Tag Archives: West Omaha

Omaha by Design

July 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When a new West Omaha Wal-Mart was being proposed in 2000, Connie Spellman remembers, someone questioned the difference between its uninspired, big-box design and a Wal-Mart with gabled parapets, lots of windows, and other visual details seen in Fort Collins, Colorado. An attorney responded that the Colorado community had adopted a set of design standards, sparking a conversation that eventually led to the 2001 establishment of Omaha by Design as an initiative of the Omaha Community Foundation.

“Omaha by Design was founded by three leading business owners in the community: Bruce Lauritzen, Ken Stinson, and John Gottschalk. They had the foresight to see that Omaha needed this capacity,” says Julie Reilly, who has been Omaha by Design’s executive director since 2015. “Without their leadership we would not have started down the path when we did and the way we did.”

Omaha by Design, now an independent nonprofit, works to improve the physical places in the community, using urban design principles and best practices as tools to address the issues of revitalization, development, environmental sustainability, and mobility while encouraging the creation of engaging and attractive places. Their projects range from the Benson-Ames Alliance, on which Omaha by Design serves as the project manager, to Public Art Omaha’s website and app.

“You need to have that voice that brings together the community, the city, developers, artists, the passionate environmental people,” says Spellman, Omaha by Design’s initial executive director. “It’s all about collaboration, engagement, and working together.”

In the beginning, it took “faith and patience,” she adds. At the time, there were no urban design professionals in city government.

“We were able to work with the community, and the developers, and everyday citizens, and the city [government] to create an urban design for the entire city,” she says.

That was the easy part.

“We learned you have to change the existing codes to implement the master plan…this is where it became more difficult. But after two years of constant negotiation, especially with the development community, the citizenry, and the city—who were wonderful—we passed all of the zoning codes and the urban design plan unanimously,” Spellman says.

Zoning code changes ultimately adopted via City Council approval were widespread. For instance, requirements for tree planting on new streets and individual lots became more stringent. A new designation, Area of Civic Importance, was created to allow for special guidelines protecting these designated areas and governing their development, from site layout to landscaping of access roads and parking. Another designation, mixed-zone, made possible walkable neighborhoods that connect to pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use centers at major intersections.

“We thought we would be lucky if we would see changes in 20 years,” Spellman says. “Well, we started seeing changes in two years.”

Since 2001, Omaha has seen neighborhoods revitalize and business districts resurrect or develop, and the people of the community now not only understand the term “urban design,” they see it firsthand, Reilly says.

“Looking at what Omaha by Design has done over the years, I think the most important thing is contributing to the concepts of urban design and policy, becoming part of the conversation for our city,” she explains. “The actual citizens and residents understand what urban design and policy best practice can bring to making their lives better in Omaha.”

The current membership of the board of directors and advisory committee represents more sectors of the community than ever, Reilly says. As a new nonprofit, “We’re still finding our way to a recipe that will allow our board of directors and our advisory committee to have the best impact for the organization but also be conscious of their volunteer contributions in terms of time and energy,” she explains. “We’re bringing people together from different sectors to discuss issues that are ultimately common between those sectors…We all want a better Omaha, a better greater metro area, a vibrant, livable city for all. Who wakes up every morning and thinks about the future of Omaha? We do.”

Visit omahabydesign.org for more information.

Julie Reilly

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

Insert Coin To Continue

May 30, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick Wittmann has always enjoyed video arcades. Ever since he was a kid, he loved their bright flashing lights, their cacophony of bells, crashes, and digital explosions. Pinball machines, in particular, were his favorite.

When he moved back to Omaha during the winter of 2009, after a few years in St. Louis, he moved into a West Omaha townhouse. When it came time to decorate the basement, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. He grew up with a pool table and poker table in his parents’ house, and he thought he might like to continue that tradition. The finished part of his approximate 700-square-foot basement, however, was not big enough to fit a pool table.

He started thinking back to his favorite part of the arcade, the pinball machines. He started his basement remodel with a 1981 Gottlieb pinball machine called Black Hole. Wittmann remembers “I got it because it was the first multiple-level playfield,” which refers to an upper level and lower level of play.

“You buy one, you’re not going to end with just one,” Wittmann recalls being warned before he bought this machine. The warning became prophetic. Within a year he obtained his second pinball machine, another Gottlieb game called Dragon.

Fast forward to 2017. Wittmann’s finished basement is now home to four pinball machines, and a driving arcade game, Rush 2049 (on the basement’s north wall). A bar-top touch screen trivia machine rests on the bar. There’s also a Nintendo Vs. System, which contains several classic games, including Super Mario Brothers and ExciteBike. On the south side of the room, a 65-inch home theater, Neo Geo game system, and standing Pac Man machines add to the home-arcade atmosphere.

To complete the arcade basement, he has a fully stocked bar with coin-operated candy dispensers filled with Peanut M&Ms.

During special occasions, Wittmann will bring out his popcorn maker.

