels current, but lived in—one that doesn’t look like you just walked in and pulled a set off a showroom floor.

It’s a wonderful place for them to start their lives together, and to one day maybe even start a family.

This ambitious couple went from living independently, to engagement, planning a wedding, getting married, buying a home, and remodeling that home in less than one year. They are seasoned pros now. I’m not sure they would recommend taking on all of that at once, but the final outcome was worth it.

Visit dawns-designs.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

A House Becomes a Beauty Salon

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Grey House Salon near 87th and Center streets is called that because it’s gray in color, and it’s shaped like a house.

In fact, it was someone’s house many years ago.  The remnant layout reveals a kitchen, living quarters, and bathrooms.

The house was converted into a beauty salon more than 20 years ago, and was known as Sheer Madness for decades before being vacated a couple of years ago.

When business partners Carmen Stukenholtz and Lacey Ward started looking for a place to open their own salon last year, they remembered the large “Sheer Madness” sign they saw numerous times while driving and sought out the mid-century style house.

“Originally, we wanted to call our business ‘Trust Me Boutique,’ but our lawyer discovered that Nebraska law prohibits businesses from having ‘trust’ in their name because it is misleading,” says Stukenholtz, who worked with Ward for 13 years at another salon before the friends embarked upon becoming business owners together.

There is, indeed, a law from 1924 on the books that states there can be no use of the word “trust” in an LLC.

“We remembered the house, and once we saw it and toured the inside, we knew it was what we wanted. It had a crazy vibe that was different from everything else we saw. It wasn’t generic,” Stukenholtz says.

They bought it, and then painted it gray.

“It’s memorable and easy to find. When we tell people how to find us, we can just tell them to look for the gray house.”

Before opening last summer, Stukenholtz and Ward—along with their husbands and friends—spent two months removing outdated fixtures and décor dating back to the ’80s and ’90s to modernize the salon.

The bulk of the work was strictly cosmetic.

In addition to painting the outside of the building its distinctive gray color, they pulled up carpet and put in new flooring; replaced the work stations with new, sleek mirrors, sinks, and chairs; gave each room an individual paint color and feel; converted the reception area into a plush, gender-neutral environment (they have a large male clientele as well as serve children) with comfortable seating and surroundings; and even found new uses for bathtubs that remained from when it was someone’s house.

“In the bathrooms, my husband covered the bathtubs with plywood and created interesting planters to lighten up the rooms and make them feel more like home and provide some green space,” Ward says. “It’s been a great location for us. We really put both of our personalities in the paint colors, décor, and furnishings. It feels like home.

“We really wanted the interior to have a very comfortable, home-like feel to it, which is one of the biggest reasons we chose this house rather than renting space in a strip mall. Everything we did here, we did ourselves. We wanted this to be an extension of our homes.”

Both women say owning their own business has been simultaneously rewarding and terrifying.

Despite the uncertainty of being responsible for the livelihoods of themselves as well as three other stylists and a front desk manager, they remain committed to their dream and are excited to enjoy the continued growth of their business past this first year.

“Our first goal is to always do the right thing by and for other people, including ourselves,” says Stukenholtz, adding that they are planning some sort of celebration July 31 to commemorate their first year of operation.

“When you have people depending upon your business decisions so they have paychecks to support themselves and their families, it makes you evaluate everything very carefully,” she says. “But we are so excited to be running our own business. It’s something Lacey and I talked about for years, and now we’re living it. It’s a dream come true.”

Visit thegreysalon.house for more information.

From left: Lacey Ward and Carmen Stukenholtz

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Editor’s note: Ms. Stukenholtz’ name was originally misspelled as Stuckenholtz.

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

How to Make a Coffee Filter Lamp

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Light is to what punctuation is at the end of a sentence.

If I had my way, there would never be any traditional lighting—especially fluorescent lights, as they are often too cool and tend to distort (in my opinion, making everything look worse).

So, when deciding upon lighting options for the room that I am remodeling, I opted for a softer look to establish a welcoming mood.

This soft accent light will not be the primary light source in the room; rather, it will be more of a glowing art installation hanging in the room.

There will be plenty of natural light coming through the large window as well as several other lamps in the room.

I truly feel that without choosing the correct lighting in the beginning, the whole room won’t have that wow factor in the end.

My inspiration was something I saw on the internet several years ago. At the time, I didn’t have the space to make it work. But I do now!

The final renovation of the room will be unveiled in the grand reveal to be published in the January/February issue of Omaha Home.

