Tag Archives: OmahaHome

The Basement That Dreams Are Made Of

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After 19 years in the home where she and her husband raised three children, “It was time to do some updating,” Stacy Stenger says. 

The house that had once been featured on Street of Dreams was still beautiful, but they wanted new features like a lower-level bar and enhanced entertainment area, and they hoped to address some inefficiencies in layout.

They soon discovered that the renovations they wanted most were structurally impossible or unreasonably expensive. “The cost would have been excessive,” Stenger says. “That drove us to start looking at existing homes. We looked for over a year and couldn’t find exactly what we wanted.” 

Ultimately, instead of settling for not-quite-right, she says, “We decided it was best to build.”

Friends recommended Elizabeth Monical of Elizabeth Monical Interior Design, who collaborated with the Stengers and builder Dave Boltinghouse to design the perfect home for the family in a new Bellevue neighborhood.

The new design incorporated every feature on the Stengers’ wish list and more: a ranch-style floor plan with an open layout, a cigar room, canine-friendly luxury vinyl flooring (the family has four rescue dogs), great flow, and a transitional look with interesting textures, natural finishes, and a warm-yet-modern vibe.

“It’s user-friendly and functional, and everything is where I wanted it to be,” Stenger says. 

And best of all, the Stengers now have the deluxe lower level they dreamed of. 

“We really like to have friends and family over,” Stenger says. “There is a lot more space and more areas to congregate; the house is so much better set up for entertaining.”

The space first and foremost boasts an element the family has wanted for years: a full wet bar. Roomy enough to seat four with a view to a large wall-mounted television, the area also functions as a kitchenette with prep space and storage.   

In their former home, the Stengers felt hindered by load-bearing posts. Advances in residential engineering make it possible for their new home to have the open entertainment space they envisioned, with 10-foot ceilings and room to seamlessly accommodate both shuffleboard and pool tables. There’s also a fireplace sitting area with multiple TV screens, and a large table seats up to six—equally perfect for card games or meals. A popcorn machine is another fun touch to the basement.

Extending from a golf simulator room (“My husband’s favorite room in the house,” Stenger says) are golf-themed décor details. There is a custom-made, oversized mixed-media art piece dedicated to Augusta National Golf Club (created by local artist Jennifer Radil), a floor-to-ceiling golf course wall mural, and appealing artifacts throughout the space. 

Monical, who decorated and furnished the entire home, “made it all come together,” Stenger says. “She really did some personal touches that surprised me.” The homeowner’s favorite? A “Wally’s” sign honoring her late father. 

“She would always say, ‘Wait until you see the final vision,’” Stenger says. “And it was awesome when it was finished.”

“The thing that makes this house so successful is the amount of trust they had in our service as a design firm,” Monical says. “We really got to know their family, friends, and daily needs. We selected finishes that they approved and proposed ways to make certain areas extra-special…It was so amazing to be a part of their life story.” 

Stenger says she and her husband intend to stay in this home through their golden years, so their experience with building and designing the new home was truly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

“Hire someone you trust and who you can bounce ideas off of,” she says. “When you work with a professional, they think about all those functional things. It’s so worth it in the end because you end up with the design you want, the functionality you want, and the look you want.”


Visit monicaldesign.com for more information about Elizabeth Monical Interior Design.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Setting the Table

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Let’s face it, there isn’t much enthusiasm for Grandma’s china these days. Fine chinaware is a forgotten treasure for many families.

Too many Generation Xers and baby boomers are content to treat their kitchen islands like buffet troughs (or they just eat out). Hardly anyone wants to whip out the fancy stuff these days. 

I’m guilty, too. I have neglected my grandmother’s rose-patterned china for 15 years. But with my children grown, I’m discovering an appreciation for old heirlooms and how they can be incorporated in fresh ways to enliven my own home.

And what better occasion to try than the holidays? In this DIY article, I demonstrate a proper holiday table setting while incorporating the china that I have inherited from the family.

But who says chinaware is only for the fanciest of occasions? For this issue’s DIY, I present a less formalistic table setting for four people.

First impressions begin with the table setting (also known as “place setting” or “laying the table”).

