Tag Archives: Omaha Home

A Cathedral for Cooking

June 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most first-time attendees at Crème de la Crème instructional cooking events enter chef Paula Dreesen’s home as if they are crossing the threshold of a church. Perhaps overly aware of their guest status, they edge in on padded feet and speak in hushed whispers, the kind usually reserved for the gentle echoes of a house of worship.

“They may enter as strangers,” the gregarious Dreesen says with a broad smile, “but they leave as friends. That’s what good food and good conversation does. It draws people together.” 

But the night I became a parishioner at Crème de la Crème was different. And loud.

It was Dreesen’s 150th event, and all the other cooks-in-waiting were repeat guests, longtime disciples with as many as five previous evenings under the belts of their aprons. The only icebreaking required this time around involved that which was needed for a decidedly less than pious procession of mojitos which ushered in the evening.

Teaching, now so seemingly natural for the outgoing Dreesen, was an evolutionary process paralleling the arc of her life in food.

“My mom started me in the kitchen when I was a little girl,” the chef says, “and I worked in and around the restaurant industry for 35 years. Cooking has always meant so much more to me; so much more than just food.” 

After years of being asked by friends for help or advice in the kitchen, she began informal instructional sessions in her previous home, then launched her Crème de la Crème business plan three years ago in the sprawling 1,000-square-foot kitchen of a new home that was designed specifically for such group culinary gatherings.

“People always ask me why I never opened a restaurant of my own,” the chef says, “but I don’t think I have that in me, the seven-day commitment and endless hours that go into making a restaurant work. What I do have is a husband [Dr. Adrian Dreesen], five kids, and a dog. Crème de la Crème is the perfect fit…the perfect way to find and express my creativity and share it with others in a fun, social environment.”

Several globetrotting themes are available for Crème de la Crème soirees and, taking the farm-to-table philosophy to its logical extreme, Dreesen rotates her menus based on the availability of bounty from her expansive backyard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards perched high on a hill overlooking the Elkhorn River in West Omaha.

Crowd favorites include such Mexican menus as “Casa de Crème” and “A Tale of Two Tacos.” Italian is also popular with her “Pizza Party” and “Cozy Italian” evenings. 

And, in tribute to Dreesen’s culinary idol, Julia Child, there’s even a more highbrow “French Crème Countryside” menu for pilgrims in search of new frontiers.

Dreesen also offers the “Crème Conquest,” a hit with corporate clients that use the experience as a team-building exercise. Groups are split into teams and given a set of selected ingredients, but no recipe. The challenge is to guess the secret recipe from which the ingredients are derived. Even if the food sleuths fail to solve the underlying mystery, they get to battle it out, Iron Chef-style, in devising and preparing a delicious meal to be shared by their co-workers.

But it was the “Grillin’ Cuban Style” menu on tap for the night I attended, where anxious students took turns in preparing pineapple mojitos, mojo-grilled chicken with black beans and crispy sweet plantains, all followed by a decadent tres leches cake.

Although I was present as a journalistic observer—and my culinary prowess is pretty much limited to melting Velveeta—I was also invited to participate.

My assigned task, perhaps mercifully, was to blend the tres leches ingredients into a velvety symphony of num-num-numiness ready for the oven. Based on the baking, cooling, and refrigeration time called for in the recipe, I had accurately surmised that Dreesen had prepared a cake, the one we would later be eating, a day in advance, but I was still resolved to approach my job as if I were engaged in the sacramental rite of turning flour and eggs into manna from heaven. My apron, not to mention my nascent reputation as a capable hand in the kitchen, emerged unscathed. High fives all around.

Dreesen is often asked to take her show into other people’s homes, but now it’s her turn to speak in hushed, reverent tones.

“It’s doing it here that makes it meaningful for me,” she explains. “Cooking right here. Cooking with family helping me. Not just in any kitchen but in my kitchen. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”


Visit cremedelacremeomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Cooped Up in the City

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raising chickens in the city has become more common in recent years due to the popularity of urban farming. 

Brett Kreifels, educator for the Nebraska Extension in Cass County (formerly of the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension), has been around poultry his whole life. He runs 4-H youth development for the county and has extensive education in livestock. His grandfather owned a hatchery in Springfield when he was a child. 

Kreifels says there is a trend in favor of urban farming and raising poultry in cities like Omaha because it’s fun and it teaches sustainability. Eggs are an added benefit. For some, it is comforting to know where their meat comes from.

To get started, he says it is important to know local regulations, noting that Omaha and Lincoln have different rules, and Omaha residents must follow both city and Douglas County rules. Much of Sarpy County does not allow chickens, with the exception of those raised by youth in 4-H programs.