Remember, you do not have to compromise beauty and function for cost. Do some research and find what fits your space and style. Try out your own DIY project. That’s what this year-long project is all about.

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Paper lantern (I used a lantern 16 inches in diameter.)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Large package of glue sticks
  • Basket-type coffee filters (I used 800.)
  • Patience (The project can take approximately 6-7 hours.)
  • LED light with remote or single-socket pendant light. Both are extremely inexpensive. There are many options. To be safe, please do your research. You don’t want to create a fireball!

DIRECTIONS:

Step-1: Fold or crinkle each coffee filter at the bottom.

Step-2: Glue each filter directly to your paper lantern.

Step-3: Place as many filters as close together as possible.

Step-4: Cover the entire surface of the paper lantern.

Word to the wise: If you want to take this project on, I suggest watching online tutorial videos for added guidance. Simply searching for “coffee filter lamp”  tutorials online proved to be extremely helpful for me. The project is simple, but it can be very time-consuming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

 

Emily Andersen & Geoff DeOld

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Andersen and Geoff DeOld’s two-story storefront/residence on Vinton Street is an ongoing study in public and private space.

The husband and wife duo of DeOld Andersen Architecture began their courtship in Nebraska while studying architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. They completed their postgraduate degrees in 2001 and moved to New York City that same year—a week before September 11.

deolds4While living in New York, they each worked at architecture firms, and in 2010, they began developing their own architectural practice. Their theoretical interests focused on ideas of suburbia, big box stores as civic centers, and the concept of “Walmart as a city.” New York City, while full of inspiration, was not an ideal location to study these topics.

“New York is a highly constructed place, a place where every block has been theorized and studied,” says DeOld.

In 2012, Andersen and DeOld began working with Emerging Terrain and its founder, Anne Trumble, on projects in Omaha. Seeing the progressive and critical dialogues fostered by Emerging Terrain made the idea of leaving New York an easier decision. For them, rogue conversations about urban relations could take place in Omaha. Additionally, Omaha provided a lower cost of living, making it possible to own a domestic space with a private outdoor area complete with a dog.

After deciding to relocate to Omaha in 2012, Andersen and DeOld began sharing a rented office space with Emerging Terrain on Vinton Street. One day, Trumble took her design fellows on a research trip, and the couple was able to be alone in the space in its totality. They thought, “This could be a great apartment!”

As it happened, their intuition became reality. The architects now fully occupy both floors of the storefront, their live-work architecture studio and private apartment with an exterior courtyard at 1717 Vinton St.

Willa, their spunky dog, acts as a doorbell, announcing visitors and clients. She is usually perched at the large bay windows on Vinton Street, sitting in the crisp northwest light. This same light blankets a curated selection of furniture and cascades upward to the original tin ceiling tiles. Andersen acknowledges, “The best thing (about the storefront) is the light.”

deolds5Immediately inside the voluminous white studio, large flat tables are stacked with the latest architecture periodicals and design paraphernalia. A well-stocked bookcase of architecture monographs separates this front entry space from the open office behind. Each workstation, for the couple and their intern architects, is decorated with an iMac, a tornado of tracing paper, physical architectural models, and their subsequent renderings and construction documents. The fervor of design-in-the-making is palpable. At the rear, more windows fill the functional office with warm southern light and views into an in-process patioscape.

There is an aspect of sustainability that they enjoy living above their office—the morning and evening commute is literally a flight of stairs. A cerulean stairwell ascends into their private apartment above the storefront’s 12-foot ceiling. The hike establishes mental and spatial distance between work and home. “Once we go upstairs for the evening, we usually do not go back down,” says DeOld.

Upon entering the 1,200-square-foot apartment, a sense of the couple’s studied aesthetic is at the forefront. Remnants of their lives punctuate the space. There’s a silver metallic curtain in an ultra-simplistic kitchen and an almost haphazard collection of modernist furniture. Space-defining arches give the apartment “a weird personality we would have never added,” says Andersen.

deolds2Populating the airy apartment is a long blonde wood table adjacent to a glossy white fireplace, which splits the kitchen from the living room. A set of graphic prints pulls the eye into the living room, where a complementary mustard-colored chair and merlot-colored sofa face a wraparound bookshelf. It is also from the living room that the angular nature of Vinton Street is most apparent. Two windows bounce northwestern light onto the wooden floors. As with the studio below, Andersen explains, “Watching the light daily and yearly is one of the joys of the apartment.”

Renovations have been ongoing throughout the entire structure, with Andersen and DeOld first focusing on the envelope of the building, then the workspace below, and now concentrating on the apartment and exterior courtyard.

