Tag Archives: Metcalfe Park

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The first thing you notice when entering the Metcalfe Park-area home of Andrea and Brian Kelly is that which is missing.

The most common architectural element found in the brick, Tudor-inspired homes that dominate the neighborhood, one bisected by the snaky meanderings of Country Club Avenue, is an arch that separates the living and dining rooms.

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It’s a bold stroke to swing a sledgehammer at such a signature detail, but taking down the arch was central to a vision of transforming this traditional home into a showpiece of contemporary design.

Oh, and it probably didn’t hurt that the couple behind that vision are both architects known for innovative thinking in the spaces they create.

“It’s natural for people to get into a new home, look at it as a blank page, and think about what to add to it,” says Brian, a professor of architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Our philosophy was just the opposite,” explains Andrea, formerly of Randy Brown Architects and now stay-at-home mom for the couple’s 6-year-old son, Jackson. “It started with what we knew we’d be subtracting from it.”

Next to go was much of the ceiling in the living room, a decision that eliminated almost 100 square feet of second-floor living area in a home that holds barely 10 times that amount to begin with. For this couple, the word “area” is merely a formulaic measurement. Space, on the other hand, is a theoretical construct felt at a gut level.

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“Our aim was to increase the spatial dimension of this place,” Brian says. “The overall effect is that the house feels bigger. And we gained tons of natural light down here that used to be wasted up there,” he says in pointing to an upstairs window that now illuminates much of the home’s first floor.

A six-month study trip to Europe helped validate the couple’s notion of scale.

“People ‘live small’ in Europe,” Brian says.

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“Our home is still very American,” Andrea adds, “and it’s downright grand in scope compared to how most people live in Europe. This is a lesson in efficiency, livability, and defining the balance between personal spaces and communal spaces. It really suits our family well.”

The home juxtaposes natural materials against those that are decidedly industrial and hard-edged.

Organic hues in untreated lumber and hardwood floors blend with perforated aluminum, plexiglass, and naked steel. Factory stamping marks on wood and wax pencil numbering on metal are left untouched in evoking a raw sensibility. The original fireplace survived, but the mantle above was replaced by a bent-steel picture rail. Alligator clips attached to wires suspended by magnets allow a funky, quick-change approach to displaying family photos.

The absence of window treatments? The desire for simplicity, openness, and clean lines, Andrea says, trumped worries about privacy. Geography also lends a hand in eliminating sight lines for prying eyes. The home sits on a hill overlooking Metcalfe Park, and the back is shrouded by dense greenery.

Splashes of color erupt in marigold, grey, and in artwork—much of it created by Brian, Andrea, and Jackson. The dining area features orange Eames chairs that gathered grease for four decades in the auto body shop of Andrea’s father.

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Brian did most of the work himself.

“He’s more of a designer and I’m more of a planner,” Andrea says. “I’m into the technical aspects of construction and wanted to do a budget…detailed drawings…the works.”

“Wasn’t gonna happen,” Brian says with a chuckle. “I didn’t want to think too much about it when it came to process. For me it became an experiment, an in-the-moment experience.” When you set out to do the unexpected, the professor explains, stumbling onto a few surprises along the way can serve as a gateway to learning.

Save for the use of perforated aluminum cladding on an exterior handrail, neighborhood dog-walkers are afforded no hint as to what lies beneath when they pass the home that looks like so many others in the tree-lined neighborhood.

“And that’s the whole idea,” Andrea says. “That’s why we call this place the wolf in
sheep’s clothing.”

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Meet the Reiners

September 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The new library located in Metcalfe Park is doing a brisk business. Oh, you didn’t know that the park in the Country Club neighborhood had its own library? At about 20 cubic inches, this “library”—a simple house-shaped box on a pedestal—could be easy to miss…except, of course, for all the kids usually gathered around it selecting children’s books while following a “take-one-leave-one” lending policy.

The open-air library is the work of Kim Reiner, who is a public relations coordinator with Omaha Performing Arts. She and husband, Kevin, are the parents of Henry (4), and Charlotte (2).

Kim is also a blogger, and her “Oh My! Omaha” site is a parent’s guide to the city.

That’s how Kim got into the library business to begin with. Post Alpha Bits cereal had contacted hyper-local bloggers across the nation with an offer to supply one of their Little Free Library kits in an effort to promote early childhood literacy.

Perhaps as much as any single space in Omaha, Metcalfe Park represents the classic melting pot view of what it means to be an American. Little girls in hijabs play with Somali refugees who play with Burmese children—most too young to understand the gift that their parents have given them in bringing them to our country.

“Many of the kids who play in the park are learning English,” Kim explains, “so it’s really inspiring to know that their first book in their new world—their very first book in English—might just be one from the Little Free Library.”

“Take it another step,” adds Kevin, “and think about the idea that many of those kids’ parents may be learning the language through the same books. It’s been said that countless immigrants have learned English by watching Sesame Street with their kids, so I picture moms and dads and kids all learning together with the children’s books that flow through that library.”

Kevin also works in the creative world as a digital media producer with Clark Creative Group. You’ve probably seen a million of his TV commercials and other projects but, just like Kim, he’s also played a role in delivering fine art magic on the Orpheum Theater stage and beyond. Kevin created the animations that became the projected backdrops for the Jun Kaneko-designed productions of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (Opera Omaha), Beethoven’s Fidelio (The Opera Company of Philadelphia), and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Washington National Opera).

So it’s no surprise that Henry and Charlotte are being raised in an environment where they are immersed in art and culture.

“It’s kind of a hit-or-miss experiment every time we take in a show in terms of learning what the kids are now old enough to sit through,” Kim says, “but it’s great to experience theater and other cultural events through the lens of your kids. You take in a production in entirely new ways when your kids are by your side.”

Henry, Kim and Kevin explain, is a builder of considerable talent. Just give him enough of anything—from Legos to lima beans—and he’ll soon assemble an impressive architectural feat of some kind, ones that usually incorporate a wildly imaginative collection of other, seemingly unrelated found objects.

“He’s a mixed media artist,” Kevin adds with a chuckle.

The young boy is also pretty good with movie and book quotes. When a recent shopping trip found Henry crossing the threshold of a local big box store—the one with the red bullseye logo—he was compelled to blurt out “You’re not the Target market, weirdo,” in echoing a line from the film The Lorax.

“And then there was the ‘As you wish’ kick that came after we watched The Princess Bride,” adds Kim. “He was begging for a bonus bedtime story one night and I finally caved with an ‘Okay, okay’ when he corrected me and said ‘No, mom, you’re supposed to say ‘as you wish,’ just like in the movie.”

Charlotte is described by the Reiners as being perhaps a bit more extroverted than her brother. “Henry is more gentle-goofy,” Kim says, “and Charlotte is more spirited. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

“We’ll go to, say, Jazz on the Green,” Kevin says, “and Charlotte is the kid that will plop down next to any group of people and just start chatting away.”

Charlotte’s dreamland domain of late is the backyard sandbox. The adorable tot was encrusted almost head-to-toe in a rime of sand the evening of the interview.

“That’s where we look whenever anything goes missing in the house,” Kim quips. “We check the sandbox first.”

“Yeah, like that’s where we found last night’s leftover pizza dough,” Kevin winks.

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