Beka Doolittle raises chickens in a part of Elkhorn that is not annexed by the city but falls within Douglas County. She has a permit from the county, but also advises urban farmers to be aware of homeowners association covenants. She raises egg-laying chickens exclusively. Doolittle selected types that lay a variety of colored eggs—they look beautiful in cartons. If one of her birds were to stop laying, she would keep it as a pet. She says raising chickens teaches good life skills, and she enjoys passing them on to her 8-year-old daughter. She says caring for chickens is therapeutic, noting that their strange behavior always makes her laugh. 

Janine Brooks keeps chickens within Omaha city limits. She has many Seramas (a small breed of bantam chickens originally from Malaysia), and enjoys their eggs. It takes five of their eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Brooks says she got into chickens with her 31-year-old daughter, who is autistic. She says her daughter loves the chickens and also raises turkeys. Rearing poultry and watching them grow has been therapeutic for the family and keeps her daughter occupied. Brooks says chickens and turkeys are incredible pets, inexpensive to feed and maintain, and they are clean animals.   

Kreifels says there are no health concerns with raising poultry so long as you keep a clean coop. Otherwise there are risks of salmonella and E. coli. He recommends washing your eggs and your hands after handling chickens. He has been sick from his own birds on one occasion. He attributes it to lax hand-washing practices. “Don’t kiss your chickens,” he says, partly joking.

To get started in Omaha, Kreifels recommends first contacting the Douglas County Health Department. Let them know you are interested in raising chickens. They will want to know your lot size, whether or not you have a fenced-in yard, and what the coops look like. They will send someone out to inspect the facility. If they approve, they will tell you how many chickens you can have and issue you a permit.

It’s that simple. Raise chickens. Eat fresh eggs. Know where your meat comes from. Learn to nurture yourself by nurturing and respecting your food source.


Visit extension.unl.edu to learn more about the Nebraska Extension’s work with local agriculture and livestock.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Residential Nirvana

May 21, 2018 by
Photography by Tom Kessler

Dull. Dark. Overbearing. Heavy. These are not nice adjectives to describe a new home, but this is exactly how our clients felt about the new residence they had purchased.

Before

When the homeowners first stepped into our showroom at Interiors Joan & Associates, they explained their dissatisfaction wasn’t about the house itself; they just needed to realize the potential they knew existed within the home. That’s when they connected with Karie Boggs (Allied Member ASID), a professional interior designer with the firm.

After learning more about her clients, how they wished to live in the home, and how they envisioned it to look, Boggs and the homeowners embarked on a major transformation that completely changed both the aesthetics and the functionality of the home—and they never looked back.

What makes this project unique is that the entire transformation was completed with minimal construction. Cosmetic changes included fresh paint, lighting, and a total overhaul of the furnishings. The father of one of the homeowners is in the construction industry in Dubai; his ability to see potential in the home’s bones proved to be a valuable resource throughout the renovation process, and helped his daughter to see the home for what it could be.

We embarked on a renovation project to create an environment that would match the homeowners’ personality and lifestyle. They required space for entertaining, but also wanted the home to be warm and inviting when smaller groups of family are there. Boggs’ design solution was to transform the dark, dreary, and gray home into a light, fresh, and colorful space that would reflect the clients’ culture and taste.

After

Rooms that were once filled with out-of-scale traditional furnishings, muddy gray walls with white chair rail, and mismatched flooring now boast a brighter linen wall color, elements of architectural significance, and furnishings with bursts of color and interest. The great room features a natural stone wall with floating metal shelves and integrated lighting. This built-in design detail provides the space with texture, and all at once creates dimension in the room. Glitzy elements added sparkle to the space: a furrowed metal table lamp, nailhead detailing on the upholstery, and a cocktail table base fashioned out of chrome, while a color palette of raspberry, gold, and copper repeats itself in the cut velvet fabrics and the large-scale artwork.

Custom draperies create a backdrop for the bright, punchy fuchsia fabric used on the upholstered chairs in the dining room. A sparkling chandelier and abstract artwork complete the new, sophisticated space. A sectional sofa with a streamlined frame and nubby textural upholstery anchor the hearth room.

Colorful pillows in a trio of patterns breathe splashes of raspberry, citron, turquoise, and seal gray into the design. While the actual architecture of the media and fireplace wall were not changed, Boggs had the walls painted and a textural treatment applied inside the niches to create a clean yet interesting space for display. Exotic accessories of glass, metal, petrified wood, and silk florals enhance the visual appeal of the media wall.

Colorful artwork and upholstered dining chairs perfectly appoint the more intimate dinette space. Here, bright yellow, pink, cerulean, and a deep espresso wood finish on the furniture frames replace the once-dark and drab corner of the home. Perhaps one of the most interesting transformations took place in one of the upstairs spaces. What was once a mismatched bonus space for toys was thoughtfully redesigned to serve as a Hindu prayer room for the homeowners and family. Great care was taken to respectfully fulfill every requisite that our clients had regarding the size, finish, look, measurements, accouterments, and requirements of this spiritual space.

