June 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tom and Dania Schleff’s beautiful, mission-inspired home in Elkhorn’s The Sanctuary is sprawling. At approximately 5,000 square feet, with four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms, the house is well set up for the couple’s visitors.

They even welcome some regular visitors who show up uninvited, bring a lot of friends, scavenge for food, and never express the least bit of gratitude for the hospitality.

“We’ve seen as many as 23 deer right in the backyard, and we see turkeys and foxes and skunks and owls,” Tom Schleff says. “We have a lot of wildlife.”

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After all, The Sanctuary is a sprawling development surrounded by the Elkhorn River, and a mature forested area. The neighborhood also contains several large preserved common areas, and natural water features.

With a wall of large, south-facing windows, and a screened three-season porch perfect for morning coffee or evening cocktails, the Schleffs relish their year-round views of wildlife and nature. Tom says he enjoys the environment so much he doesn’t mind mowing the large lot (he uses a push mower, unlike most of the neighbors).   

“We love the trees. We’re on the outer edge of town, so we’re away from the hustle and bustle,” Tom Schleff says.

“And with that, the beautiful sky, whether you see the moonrise or sunset,” Dania Schleff adds. She says The Sanctuary, located near 190th and West Center Road, is far enough from the city to be free from most light pollution. “On a clear night, when you look straight up, the sky is full of stars,” Tom says.

The interior of the house reflects the Schleffs’ love of nature as well. Houseplants bring a touch of green to many of its rooms. Accents and art commonly represent themes relating to the great outdoors. The three-season room—one of Dania’s favorite spaces—has wood-paneled walls and comfortable wicker furniture. The house is decorated in warm, earthy tones with wood trim. Much of the house is furnished with pieces from Stickley, a furniture manufacturer known for simple designs, natural materials, and colorations that emphasize the beauty of wood.

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“It’s not ornate or curvy,” Tom Schleff says, adding that the organic look of the furnishings nicely complements the home’s incredible site.

The away-from-it-all locale of the Schleff house is reminiscent of Tom Schleff’s upbringing in the Nebraska town of Morrill near the Wyoming border. By contrast, it’s a far cry from his wife’s early life. Dania Schleff, formerly Dania Inguanzo, arrived on American shores from Cuba on July 4, 1962. “The Fourth of July is a very special day for us,” she says. Her mother, three siblings, and the rest of the family relocated to Burwell, Nebraska, in January 1963.

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“There we encountered snow for the first time…it was quite the shock,” Dania says. “The Nebraska people were very welcoming, and we were immersed in the culture and the language. Here we are years later.”

Nebraska proved to be a wonderful place for the family to start a new life. Dania followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a teacher. She taught elementary-level Spanish for many years, and is now retired. Higher education was an important goal instilled in her by her mother, and Dania and her siblings all earned advanced degrees, she explains. Higher education also led to another major life event: she met her future husband while both were attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (the Schleffs continue to enthusiastically follow Husker football today).

In 1981, Tom co-founded Professional Research Consultants, an Omaha-based healthcare research and marketing firm where he now serves as principal/senior vice president.

“I work in west Omaha, and it’s very easy for me commute to work,” he says, pointing out yet another advantage of living on the outskirts of town.

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The Schleffs’ spacious home was designed with entertainment and visitors in mind. They especially enjoy hosting their family—daughter Jana and son-in-law Dustin Rose; and daughter Kendra, son-in-law Mark Kleinschmidt, and granddaughter Easton Emilia (whose middle name honors her Cuban great-grandmother). The house is welcoming and child-friendly, it also harbors one special feature especially appealing to young visitors.

“Behind a bookcase in the hall, we have a hidden staircase that leads to the upstairs level,” Diana says. “Right now we use it as a guest bedroom suite with a living room, but someday we’ll turn it into a grandkids’ fun space.”

The upstairs is a quiet area with the great room purposely set up without a television. The designated space for entertaining is in the home’s lower level, which features amenities including the TV and a bar. The home also includes a small workshop for Tom, which Dania jokingly refers to as his ‘man cave.’

The Schleffs are quick to credit the various professionals who helped them bring their ideas to life before and during the 2011 build.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Tom says. “A lot of people say that building a home is stressful, but it was the first home that we built, so maybe we were just naïve. It was very easy.”

Dania agrees, saying there was no stress or arguing involved. “It was pretty much a smooth process,” she says.

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