Tag Archives: spaces

The Basement That Dreams Are Made Of

October 24, 2018 by
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.

A Seasonal Step Up

October 3, 2018 by
Photography by John Gawley

This fall, there will be plenty of time to cruise the streets and check out reddening leaves and autumnal lawn displays. But you might just want to stop, roll down your windows, and take a closer look when you head by Tim Dymek’s home in the Aksarben neighborhood. 

Last fall, pumpkins and decorative gourds covetously took up the front garden bed, decorating the side of Dymek’s front walk. Yellow, pink, and orange chrysanthemums expertly played along. A fall wreath with a pop of bright orange gourds tied his small front porch to the rest of the display. More miniature gourds sprawled up and down Dymek’s steps, and gorgeous asters and mums hung lazily from oversized black pots. For Dymek, the goal of his front lawn is to provide something good to gander at. 

“When I drive around and I see somebody that has a really nice house…I’m always attracted to that,” Dymek says. “Things look much more inviting when you walk up to a house and it looks nice from the outside.”

With a change in temperature comes a change of mood. Each season, for the last decade or so, he mounts a new display. In winter, there might be evergreen and birch branches bedecking the facade. As the warmth of spring settles in, the flowers warm up too. Impatiens, begonias, and other colorful flowers all rise to greet the heat beginning in early May. 

Stroll around the back of Dymek’s home and there are more of the same eye-catching arrangements transforming his back deck into an inviting oasis. 

Tucked quietly back from the street, his partially hidden porch allows him to lounge, keep an eye on his 1-year-old German shepherd, Olga, and enjoy a cool drink with friends. White cloth patio chairs with brightly colored striped pillows intermingle with potted clusters of petunias and marigolds, arranged just the way Dymek likes it. He selects colorful items, things that will pop against the dark slate gray siding of his house. 

“I just want things to be comfortable,” he says.  

 Dymek has been making changes to his neat, tidy, eclectic home since he first purchased it more than 25 years ago. Before buying, he visited the house a few times as a party guest. When the owner decided to sell the 1940s home, she called Dymek personally to offer it to him. He bought it that same night. 

“I never looked at another house,” he says. 

When Dymek began work on the home, it was kind of a clean slate. He livened it up, giving it a cottage-like feel with cobblestone pathways and, of course, his signature lawn displays.

Dymek’s house serves as an outlet for his creativity. His background is in commercial art; it’s what he studied in college. His paintings cover the walls of his home. But within his creative lawn displays, there is also an air of fastidiousness. Colors coordinate, edges align, and everything always seems to be in just the right place. The playful but meticulous nature of his outdoor arrangements reflect the aesthetic of the rest of the home. 

“I like things to be tidy,” he says. “I guess I run kind of a tight ship.”


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

Cacophony of Curios

February 16, 2018 by
Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

In design, the “rule of thirds” posits that objects grouped in twos or fours render an ungainly sight—that three is the magic number in creating eye-pleasing arrays.

In Scott Shoemaker’s Victorian home, a few doors north of Hanscom Park, the design principle is amplified exponentially. Minimalist, his residence is not. 

Things sit on top of things that, in turn, sit on top of other things. A cacophony of curios dominates the 1891 home built by noted architect John McDonald, the man behind such local treasures as Joslyn Castle and—along with his son, Alan—the Joslyn Art Museum.

Shoemaker’s love for all things Victorian began quite by accident almost 30 years ago.

“I was in an antique store,” the longtime Omaha Symphony violinist explains, “and I found a wax cylinder record. I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked, but I knew that it was how people once listened to music. That led to the need to find a period Edison cylinder player, which led to an antique piano, which led to…well, all of this,” he says with a panoramic sweep of a hand. “It all stems from my love for music.”

Unlike the “less is more” aesthetic of the Bauhaus-inspired midcentury modern movement, where line and form are reduced to bare essentials, Shoemaker’s sitting room hosts a densely packed, dizzying collection of tchotchkes and furniture in such materials as oak, mahogany, ebonized wood, glass, porcelain, silk, metals, and velvet.

Upon entering, one’s eye is immediately drawn to a stout, beefy, Empire desk anchoring one corner of the room. In the other corner, a 19th-century portrait of an Austrian soldier stands guard above a silk Empire sofa upholstered in a traditional Napoleonic bee pattern. In yet another corner, a bust of Shakespeare fixes its gaze on the homeowner’s extensive library of century-old books on music and music theory.