Another fantastic transformation was to conceal an inconvenient laundry chute (positioned in the hallway directly atop the steps on the second level of the home). The chute was randomly situated beside a bank of practically useless skinny shelves. Boggs’ clever design morphed the unsightly chute into a part of an artistic installation by disguising the door with a contemporary metal cover that conceals its functional purpose with a more aesthetically pleasing trio of art pieces. The skinny shelves were replaced with floating shelves with LED accent lighting, creating a perfect space for home accessory display.

By incorporating a variety of design elements—crystal chandeliers, mixed metals, antiqued mirrors, lots of finishes, and sumptuous fabrics—the home realized a fresh, colorful, and interesting new personality. The homeowners’ personal tastes, cultural influences, and religious requirements found a residential showcase that is uniquely their own.


Visit interiorsbyjoan.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Park East Neighborhood Rebrand

April 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha neighborhood that’s not quite downtown and not quite Midtown has, for years, been hard to encapsulate.

You could identify it as home to several historic early 20th century buildings, such as the Rose Theater, Scottish Rite Cathedral, and the old Northern Natural Gas Headquarters building. A stretch on Farnam Street was once the busy “automotive row,” where you could find several car dealerships as well as car service shops. And pockets of the neighborhood are known for their less-than-rosy reputations as previous hot spots for crime, drug dealing, and prostitution.

Although the past has been a mixed bag for Omaha’s Park East neighborhood (situated east of Interstate 480), the future is looking like it will be more unified. The neighborhood—bounded by Dodge and Leavenworth from 20th to 28th streets—has a new name: The Quarters.

Several developers are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the area to rehabilitate different buildings for residential or commercial use.

And the Park East Neighborhood Association is working on ideas to rebrand and market the area as a destination instead of just a necessary pass-through on the way to or from downtown or Midtown.

“We want to make the area not just somewhere you drive past,” says Ann Lawless, executive director of the Park East Neighborhood Association. “We want to make it a place you would want to stop, have dinner, or maybe even live.”

Until a few years ago, the neighborhood was more of a place to do business than anything else. Some of the area’s longtime businesses include All Makes Office Equipment, Physicians Mutual Insurance Co., and (until a couple of years ago) Barnhart Press. In addition, several nonprofits have called the area home, including Completely Kids (where Lawless works), Lutheran Family Services, Youth Emergency Services, the Salvation Army, the Rose Theater, and Joslyn Art Museum, among others.

Most of the residential housing consisted of apartments designed and priced for low-income or elderly residents before local developers began noticing the area’s potential a few years ago.

The area is “perfectly positioned between downtown Omaha/the Old Market and Midtown Crossing/UNMC,” says Dave Ulferts, an investor in Travers Row Houses, 11 buildings on 26th Street and St. Mary’s Avenue that were converted into modern dwellings.

Other new residential developments include Highline Apartments (once home to the old Northern Natural Gas Building) at 22nd and Dodge streets and the Flats on Howard (12 adjacent brick buildings) on 24th Street between Harney Street and Landon Court.

And the newer developments aren’t just housing. The $10 million Kountze Commons building at 26th and Douglas streets opened late last year. Even Hotel, an upscale hotel at 24th and Farnam streets, opened in 2016. The Kellogg building at 24th and Harney streets was rehabilitated to become a commercial space that now hosts businesses including Muglife Coffee Roastery, Greenstreet Cycles, Wag pet shop, and soon, a “cat café” called Felius.

“As a unique business, we wanted to set up shop in a unique area of town, one that was underdeveloped and a place where we could be a catalyst for positive change,” says Felius president and founder Bre Phelan. “The Quarters district was the perfect fit.”

With all the efforts to breathe new life into the area, Lawless says some of the developers suggested rebranding the area with a new name.

Ulferts says it was a “great journey” to decide on a new name, citing “multiple community listening sessions, surveys, brainstorming meetings, and even a professionally facilitated meeting…giving everyone the opportunity to have a voice was important.”

Lawless says “The Quarters” was chosen because it was catchy and inclusive, as opposed to rooted in a specific time or part of the neighborhood’s history.

But history is still important as the neighborhood continues to develop. Several developers have sought to incorporate aspects of the area’s early 20th century architecture in their projects.

“Many of the restorations in the area seek to maintain and enhance the existing character of the neighborhood,” says Adam Andrews, AIA, architect at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture and board president of Restoration Exchange Omaha.