Making certain the eating utensils are located in just the right spot can be tricky. The precise arrangement of tableware has varied across cultures and historical periods.

As I did my research, I found that there is a whole sector devoted to churning out new ideas for table setting.

The Western craze for dressing the table seems to have taken hold in the late-18th century, when European aristocracy turned table setting into a form of artistic expression. 

As dinner party fashions trickled down to the middle class—especially in the 19th century—women began to use the table setting as a way to express their own creativity and personal taste.

Follow along to serve a dinner consisting of salad, bread, beverage, and the main course.

Have fun and don’t forget: No matter how beautiful or antique the china, a dinner party should be more about the people gathered around the table than the table setting.

Instructions

1. Dust Off the China

I was fortunate to have cherished family dishware passed down, but you can find affordable china easily. Just check garage sales, estate sales, auctions, or local thrift stores. Don’t be afraid to mix and match.

2. Plates

Place dinner plates approximately 2 inches from the table’s edge. Center them squarely in front of each chair. I also chose to incorporate gold chargers to bring out the gold in this beautiful china (also called service plates, chargers go under your dinner plates). 

 3. Bowls, Salad Plates, & Bread Plates

Soup bowls typically sit atop the dinner plate; salad plates go above the forks (on the left side of the dinner plate); and bread plates belong slightly above the salad plate, closer to the dessert fork/spoon. I modified the typical arrangement, placing the salad plate on the main dinner plate and altogether skipping the soup bowl. 

4. Utensils 

Flatware should be laid out in the order that the guest will use it. Work your way from the outside in. Forks belong on the left of the dinner plate; table knives and spoons go to the right. Knife edges should always face the dinner plate. Butter knives should be laid flat on the bread plate with the cutting edge, again, facing in the direction of the dinner plate. Dessert forks/spoons can be placed horizontally at the top of the dinner plate.

5. Drinks

Place water glasses above the dinner knife. Optional red and white wine glasses or champagne flutes should be staggered around the water glasses.

6. Napkins

There are options here. Napkins go to the left side of the plate, inside the drinking glass, or folded in the center of the plate.

7. Assigned Seating

(Optional) Write guest names on place cards. They work best placed above the dessert utensil, centered with the plate.

8. Table Decorations

Do not forget to dress the table with flowers and lots of candles. The ambiance makes a difference. At the end of the day, however, dining is about getting people together. And there is nothing cozier than entertaining at home.


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

OmahaHome Entryway

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien

With the holiday season approaching, my thoughts turn to family traditions—both old and new. 

Sometimes dusting off family heirlooms can bring a fresh take to the dinner table. 

With my children grown and on their own, I decided it was time to dust off my grandmother’s china. 

The fine dishware had remained neatly stacked in an old chest for 15 years. But it was still in the same immaculate condition. 

Readers who have followed my DIY projects may have gathered that I am all about repurposing and/or pairing the old with new. The trend continues this issue, too.

For the holidays, why not start a new-old family tradition by pairing a beautiful family heirloom with a proper holiday table setting?

Mixing the old with the new can yield remarkable results. Whether the heirloom is antique chinaware or something more modern, anyone can do this.

Regardless of how your family sets the table, one thing is certain, it’s not which side of the plate the fork goes on that matters most. The important thing is the togetherness with friends, family, and relationships nurtured by a meal prepared with love.

From all of us at OmahaHome, happy holidays to you and yours!

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Devil is in the Detail

October 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Jenny Gradowski drives up to her home each evening, she says the scene still gives her pause. “This is my home,” she says with awe. 

Gradowski and Joe Pittack live in a spacious white home at 3402 Lincoln Blvd., a grand place steeped in history. Their story here started last year, as they added their own touches to their new home. 

The couple shared what they know of its narrative one warm summer night on the house’s porch—a key selling point for Gradowski, who works at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. While the home lacks central air, and summer heat can be a challenge, the porch (luckily) remains a cool place to chat.

“It’s not really a wraparound, but it’s curved enough to feel that way,” she says. “The views, though—the views were enough for both of us.”

