Tag Archives: simplicity

Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo

November 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like it is in any home with small children, the kitchen can be a flurry of activity when it comes to mealtime at the home of Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo. Brian makes PB&J while daughter Elke (4), uses the cap of a marker to transform a slice of American into its Swiss cousin. Meanwhile son Calder (7), attempts to bring a science play-set to the dining table.

“Calder, not now,” Brian says. “We’ll do science in a little while.”

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It’s a Sunday scene that mimics their weekday lives—Brian stays home with the kids while wife Jill goes to work at Hayneedle, where she is the creative director. Brian works from home as a website designer, but took this past summer off while the kids were out of school.

Hectic though it may seem, the family’s lives have simplified over the past three years. That’s when Brian ran his own company and Jill worked as the design director at Bozell. They each toiled more than 40 hours a week, leaving little family time.

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“We hated having to use the term ‘who has to pick up the kids’,’” Jill says, “because we both wanted to pick up the kids.”

“Once Calder got into kindergarten,” Brian adds, “we realized we wanted him to be able to come home after school. That’s really what kids want—they want to be at home.”

The lifestyle transition initially caused worry for Jill, who wondered about the “what ifs,” as in what if I lose my job?

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Brian took the opposite road.

“Instead of sabotaging it in your brain,” he says “why don’t we think ‘wow—look at all the positives.’”

Also easing Jill’s worry is how the couple thinks about materialism, not just from a monetary standpoint, but as a philosophy that forms their values.

“I recognized I was spending money on just stuff,” Jill says. “Like stuff for the house. I’d buy new pillows and placemats, but we didn’t need them, it was just more stuff.”

“It was retail therapy,” Brian adds.

“And I’m in retail!” Jill quips with a laugh.

One area of “stuff” the couple have carefully cultivated is their kids’ belongings. Markers, paper, and play-dough clutter the kid-sized crafting table at the end of the galley kitchen’s counters, while a play kitchen sits next to the dining table, ready to prepare any manner of made-up meals.

“A lot of the toy choices we make for them are either a) things we loved, or b) art supplies,” Brian says. “We also built a really big sand box in the backyard so they can dig and build things.”

The kids’ creative spirits rub off on their parents. Jill is a noted artist and the kids like to spend time painting with their mom.

“We work on art projects at night,” she says. “I have an easel set up for them in my studio, and they will come down and paint with me…or vice versa. Calder, specifically, will come up and ask me, ‘Mom, why aren’t you painting?’”

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Changes in school curricula over the years have influenced how this couple organizes family life.

“There’s less art, less music, less movement in school,” Jill adds, “all so they can get better test scores. Freedom of thought allows them to be creative problem-solvers.”

“Unstructured time is just as important as structured time,” Brian says.

Calder has drifted into another room by himself to work with his iPad, while Elke bounces on the small trampoline in the TV-less family room, holding onto a small attached railing while she bounces and bounces, joyfully crying “look at me!”

Aforementioned, structured time is just as important as unstructured time.

“We have a routine,” Brian says. “I make breakfast, Jill goes to work. I walk Calder to school then take Elke to preschool.”

Calder is in second grade at Swanson Elementary.  Brian comes home and has a couple of hours to work before picking up Elke, then they have a couple of hours in the afternoon before picking up Calder.

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Once school lets out, the kids get time to do what they want—playing outside or inside.  Brian and the kids make sure the house is picked up on Fridays so the family can participate in things they want to do on the weekends. Their seemingly carefree situation is the envy of their friends.

“Most of our friends are pretty laid back,” Brian says. “Most of them have said, ‘boy, I wish I could do this.’ ”

A big focus for both Brian and Jill is travel. They have taken the kids to see Jill’s extended family in upstate New York along with trips to Colorado and North Carolina. The couple hope to travel more as the kids age.

“We want to incorporate as many new experiences as possible,” Jill says.

The less is more philosophy has worked well for the family, and they encourage others not necessarily to do things their way, but in whatever way works best.

“Not everyone can work from home,” Brian admits, “but if you think about it, you can design your life the way you want.”

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Gavilon

December 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walking into the lobby of the new downtown Omaha headquarters of Gavilon, a commodities trading firm, is like walking into the future—a $44 million testament to the awesome capabilities of electronics, fiber optics, and the human mind. To the eye, the lobby, in hues of gray, appears elegant in its simplicity. Walls that reach up to a very high ceiling are bare except for the word “GAVILON” in large silver letters above the security desk. Four low-sitting, squared-off beige leather chairs trimmed in chrome in a Mid-Century Modern vibe could have come from the set of Mad Men.

