July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Colin Conces

Jennifer Williams grew up in Houston, making Nebraska’s cold, windy winters seem interminably long. “Everything just seems to shut down,” she says wistfully, standing in the kitchen of the six-bedroom, six-bath home she shares with her family, including husband Dan, daughter Brooke, 11, and son Dawson, 9. “It’s so bare outside.”

WildWillys3Walking through the first floor of the two-story brick house, past the formal dining room, Dan’s office, the master bedroom, Brazilian cherry wood-trimmed kitchen, quaint butler’s pantry, living room, den, and a sunroom that nurtures several potted aloe plants, the thought of settling in for a long winter’s nap indoors doesn’t seem like a bad deal—until you open the back door. There, on the south lawn, the reason for Jennifer’s cold weather lament reveals itself.

A poolside paradise occupies almost one-third of the family’s three-acre property in the aptly named Hidden Valley neighborhood—accessible from an unmarked dirt road that winds behind the Sarpy County Sheriff’s building. “We spend a lot of time out here and we entertain a lot as well,” says Jennifer, standing on a spacious deck that runs along the width of the house. Peering down from the deck’s railing, she points out the hot tub and a fire pit underneath, where many a marshmallow has met its demise.

WildWillys2The clear blue shade of the salt water in the large square pool matches the color of the sky on this sun-kissed afternoon. A spiraling waterslide guarantees a splashy landing near the pool’s basketball hoop and volleyball net. Four deck jets shoot shimmering arcs of water across the pool, but the visual fun happens after the sun goes down. “The fountain jets shoot colored streams at night,” Jennifer says. “It looks like a bunch of Roman candles going off.”

The Williams family knows something about pyrotechnics. Dan owns Wild Willy’s Fireworks, headquartered in his hometown of Springfield, Nebraska. For a business that only sells merchandise from June 25-July 4 and December 29-31, Wild Willy’s does a bang-up job. “In Omaha, there are 50 tents selling fireworks this summer, and 21 of those 50 tents are ours,” says Jennifer of Dan’s “hobby.” He also owns Tighton Tools and Fasteners, and a construction company.

In August, when Dan has more time to relax, the family holds a big blowout for friends, family, and neighbors. Fireworks cover the entire yard, lighting up the sky while a band plays under a tent. Accommodating a lot of guests poses no problem.

Dozens of lounge chairs, lined up beside each other with great precision, cover the pool deck and the patio. A charming pergola, the framework of which includes interlocking wooden slats on top, offers respite from the sun. With its Oriental décor and wicker furniture accented with burgundy-colored pillows, the pergola provides a setting so relaxing, it has “don’t call me until September” written all over it.

WildWillys4Across the pool from the pergola stands a structure that resembles a modest, Hollywood-style bungalow. Its exterior mimics the main house, with two white columns supporting a brick archway. Intricately designed wrought-iron screens protect the glass doors and windows.

Looks can be deceiving.

The “bungalow” is actually a stand-alone garage, where Dan and son Dawson have bonded by building two Chevy Chevelles from scratch. Garage amenities include a full bath and an RV hookup.

The cozy grouping of a lanai, open-air bar, and decorative water fountain fit seamlessly along the outside of the garage. A large fireplace of natural stone built into the wall provides enough heat to the lanai’s living room area to extend summer well into October. The polished, deep amber-colored travertine tile floor catches the eye, as does an electrified sun—a unique wall hanging made of orange metal the Williamses found in Mexico.

A smaller sun “light” hangs above the granite-top bar on the south end of the lanai, where family members can park themselves in bar stools, sip raspberry lemonade and watch a game on cable. They may also opt to turn off the wired-in music system and listen to the soothing sounds of trickling water from the fountain.

These are the times Jennifer cherishes—quiet moments with her family, eating dinner and playing cards in their little slice of heaven. She thinks about when she and Dan met, at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the `90s, and the nearly 10 years she spent working in California before she returned to Omaha and married. As she surveys her Hidden Valley treasure, she says, almost inaudibly, “We love our life. We give thanks every day for what  we have.” OmahaHome

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