Designed to make a statement, Pittack and Gradowski’s home reigns over the Bemis Park Landmark Heritage District from its hill on a large corner lot, much like it did when it was built in 1902. The neighborhood was one of the first in the city to be designed with the contour of the land in mind. The view today consists of towering trees, a playground in the distance, and further afield, Cuming Street. 

The 14-room home was one of several homes that prominent architect Frederick Henninger designed in Bemis Park. The neighborhood was a prestigious one when the home’s original owners resided there. It boasted the city’s finest Victorian-era homes and proximity to the Cuming Street streetcar line. Bemis Park remains quietly impressive, with a location that allows Pittack and Gradowski to walk to dinner and Pittack to bike to work. He co-owns Ted and Wally’s, with locations in the Old Market and Benson. 

The home has more than a century’s worth of stories. Pittack says they started looking into them only after they moved in. There are funny ones, tragic ones, and even the odd tale about a religious sect.

The 6,000-square-foot home was built for a well-loved restaurateur named Tolf Hanson and his wife, Jennie. 

Tolf was a Swedish immigrant who got his start selling sandwiches on the streets of New York before moving to Omaha and opening a popular restaurant, Calumet Café, in 1893. He went on to open Hanson’s Café Beautiful on 16th Street in 1906. It was supposed to be the “finest restaurant west of Chicago,” but failed in its first year and sent the Hansons deep into debt. Tolf Hanson went to New York to regain financial footing, but he ultimately committed suicide there.

Pittack says he knows that, tragically, another of the home’s former occupants also committed suicide. John Bryant was the new president of a farm implements and machinery business when he bought the home in 1912 from Louis Nash, an officer of the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Co. Bryant had some trouble at work and, following disagreements with the company’s board of directors, drowned himself in a cistern in the backyard in 1913. That same year, the Easter Sunday tornado severely damaged the home, ripping the roof from the house.

It’s the home’s lighter stories, though, that Pittack shares more animatedly when he gives people tours. He shares one from the Gerken family, who moved in in 1954. The story involves one mischievous Gerken boy convincing his siblings to send him down the laundry chute. He got stuck midway and had to be rescued. 

Other owners came and went through the decades. There was the saloon owner Henry Keating and his socialite wife, Helen; the attorney Lysle Abbott and his wife, Mary; and the real estate developer George H. Payne. But not many homes have had a New Age religious monastic order as one-time occupants. The Holy Order of MANS moved into the home in 1975, converting it into their new “brother house.” Pittack believes religious services were held in one of the basement rooms. When the national monastic order dissolved in 1984, the Holy Order of MANS moved out.

In 2017, Pittack and Gradowski moved in and began a yearlong renovation. They installed a new boiler and water system and painted some interior rooms. When a hailstorm struck, the roof needed to be replaced and the exterior repainted. They’ve repurposed areas of the home while leaving the structure untouched. An old indoor phone booth is now a coat closet, the butler’s area is a food pantry, and one bedroom with an original coal fireplace is now a yoga studio. Furniture from Pittack’s grandmother’s home, which was nearby, is part of the décor now. 

By making this home their own, the couple adds their personal story while keeping hints of past inhabitants intact. 


This home is one of 10 Bemis Park residences included in Restoration Exchange Omaha’s 13th annual neighborhood tour on Oct. 13-14. Visit restorationexchange.org for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

A Seasonal Step Up

October 3, 2018 by
Photography by John Gawley

This fall, there will be plenty of time to cruise the streets and check out reddening leaves and autumnal lawn displays. But you might just want to stop, roll down your windows, and take a closer look when you head by Tim Dymek’s home in the Aksarben neighborhood. 

Last fall, pumpkins and decorative gourds covetously took up the front garden bed, decorating the side of Dymek’s front walk. Yellow, pink, and orange chrysanthemums expertly played along. A fall wreath with a pop of bright orange gourds tied his small front porch to the rest of the display. More miniature gourds sprawled up and down Dymek’s steps, and gorgeous asters and mums hung lazily from oversized black pots. For Dymek, the goal of his front lawn is to provide something good to gander at. 

“When I drive around and I see somebody that has a really nice house…I’m always attracted to that,” Dymek says. “Things look much more inviting when you walk up to a house and it looks nice from the outside.”

