Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Hazy Shades of Winter

January 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The greys and whites of winter do not bother Dr. Christian Bessmer and his wife, Gina. In fact, they designed their home around the color (or is that color-less?) scheme.

Their story is colorful. They picked out a property at Beaver Lake, purchased land, and made plans to build their first home together. But life threw them a curve ball that left things less black-and-white.


In December 2013, Christian, 36, and Gina, 37, found out they were expecting their first child. After 12 years as a couple, they left their carefree lifestyle and settled down in parenthood.

They quickly realized that their original plan of building a home at Beaver Lake might not be the right fit. Their priorities were now changing and they found themselves thinking about school districts and being closer to family and friends.

The couple opted to build at Ashbury Farms development in Bellevue, a smaller development that allows them the more rural setting they desired.


“There won’t be more than 45 homes built here so it can keep that small community feel,” explains Christian.

A visit to Street of Dreams inspired Gina’s idea of designing on a neutral plain. She also wanted an open floor plan for the kitchen, dining, and living room; granite countertops; and Jack-n-Jill bathrooms. Christian wanted a large garage for all his tinkering projects and “a shower that was just like a car wash.” 

Jack Gifford, design specialist at Advantage Development, made sure their desires were met. Each room embodies a monochromatic mindset and approach.

An invariable feeling starts when approaching the home. The contemporary design includes lots of right angles surrounded with paint the color of a nimbus cloud and light-colored stone on the face of the house.

The kitchen features curved white stone island countertops with smokey marbling that allow guests to see each other while sitting in the kitchen set against a backdrop of raven cabinets and minimalist lighting. Stainless steel appliances add luxury and also the barest hint of shimmer.

The main bathroom includes Christian’s human car wash, with multiple shower heads and a remote control water system.


The results were better than they imagined. There’s definite cool factor to it—a house with many unique aspects, including a hidden pocket door in the kitchen that opens to a pantry on the right and hallway on the left, which in turn sends people toward a second entrance to the mudroom and garage.

Warmth is found in the bedroom, where hints of gold glimmer alongside a metal poster bed. In the master bathroom a Jacuzzi tub with a mounted television and heated backrest give a feel of being a guest at a luxurious hotel.


The garage, at almost 1,500 square feet, obtains warmth from a hot/cold water supply. Christian’s play space includes elevated ceilings and enough room to store five vehicles. “It’s definitely my dream garage,” says Christian, laughing.

The outdoor space acts as an extension to the house with a living room, complete with sectional sofa, and soon-to-be kitchen right off the dining area. The in-ground pool spans the length of the backyard, its Mediterranean turquoise shocking viewers after seeing so many Russian blues. The serenity of this space continues with an alternating pattern of grass and river rocks.

The Bessmers are thrilled with how the house has turned out but look forward to eventually turning the unfinished basement into a game room—complete with bar and pool table. But not now. Knowing they are expecting their second child in April, now is about making memories as a family in a home they can call their own.


The Best of All Worlds

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s dispense with the references to a certain ’70s sitcom right off the bat. Yes, Jennifer and Bryan Yannone are the parents of a blended family of six kids. Yes, Bryan is project director for Lockwood Development and Bloomfield Custom Homes, a position with some surface similarities to the architecture job of his TV dad counterpart. And, yes, the Yannones are a telegenic couple with a warm, relaxed vibe.

But their new home, the first in Sterling Ridge at 132nd and Pacific in Omaha, represents more than just the union of two families. It is the convergence of several decidedly 21st-century ideas about diversity, work-life balance, smart-home technology, and the logistics of new urban planning in an already very established part of the city.Bryan-4_web

Sterling Ridge is a mixed-use development of commercial, residential, retail, and religious space. When completed, the 153-acre site will feature more than 700,000 square feet of office space, 30 high-end custom homes, 10 villas, retail, restaurants, an assisted living facility, a hotel, and the Tri-Faith Initiative: a collaboration of Temple Israel, The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, and The American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture.

The very location of the site signifies this spirit of inclusiveness. It was once home to the venerable Highland Country Club, established in 1924 as a club where Jewish members would be welcome. (Highland changed hands in the 1990s and the newly-named Ironwood shuttered and was sold to Lockwood Development at a bank auction in 2010.)Bryan-12_web

In a city that is constantly expanding to points west, north, and south, the central location also acts as an integration point for several parts of town.

This was especially important to the Yannones, who had children in two separate school districts. “There was nowhere in Midtown Omaha where you could build a new, custom home without having to knock down an existing home,” says Jennifer, a gifted and talented facilitator for Omaha Public Schools.