“I wanted to create something for everybody,” Wittmann says about the variety of games in his basement. “I always liked the driving games, shooter games. But my favorite has always been pinball machines.” This philosophy has guided the cultivation of his growing collection.

At a time when Gen Xers and millennials have begun to revisit their childhood hobbies, places like Benson’s Beercade (6104 Maple St.) have gained popularity.

While kids growing up in the 1980s dreamt of having their own personal arcades, contemporary youths are spoiled with gaming options so easily accessible on smartphones. Wittmann’s basement, however, is a gathering space to replace staring down at hand-held screens.

His basement arcade is not only a haven for his generational nostalgia, it is a gathering place. The collection allows Wittmann to relive part of his youth, and he only has to walk down a flight of stairs for the experience. 

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Dying for Opiates in Omaha

October 11, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Kristen Hoffman

Getting high on injected heroin—or one of the several synthetic equivalents—does not feel like an orgasm or a dozen orgasms. That is a mythical description the average non-user appreciates, so it gets repeated. The truth is more sinister. Whether you spike a vein with melted oxy in a back alley or get your Dilaudid prescribed in-hospital, getting high on injected opiates feels like being 4 years old, falling asleep in your mother’s lap while watching your favorite movie. You feel safe, warm, satisfied, and content to do nothing. Your nervous system melts like butter with a warm tingling sensation. Emotional and physical pain dissipate. Trauma becomes meaningless. You nod off. Occasionally, you approach consciousness long enough to melt into it again. And on it goes over and over. The first time is always the best, and no matter how long you chase that first high, you will never see it again.

According to Nebraska’s Vital Statistics Department, at least 54 people died from overdosing on opiates in the state during 2015.

Anything above and beyond pain relief is experienced as a rush of dopamine to the pleasure center of the brain. Addicts will escalate the amount of opioids they consume until coming across a bad batch mixed with other drugs—such as large-animal tranquilizers—or they stumble onto an unusually pure source, take too much, and overdose. Some users accidentally consume a fatal cocktail of prescriptions with alcohol or other drugs. In recent years, overdoses involving opiates have claimed the lives of several celebrities: the musician Prince, actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, Cory Monteith, and the list goes on.

In the state of Nebraska, deaths from opiate overdoses are on the rise. According to Nebraska’s Vital Statistics Department, at least 54 people died from overdosing on opiates in the state during 2015. Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that six out of every 10 drug overdoses involve opiates of some kind. From 1999 to 2014, roughly 165,000 Americans died from opiate-related overdoses, quadrupling the numbers from previous years, according to the Center for Disease Control. The death toll is climbing. The most recent CDC estimates suggest 78 Americans overdose on opiates every day.

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The Local Frontline

Russell Janssen is a case manager at the Open Door Mission, located between Carter Lake and the Missouri River. At age 20, he was introduced to heroin and was an intravenous user until the age of 39. Off heroin now for nearly two decades, Janssen spends his days treating people with the very addiction problems he has faced and continues to battle.

“I’ve been clean for 19 and a half years and I’ll still have ‘using’ dreams,” Janssen says. “They don’t affect me the way they used to. When I first cleaned up, I would wake up in cold sweats. I’d try to go back to sleep and just couldn’t. I still wake up to this day, but now I can lay down and go back to sleep. The thought is always there, though, and never leaves us.”

Heroin addiction is powerful, Janssen says, too powerful for anyone to be completely beyond it, especially if they think they are “too smart to get hooked.” And while most drugs will provide some high with diminishing returns, heroin burns out the brain’s pleasure center and forces users to do more and more in order to “stay even” and barely functional. Serious daily side effects include nausea, abdominal pain, high agitation, muscle cramps and spasms, as well as depression and cravings leading to relapse.

“The problem with heroin is you have to have it just to maintain,” Janssen says. “It’s not just about getting high. I’d go through $150 a day just to maintain for the 12 to 14 hours that I was up. If I wanted to get high I had to go above that amount because you gotta have it.”

And “it,” per Janssen, is never the same twice. Prescription opioids are a known quality, but black market drugs are unregulated and full of pitfalls. Drugs are cut with useless fillers and other substances to increase profits for dealers: “People die because they’re doing so many weird things with it. People died in Cincinnati, Ohio, because they were mixing elephant tranquilizer in with the heroin. And even though heroin addicts know that it’s out there—and they know it’s killing people—they go looking, thinking ‘I’ve got to have it just to maintain,’ so they’re willing to take that chance.”

Janssen says the access to opioids through prescriptions has changed the face of heroin addiction, making it easier and less stigmatic to start, the biggest mistake anyone can make.

“In the `70s, heroin addicts were the lowest of the low. Even other drug users didn’t want anything to do with heroin users. That’s changed a lot today because people get prescribed opiates, and they think that if a doctor prescribes it that it can’t be harmful for them. But that’s a way that people get addicted. We’re gonna see a lot more people out (in West Omaha) getting addicted.”