To the ear, however, the building at 1331 Capitol Ave. is pure state-of-the-art. A litany of beeps breaks the lobby’s stillness as employees scan their ID badges against doors and elevators. Without a badge, no employee would get past the parking garages, which form the first two floors of the five-story building. Security is multi-layered and includes 65 cameras—a necessity that becomes obvious when looking down from the fourth floor railing onto the heart of the operation: the massive trading floor.

A 35,000-square-foot hub of activity, the trading floor is the “wow” factor of Gavilon. It occupies more than half of the third floor of the building and faces Dodge St. to the south, while the IT section takes up the rest of the room along Capitol. Hundreds of traders on headsets stand at their desks or sit at computers, buying and selling grain and fertilizer for transport on a global scale. The trading floor of Gavilon emits a continuous low hum of voices, thanks in part to the 22-foot-high ceilings and carpeting that help dampen the sound.

“We wanted a very open and a very collaborative workspace,” says Robert W. Jones, Gavilon’s chief administrative officer and the company’s point man on the project. “There are no columns on the trading floor, creating an environment that allows for real-time communication and information sharing.”

The trading floor sits on an 18-inch raised platform that “controls the cooling and ventilation management, the cable and power management with 85 miles of copper and five miles of fiber optics under the floor,” Johnson explains, clearly proud of the achievement.

When Gavilon’s 400 Omaha employees (expected to rise to 750 eventually) moved into the new global headquarters last December from their former location on the ConAgra campus, they discovered plenty of amenities. The dining area offers full-service breakfast and lunch, with an outdoor patio overlooking TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Coffee bars abound, as do conference rooms, huddle rooms for impromptu meetings, and phone rooms for privacy. The virtual environment allows employees to sign in to any computer in any room. They can also access information at home.

When asked if he might have done anything differently, Jones admits that, “I would have made the fitness center a bit bigger.” With the fifth floor finished but unfurnished in anticipation of growth, that idea might just go from virtual to reality some day.

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Culprit Cafe sticks to the basics.

January 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Espresso and bread might not sound like much of a restaurant menu, but for Culprit Cafe owner Luke Mabie, those are the only two things he needed.

When designing the menu for his new restaurant, now open at 16th and Farnam streets, Mabie turned to the basic elements of a traditional bakery and cafe.

“My palate is always looking for more with less,” says Mabie. “We wanted to bring everything back to its original element.”

While simplicity reigns supreme at Culprit, that doesn’t mean customers get just a cup of coffee and a slice of bread. Rather, Mabie aims to focus on perfecting the simplest elements of Culprit’s variety of drinks, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Culprit was inspired by Mabie’s love of classic bakeries, as well as his experiences in New York City honing his craft as a pastry chef.

“Too many people focus on having that one recipe where it’s just like, ‘Oh yes, I have this thing, nobody else has this,’” says Mabie. “You come to realize that there’s never going to be a recipe that is so special or stands out so much that everybody’s going to be jealous of it. Because it’s all about the experience as a whole.”

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Owner and pastry chef Luke Mabie is all about more taste with a simple menu.

 

You aren’t going to find novelty drinks and secret menus at Culprit Cafe—what you see is what you get, and Mabie makes sure to keep Culprit’s offerings simple yet satisfying.

Take, for example, their cappuccino. Culprit sells their cappuccinos in one size only. As Mabie explains, a cappuccino is meant to consist of one-third espresso, one-third foam, and one-third milk. If you make cappuccinos bigger, the espresso can be overpowering, so Culprit keeps their cappuccinos at their original 6 oz. size.

This thoughtfulness shows up everywhere on Culprit’s drink menu. All syrups are made in-house, so that “the customer has a closer relationship to what we do,” says Mabie. On a recent visit, the vanilla latte and drip coffee were surprisingly smooth and not too bitter, perfect for both the coffee addict and the casual sipper.

While Mabie enjoys coffee and knew he wanted it to be a fundamental part of his business, he actually had no experience with it before opening Culprit. So he took the same approach that he does to baking and focused on the craft. Mabie traveled around the Midwest, tasting different coffee roasters, eager to educate himself on coffee as much as he could, before settling on Broadway Cafe and Roasting Co. in Kansas City, Mo.

Broadway account manager Brian Phillips worked with Mabie, and was impressed by his dedication to educating himself on coffee.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

“When I got the phone call from Luke, I could tell that he was really passionate about coffee, but didn’t have the technical vocabulary,” says Phillips. “But I knew right away, when he was talking about his work, with the way that he makes bread, there was a lot of crossover.”

A quick glance at Culprit’s bakery display emphasizes the work Mabie puts into his classic baked goods. Pies and cakes at Culprit aren’t just served as slices from an hours-old display but rather as individual portions. The apple brown butter cake with a honey cinnamon buttercream frosting was basic yet satisfying, just like the rest of Culprit’s menu. Containing the perfect ratio of cake to frosting, the cake wasn’t loaded with the sugars and sweeteners found in many foods nowadays.