As members of the community and because of their family association with the development company, the Yannones are particularly sensitive to the historical and civic importance of the property. “People were disappointed when Ironwood closed,” Jennifer acknowledges. “Lockwood wanted to make this development worth the sacrifice. For every tree they took down, they planted five more. They spared no expense to provide a community feel.”

Inside the seven-bedroom, 5,700-square-foot Yannone home, that communal sense is most keenly felt in the open kitchen, dining, and seating area that serves as the focal point of the family’s activities. “We spend most of our time between these three rooms,” says Jennifer of the multi-functional space which features clean lines and cool, neutral colors. “I wanted it to look contemporary, but still homey and livable.”


The family worked with Lisa Shrager of LMK Concepts and Megan Bret of Exquisite Finishes on the home’s interiors. “The trick was making the home durable and low-maintenance without compromising style,” says Shrager. She achieved the family’s desired blend of a sleek look and a warm vibe by balancing hard, manmade surfaces like the kitchen backsplash comprised of multiple metals including stainless steel and bronze, with natural materials like stained rich oak wood on the cabinetry and granite countertops.

This harmony reverbates around the room: a mantle of 12×24-inch tile acts as a horizontal counterpoint to the strong vertical presence of the fireplace itself. This is geometrically echoed in light, linear tiling that serves as bridge between the three sections of the main family space and on the flooring and walls throughout the home.

The children picked their own colors, themes, and bedding for their rooms: a Husker motif for the youngest, Brayden Yannone (9); sports for the two middle boys, Baylen Yannone (11) and Drew Gibbons (12); music and guitar for the eldest boy, Luke Gibbons (14); and inspiring quotes for Jennifer’s daughter, Michaela Gibbons (17). Her older daughter, Jessica Gibbons (21), lives away at college but has claimed a room on the lower level for school breaks.

The Mediterranean-inspired exterior of the home, which also serves as a model for Bloomfield Custom Homes, was Bryan’s idea. Its sand-colored stucco and stone ediface, crowned by hipped roofs, envelops an open, road-facing courtyard and would not be out of place among the revival mansions of Pasadena. “I wanted a home that was a vacation.”


Before they could kick back and enjoy, the family had to educate themselves about the various “smart” features of their home, most of which, including cameras, garage doors, lights, and music, can be operated from an iPad. “When you walk out the door, there’s an off button. You can shut off the whole house!” Jennifer says with glee. “Before we moved in, we had to take the kids around, ‘This is how you shut off the lights…’”

And while the Yannone-Gibbons clan is clearly having fun with the more dazzling features of their new stomping grounds (such as the time Michaela called Jennifer from downstairs to tell her it was too warm and Jennifer “fixed it” without leaving the comfort of her sofa), their parents are careful to keep them grounded.

“They all think we live in a mansion,” Jennifer laughs. “But we remind them that we’re blessed to have this. When school’s out, we do a lot of volunteering, like at the Open Door Mission.”

“With the house came new responsibilities,” says Bryan. “It’s a group effort to keep a house this size, but the children have become very efficient about it.”

It’s a synthesis formula that the businesses, other families, and spiritual communities of Sterling Ridge would do well to copy. As Jennifer puts it, “We all pitch in and take care of what we have.”

For more information on this unique mixed-use development, visit sterlingridge.com.

Sharon Ongert, 66

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

World traveler. free spirit. Social butterfly. All these terms aptly describe Sharon Ongert.

The native Omahan has always been an affable go-getter and shows no signs of slowing down as she hits her mid-60s. “I like to follow the advice, ‘Don’t buy things, buy memories,” Ongert confides one morning over drinks at Paradise Bakery.

Ongert in Egypt. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Egyptian Pyramids, 2010. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert loves to travel. “When I was first married, my husband and I spent a year living in Europe,” she shares. “We visited 16 countries and 168 cities throughout western Europe and northern Africa. I guess that’s how it started.”

Once her two kids were born, the family continued to take trips to the Caribbean, Mexico, skiing… “Later, I began traveling with my mom to England, Australia, and New Zealand. My dad didn’t care much for travel, so he paid for the trips, and I’d go with her…it was the perfect situation.”

Ongert in... Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert on the chariot tracks in Pompeii, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Now single, Ongert continues to travel the globe, often with new friends made on past journeys (of which she has many). Egypt and Peru were recent vacation destinations. “Last year, I took two back-to-back Mediterranean cruises, which took us to Turkey, Croatia, Malta, Sicily, Italy…I keep a travel journal every trip I make and log in every day I’m gone so I can keep track of everything I do.” This year, she’ll put more stamps in her passport with trips to Russia and Scandinavia on the agenda.