Andrews cites the exterior lighting and landscape of the Flats on Howard, which mimics the originals, and the tinted window glazing and public entrance lobby at Highline Apartments, which was restored to its original condition. Ulferts says when refurbishing Travers Row, the original granite curbs were salvaged and repurposed for the retaining walls in the development’s green space.

More residential properties are in the works. More commercial businesses are on their way. As more developers and businesses seek to rejuvenate the area, Andrews says he hopes this desire to restore and preserve continues.

Ten years from now, Ulferts says he hopes the area will be walkable and well-lit, with community gardens on almost every corner, and neighborhood events for residents, business owners, and their employees.

Ulferts acknowledges that it will take a lot more work before the neighborhood gets to that point.

“I’d describe the general feel as we’re ‘up and coming,’” he says. “One could make an argument that we have a long way to go, so I’m glad to be part of a neighborhood association focused on overall improvement.”


This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Entryway

April 25, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Spring is in full swing and my thoughts turn to freshening up my home as I always do. After a long, dreary winter, I find myself wanting to breathe new life into familiar spaces. So what better way than to start with the entryway and work my way inside?

For starters, I’m going to paint my front door a beautiful shade of moss green, then clean things up, power-wash all the dirt and cobwebs from the home’s exterior, and place a pretty wrought-iron bench adorned with throw pillows—along with several potted plants and flowers—near the door.

Once inside, I proceed with decluttering and cleaning. A simple rearranging of furniture can make a huge difference, as readers will discover in this issue’s article on professional stagers.

Staging is a crucial step to bring out any home’s best features, especially for anyone putting their home on the real estate market. Sometimes decluttering and adding strategic pieces of new furniture are all you need to make that critical first impression a “wow!”

Speaking of first impressions, one of the many perks of being OmahaHome’s contributing editor is helping to find residential gems and having a sneak peek into the homes prior to featuring them. Gary and Beth Bowen’s chic cottage, nestled amongst the trees, is a warm and inviting home that is sure to impress.

When decorating for the spring season, don’t be afraid to bring the outside indoors with flowers freshly cut from the yard. Or try your hand at the hottest trend livening up living spaces this year—succulents.

Succulents are an easy-to-please houseguest; they survive indoors with minimal effort. I’ve also joined the succulent bandwagon, and my arrangement made for a colorful (and hopefully inspirational) DIY this issue.

Here’s to greenery poking out from all directions. Spring is in the air. Cheers!


This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for OmahaHome.

 

Starting Seeds

April 15, 2018 by

Growing produce is a great way to save money on groceries and promote healthy eating. Buying greenhouse-started plants is one option, but starting your own seedlings allows you to grow atypical plants at a fraction of the cost.

Springtime planting takes a little bit of foresight, so plan ahead. Seeds should be started six to eight weeks prior to planting in the ground. With Nebraska’s climate, seedlings will not survive in the winter cold and should be started indoors or with protection.

Dr. David Hibler, the owner of the Benson Plant Rescue, recommends starting your seeds in January or February. Hibler says that this will help you get your plants in the ground before the generally accepted frost-safe date of around May 4, noting that the date has been less consistent in recent years.

To start seedlings indoors, Hibler says you need three things: a light source, moisture, and a growing medium such as soil. He says kits are available, with the “72 slot” being a popular option. The 72 slot is a small greenhouse-like tray with subdivided slots for growing medium and seeds.

For the growing medium, expanding medium pellets are an easy option. Hibler recommends a lightweight organic seed-starting mix. Soil can be mixed with peat moss or vermiculite to lighten it. Hibler also recommends reusing seed trays and soils.

For lighting, Hibler recommends full-spectrum fluorescent lights. “Daylight” bulbs, he says, are often a fraction of the price of “grow lights” but contain the necessary spectrum. A brood light with a full-spectrum, compact fluorescent bulb also works well. He says LEDs are also available.

Hibler says that when the soil reaches around 64 degrees Fahrenheit and there is no risk of frost, seedlings can be planted. Perennials, he notes, can tolerate a little bit of frost.

John Porter, agriculture program coordinator with the University of Nebraska Agriculture School, lends a few supplementary suggestions. Porter says seeds need around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Once they come up and have leaves on them, they need to be a bit cooler—60-65 degrees Fahrenheit—so they don’t get long and leggy. He notes that most seeds don’t need light to get started. He says they can be started on top of the refrigerator for warmth.

Porter also recommends sterile soil and sterilized containers. “There are some diseases that will kill the seedlings when they are very young,” he says. Porter also recommends using recycled containers for seedlings. They will need drain holes. He recommends cleaning them with a detergent and sterilizing with a 10 percent bleach solution.

Once the seeds germinate and have leaves, they should go into the potting soil. “Seeds have the nutrients to get [seedlings] into the first set of leaves; they don’t need nutrients until then,” Porter says.

