Tag Archives: dream

Dream Team

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a dazzling, eye-catching photo that adorns the bare-bones brick wall inside the photography studio at 1820 Vinton St.

A lovely girl sits in a deep-blue cloud of a dress, highlighted by silver accents. In the background, the grayish sky is streaked with pink-gold clouds. It’s a striking image, and an excellent example of the kind of work one can expect from the gentlemen of Elite, a boutique photography studio based in the historic Vinton Street Business District in South Omaha.

Elite’s Bernardo Montoya and Eric Gutierrez are an impressive pair. Montoya is dressed impeccably in light, subdued colors and wearing a fedora, a signature look for him. Gutierrez, on the other hand, is wearing a simple black T-shirt with dark blue jeans and a rust-colored vest, his brown, gray-streaked hair pulled back from his face.

Despite their contrasting appearances, it’s clear these business partners have an inspiring, deep, mutual respect for one another.

The two met about six years ago at an Omaha Police Department holiday event Montoya organized. At the time, Gutierrez was working in construction, but had long been interested in taking pictures.

“Photography has been a hobby for—the last 20 years,” he says, somewhat questioningly, chuckling a little.

After discovering Gutierrez was an amateur photographer, Montoya asked if he would like to volunteer his services for some of the events Montoya put together. Eventually, they were getting asked to do so much side work, they decided they should try to really make a go of it and invest in themselves and their talent.

Initially, the two worked out of Gutierrez’s Elkhorn home, using his living room, dining room, and kitchen as studio space. But about two years ago, they started working on their brick-and-mortar studio on Vinton Street.

Montoya says when they moved into the space, it was in “awful” shape, so they immediately started renovating.

“Walls were demolished, the false ceiling was removed, original floors were salvaged, and a new bathroom was built,” he says. “Every day we want to continue making modifications.” He said their next project is the façade.

Renovations aside, the neighborhood itself seems like the perfect place for Elite Photography. The developing business fits right in with the community’s burgeoning art scene, and they couldn’t be happier with their location. Montoya says it’s a great neighborhood with incredible potential that he believes the city plans on developing.

Gutierrez agrees: “I think that this street opens a door to, not just the Hispanic community, but to the community in general.”

“I never imagined the possibility of having a photography business like this, because I am a graphic designer,” Montoya said. He previously worked as a reporter in Mexico and in the U.S., taking pictures for articles and other projects as a part of his job. “But this was not my priority,” he says. “I discovered my passion for photography talking with Eric.”

Though Gutierrez had initially chosen a more cautious path, the passion had been there since he was young.

“At some point, when I was going to college, I told my mom that I wanted to be a photographer. She said, ‘No, don’t do that. Just do it as a hobby.’ And that was a mistake,” he says. “I always talk with parents about that. I tell them, you know, you’ve got to encourage your kids to do whatever they want.”

Fortunately, Gutierrez and Montoya have many opportunities to speak with and encourage parents, thanks to a partnership with Omaha Public Schools and the many high school senior and quinceañera photos they do.

Montoya says his inspiration and motivation comes from the looks on peoples’ faces when they first see how they look in their photos.

“We are talking about dreams, the dreams of the people,” he says. “When they talk to you and say, ‘I want to take a beautiful picture…I want to see a picture where I feel beautiful,’ it’s more than taking a simple picture. It’s making a connection with a person—seeing what they want.”

Making those dreams come true is their goal. Which makes perfect sense, since that’s what they seem to have done for each other, something that is very clear when they talk about their life’s work.

“I always say Bernardo was like an angel for me,” Gutierrez says, “because I didn’t know if I was going to do this for a living.”

But while they’ve been fortunate to find each other and develop a successful business, Montoya and Gutierrez have faced plenty of challenges, including Montoya’s recent diagnosis of a rare form of cancer—stage 2 soft tissue sarcoma.

In his typical, always-moving-forward style, Montoya is not letting the disease slow him down.

“Now I can see life with a different color,” Montoya says. “Yes, I have cancer, but it’s like I have the flu. I’m OK right now. I don’t know what will happen with me tomorrow. But you never know what will happen tomorrow—or in a couple of weeks.”

Instead, he says he’s using the diagnosis as a reminder to enjoy life, and his family, friends, work, and the connections he makes with
new people.