“It’s been years and years of moving this object here and that object there to get everything just right,” Shoemaker says of the intricate symphony he has composed in the once-dilapidated fixer-upper bought for a pittance in the early ’90s. “But I’m finally to the point where I can sit back and enjoy it all,” he says, before quickly adding a wry qualifier of “at least for now.”

While the color palette is decidedly dark, the space is anything but foreboding as no fewer than 15 light sources—including electrical wall sconce lamp fixtures converted from the original gas—bathe the space in a cozy, inviting glow.

Shoemaker has had the opportunity to visit many of the city’s historic homes. At a little under 2,000 square feet, the footprint of his residence is dwarfed by the comparatively cavernous edifices lining 38th Street’s Gold Coast neighborhood and elsewhere. But size is not everything.

“Those places are great,” Shoemaker explains, “But they can have an almost museum-like quality to them where I’m afraid to even breathe, let alone touch anything. I don’t want to live in a museum, and I’m happy that my friends describe my place as warm, intimate, and charming.”

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Putting the Fun in Functional

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

First-time visitors to the home of Cory and Teri Wehrbein often let out an audible “wow” or “whoa” when looking up, around, and through the property. Located on an acre of land off Bay Road in rural north Plattsmouth, an area still confusing to MapQuest and GPS, the home elicits spontaneous utterances of amazement for its creative, distinctive qualities.

The white exterior of the U-shaped home catches the eye immediately, contrasting with earth-toned neighboring homes spaced generously along the street. A row of oblong windows rises above the roofline, giving the illusion of a two-story home, when, in fact, it’s a one-story design. The windows, architecturally known as clerestory (pronounced clear story), catch the sun’s morning rays from the east and fill the white and gray interior with plenty of light and warmth during the cold Nebraska winters.

Columns of untreated cedar hold up the front porch’s metal overhang, while several cedar planks lie horizontally across the front window. More than an act of whimsy, the modern, external window treatment pays homage to Cory’s roots.

“I grew up on a dairy farm between Plattsmouth and Louisville,” says Cory, who, along with his brother, owns a landscaping and design company. “Teri’s and my goal outside was to have a modern-looking farmhouse and the clerestory mimics a barn.” Looking around, Cory adds, “There’s a story to everything we designed.”

 

The Wehrbeins’ story goes back to fifth grade, when they met. They married 15 years ago and have two children Mila, 9 and Micah, 7. Their ideas mesh perfectly and the house they designed, with the help of architect Jeremy Carlson of Omaha, reflects their personality: warm, welcoming, and lots of fun.

Walking through the front door, the eye catches a family restaurant-style dining booth of light hickory wood across the large room, just off the kitchen. “One of our children’s cousins says, ‘This is like eating at Applebee’s’,” laughs Teri. The space is just as social as a neighborhood bar and grill. The kitchen, dining room, and living room encompass one area.

True to the Wehrbeins’ vision, the open-floor design with clean lines and vaulted ceilings, coupled with a modern, yet simple, décor, makes interacting with guests a breeze. Windows on three walls add extra airiness and openness to a surprisingly boundary-free interior. Heck, even the dishes, cups, and glasses sit in full view on open shelves above the sink, an idea Teri grasped long before it became a more commonly accepted convenience.

The dining booth’s cool factor is surpassed only by the fireplace, which fills the entire north wall. Built from hundreds of interlocking pieces of hickory wood treated with four different colors of stain, the fireplace resembles a giant Tetris video game. There’s a story here, too.

“We knew we didn’t want stone, so Doug Kiser [of d KISER design.construct] came up with the wood idea,” explains Teri. “He had all the pieces cut, had them all numbered, and just pieced it all together.” The fireplace won a top national award among entries from 1,600 woodworkers, and the home was featured in the 2011 American Institute of Architects’ Home Tour.

A stairway next to the fireplace, the only steps in or around this “zero entry” home, leads to an unfinished basement, which the couple plans to renovate soon.

Oh, the possibilities…

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The Art of Architecture

December 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When asked about the design principles behind his contemporary, DIY home, Joel Holm employs a more-than-pregnant pause. Finally collecting his thoughts, he borrows—intentionally or otherwise—from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“The idea,” he says, “was to do…something completely different.”

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But there is so much more than “something completely different”—as dramatic as it is in this case—about the plot of land just a few doors south of Leavenworth on 52nd Street. The home, which he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their three children, is something of a forever-in-progress DIY project for Holm. He built most of it himself. More than just a basement workshop tinkerer with a table saw and tool belt, Holm is a remodeler whose H Aesthetics business recently merged with Workshop Unknown.