As for lighting, Porter says commercial greenhouses use LEDs, but fluorescent bulbs also work. He notes that if full-spectrum bulbs are not available, a mix of warm and cool fluorescent bulbs contain enough of the light spectrum required for most seedlings. Porter recommends putting the lights as close to the seedlings as possible without causing damage to the plants.

Growing seedlings indoors is not an exact science to yield good results. If you need supplies, the Benson Plant Rescue has them for sale, or Hibler can steer you to the right place to find them. If you want to learn the science of starting seeds, Porter offers a course with the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office. Everything else about starting your own seeds and planting your garden is DIY. That is half the charm.

The Benson Plant Rescue is on Facebook at @bensonplantrescue and can be reached by e-mail at bensonplantrescue@cox.net. Details on plant propagation classes with the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office are available at extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy or by e-mail at john.porter@unl.edu.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Taking Time To Design

April 9, 2018 by
Photography by Jeremy Allen Wieczorek

90 seconds.

In a little over a minute, a buyer falls in love with a house. That’s all it takes.

It happened to Aubrey Hess. She knew it immediately when she entered the front doors of the two-and-a-half-story American foursquare house. She called her husband Corey in a panic.

“This is it,” Aubrey said. “Get over here.”

Aubrey realized it needed some work. She should know. Aubrey, a realtor for the past 12 years with Better Homes and Gardens, has stepped into countless homes. Only a few have grabbed her attention.

But something in those seconds on 110 S. 52nd St. moved her. She looked beyond the peel-and-stick laminated tile, the orange-tinted wooden floors, and lackluster yellow walls. Aubrey saw potential. Corey, an architect with DLR Group, realized it despite knowing the electric wiring and roof needed work. No “little pink houses” on this block. Instead, the uniqueness of the midtown neighborhood appealed to the creative couple. The added space would be ideal for their two growing girls, Emerson and Montgomery.

The first month became a flurry of activity. Walls deserved a fresh coat of paint, light fixtures became interesting pieces of art, and wooden floors were unveiled. Birch on the main level, oak on the second, and pine on the third. Pine possibly due to the history of the almost 100-year-old house. Live-in servants typically utilized the third floor, so owners didn’t dish out the most expensive wood.

The bones of the house have remained, giving it a bygone vibe. The dining room has a small circle service bell built into the flooring from days past. Rooms have the original old-fashioned swinging and hidden pocket doors. The light switches don’t flip, but are still the same push buttons from the 1900s. Corey even cooked the heavily painted doorknobs in a crockpot with soap and vinegar to keep the novelty intact.

“We wanted to be respectful to the topology,” Corey says. “What’s the point of buying the house otherwise?”

The house has character, and little touches like these add flavor to the couple’s eclectic, “kick of fun” ideas. A gold chicken-legged end table stands next to a black cowhide in the “smoking room.” Meanwhile, a twisty white papier-mâché night table complements a slat metal headboard in the guest room.   

After the family moved in, Aubrey wasn’t sure how to finish off the last bit of the house. Luckily, interior designer Roger Hazard sat next to her at a charity event and the two talked wallpaper.

Every single project provides a challenge. In this case, it seemed to be a matter of cohesion. Hazard has visited with homeowners in every single state and made his mark making homes interesting. His bold style landed him three hit television shows on A&E—Sell This House, Move this House, and Sell This House: Extreme—as well as two Emmy nominations.

Hazard, along with husband Chris Stout, decided they wanted a change from the fast-paced lifestyle of traveling road shows. The two established Roger + Chris, “the home of the unboring home.” Hazard saw cool development opportunities and hype in Nebraska.

“Omaha is going to be a hot spot in the next 10 years,” Hazard predicts.

The two settled in to design different styles from contemporary to conservative to traditional. Hazard first created a presence in each room for the Hess family. The upstairs hall was painted with a large splash of emerald green while the color continues with a smaller presence in the velvet drapes in the smoking room.

In addition, Hazard and Stout make and name their own furniture. “Bunny” is a black-and-white striped loveseat with a hyacinth-colored interior, which will be placed to the right of the front door.

“Stripes are my favorite color,” Aubrey jokes.

The house is a mix of materials, fabrics, and textures. Plus, it harbors a touch of masculine and feminine. For example, pink velvet chairs in the dining room mingle with a gray tweed couch.

It is relaxed, yet stimulating. The family loves to entertain, so each room is a talking point. Rorschach flashcards are framed and hung on one graphite gray wall. Guests can interpret the psychological blots.

“I would rather buy something fun to mess up than something boring,” Aubrey adds.