At first, much of the apartment did not work. But after rapid construction and precise wall removal, the once-segmented apartment has been opened into one clean volume for public entertaining areas and compact private spaces.

“We can’t live in a typical house,” say Andersen and DeOld. Their nearly complete live-work space mixes ephemerality with distinct design features, a continuing investigation into their notions of hybrid domestic-work tranquility.

Visit d-aarch.com for more information. OmahaHome

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100 Years and Counting

September 24, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

In 1914, the stately home at 6129 Florence Blvd. was brand new. Built by Laura D. and Edward Cackley, owner of Cackley Bros. wine and liquor house, it was a Prairie Style home for its time, brick-walled, hipped-roofed and tucked alongside what was known at the time as the
Prettiest Mile in Omaha.

The home changed hands frequently over the years, and by 1935 it was the home of U.S. Senator Edward R. Burke.

By 2010, 6129 Florence Blvd. wasn’t quite so brand new.

“When I drove up to it,” says Thomas Wood, “I looked at the listing and thought, ‘Is this the right address?’ The front door was a slab. There was no heating or air-conditioning. The plumbing was shot. A lot had to be done. Everything had to be done.”

So Wood bought it.

“It had Thom Wood written all over it,” he adds.

In July that year, Wood’s 18-year-old son, Eddie, was killed in Afghanistan. Eddie had been home on leave in June; Wood went with him to the airport on June 30. On July 5, U.S. Army officials came to Wood’s door with the news.

A former contractor, Wood was an auto dealer at the time. He’d been living in an apartment and had been considering buying a condo. He’d restored old homes in the past and swore he’d never do it again—he’d sold his tools to prove it.

But Eddie is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in North Omaha, and Wood wanted to be close. The home seemed like a project he could “kind of do on the side,” something he’d work on for six months or a year as a way to clear his head.

The day after he bought the house, Wood started working on the garage and roof, which had both collapsed. Later, snow and ice were blowing in through the house’s 60 windows. It took a couple of weeks to get the heat up and running. Wood “just kind of camped out” inside.

He gutted whole parts of 6129 Florence Blvd. He restored it from the inside out.

Today, the house’s floor plan is the same as it was 100 years ago. The entryway offers two doors—one to the family living area and one to a business office, where Edward Cackley probably met with clients and where Wood does his own office work today. The oak molding in the office—which had been walled off when Wood bought the house—was gone, and was also missing in places in the front family room. Wood rebuilt it. The pale wood floor, which Wood was once advised to replace entirely, is mostly original.

He preserved a large mantle in the front room and a built-in sideboard in the dining room as well as built-in shelves in the sunroom, some of which he moved into the office. A three-season porch off the dining room—still as it was when Wood bought the house—lets in ample light.

In the kitchen, Wood created new built-in cabinets with sides that extend from the walls, offering the illusion of individual pieces of furniture. Though the decor throughout the house is largely traditional, there are transitional touches—a stuffed chair in the sunroom, where Wood spends a lot of his time, is one. An eclectic mix of art and an oversized clock on the black-painted walls in the front room feels like another such touch.

Upstairs is the master bedroom, Wood’s daughter’s bedroom, his second son’s bedroom, the master bath and a sewing room. Wood, a longtime historical reenactor, makes period clothing—for himself, his daughter (who sometimes joins him for reenactments) and for other enthusiasts. He portrays Col. Henry Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.

“In Omaha,” he adds, “people tend to think a house is something you buy and then use it up and get rid of it. But if it’s taken care of and fixed, it can last indefinitely. You’ve got to stick with it.”

As for Wood, he’s sticking with 6129 Florence Blvd.

“I like it here,” he says. “The front door is squeaky. But a dog has to have some fleas to be reminded it’s a dog. An old house has to have squeaky doors. But it’s a solid thing.”

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Gene Leahy Mall Renovation

June 23, 2014 by

When the nearly 10-acre Central Park Mall was dedicated in 1977 (it was officially named the Gene Leahy Mall in 1992), it was considered a jewel of downtown Omaha.

“At that time there was nothing like it,” says Brook Bench, director of City of Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property. People marveled at the green space and manmade lagoon stretching from 10th to 15th Streets between Farnam and Douglas, surrounded by tall buildings and placed right in the midst of the downtown hustle and bustle.

“We have pictures of what it looked like—but it did not look like that lately,” Bench says. It’s a credit to the original planners that the mall held up for nearly four decades, he explains, but over the years, design flaws have become evident.