Chris Eynon is an eight-year recovering meth addict, a graduate of the Miracles Treatment Program at the Siena/Francis House, and, for the last two years, its treatment coordinator. He is seeing an increase in the number of people seeking help for heroin and opioid addiction.

“We are certainly seeing an increase in the amount of applicants wanting recovery here (in Omaha),” says Eynon, who has also witnessed the dire circumstances facing East Coast communities. He spent several weeks during March in Cumberland, Maryland, a town of roughly 20,000 where he was helping a friend to start a prayer service for heroin addicts. “Out on the East Coast, (heroin addiction) is really significant there. Just in the small community of Cumberland, they have been devastated. Last year in their county they experienced 14 deaths due to overdose, and as of this year already they have experienced over 30. Most of them are high school kids, and most of them are heroin overdoses.”

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From Vietnam Vets to Millennials

The current heroin/opioid epidemic is reminiscent of the Vietnam War era when access to plentiful and pure China White heroin combined with the stress of combat, and roughly 15 percent of all enlisted men had fallen into addiction. In 1971, Operation Golden Flow (the unofficial name of widespread military drug testing campaign) was designed by the Department of Defense to “clean up” American GIs before sending them home. While many came home and never used again because the circumstances of their drug use changed drastically, others relapsed at home as black market heroin followed the demand back from Vietnam to the U.S.

A New York Times article from May 1986 reported the number of U.S. addicts at roughly 500,000 (with 200,000 in New York alone). That heroin epidemic began subsiding as popularity for crack cocaine took over the streets. Studies from the Golden Flow era laid the groundwork for much of what we know about opioid addiction in 2016.

With the widespread prevalence of opiate prescriptions, a 2011 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that today’s veterans are at an even greater risk than their earlier counterparts for heroin addiction, as the VA was treating chronic pain with prescriptions for opioids “almost exclusively.” The 2011 study reported that veterans are twice as likely to suffer accidentally fatal opioid overdoses than non-veteran civilians. Since the 2012 height of the VA’s opioid prescriptions to veterans, the federal department has made an effort to decrease opiate prescriptions in favor of more comprehensive approaches to pain management.

Over the past 10 years, the CDC has observed that heroin use among 18-25 year olds has more than doubled in the general population. According to the CDC, 90 percent of people who try heroin have tried at least one other drug first, and, an astonishing 45 percent of heroin users were addicted to prescription opioid painkillers such as Vicodin, oxycodone, oxycontin, fentanyl, Dilaudid, and morphine before switching to heroin. In 2014, prescription opioids killed more than 28,000 of the 2,000,000 Americans dependent on them. From 1999 to 2013, the amount of prescription opioids dispensed in the U.S. nearly quadrupled.

With the widespread prevalence of opiate prescriptions, a 2011 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that today’s veterans are at an even greater risk than their earlier counterparts for heroin addiction, as the VA was treating chronic pain with prescriptions for opioids “almost exclusively.”

A May 2014 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains: “It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin. The consequences of this abuse have been devastating and are on the rise.”

Across Socioeconomic Divisions

While the Midwest currently sees fewer opiate overdoses than the coasts, that danger is growing across all socioeconomic segments of the population.

Janssen, Eynon, and several recovering addicts who spoke with Omaha Magazine on the condition of anonymity agreed that teens, the affluent, insured and educated are at risk—because when experimenting with opioid pills, youths often hold the false assumption that nothing bad can happen with drugs prescribed by a doctor, even if those pills were obtained without permission.

“They might steal them from a medicine cabinet or have their own prescription at some point,” Eynon says, echoing similar points made by the other counselors that middle-class white people with many relatives, each with several doctors, might find themselves practically surrounded by easily obtained and occasionally leftover prescriptions. “In my opinion, we will see a lot of West Omaha-type addicts. Prescription medication is usually attained through insurance coverage. In order to have insurance, you would need a job, which falls more into the ‘rich kid’ category.”

Sara B. comes from the less affluent segment of recovering addicts. A fast-talking 32-year-old with attention deficit disorder, also a mother of seven, she signed over the rights to her children to her counselor for their protection while she sought help. She is working hard in order to maintain a relationship with her children.

“I started because people around me, family members were doing it,” says Sara, who has been clean now for the better part of a decade. She still has to guard against relapse, maintaining sobriety for her children as well as her health. She is wary of family who are still actively using. “Which is hard because you have to stay away from users when you get clean if you want to stay clean,” she says. “It’s too easy to fall back.”

Justin Schwope is a 26-year-old recovering addict with four years of sobriety under Russell Janssen’s wing at Open Door. His habit of choice was a speedball, heroin and meth, though other stimulants can be substituted.

“I’d been messing with drugs since I was 16 and my grandparents died,” Schwope says. “I wasn’t able to get clean until I tried kill myself with Lipitor and woke up in Creighton three days later and then transferred to Lasting Hope.”

All sources interviewed by Omaha Magazine agreed that the transition from pure opiates to street junk is the greatest threat to the health and welfare of addicts. When the easy access to opiates runs out, addicts look elsewhere risking everything just to stay even, and even to get that high.