This rustic refinement is perfect for a family that loves to eat, play, and have fun. It gives her daughters room to play. The custom-made walnut tree dining room table is strewn with a puzzle the girls started to piece together. Corey, along with a friend, designed the black-bottom base. The family also spends hours in the smoking room—not smoking—reading because the sun warms the area with light. A concrete coffee table in the living room can be moved aside when dance parties break out.

The Hess girls do spend time in their bedrooms, preferring alone time during the day, though the two are inseparable at night. Rather than the typical pink walls, both rooms are adorned instead with empowering quotes from strong women such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Emerson, 8, likes the big house but isn’t a fan of the kitchen (which the family still plans to redo). Other small parts also need fixing up, such as the bathrooms. 

And the basement is currently a work in progress. Corey exposed some bright brick and the trim has been replaced. Hazard plans to add hot pops of pink, blue, and orange to give it high energy. It won’t even feel like a basement, more modern and loft-like.

“We will hopefully be done by 2019,” Aubrey says with a laugh.

These two busy parents fit in bursts of inspiration when possible. Photos and framed artwork from their kids once took two long nights to finish. The grass out front has been replaced with synthetic turf so less time is spent on the lawn and more on relaxation. It’s one of the reasons why the two have spent time and effort designing it—so it will be a place of comfort and joy for the entire family.

Visit rogerandchris.com for more information about the A&E celebrity couple involved with the Hess family home’s redesign.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Farm Simple Meets High Design at Bellswoods

April 1, 2018 by
Photography by Farshid Assassi

The home of David and Diane Bell is the fruit of conscientious design, a reverent attention to landscape, and an affection for trees that has lingered in the family’s bloodline for generations. While its steel framing and prominent angles conjure the best of modernist architecture, the Bell family home in Franklin, Tennessee, draws substance from roots stretching as far back as the Nebraska frontier.

Nearly 150 years ago, in the open prairielands along the Platte River, Jesse Bell built a forest. Having bought a single square mile of land from the Union Pacific Corp., Jesse, a lover of trees, planted hundreds of them by hand. In the years following Nebraska’s recognition as a state, he established more than 250 varieties of hardwoods and shrubs in the soil of what was otherwise a vast and treeless plain.

When the Burlington rail company sought to lay line in the vicinity of Jesse’s burgeoning woodland, he saw an opportunity. In exchange for right-of-way on his land, he secured a Burlington depot for the area, and got immediately to work hiring a civil engineer and pursuing the task of growing a town.

Naturally, Bellswoods was to be the name. For reasons unknown, the Burlington men didn’t care for all the S’s in that eponym. To this day, we know the treed little town, 10 railroad miles south of Columbus, simply as Bellwood.

More than a century after Jesse first put the family name on the map, David and Diane have expanded the family brand into the foothills of Appalachia on their own secluded oasis of trees. Twenty miles from Nashville, down a rambling two-lane highway bordered by dry-stacked stone walls and plantation vistas, an unassuming turn into the woods leads to the family’s 20-acre estate. Perched 200 feet above the road below and fully ensconced in its forested hillside, the Bellswoods name has finally found its rightful home.     

To encounter Bellswoods in photos alone is to know a particular kind of envy—one fixated less by the rich material beauty of the home, and more with the resonating calm and timeless quietude its design embodies. “We called it rustic modern,” explains Omaha architect Steven Ginn who, over the course of five years, designed the Bell family home. The house’s palette—warm Douglas fir, exposed steel, durable stone—creates an effect that, as Ginn describes, “accentuates and exemplifies the idea of shelter.”

From the earliest stages of design, the Bells envisioned the sort of shelter that would feel fully at home in its environment. “We wanted it to feel very open and draw on the materials of the area…A house that feels like you’re outside,” David explains. With nearly half of its walls made of glass, Bellswoods achieves this effect rather gracefully. Other considerations—a bedside window designed to perfectly frame an existing sassafras tree, a living room positioned precisely to capture the warmth of the winter sun—situate the home within its environment as naturally as any other living inhabitant of the forest.

In designing the home, Ginn drew inspiration not only from the unique environmental qualities of the land, but also the architectural character of the area. Sustained by his own Nebraska roots, Ginn sought to bring an “agrarian thoughtfulness” to the design. Inspired by the 19th-century farm buildings still dotting Tennessee’s rural landscape, Ginn worked to design a home that reflected the understated beauty of these utilitarian structures. “Farm simple,” he calls it. “Everything you need and nothing you don’t.” 

David agrees, noting that functionality was a critical consideration when designing the home. Although Bellswoods can certainly feel cloistered from the rest of the world, the Bells are no hermits. Because the home was always meant to be a welcoming space for visitors in all seasons, Ginn worked to develop a “carefully choreographed space,” allowing for natural, fluid movement. Anchored by a central structural cross, the home is divided into quarters, beginning with the most public rooms (foyer, kitchen, living area) at its entrance, and moving eventually to the more private office and bedroom areas.    