“The biggest challenge for the mall is that 85 percent of the ground down there is sloped. It’s a very large park, but it’s not very useable. And it’s an absolute nightmare to keep that place clean, because everything blows in and nothing goes out,” Bench says.

The sloped design that leaves the lagoon and most of the park below street level had also contributed to deterioration of the shoreline, plus walking paths presented trip hazards and multiple blind corners. And aging and weathering created inevitable deterioration of fixtures and features. But it was water quality that served as the impetus for renovation, Bench says.

“It was so silted in that the depth of the water was only this deep in places,” Bench says, spanning his hands to indicate less than a foot. The lagoon drains to the river, but has no natural inflow, he adds, and the buildup of silt was exacerbated by sustained drought two summers ago. Compounding the problem further, the integrity of the lagoon’s bed had long been compromised and the lagoon needed to be regularly fed by city water.

The much-needed, nearly $1.8 million renovation was finally kick-started by a $600,000 water quality grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Nebraska and augmented by Parks department capital improvement program (CIP) money.

“We have all our planners and our managers and we try to prioritize what needs to be done next,” Bench says of the CIP budget. “And most of the time it is a need—we need to do this, we need to fix this.”

Bench’s philosophy of preservation and maintenance before all else makes sense considering that the CIP budget must encompass the city’s hundreds of properties—community centers, pools and water playgrounds, golf courses, parks and playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts, recreational trails, dog parks, skate parks, marinas and more.

“We probably wouldn’t have done it without getting that grant because it was such a huge amount,” Bench says of the Gene Leahy Mall project. Other enhancements such as an expanded playground, public restrooms and a covered entertainment space may come later through private funding, he adds, but he sums up the most urgent priorities as “deeper, cleaner, safer.”

Work started in March 2013. A temporary road had to be built so vehicles and equipment could access the lagoon for pumping, dredging and shoreline stabilization.

“Now we have a bentonite liner, which is a clay liner, so we’re hoping to capture water and not have to keep pumping city water into it.” Bench says.

Crews also built a new trail around the lagoon and installed new lighting, he adds. The restoration was completed this spring, and visitors are immediately noticing the improvements.

“It’s more airy and so it’s not like you’re down in the mall. There’s more visibility,” Bench says. “It’s about just having a nice place where people can walk through.”

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Beebe+Runyan Beauty

November 22, 2013 by
Photography by Tom Kessler

The best in penthouse living requires the skillful acquisition of only those belongings that fit and work well within the limited parameters of one’s unit…or the selection of a designer who can magically make a space as beautiful as it is functional.

Lisa Cooper, Allied Member ASID and professional interior designer with Interiors Joan and Associates, was the point person for this stunning renovation. Starting with a Downtown Omaha space that had a strong architectural shell, majestic scale, and soothing symmetry, she transformed it into an executive-style penthouse that capitalizes on the historic and authentic features of the Beebe+Runyan Building.

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Cooper’s vision for this unique home was to give the architectural elements, furnishings, and artwork the space to breathe, thereby    highlighting the openness of the space and encouraging the appreciation of an overall theme, rather than merely a collection of individual parts and pieces.

Innovative design concepts were thoughtfully integrated into the design, with the intention of creating a luxurious, executive-style space for business entertaining or family gatherings. The goal and end result was a signature look that would translate well into a space that also functioned well for 
everyday life.

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Interiors Joan and Associates and the project’s contractor, Corey Spader of Site Construction Inc., worked meticulously to achieve the homeowner’s vision of creating an open space. Walls are kept to a minimum without losing the functionality of what walls do in defining a certain “roomness,” all while juxtaposing modern amenities against the historic elements of the building itself.

The 3,000 square-foot penthouse features polished concrete floors, original wood beams extending from the floor to the 13-foot ceilings, walnut wood floors, original brick, and custom shutters.

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The professional kitchen area was designed with custom-made walnut cabinets featuring exotic wenge veneer accents as a backdrop to showcase such amenities as an espresso maker, oversized refrigerator, Miele appliances, professional range, and titanium granite countertops that were imported from Italy. The large island and barstool seating area provides a perfect arrangement for entertaining and cocktail events. A custom-made wenge dining table with a travertine stone inset top sits below an overhead light fixture featuring rustic steel and Orleans glass, setting the perfectly elegant perch for diners to enjoy a panoramic view of the Missouri Riverfront far below.

The modern, linear fireplace serves as a focal point for the space. Crafted of polished concrete cladding and surround with quartzite tiles laid individually by hand, the fireplace cleverly disguises a mechanical shaft while providing an ambient glow for both the dining and seating area.