“In Maryland apparently, there was a mass supply of prescription drugs or ‘pill farms’ that were seized and, as a result, (users) turned to heroin, which is cheaper and easily available,” Eynon says. “They have an addiction to feed and, unfortunately, the heroin is not like prescription drugs which are regulated…and the pills are always consistent in strength and dose amounts. When they switch to heroin, they have no idea of the potency or what it might be laced with.”

Increased Regulatory Oversight

Tragic stories of opiate overdoses and abuse have become too commonplace.

After Omaha resident Carrie Howard suffered a severe car accident, she began taking prescription painkillers. The pills led to an addiction that culminated in a fatal overdose in 2009. The legacy of her untimely death made waves through Nebraska’s legislature. Carrie’s mother is former senator Gwen Howard; her sister is Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha.

The elder Howard championed legislation that created a prescription painkiller monitoring program in 2011. But the program fell short in many respects. Sara Howard continued the family’s fight for improved regulatory oversight of prescribed opiates when she introduced LB 471 to the state’s unicameral.

Upon receiving first-round approval in January 2016, several senators recounted their own families’ close encounters with opiate addiction. Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha revealed that one of his own relatives had suffered from a prescription painkiller addiction, an addiction sustained by shopping around different doctors and pharmacies. When the prescriptions dried up, Lindstrom’s relative turned to heroin.

The unicameral finally approved LB 471 in February 2016. It comes into effect in the new year. LB 471 will require pharmacies to report when prescriptions are filled, and would allow pharmacists to check records of past prescriptions to avoid abuse. There are two phases to this. Beginning January 1, 2017, all prescriptions of controlled substances will be reported to the prescription drug monitoring program. Beginning January 2018, all prescriptions will be reported.

A few weeks prior to Nebraska approving LB 471, President Barack Obama had announced that $1.1 billion would be made available for expanded opiate-related treatment opportunities across the country. According to a statement from the White House, “More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes.”

Already in the previous year, Nebraska received two significant grants to combat statewide opioid-related abuse: one for more than $3 million over four years from the CDC for prescription drug overdose prevention, the other for $500,000 over two years from the Department of Justice.

The funding comes at a pivotal moment. America is experiencing a perfect storm for an opioid epidemic. War, health care in crisis, addiction, easy access, and low employment are among the many factors forcing opioids into the drug user’s spotlight. Once, only the lowest drug users shot junk. Today, if not tomorrow, someone you love might be the next junkie you meet.

To get help for substance abuse problems, call: 1-800-662-HELP.

Additional reporting contributed by Doug Meigs.

For more information about the epidemic, as told by a recovering addict from suburban West Omaha, read: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/10/my-battle-with-opiates/ 

Russell Janssen, case manager at Open Door Mission.

Russell Janssen, case manager at Open Door Mission.

Winning at Wine

November 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a spacious home in West Omaha live a pair of wine lovers.

“I open a bottle while I am cooking, and then my husband comes home and we have a glass with dinner,” says the lady of the house. “He will often have two glasses with dinner. I love to cook and pair wine with food.”

Along with a love of fermented grapes, the couple have a love of travel, and that wanderlust has led to the purchase of a lot of wine.

“We have a trip in November to Santa Monica,” the homeowner says. “We’re in Napa or somewhere that we can buy wine at least twice a year.”

They also belong to nine wine clubs, which ship the couple’s favorite drink a couple of times a year. Thus the bottles began to stack up. The homeowners bought a wine fridge, then graduated to a rack that held 400 cabernets, pinots, and Burgundies. They kept accumulating.

“Then we built this,” the homeowner says, spreading her hands in a shy “voila” gesture.

“This” refers to a basement cellar, a temperature-controlled private room with glass doors leading to a dizzying array of dark glass vessels stacked neatly on top of one another. There are no whites inside…the grigios and chardonnays fill two wine fridges in the basement kitchen.

Cellars are becoming a popular home feature, according to Nancy Pesavento, ASID, of Interiors Joan and Associates. Pesavento says there were many factors to be decided in creating this space.

“When a client wants to do a wine cellar we need to understand the extent to which they want to go. Are they collectors, or do they just want an architectural feature in their home? We need to know how it is going to be used. We have seen extensive wine cellars like this that are temperature controlled, and we have seen built-in racks for displaying just a few bottles. Some people like cellars that you can entertain in.”

“We originally wanted it kind of dungeony-looking,” the homeowner says. “We wanted it to be dark and heavy, but then Kent and Nancy convinced us otherwise.”

“I actually designed a wine cellar to be in that corner where the bar is, and (the homeowners) say we’d like to have more of a cave feel, moving it away from the bar,” says Kent Therkelsen of KRT Construction. “In the end, it is maybe like more of what you see at a winery.”

The cavernous expanse became lighter by incorporating grey stone throughout—from the fireplace to the walls and all the way around the room. Wood enclaves broke up the wall to create a warmer feeling while highlighting a non-standard-sized shuffleboard table sitting between them.