With a change in temperature comes a change of mood. Each season, for the last decade or so, he mounts a new display. In winter, there might be evergreen and birch branches bedecking the facade. As the warmth of spring settles in, the flowers warm up too. Impatiens, begonias, and other colorful flowers all rise to greet the heat beginning in early May. 

Stroll around the back of Dymek’s home and there are more of the same eye-catching arrangements transforming his back deck into an inviting oasis. 

Tucked quietly back from the street, his partially hidden porch allows him to lounge, keep an eye on his 1-year-old German shepherd, Olga, and enjoy a cool drink with friends. White cloth patio chairs with brightly colored striped pillows intermingle with potted clusters of petunias and marigolds, arranged just the way Dymek likes it. He selects colorful items, things that will pop against the dark slate gray siding of his house. 

“I just want things to be comfortable,” he says.  

 Dymek has been making changes to his neat, tidy, eclectic home since he first purchased it more than 25 years ago. Before buying, he visited the house a few times as a party guest. When the owner decided to sell the 1940s home, she called Dymek personally to offer it to him. He bought it that same night. 

“I never looked at another house,” he says. 

When Dymek began work on the home, it was kind of a clean slate. He livened it up, giving it a cottage-like feel with cobblestone pathways and, of course, his signature lawn displays.

Dymek’s house serves as an outlet for his creativity. His background is in commercial art; it’s what he studied in college. His paintings cover the walls of his home. But within his creative lawn displays, there is also an air of fastidiousness. Colors coordinate, edges align, and everything always seems to be in just the right place. The playful but meticulous nature of his outdoor arrangements reflect the aesthetic of the rest of the home. 

“I like things to be tidy,” he says. “I guess I run kind of a tight ship.”


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Aksarben Nouveau

September 24, 2018 by
Photography by Amoura Productions

This home was purchased with a vision of what it could become, and an appreciation for the promise in its old bones.

My clients wanted to move from out west to the up-and-coming Aksarben area. But their new-to-them older home was built in 1948 and in need of a lot of love. There had been very few updates made to the house until we got our hands on it. 

The front door originally opened into the living and dining space, which then led to a wall with a simple, cased opening into the kitchen. The original kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house; it was choppy, dark, and had very little cabinetry. 

The first step was to completely clear the space. We removed the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the first floor and opened up the staircase in the center of the home. After removing the walls, the kitchen was reconfigured to bring in additional storage and extra counter space so the young couple could simultaneously cook and entertain.

We incorporated a modern, traditional feel throughout the kitchen, with marbled quartz countertops, a soft-gray subway tile backsplash, and clean white cabinets that extend to the ceiling to emphasize height. To break up the light colors, touches of gold were incorporated into the space with the lighting and gold hardware used on the cabinetry. 

This view showcases the newly opened staircase with the cedar beam accent. The dining space is now completely open to the kitchen.

We accented the newly open staircase with cedar beams to bring in a natural element and create some interest in the center of the home. This serves as a transition piece between the living room and kitchen and is a great conversation piece when they are entertaining. 

Throughout the entire interior of the home, we refinished the original wood flooring, replaced the doors, and added crown molding. All of the walls were painted a soft gray to create a light and airy feel throughout the main level of the house. The home is simple and refreshing with neutral colors, natural light, and pops of color mixed in with pillows, artwork, and gold finishes. 

A view from the great room into the dining space and open kitchen showcases how open, light, and airy the space has become.

The homeowners now have an updated, modern home in an established neighborhood in the middle of the city. Their goal was to capture the character of the neighborhood without sacrificing the amenities. We were able to achieve this by opening up the floor plan, reconfiguring the kitchen, and adding a master suite on the first level of the home.


Meet the Designer

Alexis Trout (Allied ASID, D3 Interiors) began her design career in 2012 and joined D3 Interiors in 2014. Since that time, she has worked on a diverse range of residential and commercial projects. Her goal as a designer is to create lasting relationships with her clients, bring a fresh creative eye, and create inspiring spaces.