In addition to travel, Ongert loves to work…yes, work. She has three jobs. She spends one or two days a week at both Ann Taylor Loft (Village Pointe) and Pottery Barn Kids (Regency Court), which she says has allowed her to make some wonderful friendships with co-workers of all different ages. She loves working with customers as well, adding, “I love meeting all the new moms and grandmas.” The social aspect of working retail is a major plus for Ongert, who once worked as the social director for a Miami-based cruise ship.

Ongert with a friend in Machu Picchu. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert with friend Linda in Machu Picchu, Peru, 2011. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert also officiates tennis matches for a dozen different tennis organizations. “My kids both played competitive tennis, and so I followed it for a long time,” Ongert recalls. “When my youngest graduated, I decided I’d train as an umpire so I could continue in the sport. I’m an independent contractor, essentially, and have chaired matches for the Big 10, Big 12, Omaha Tennis Association, high schools…I’ve watched so much good tennis this way. I’ve always got the best seat in the house!”

To keep up with this busy schedule, Ongert makes it a point to stay fit, working out daily at Lakeside Wellness Center, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill. She’s also a snowbird, traveling to Phoenix every March to spend a month hiking, playing tennis, and practicing her new favorite sport, pickleball.

Ongert at the Colosseum. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

“It’s basically tennis on a much smaller court using a wiffle ball. It’s best for those who can’t cover the ground of a tennis court. It’s a lot of fun!”

That’s Ongert, always up for a new adventure.

Restaurant Review: El Basha Mediterranean Grill

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Mediterranean Coast and the Islands of the Mediterranean Sea are by all reports some of the most beautiful places in the world. I have never really had the opportunity to visit this part of the world, but it’s something that’s high up on my bucket list. For now, I will have to make do with reading, looking at pictures, and eating the incredible cuisine from this area. The latter I can do right here in Omaha at El Basha Mediterranean Grill.

On the end of a modest strip mall on the corner of South 75th and Pacific streets is where you will find some of the best Mediterranean food in the area. The small restaurant is not the most attractive place in the world, but they have done a nice job with the space they have to work with. The tables are draped with white tableclothes, then topped with glass, and the chairs are comfortable and sturdy with leather backs. The patio is particularly lovely with many beautiful flowering plants and several attractive tables.

The service at El Basha is semi self-service, meaning you go up to the counter to order your food and beverage and then they bring it to your table. The system worked flawlessly, and the food comes out of the kitchen quite quickly. The young lady who took our order and brought us our food was very nice, and she was also able to answer several questions about the menu. Unfortunately, they do not have a license to sell spirits; on the positive side, they do allow you to bring your own wine and do not charge a corkage fee. It’s also quite fortunate that a gourmet deli and liquor store, Spirit World, is located in the same strip mall. Specialty wines and beers are just a few steps away.

The food at El Basha is the best part of the experience. On a recent visit, my dining partner and I tried the Meza Plate ($9.99) for an appetizer. This dish is a sampling of their most popular appetizers, including the best Hummus in Omaha, Baba Guanuje, Falafels, Taboule Salad, and a basket of fresh pita bread. All these tasted incredible and had the desired effect of really whetting our appetite.

Next, for entrees I had the El Basha Special Platter ($12.99) and my dining partner had the Chicken Shawarma Wrap ($6.99). The Special Platter is a mixed plate that includes Shish Kabob, Shish Tawok, Grilled Kafta with three sauces, and grilled vegetables, all served over Middle Eastern-style rice. This sampling was attractively presented and delicious. The unique flavors, spices, and aromas that come from this trio of Lebanese-style dishes are something that you will need to experience for yourself to fully appreciate.

As if that was not enough, this dish also came with a choice of soup or salad. I chose the soup and was blown away by one of the best Lentil Curry soups I have ever tried. The fresh-roasted coriander seed and lemon squeeze really set it off. My dining partner’s wrap was filled with the same chicken as I had with the Shish Tawok, which is essentially a curried, grilled chicken skewer. The wrap was also loaded with fresh tomatoes, onion, and a yogurt-based garlic sauce, which resulted in a very tasty wrap. It was served with a vinaigrette-style cold potato salad that was also very good and like nothing I have ever had before. Even though we didn’t need it, we finished our dinner off with some of their incredible Baklava ($3) for dessert.

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at El Basha and plan to go back and eat my way through the rest of the menu, all the while pretending that I’m traveling in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re like me and enjoy eating foods from exotic locations almost as much as going there in person, then you will just love El Basha.


El Basha Mediterranean Grill
7503 Pacific St.

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ***
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Price: Inexpensive
Overall: **1/2