“I was trying to highlight the stone, and when I had the original drawings it looked like it was too much, so I said ‘how about some display cabinets?’” Therkelsen says.

The wood isn’t exactly cherry…or oak…

“It was a custom stain that they created for us,” the homeowner says proudly. “I wanted a hint of red, but not too much. I wanted a hint of brown, but not too much.”

The actual wood is birch, stained reddish-brownish.

The hard edges of the rocks were broken up with geometry in the form of arches lit with a series of two-inch lights.

“Most lower levels are boxes,” says Pesavento. “I think bringing in a soft element like the arch gives it an architectural element and breaks up the boxiness of it. She has a very traditional interior. By stoning those arches, it gave her the traditional elements she wanted.”

The homeowner realized the usefulness of a basement kitchen last year after restoring her main floor cooking area.

“I realized I don’t really need a stovetop, I just need an oven, a fridge, and a microwave,” the homeowner says. “And a dishwasher.”

This basement is designed for entertaining, with four high stools at the kitchen counter where people can converse while one creates culinary delights, and a comfortable seating area with a television for others.

The basement also features such furniture as a couch upholstered in a buff-shaded leather and throw pillows with eggplant-colored (some might say shiraz-hued) accents.  An overstuffed chair and a half also features this purple-red tint.

“It’s my favorite color,” the homeowner says. “I really wanted to incorporate it.”

Also bringing in a touch of claret “color” without being claret-colored is the table and stools created from wine barrel staves.

“The thing is that every wine cellar is different, I’ve never built two the same,” says Therkelsen. “They’re a one-of-a-kind thing that is really defined by size limitation, space limitation, the kind of wine people want to store. There’s a uniqueness to it.”

Visit interiorsbyjoan.com and krtconstruction.com to learn more.

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Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

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To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

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The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

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Paula and Jim Wilson

July 31, 2015 by
Photography by Colin Conces

This article published in July/August 2015 Omaha Home.

 

It all started when Omaha’s Advanced Design & Construction set up temporary residence in Jim and Paula Wilson’s west Omaha neighborhood, where the couple had their own home built in 1997. Some neighbors contracted ADC, a custom design-build company, for a remodeling project, and the Wilsons were curious.

Naturally, when the finished project turned up on a remodel showcase tour in 2013, the Wilsons popped over to see the results.

In a small term, inspiration struck.

“When you live in a house for a very long time, even though it’s been 14 or 15 years and it’s old, you still think of it as your new house,” Paula says. “But no one else does. It gets dated.”

Appliances wear out. Styles change. Kitchens become mishmashes of ’90s fronts and current surfaces. Traditional furniture feels heavy.

Jim realized there were two options: Sell everything as it was and move to a new neighborhood—or city—or update what they had.

They loved their neighborhood. They looked for another one like it and couldn’t find a community that felt better. The choice was clear.

The Wilsons called ADC.

In its embryonic phase, the project was ambitious. The Wilsons proposed moving a wall that separates the living and dining room from their home’s kitchen, plus a separate addition to the house, but from a functional standpoint, the original plan wasn’t feasible. A lot of kitchen storage would’ve been lost in the process of re-creating something more open but still structurally sound, and in the end, a smaller scope offered greater possibility.

“We sit down and talk to [homeowners] and find out their wishes and then take those wishes, look at the structure, the systems, the adjoining rooms and see what the options are,” says Casey Illian, a partner at ADC. “Once we realize what can and can’t happen, we start plugging everything into a floor plan.”

In the case of the Wilsons’ home, the plan became simple: Optimize the functionality of the existing space, update the furnishings and appliances, and “make it pretty,” Illian said.

To the last end, ADC brought Interior Design Group’s Anita Wiechman into the project. She started in the kitchen, where she demonstrated for the Wilsons the most efficient number of steps in the classic work triangle—counter to stovetop to sink—to best utilize that space. Now a large, single-piece granite countertop flows along one side of the kitchen across from a fully vented-out gas range with a grill and—at Jim’s request—a wall-mounted pot filler. Every cabinet space has been made efficient, too, with pullout shelves so the Wilsons don’t have to bend down looking for dishes or storage containers lost at the back.

The kitchen’s original oak flooring—and the living room’s carpet—were torn out and replaced with more modern, wide-plank hickory flooring. In several key areas, Weichman designed colorful geometric rugs to set the tone and tie the spaces together; traditional furnishings in each room were replaced with fresher transitional pieces. In the living room, a sleek floor-to-ceiling tiled mantel took the place of library paneling, with a clean-burning liner fireplace at the center.

Off the entryway, a half-bath boasts textured, hand-painted wallpaper from Lincoln’s Vahallan, complemented by a vessel sink and thick raw-edge black granite countertop. The bathroom originally had a bathtub—one that got used, Paula says, only when she turned on the faucet to rinse out the dust.

ADC removed the tub and gave the Wilsons extra storage space in the room behind—thus giving Jim main-level closet space he hadn’t had in years. (Paula had the main-floor space; Jim had a basement closet.)