“I don’t want to think any bad things,” Montoya says. “I have a future, a plan. I know what I want. I have dreams and I am working toward my dreams.” 

facebook.com/EliteStudioPhotography

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

A Rockbrook Renovation

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Imagine having a home you love, then finding a home you love even more. The new home has additional space and is in a great neighborhood that’s ideal for your growing family. In fact, you happen to find your new home even before it’s on the market. A kind neighbor nearby tips you off that a beautiful, spacious home will soon be for sale. Excited and eager, you walk across the street and head inside. Fingers crossed, you walk up the porch steps and through the front door. And then it hits you.

You cross the threshold. While the home looks lovely on the outside, the inside has a style that’s not quite your own. The layout, design, and furnishings aren’t exactly what you and your spouse had in mind. But the house has potential. And so you make the purchase and begin renovating and redecorating. This is precisely what happened to Davin and Allison Bickford of Omaha.

Allison and Davin Bickford in the kitchen with their daughters.

Allison and Davin in the kitchen with their daughters.

The young couple and their 3-year-old daughter moved from their cozy Aksarben home to their current home just a stone’s throw from 108th Street and West Center Road. The move to their new home, its renovation, and the birth of their second daughter spanned just a few hectic months that also overlapped Christmas last year. By all accounts, the Bickfords were ambitious to create their dream home in short order.

They knew several of the families in and around their current home. It was an ideal neighborhood, one where homes were routinely sold with little to no advertising necessary.

20130313_bs_9415_Web

“The former owner was packing up the house when I realized it would soon be for sale,” Allison explains of the District 66 neighborhood. “This is a close-knit, welcoming neighborhood with lots of small children and impromptu driveway parties.”

When the Bickfords, both 29, closed on the home last year, they began planning for major renovations to the main floor. Initially, the kitchen was closed off from the rest of the home. Carpet was everywhere except the bathroom. And the color scheme was generally dark.20130313_bs_9339_Web

This being a home where they planned to spend the next several years, Davin and Allison opted to rethink the main level. Working alongside Omaha interior designer Julie Hockney, the Bickfords removed the kitchen’s outward-facing wall to create a more open and spacious floor plan.

The Bickfords enjoy entertaining with family and friends and designed a kitchen where conversations could still take place during meal preparation. Today, the kitchen boasts white cabinetry, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, a farmhouse sink (which Allison called her “must-have” piece) and, perhaps best of all, an open countertop connecting the living space.20130313_bs_9418_Web

“Davin and I knew the style that we wanted, but we weren’t sure how to mix everything together,” Allison says. “We like to entertain and wanted our home to feel warm and entertaining, but also with that elegant feel. Lived-in and classic but comfortable, too.”

Hockney worked alongside the Bickfords throughout the renovation and redecoration. The walls were painted a dark gray. White crown molding and new floors were installed to give the home a sleek, modern, and spacious feel, yet still warm enough for their two young daughters.20130313_bs_9499_Web

A large, gray couch and patterned chair fill the living room, along with a refurbished bench below the main window. (The Bickfords joke that their new living room pieces fit their style and design aesthetic; however, all of the fabric has been treated to avoid stains from spills and other in-home mishaps. They are the parents of two small children, after all.) The living room’s fireplace also received a major facelift to match the updated décor and design throughout the main level.

Hockney says she worked hard to ensure the home portrayed a modern, classic design that was combined with new and vintage pieces. The living room bench, for example, is a repurposed coffee table that’s been topped with a seating cushion.20130313_bs_9436_Web

Davin and Allison sold most of their furniture when they moved into their new home; now, they’re slowly filling it with pieces, light fixtures, and other accessories that they truly love.

“We wanted to start with a clean slate and fill it as we go,” Davin says.20130313_bs_9470_Web

The clean lines and sleek design of the kitchen and living room continue down the hall into the bathroom and the guest bedroom: white furniture and accessories, gray walls, and modest pops of color here and there. New light fixtures abound throughout the main level (several of which are small pendants) offering a cozy glow both day and night.

Color abounds in both daughters’ bedrooms, facets of which are holdovers from the Bickfords’ Aksarben home. One bedroom is awash with pink bedding and pink accents. The wall is a gray-and-white chevron pattern, continuing with the gray and white hues throughout the home. The other daughter’s bedroom is largely a soothing, pale green with white accents, giving it a cozy feel.20130313_bs_9530_Web

The Bickfords’ master bedroom and adjoining bathroom are next to receive facelifts. Just as with their young family, their home’s beauty is growing and maturing every day.