The bread at Culprit is just as much of a labor of love. Mabie bakes his at 3 p.m. every day, so that it’s fresh for customers who come right off of work.

The bread is more than just an accent on Culprit’s sandwiches and salads. It’s the foundation for which Mabie provides lunch fare with a variety of flavor profiles and textures, to please everyone from meat lovers to vegetarians. Once again, it’s back to the basics for Mabie.

 

Sophisticated Simplicity

September 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The newest devotee of the work done to the stately property at 38th and California streets also happens to be among its oldest—in more ways than one.

“Walking into that home again all these years later,” says Joe Barmettler, “was just pure magic.” The retired attorney was recently feted on the occasion of his 80th birthday in the home built in 1917 for his grandfather, bakery magnate Otto Barmettler. “They did a beautiful job with the house,” Barmettler adds. “I was flabbergasted at every turn.”

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“They” refers to Avery Loschen and Will Perkins, the current owners who have spent the last few years meticulously restoring the once-faded Gold Coast beauty.

Girded by towering pines on its perch atop a hillock, the home has a breathtaking view of the Downtown Omaha skyline.

And how did the Barmettler clan wrangle an invitation from all-but-perfect strangers?

Perkins (left) with Loschen and their Old English Sheepdog, Bridget.

Perkins (left) with Loschen and their Old English Sheepdog, Bridget.

“It all just kind of came together,” says Loschen with a chuckle. “We love to entertain. Our goal here with this house can be described as ‘social, social, social.’ We want to use the house for entertaining and hosting fundraisers.” Loschen, a real-estate investor, had previously spent nearly two decades at the helm of an Oregon-based nonprofit.

Since the home is still what the owners call “a work in progress,” the pair has a long list of projects slated for the property. Loschen and Perkins currently use a third-floor ballroom as storage while it awaits new life, and the three-bedroom caretaker’s house will become the studio for Perkins’ interior design practice.

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Designed by famed architect F.A. Henninger, the 10,000-square-foot Second Renaissance Revival home features Doric columns framing pavilions of multi-paned, floor-to-ceiling windows. Also among Henninger’s lasting contributions to the Omaha landscape, several of which are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, are the Havens-Page House on the northeast corner of 39th and Dodge streets, the Jewell Building (once the site of the legendary Dreamland Ballroom and now the home of Love’s Jazz and Arts Center), and the ever-popular Elmwood Park Pavilion.

Peeling away layers of history revealed more than a few surprises. Among the pair’s archeological finds were richly patinaed cookie tins bearing the logo of the Iten-Barmettler Biscuit Company. Also unearthed was a long-forgotten, boarded-up bathroom. In addition, Loschen and Perkins discovered hand-painted Arts and Crafts wallpaper borders that will be recreated in their original positions throughout the home.

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And ranking highest on the serendipity scale? That would be the story of the rather circuitous route traveled by the home’s roofing material.

“The company we hired to do the roof,” Loschen says, “stumbled upon the original Spanish tile in a salvage yard, and we were able to buy it all back. Better yet, the manufacturer is still in business and had the original molds, so we were able to fill in here and there where needed.”

Like a pair of Canada geese, Perkins and Loschen tend to migrate through their home with the changing of the seasons. The sun-drenched South Solarium is a favorite for morning coffee during spring and summer. The warm hues of the mahogany-clad library, complete with one of the home’s several fireplaces, offers a cozy respite from winter’s chill.

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The space is decorated in an eclectic mix of antique furnishings and art, including a work by David Stirling (1887-1971). The Corydon, Iowa-born landscape painter worked in Estes Park and throughout the Rocky Mountains for 50 years in the early part of the 20th century.

“It’s a deliberate blend of styles to emulate a historic look without being stiff or stuffy,” Perkins explains, defining his home’s feel. “It’s all about comfort, both for us and our guests.”

The “comfort” theme continues in the kitchen, which itself delivers a lesson in history.

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“A kitchen in a house like this,” Perkins explains, “would have never been seen by guests. All of the floors in the service areas are in maple and the public part of the house is in oak. We wanted to keep that theme of simplicity in all aspects of the kitchen, so we kept the maple.”

“Only after we found it four layers down,” Loschen quips.

A space once invisible to all but servants now bustles with conversation whenever guests arrive in the home. Quite a change from its middle-aged, frumpier years when the home served as a dormitory for the adjacent Duchesne Academy.

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Whether in the most intimate of gatherings or, as in the case of a holiday party that found over 200 people circulating with ease through the cavernous home, Loschen and Perkins have created a “social, social, social” space for entertaining. Loschen sums up the couple’s philosophy with yet another riff on the theme of hospitable yet sophisticated simplicity.

“Why have a home like this,” he muses, “unless you want to share it?”