“Jim Wilson got his closet back,” he beams.

Paula got a more efficient closet, too, with segmented shoe storage and pull-down hanging bars that made utilizing floor-to-ceiling space possible. Between the closets, the master bath got a new soaker tub instead of a rarely-used whirlpool tub, and a more traditional shower became a zero-entry shower with a subtly sloped easy-drain floor and rain showerhead. In the master bedroom, the Wilson’s Ethan Allen bed sports new linens.

There’s a lot of pretty in the Wilsons’ new space—pretty and practical. The fridge is tucked in a flat-panel cabinet. The dining table is substantial but resistant to grandkids’ spills. Mounted angled outlets don’t interrupt backsplashes and designs with holes.

“That’s really the name of the game—getting the biggest bang for your buck,” Wiechman adds.

Jim put it even more simply.

“We really enjoy it a lot,” he says.

Livable Luxury

January 5, 2015 by
Photography by Tom Kessler

As the seasons change, the weather necessitates a wardrobe overhaul. We go from shorts and sandals to sweaters and scarves, adapting to the new normal.  The seasons of our lives also change, taking us from life as a twosome to life with small children, then we live with grown children and finally come full circle to life as a twosome again.

This West Omaha family recognized a change in the seasons of their lives, and instead of requiring their home to continue to work for them like an impractical wardrobe…they made a move.


McNeil Company Builders was entrusted with the task of building this couple’s dream home, a place where they could be comfortably cocooned in understated luxury, where they could easily entertain, and where their grown children could still call home. When the project grew in scale, McNeil Company Builders called upon Kris Patton, ASID, professional interior designer with Interiors Joan and Associates to guide these clients through the building process, assisting with selections, specifications, and furnishings.

“The team of draftsmen and architectural specialists at McNeil and Company is amazingly talented,” says Patton. “Their attention to detail and the way they take their time to ensure that every last element is executed perfectly is impeccable. It makes the process so seamless for those of us in the industry…and so enjoyable for our clients.”

Together, they produced a home with a much more open floor plan than what the client had in their current home. Space was made for a black, lacquered baby grand piano, a wine room fit for the likes of the most sophisticated sommelier, and an indoor sports court…complete with a scoreboard, naturally. Outside, the home boasts a full volleyball court, pool, and incredible outdoor kitchen.

The home has a neutral shell; Patton assembled a mix of stains, finishes, textures and architectural details to comprise a pleasing slate from which to build the textural design elements. A warm color palette of putty, stingray, and tobacco is splashed with unexpected accents of charcoal, turquoise, ruby, cerulean, and citron.


Patton selected natural materials for many of the hard surfaces. Autumn leaf, brushed cosmos, and Alaskan white granites; greenstone countertops, wood circular accent tiles in the wine room floor, a mitered quartz firebox and hearth in the lower level, grasscloth wallcovering, and glass—lots of glass—used to accent everything from backsplashes to light fixtures with a bit of glimmer.

A clever combination of metals and finishes used in the plumbing fixtures and hardware creates an eclectic, acquired look throughout the home. Brushed nickel, stainless steel, accents of fresh gold, some chrome, and polished nickel were all used in this instance, separated only by space. The lighting fixtures in the home represent an exquisite collection of unique art pieces, and like the plumbing and hardware selections, a mix of metals creates a sensational look for the lighting. Glass discs suspended from the dinette fixture, pendants with colored glass and a textured glass center above the lower level bar area, and an alabaster fixture in the wine room are just a few of the notable lighting features.

The furnishings are upholstered in velvety fabrics that beg you to touch them; the cabinetry is finished with a grayed tobacco hue that is rich and inviting. The accessories adorning the home are sculptural and interesting. Every room boasts a custom window treatment, and the draperies feature textural patterned fabrics, nailhead detail, and distinctive hardware.

Such notable details as complimentary stone bullnose accenting each step in the home, wood beams, and gorgeous wallcoverings add to the home’s understated elegance. A perfect example of what can be achieved when a project is completed to the finish line. Every inch in this home was well thought out.

The end result? A home this family can settle in to…livable luxury, casual elegance, sensational without being ostentatious.

September 29, 2014 by and
Photography by Sarah Lemke

On a homeowner’s association website tucked away under the seventh tab marked “Contact Us” is an innocuous picture of a United States Postal Service van making its first mail delivery in 2008 to a new neighborhood in postal zip code 68130.

Six years later, the mailman delivers letters to some of Nebraska’s most important movers and shakers. Fortune 500 CEO’s, an NFL football star, and top doctors live along tree-lined boulevards and winding cul-de-sacs in the area known as Legacy. It’s a luxury community located at South 173rd Street just off West Center Road.

A proximity to all that is grand gives Legacy residents a taste of the good life, whether they fancy a lakeside stroll or a spin through a shopper’s paradise.

The tranquil, yet inviting area, all roughly 70 lots of it, was once home to a grand mansion nestled among 100 wooded acres belonging to Crossroads developer John A Wiebe.