Ginn notes that his understanding of movement’s relationship to structure was informed by his years spent designing Catholic churches with Omaha’s BCDM Architects. “Movement is an important part of the Catholic liturgy. That procession. How you move through the space, the views, what you’re looking toward. The building itself works to direct your reverence and attention.”

A similar sort of reverence is found in David’s personal collection of over 20 years’ worth of reclaimed wood, much of which contributed to the furniture and finishing details of Bellswoods. Like his great-grandfather before him, David describes himself as a “lover of wood.” A skilled woodworker by hobby, he passed two decades living in Germantown, Tennessee, collecting the wood of nearly every felled tree he could find. After accumulating some 15,000 board feet of red oak, walnut, cherry, and several truckloads of his great-grandfather’s Nebraska-grown hardwoods, David couldn’t deny he was having more fun collecting wood than making much of anything with it.

These years of careful collection finally bore fruit when construction on Bellswoods began in 2010. While some wood was used in the family’s dining room table (paired with ebony sourced from Nashville’s Gibson guitar factory just down the road), most of David’s collection contributed to the more than 14,000 board feet of wood used throughout the home’s construction.

While Bellswoods is undoubtedly a grand achievement of style and form, Ginn is quick to note that the true success of any home design can only be measured in the way it enlivens the everyday experience of those living inside. There are certain, less conspicuous details at Bellswoods—the hidden grotto tucked behind the waterfall that cascades into the pool; the accordion windows separating the dining room from the porch, which open and erase the border between inside and out—that don’t show quite as well in photos. Subtleties like these spark a dialogue, not just among family and friends, but between the built world and beyond. As Ginn explains: “The natural light, the movement through the day, the light, the dark, the sun, the wind—they all help to embellish the daily life of the inhabitants, help to further create a fulfilled, enjoyed life.”

Visit stevenginn.com/tennessee-hilltop-residence for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Sometimes Life’s a Beach

March 25, 2018 by and
Photography by Jeffrey Bebee

Imagine you are in a Florida beach house. This is what our client wanted to feel every day when they walked into their kitchen.

Although the home was built with a very closed-concept floor plan, we took this challenge head-on.

Our main challenge was to open up the space. We did so by tearing down the wall between both the formal dining room and moderate-sized kitchen. This allowed the natural light to pour in, which was essential in the overall feel of the space.

Meanwhile, we carefully planned adequate storage in the cabinetry so that we could run windows along the entire length of the kitchen without upper cabinets. Since the home is located on sprawling land just north of Omaha, the added windows allowed the western view to roll on through the beautiful new bank of glass.

For the finishes, we kept things light and bright, adding very specific points of interest. We incorporated lots of crisp white woodwork and warmed things up with a walnut-stained wood floor. Clean white quartz perimeter counters added another touch of serenity and simple flow, while rich iron hardware succeeded in creating a nice contrast with the white.

We topped the design off with a tranquil blue tongue-and-groove wood ceiling and an island constructed from the family’s inherited old planks of wood. The color palette was also crucial to the overall aesthetic of the room: whites, oceanic blues, intense purples, and nature-inspired greens.

Together, these elements worked to create a calm, beautiful space with just the right amount of punch.

The biggest hurdle we faced was working around the existing locations of doors, adjoining rooms, and the staircase.

We wanted to create an open area for entertaining while maintaining as much of the integrity of the original space plan as possible. This resulted in careful design of each elevation in order to provide a functional work triangle and flow of the space.

A space needs to be as functional as it is beautiful, and we feel this one is definitely a gem to surround yourself in. We were honored to design, guide, and help complete the transformation of this space, allowing us to witness our client enjoying their long sought-after dream kitchen.


Rachael Cavanaugh

Julie Hockney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Hockney and Rachael Cavanaugh co-designed this project. They are two of the six designers at jh Interior Design Studio. Now in business for 10 years, they recently expanded, for the fourth time, into a new studio featuring a unique shopping boutique and design office. The firm designs both residential and commercial spaces and has designed spaces ranging from 1,200 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The designers’ goal is to create a curated space suited for success—no matter the size. They focus on bridging the gap between function and aesthetic, with a strong emphasis on how their clients will use their space. Their design team aims to make each client’s space an extension of their own personality, all the while having a great experience during the design process.


Visit juliehockney.com to learn more about the designers responsible for this kitchen transformation.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.

Park Avenue Revitalization & Gentrification

March 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As revitalization has come to diverse and densely packed Park Avenue, a tale of two neighborhoods has emerged. The north end—near 30th and Leavenworth streets and Midtown Crossing—finds a millennial haven of developer-renovated historic properties and shiny new projects on once-vacant lots. The south end—bordering Hanscom Park—is plagued by remnants of drug activity and prostitution. In place of chic urban digs are public housing towers. Amid this transience, reinvestment lags.

