Jeanette Solberg is enjoying her newly renovated kitchen by making a Black Forest birthday cake for her husband, Oystein Solberg, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College, and their two children, 6-year-old Olive and 5-year-old Magnus.
“Everything I know I learned from him—cooking wise,” Jeanette remarks.
A red KitchenAid mixer quietly works batter under two invisibly supported wooden shelves holding wine glasses and coffee mugs. Several can lights are turned off as midday winter light illuminates the space from three windows and a new sliding glass door that offer views into a spacious backyard and home garden. Plentiful white countertops match white tiled backsplash.
Elements of modern design—including simple lines, a multi-use open floor plan, a neutral color palette, and functional furniture—abound in the new space. Tucked in are features of Scandinavia’s unique style, an international trend that has become widely recognized through power-brands like Ikea.
“You just type in Scandinavian kitchen, and it pulls up exactly what you want,” says Jeanette, who designed the interior herself.
The space is eight months and a far cry from the 1960s lightless, walled-in, narrow, counter-sparse galley kitchen the multi-level house once displayed.
“We thought, ‘how do we use this space, and how do we entertain?’” Oystein says. “We like having people over—for dinner, for anything.”
The kitchen now follows the triangle rule, with the sink, oven, and stove in an accessible layout. As frequent entertainers, the Oysteins noticed many dinner parties end up with a nicely set dining table that sits empty while everyone crowds in the kitchen. They decided to put the stove on their wide island to facilitate conversation.
“We wanted to be able to talk easily while cooking,” Oystein says.
The refrigerator proved to be the most difficult appliance for the couple, who went back and forth over details for weeks. Oystein wanted a KitchenAid, Jeanette insisted a more basic model would keep the food just as cool.
“He was very particular,” Jeanette says. “I won, but he got everything else.”
That includes an induction-powered stove and 30-inch convection oven from KitchenAid. While not common in the United States, Oystein is familiar with the induction stove through his career. Oystein chose this stove for its efficient use of energy and precision heating that can melt chocolate without a double boiler.
“We splurged on a few items,” Jeanette says, “You just have to figure out what’s important.”
Two such luxuries, a distinctive blue fabric, and a natural wood coffee table with hidden storage for the children’s toys, both show off the Solberg’s design aesthetic.
“We wanted more prep space since we do cook a lot, and didn’t want to see storage,” says Jeanette. “He doesn’t like when there’s too much clutter, too much noise, or too many people.”
“It drives me bonkers,” Oystein confirms.
The dark blue accent for the island, pantry, and stools paired with varying shades for other furniture and rugs in the dining and living areas, lend a quiet cohesion to three individual spaces in the open layout.
“It gives me a feeling of calmness and serenity,” Oystein says.
Storage under the island and sink, and an expanded pantry, give a welcoming sparseness to the space and highlight the patterned pieces, natural wood dining table, and a brightly colored abstract painting. The Solbergs picked it out from the studio of friend, fellow chef, and painter Mike Rhodes, who gifted it to them after attending a New Year’s party at the Solbergs.
“We will add as things become personal and have some sort of value,” Jeanette says. “We’re not in a hurry.”
The Solbergs moved into the house in September 2013, choosing it based on location, school district, and its good bones. It is five minutes from where Omaha native Jeanette grew up in Oakdale, and 10 hours and 35 minutes (by air) from The Freedom Pub in Paris where the couple met.
Jeanette was a master’s student at the American University of Paris and Oystein was head chef for the Royal Embassy of Norway in Paris. He had graduated from Steinkjer VGS near his parent’s farm in Steinkjer, Norway, with an associate’s degree in culinary arts, then cooked his way across the country before landing a great opportunity at the Royal Embassy.
Jeanette knew the bartender at The Freedom and Oystein liked to play pool at the popular expat spot. The two met during the broadcast of the Croatia vs. Brazil World Cup match, eventually becoming one of three now-married couples from Jeanette’s graduating class who gathered at the bar.
“If you need a husband, go to Paris, go to that bar, and you’ll find him,” she says.
Once the Solbergs began talking about children they gravitated toward Omaha.
“Food’s food, it’s not the hardest to adjust to new countries,” Oystein says. “The kitchen banter is the same here as anywhere.”
The Solbergs moved to the Midwest, with Oystein working at Delice, V. Mertz, and Shadow Ridge Country Club before accepting a position as chef instructor at Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in 2009. Jeanette teaches French at her alma mater, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.
Over the past decade Oystein has brought his value for locally sourced ingredients that capture the flavors of the season to MCC, developing a partnership between the culinary institute and the horticulture department located 10 feet away from the kitchen. Oystein oversees the Sage Student Bistro where students practice providing fine dining to Omaha customers.
“I was used to working with apprentices, so I had already been teaching in a way,” Oystein says.
Oystein started as the institute was moving into its new building, and taught as renovations were completed last summer to add versatile classroom spaces and intimacy. The Solbergs have plenty of advice for Omahans ready to renovate with the power of “sweat equity.”
“We knew you double [the time] and add more to your budget,” Jeanette says. “Depending on your tastes you are going to spend more money.”
Besides a new island, additional counter space, additional furniture, an expanded pantry, sliding door, all-wood floors, and the sticker-shock of a functional faucet, Oystein has another cost to consider when renovating a kitchen.
“Have a plan for eating,” he says. “We had every single microwavable frozen meal from Trader Joe’s microwaved in the garage.”
The new kitchen completes the most recent step in what the couple jokingly call their “20-year plan,” which has included replacing the sewer line, removing four 60-plus-feet tall trees after a silver maple cracked over their eaves, and finishing a guest suite, primarily for when Oystein’s parents visit from Norway.
“Now that we have it the way we want it,” Oystein says, “we’ll be here for a minute.”
This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.