It’s not a stretch to say that Wiebe left his own legacy, the gift of nature’s beauty in the form of trees and a lake, to the future residents of Omaha’s Legacy neighborhood.

“He had his own private airstrip and his own private lake, so we benefitted from the pre-existing, dammed lake,” says the president of the Legacy Homeowners  Association, Greg Scaglione. “He also planted all of these trees on the perimeter of his lot, so we benefitted from that” as well.

Scaglione appreciates the privacy and beauty that the older trees provide. “The beauty of having those existing 20-year-old trees to then build your house behind, you don’t really have that in
Omaha that frequently.”

He also points to the interesting design created by developer Jeff Johnson of the Cormac Company. “Professional office buildings are contiguous to our neighborhood. That’s the way the developer wanted it. It’s called high density,” he says. “Once you get on the other side of the hill, you don’t see any of that. You don’t see Life Time Fitness. You don’t see West Center Road. You don’t see the office buildings. It’s like all of a sudden you’re in this little community.”

The Wiebe Reservoir is a popular spot for fishing, and bass, bluegill, and crappie are stocked by the association. “The neighbors are very engaging. You’ll go down to the lake and there will be families fishing. The whole family is out there with the rods
and reels,” he says.

The residents meet annually at a pot-luck picnic by the lake. But impromptu gatherings happen frequently. “Everyone is very welcoming. There’s a lot of parties,” Scaglione says.

With the neighborhood’s proximity to Zorinsky Lake and its trails, it is not uncommon to spot wild turkeys, deer, and the occasional butterfly or two. But should you decide to walk just a few minutes toward West Center Road, you can snag a Venti Latte from your favorite barista.

“The uniqueness of the neighborhood is that you feel like you live in the country amongst trees,” says Sallie Elliott, a Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Ambassador and a Legacy resident. You live away from the city, but you can walk to Starbucks. You’re within two minutes of everything. You can walk everywhere.”  She enjoys dining at Baby Blue Sushi Sake Grille and frequents her favorite design store, Pearson & Company, located in the adjoining Shops of Legacy, an area of high-end specialty stores. “It has unique furniture accessories for staging, new construction, and my personal home,” the real estate professional explains.

Elliott says the spacious acre-plus lots at Legacy are unique to Omaha. “There’s a mix of styles in the neighborhood, from Mediterranean to French to more contemporary lines.”

The homes, all upwards of $1 million properties, vary in construction between brick and stone. “Real stone is classic and timeless,” Elliott says. “I’ve mixed stone and brick to try to be more classic.”

As a testament to the area’s thriving development, Scaglione says there are only two or three available lots left. CEO’s of Omaha, take note.

Elliott’s favorite part of living at Legacy is walking along the Zorinsky trail and seeing her neighbors. “Everybody’s out walking. With a big lot like this, you are separated from your neighbors and you don’t see them as much…unless you’re out walking.”

Legacy Homeowners Association Secretary Clay Cox says that he loves the great schools and opportunities available in the area.

“My son started working at Immanuel’s Pacific Springs Retirement Community when he was 14, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for him to learn responsibility and the value of a dollar and the value of hard work.”

He also appreciates his neighbors. “We watch out for each other’s kids and property. We love that our kids can go out to bike, ride, or fish and feel safe,” Cox says.

“It’s active,” says Scaglione. “People are active in their business. They’re active in their recreational lives, so it’s a lively community. It’s not a sleepy community.”

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Michael Lyon

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years singing opera, this transplanted Brit finds a niche in American standards.

He studied with some of the world’s finest opera coaches and vocal teachers; sang the lead in famous operas like Tosca, La Bohéme, Aida, Pagliacci, and Madame Butterfly; performed as soloist for oratorios and masses by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Verdi; and graced the main stage at Carnegie Hall as a featured soloist.

So why is Michael Lyon singing cover songs of Sinatra, Bennett, and Bublé for the Thursday-evening crowd at Ryan’s Bistro? He’s living his dream—a dream he has re-formed many times over.

“It took me until my mid-50s to understand that what I am is a performer,” says the singer in his West Omaha home. And what a performer he is!

Dressed casually in black, Lyon sings the standards with the air and confidence of a seasoned professional. His beautiful tenor voice carries a rich tone, but he holds back on the power his voice can reach. He hits high notes with ease and in tune. He’s smooth but never smarmy and keeps the schmaltz at bay. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks; he has the talent and training to let the music and lyrics do the talking.

 “…I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.”

“We get people in here who think they’re listening to a recording, a sound system,” says Julia Stein, bar manager at Ryan’s. “He’s awesome. We love him here.”

Is this what Lyon envisioned over 30 years ago when he set out to be a great opera singer? No. Is he satisfied with his life as Omaha’s go-to tenor for special events? “Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I have become very adept at surviving in this world.”