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The office area was resourcefully designed to do double duty as a guest room. Architectural Lighting Resources coordinated the penthouse’s lighting schematics, and the under-lit walnut flooring in the den is one example of their impeccable expertise. The space also features a pullout custom-made Murphy bed and built-in cabinetry, allowing additional room for storage of both clothes and office supplies. An adjacent bathroom boasts a hand-poured concrete ramped sink and floor-to-ceiling glass tile.

The great room area and its media components serve as a perfect gathering space for relaxing or business presentations. Ever mindful of the desire to balance convenience and functionality, located close by is a wet bar serving area featuring a nickel-hammered sink and cantilevered solid surface.

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The master bedroom features a masculine, rift red oak bed, handcrafted by local artisans, and a bird’s-eye view of CenturyLink Center and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Walnut sliding doors allow the space to be open as needed and private only when required.

A spa tub, honed basalt sinks, shellstone countertops, and floor-to-ceiling tile with ample linen storage make the master bathroom a serene retreat. In developing the master bath design, transoms were used to pierce the space with natural light. It also features a large walk-in closet with custom-made shelving and racks with a conveniently located, stackable washer and dryer.

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Finishing touches and thoughtful details give the penthouse’s industrial, masculine edge a touch of refinement. Highly polished barstools are upholstered in warm graphite. A camel-wrapped sectional with shearling black sheep pillows and a one-of-a-kind cocktail table from Mexico are just a few of the notable pieces in the project’s design.

The finished product is an upscale condo unit that is truly beautiful yet eminently livable. Once a raw empty space, this penthouse has become a spectacular living area with intricate detailing in design, deluxe furnishings, and intelligent functional 
concepts.

Transformations is a regular feature of  Omaha Home that spotlights a recent project by a local ASID interior designer. The copy and photos are provided by the designer. Homeowners’ names may be withheld for privacy.

Cozily Chic

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From the corner of her sunroom in the historic Mercer Hotel on 11th and Howard streets, Bonnie Leonhardt can see another of the six places she’s lived in downtown since 1985. “Houses scare me,” she says by way of explaining her affinity for condo living. “I like having all the people around me. You don’t even have to know them; just having them around is nice.”

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The sunroom is part of a patio she had covered about five years ago. “Now it’s where we spend all our time,” she says, referring to husband Gail and her menagerie consisting of Henri the poodle, and cats Sophie and Xena. “It’s wonderful for fireworks, and my grandkids love it when it rains.”

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The Mercer Hotel condo is one of three downtown places Bonnie and Gail have renovated over the years. They moved in 10 years ago after someone asked if they’d sell their half-block-long condo in the old Howard Street Tavern. “We loved that place; I had no intention of ever selling,” Gail says. “But my wife blurted out this huge figure, and he said okay. I about fell out of my chair.”

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Never fear, the Leonhardts have effortlessly instilled their joie de vivre into their current home. Every square inch of the renovated condo is charmingly utilized. Orchids, amaryllis, and paperwhites color the sunroom, cozy conversation areas pepper the common room, and the white walls and open layout keep the overall feel airy. No decorator is called in, “it’s just me,” Bonnie says, though she confesses that if she brings one more thing into the place, “I’ll be a star on Hoarders.” Chairs in particular are her weakness, as proven by the Louis Ghost chairs around a small dining table by the open kitchen. Gail approves of her selections. In general. “She has good taste in everything but wine,” he says.

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The couple took out the too-tight lighthouse staircase up to the second floor in favor of one with a looser spiral and wider steps. An office, bathroom, and bedroom are sectioned off with their own doors, adding a new level of privacy the previously wide-open loft lacked.

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The main changes to the downstairs are hardwood floors in place of carpeting and losing the galley layout of the kitchen. “I didn’t want to be in the kitchen by myself anymore,” Bonnie says. Now guests can chat with the chef over a simple island—a slab of marble atop a small Bombay chest. The marble is Carrara, she thinks. “I have chemo brain, and it’s just not coming to me.” Bonnie was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in April of 2012, prompting her to retire as a realtor from Pitney Bowes.

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She and Gail, CEO of North Central Rehabilitation, do still entertain a lot, though the gatherings these days are mostly small groups of very close friends. “People come in and say the place looks so European,” Bonnie notes. “French, they say, but I don’t know. Let’s call it Early Junque.”

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The description works only because an air of casual welcome pervades the look of downtown chic. It’s the type of place where you might arrive in Louboutin stilettos only to kick them off in a few minutes because you know it’s all right.