The design vision for the home and everything that followed became for the Holms an exercise in 
simple living.

“I’ve often thought about why we use this material instead of that material in homebuilding,” Joel explains, “especially when it would be cheaper, friendlier to the environment, and would last a heck of a lot longer if we used what we normally think of as industrial materials—and used them in new ways.”

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Square Hardie Board panels form a blocky geometrical array on the home’s exterior. Affixed with rivets that are proudly left visible and with the material’s aquamarine hue, the home almost takes on the vibe of a vintage seafaring vessel, that of an algae-encrusted steamer or battleship. Abutting those lines and introducing a contrasting motif is corrugated, recycled roofing material in red. The material’s striated ridges disrupt the cube theme that could otherwise dominate the façade. Adding to the industrial look are heated cement floors, commercial windows, and a CMU, cinder block-style 
block foundation.

Reclaimed strips of acrylic ingeniously incorporated into the pivoting front door create a dramatic, twice-daily light show. Viewed from inside the home, the morning sun streams through the door’s acrylic insets. At night and from curbside, the home’s interior lighting hits the slats in reverse fashion. The overall effect is that of electrified neon, and it takes closer examination to discern that there is nothing more at play here than beams of filtered light.

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A passerby’s first impression may be that the boxy, 3,500 square-foot home is a volcano of “contemporary” erupting in the brick-clad charm of the surrounding Elmwood Park neighborhood. But take a step back for a wider view, and you’ll notice that the Bauhaus-ish lines of the home subtly mirror those of the Prairie-esque ones of the property next door to the south.

“We didn’t have any particular architectural influence in mind with the design of this home. When I think of what we did here, it is that this is a just a better way to build a house,” he says of the home that was showcased in the 2011 Green Omaha Coalition Tour.

“Too many homes, to us, look alike,” adds Melissa. “After awhile, traditional homes built with traditional materials all tend to be 
the same.”

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The master bedroom suite is located on the main level while the kids’ bedrooms occupy the upper level. Instead of a standard hallway in a home where nothing standard is to be expected, the children’s bedrooms are connected by a wide concourse that acts as a play and study area all their own. Oversized sliding bedroom doors provide alone time in this most open and airy of settings.

“Having it be a very open space was important to us,” says Melissa. “It’s a lot of house, especially when compared to where we came from [only blocks away]. Our previous home was very quaint and charming, but it was cut up into too many individual rooms. When company came or when we had parties in the old house, it was always that awkward sort of arrangement where four people would have to be seated in another room and then a few more would be tucked around the corner from there.”

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Initial construction of the home designed in collaboration with architect Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design + Urbanism spanned almost two years.

A walking club made up of seniors from Elmwood Tower, a nearby independent living facility, peppered Joel with questions almost daily as work progressed. “I could have talked to them all day about what we were building,” he quips. “I’m sure I lost a month in the construction process talking to them.”

“And we were both surprised how much most of them liked it,” Melissa adds. “We had thought that older folks might not get it—might not get what we were doing—because even a lot of younger people don’t get it. People either love it,” she says with a shrug, “or hate it.”

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Such major additional projects as a fireplace are planned as time allows sandwiched in between a busy schedule of school and other activities for daughters Avery (7) and Kinley (15) and son Kaleb (12).

The Holms are also thinking about getting around to doing something with a pair of “doors to nowhere,” ones  that will eventually lead to a yet-to-be-built deck in one case and balcony in the other.

Mirroring the contours of a softly sloping lot, the home has six distinct levels plus a basement. To travel from the mudroom at the rear of the house to the front door, for example, it is a gradual one-two-three ascent of gently rising levels. In between, the space is full of subtleties that serve to break up the right angles that are otherwise everywhere to be found. A mini-flight of steps leading from the living room down to the kitchen area, for example, is sliced into a wedge configuration. The continuity of the open living room/kitchen space is never completely severed, Joel explains, but is instead merely interrupted in a way that delivers a sense of “roomness” between the two.

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The centerpiece of the kitchen is a custom table crafted by Workshop Unknown. Its acrylic surface and arcing, birch-laminated legs complement the acrylic and birch found elsewhere throughout the home.

“It’s such a simple and elegant wood,” Joel says of the birch, “and it’s a lot cheaper than many of your other choices.”

Expansive walls of glass in the main living area make for wide-open vistas but took some getting used to, Melissa says, especially when the family first moved in.