Lyon’s world began in England’s county of Cornwall, where he grew up in a small dairy farming community. Neither parent displayed any musical abilities, so when their little son opened his mouth and made a beautiful sound, the only nurturing of his talent came from the school choir…until he got kicked out at age 10 for “goofing around.”

Lyon eventually channeled his feistiness into a single-mindedness that paved the way for his future. When he was about 20, he listened to a recording of an Italian opera “and I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.” And so he did.

With newfound purpose, Lyon won a position with the Bristol Opera Company. Within a year and still without vocal training, he secured the lead in a production—as a baritone. “I then decided that I had to study seriously, which I did, and won several competitions,” explains Lyon.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said…’How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Flush with confidence in his talent, Lyon emigrated in 1981 to Los Angeles, where he continued his vocal studies. He credits opera star Baldo dal Ponte for “giving me my high notes” and transforming him into a tenor. In 1984, Lyon met his future wife at an opera workshop. He and Kristin, an Omaha native, spent the next decade and a half performing in L.A.’s numerous opera and music theatre venues. They were at home on the stage and in demand, but singing didn’t pay the rent. The bottom fell out when both lost their day jobs within a month of each other.

Michael, Kristin, and son Max relocated to Omaha in 2000. With limited opportunities to pursue opera here, Michael and Kristin began a successful real estate career. Michael also teamed up with KIOS-FM as the local host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 5-10 a.m.

But Lyon, who retains only a tinge of an accent from his native England, knew his whole identity was wrapped up in singing. After an eight-year hiatus, he bought a sound system and remade himself into “a hip guy.” Word-of-mouth brought success quickly.

“An events planner at Stokes [Grill & Bar] told me about Michael,” says Chris Blumkin, a management consultant and wife of Ron Blumkin, the president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We went to hear him at the Zin Room downtown. He has a genuine, warm way about him. We’ve hired him five times for corporate and family events.”

Lyon has never lost sight of who he is. That’s why sideways compliments from customers don’t faze him.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said, ‘You’re so great. How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Railcar Modern American Kitchen

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jared Clarke can just as likely tell you how to make a great-tasting vinaigrette as he can the science behind why the mixture is called an emulsion and why oil floats on top of vinegar.

An experienced restaurant chef, Clarke has degrees in both culinary arts and culinology. The latter field focuses on the science of food, and culinologists are equally familiar with beakers and test tubes as they are with pots and pans. While many culinologists work in food-product development, research, quality control, and other roles in laboratories and government agencies, Clarke chose restaurants because of his passion for food and love of cooking.20130517_bs_6706_web

The 34-year-old Fairbury, Neb., native is chef-owner of Railcar Modern American Kitchen, which opened in December near 144th and Blondo streets. Its name and railcar era-inspired decor is a nod to the railroads that were key to Omaha’s growth and development.

Clarke envisioned a restaurant inspired by the dining cars prevalent during the golden age of rail travel. The result is a cozy yet elegant space with wood accents, warm paint colors, vintage chandeliers, and a variety of train memorabilia. Industrial elements such as open ceilings with exposed ductwork lend a modern touch to the dining room.20130517_bs_6709_web

The restaurant sources several products from local food producers, including Little Red Barn Beef, Jisa Farmstead Cheese, Truebridge Foods, and Le Quartier Baking Company. Railcar’s eclectic menu features fresh takes on classics.

“What I try to do is modern comfort food,” Clarke says. “Everything’s from scratch.”

Though hearty meat-and-potato entrees like the Woodford Reserve Tenderloin Medallions and Stout Braised Short Ribs are popular, there are several dishes for fans of lighter fare. When creating the menu, Clarke wanted to include options for a wide variety of guests, from vegetarians to gluten-free customers. A vegetarian-friendly cauliflower hash features cauliflower instead of potatoes, which means it’s also suitable for people watching their carbs.20130517_bs_6699_web

Customer satisfaction has been a part of Clarke’s mission since his first restaurant job at Chili’s in 1998. Just six weeks into the job, he was asked to help train new employees how to cook. In 2005, he moved to Chicago and worked as an executive chef for five years.

“It was pretty awesome,” he says. “I love Chicago. I’m a huge Cubs fan, and the dining scene is really amazing.”20130517_bs_6685_web

Expecting their second child, he and his wife returned to Nebraska to be closer to family. Clarke was a partner in the locally owned Blue Agave, where he developed the menu and headed up the kitchen. A few months after Blue Agave closed in summer 2012, he launched Railcar. With Omaha home to Union Pacific headquarters, he thought his concept would be a perfect fit.

What hasn’t been ideal, however, is a road-widening project at the intersection near his restaurant. Traffic on portions of Blondo Street has been detoured while crews move utilities and do other work.20130517_bs_6672_web

“It’s hard to say if it’s hurting us,” Clarke said, “but it has slowed down our growth.”

Despite inconveniences caused by construction work, which is expected to continue into fall, Clarke plans to keep chugging away and welcoming diners all aboard at Railcar.

Railcar Modern American Kitchen
1814 N. 144th St.
402-493-4743
railcaromaha.com