Meanwhile, nonprofit InCommon Community Development bridges unchecked development and vulnerable immigrant and refugee populations. Its proactive, grassroots approach to alleviate poverty invests in residents. As a gentrification buffer, InCommon has purchased two apartment buildings with below-market rents to maintain affordable housing options to preserve a mixed-income neighborhood.

“It’s crucial to really involve people in their own work of transformation,” Executive Director Christian Gray says. “We have a very specific assets-based community development process for doing that.

It’s a methodology or mindset that says we’re not going to do for others, and residents themselves are the experts.

“It’s slower, patient, but sustainable work because then you have people with buy-in and trust collaborating together for that change. The iron rule is never do for others what they can do for themselves. We made a commitment when we moved in the neighborhood to set the right first impression. We said, ‘We’re not here to save you or to give away stuff for free. We’re here to listen—to get to know you. We want to hear your ideas about change and be the facilitators of that.’ I think that’s made the difference.”

The faith-based organization “starts with the idea people want to be able to provide for themselves and their families,” he says. “We help them build their own capacity and then start building relationships. Then comes leadership development. As we get to know people, we identify their talents and gifts. We talk about how they can apply those into developing and strengthening the neighborhood. The ultimate goal is neighborhood transformation. We want them to see themselves as the neighborhood change agents.”   

A hub for InCommon’s work is the Park Ave Commons community center, which opened in 2013. It hosts GED, ESL, literacy, citizenship, job readiness, and financial education classes, first-time home-buying workshops, community health programs, and Zumba.

“If someone walks out of there with their GED, better English proficiency, or better able to provide for their family, we’re pleased,” Gray says.

The center is also where InCommon hosts neighborhood meetings and an after-school drop-in space, conducts listening sessions, identifies neighborhood concerns and interests, and activates residents’ civic engagement.

“One of our shining examples is Arturo Mejia,” Gray says. “He’s super passionate about the neighborhood. He started getting involved with the organization and eventually became a staff member. He leads our ESL and GED programming. He also does community organizing.”

Arturo Mejia, leader of ESL and GED programming

Mejia, a Mexican immigrant, says what he’s found with InCommon mirrors other residents’ experiences.

“InCommon has invested in me in many ways,” he says. “It’s helped me to use my full potential in my work for the Latino community of this neighborhood. InCommon has found the goodness this neighborhood has. When shown the assets, instead of the negatives, residents find encouragement and empowerment enough to keep reaching their goals.”

The community center resulted from feedback gathered from residents like Mejia. The Zumba class was initiated by a woman living there.

“Adults come through the workforce channel. Kids come through the after-school channel,” Gray says.

At an InCommon community visioning process last fall, a group of young men shared the need for a new neighborhood soccer field and, with InCommon’s guidance, they’re working with the city on getting one. InCommon’s gala last fall recognized area superheroes like them and Mejia.

Besides the center, InCommon’s imprints include a pocket park, a community garden, and artist Watie White’s mural of neighborhood leaders.

The first wave of redevelopment there, Gray says, saw “empty buildings activated and populated, and it actually brought an infusion of new people, energy, and resources—the positive elements of gentrification.”

“It’s certainly cleaned up,” he says. “But a lot of the problems remain here, they’re just beneath the surface now.”

As more development occurs, the concern is the people InCommon serves “will be displaced.” That’s where the low-income housing comes in. The Bristol, fully occupied and awaiting renovation, features 64 studio apartments. The Georgia Row, currently closed and undergoing repairs, will feature 10 or 11 multifamily units.

InCommon is investing $10 million in refurbishments. Local and state historic tax credits and tax increment financing, plus expected low-income housing tax credits, are making it possible.

“As a landlord, we’re not only able to preserve affordable housing, but we can integrate individual capacity building services directly on-site with residents,” Gray says.

He looks to solidify InCommon’s work in this and other “opportunity neighborhoods” poised for redevelopment.

“Right now, redevelopment is like a tidal wave people get drowned in,” he says. “We are interested in getting people to withstand and actually surf that wave and leverage it. People have to have some wherewithal to be able to make their own decisions and not be co-opted into other people’s plans. We’ve started looking at how do we get residents more involved in directing how they want their neighborhoods to grow, so none of this happens in ad hoc form. In this more thoughtful approach to creating neighborhoods, there’d be a vision for what residents want Park Avenue or Walnut Hill to look like.

“The goal isn’t to come up with a plan for them, it’s to facilitate the process so neighbors and stakeholders come up with the plan together.”

Visit incommoncd.org for more information.

Christian Gray, executive director of InCommon Community Development

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of OmahaHome.