“We had people showing up outside and cupping their hands against the glass to get a look inside,” she chuckles. “They must have assumed it was a dentist’s office or something like that because our home is so different from everything else around here. I’d be reading a book or watching TV, and I’d catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, and there’d by some guy making nose prints on my windows!”

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If the home was in any danger of feeling cold or sterile, works by area artists and beyond lend a warm and vibrant touch in a color palette grounded in organic ochres.

“That was also an important driving force in planning our home,” says Joel. “We knew we wanted a place where we could display a lot of art, some of it on a pretty large scale.”

Everything about the lines, forms, and spatial composition of the Holms’ place suggest an acute attention to the art of architecture and the architecture of art.

“We do consider the house a work of art,” Joel explains as Melissa nods in agreement. “It’s something of a living sculpture but a very functional one for our family.”

Choose Your Own Adventure

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ted and Wally’s. Tannenbaum Christmas Shop. The Passageway. These are staples of Omaha’s historic Old Market neighborhood. But what if you looked beyond the traditional to find the hidden heart of downtown? Do you dare venture down the road less traveled to find the secret spaces and hidden gems of the Old Market?

You are traveling down 10th Street, looking for an outdoor space to spend the warm, fall afternoon, when you stumble upon Lucile’s Old Market. This historic, two-story, brick building is wrapped with an iron gate and was originally owned by Lucile Schaaf, an architectural salvager. You remember being told there is a courtyard somewhere near her home, but all you see is a 10-foot-high brick wall.

You sneak down the alley between Jackson and Howard streets, only to find a large, locked, wooden gate. Disappointment seizes you, until you notice an iron grate in part of the brick wall. You decide to take a peek.

Terracotta landscape pavers line the three-tiered garden, and ivy consumes each wall. Grass and beautiful flowers overflow the 2,600-square-foot space, sharing occupancy with architectural pieces like two griffin wings, salvaged from the old First National Bank building. The wings form a walkway to the third level of the garden.

You hadn’t noticed, but the owner of Lucile’s, a man named Brian, has come up behind you.

“We have the only private backyard in the Old Market that includes grass and flowers. It’s just priceless; it’s literally priceless,” Brian says. He goes on to tell you that the courtyard is only accessible if you have a private event at Lucile’s. You decide to go on with your day, content with having enjoyed a view into the small paradise.

You’ve had enough of walking around, and decide that catching a movie sounds nice. Unfortunately, there is no movie theater in the Old Market. But you have heard about a tiny theater inside Fairmont Antique & Mercantile Store on 12th and Jackson streets.

Winding through stalls of vintage signs and retro clothing, you come across the theater, a walled-off section complete with marquee, deep in the heart of the store. It plays movies on Saturdays and Sundays. You recall what a friend, Alicia Smith Hollins, told you about her experience seeing Jack White play in the theater last August.

“The small, vintage venue felt more like where you should see Jack White play than a big auditorium. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen in Omaha,” says Smith Hollins, who was previously unaware that the theater existed.

After sitting through The Goonies, you are ready for a night on the town. You call up a few friends and decide to go bar-hopping. However, none of you are keen on anything rowdy or loud, so you attempt to confirm rumors about a speakeasy-type place. It’s hidden under the Indian Oven restaurant at 10th and Howard streets.

When you and your friends arrive at the restaurant, you notice that two horse statues are lit in the window. You’ve heard that this means the basement bar is making drinks that night. You enter the basement to find a cozy, newly renovated space.

“It’s a calm atmosphere that’s about celebrating the drinks and the conversations going on,” says Binoy Fernandez, the I.O. Speak’s owner and bartender. He talks with passion about how the I.O. Speak focuses on craft cocktails, drinks that go beyond standard two-ingredient mixers and that take a little longer to concoct.

Fernandez chats with your group to find out what each of you are looking for in a drink tonight. This is standard practice in the bar, he explains. Based on what customers enjoy drinking, he can provide recommendations from his list of pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-era drinks. For such special cocktails, he and other bartenders only use fresh-squeezed juice and syrups, bitters, and even ice made inhouse.

“[Old Market residents] are a great set of people that have, throughout the years, shown a willingness to try new things out, and, in a large way, to be the trendsetters of what’s happening in the Omaha community,” Fernandez explains as he makes your drinks. “Them, and the history of the Old Market, when speakeasies were running down here, make this the perfect place for my concept.”

You head home from the bar, content in knowing that you took the road less traveled. You found the Old Market’s diamonds in the rough.