Visit d3interiors.net for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Tip Top Living in Nodo

September 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s an indisputable fact, according to Scott and Sara Baker. Their apartment north of downtown has the best views in the city, bar none. 

With their oversized living room windows offering sights of the Omaha skyline stretching from the Missouri River to midtown and their balcony overlooking the Loess Hills sweeping up to the horizon, it’s hard to argue against their logic. If nothing else, it sure beats staring at white picket fences and manicured lawns. 

“We both came from the suburbs wanting a change, and I think the most surprising difference has been the sounds,” says Scott, Omaha store director for Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We traded leaf blowers, barking dogs, and kids playing outside for motorcycles, ambulance sirens, and plenty of hustle-bustle.”

The Bakers wouldn’t have it any other way. And plenty of other Omahans echo that sentiment, if the deluge of developments in the North Downtown (NoDo) neighborhood is any indication. From the revelry of the Capitol District to apartment buildings and hotels cropping up seemingly overnight, the transformation of this space promises a new urban center. Old Market, you’ve got some competition. 

“It’s been fun to watch restaurants, bars, companies—you name it—all come in so quickly,” Sara says. “Three years ago, it was ratty buildings and parking lots. Now, it’s just beautiful.”

Extending from Creighton University’s campus to the CenturyLink Center (now known as CHI Health Center Omaha), NoDo comprises approximately 80 blocks and has been central to the history of the city. The area is even credited as the spot where Omaha’s first subdivision, Scriptown, was founded in the mid-1800s. 

Today, NoDo is known as a haven for the ultra hip (à la the Slowdown and Hot Shops Art Center) and uber chic (think riverfront condos and youth-driven apparel retailers), but for 75 years it was home to Squatter’s Row, a village of shacks made from materials found in the city dump. For those lucky enough to call Omaha home in the late 1800s, they would also know this area for its notorious red light district, “the Cribs”—home to more than 100 brothels. 

Even the Bakers’ complex, the Tip Top Apartments, has a unique history. It was first constructed in 1916 as a factory for the Ford Motor Company, meaning the Model T may have been produced in what now is Sara and Scott’s bedroom. Paying homage to the past, a water tower bearing the Ford name still stands atop the building.  

“When I moved in, I liked the history of the building and even the fact that it was sort of off the beaten path and the area was a little more gritty,” Scott says. 

Oh, how times can quickly change. So what’s new in NoDo? Seriously, what isn’t? Bringing new meaning to “build it and they will come,” the Capitol District has become Omaha’s newest hotspot. While not all of the district’s planned establishments are finished, visitors today will find an upscale Irish pub, a country music bar, and a Wall Street-themed watering hole where drink prices rise and fall depending on popularity. 

Beyond residential and entertainment use, the vibrant area has also increasingly become home to commercial properties. In December 2017, Kiewit announced that the company is moving its headquarters just west of TD Ameritrade Park. With the addition of a parking garage for employees, construction costs are estimated as high as $76 million with a completion date as soon as 2020. 

“Hopefully this is the start of a positive cycle—these new businesses moving down here will bring people and they, in turn, will figuratively usher in even more development,” Sara says. 

The Bakers are most looking forward to a proposed makers district. According to a conceptual document from Future Forward LLC, a Peter Kiewit Foundation-led investor group, this district would include public event space, gardens, and retail kiosks, all designed to establish a creative community for entrepreneurs and artists alike. 

“A place like a makers district could give Omaha something it hasn’t seen before,” Scott says. “I found that if you ever get tired of living in suburbia, a move to North Downtown right now is good for the soul. No matter what you like, there are things to do and people to see everywhere.”

Just as it was hard to imagine the potential unearthed from NoDo’s transformative revival, the Bakers never pictured enjoying life east of 72nd Street so much. Heated and cooled underground parking? The Tip Top’s got that. A shorter commute for both of them? Check. Impeccable people-watching from the comfort of their own couch? Ding-ding-ding!

“We were empty nesters who just wanted an adventure,” Scott says. “The plan was after a year or two of living together here that we’d build a house or buy something cool like flipping an old gas station or something industrial. But this view, well, it’s pretty tough to leave.”


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

If the Glass House Fits

September 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midcentury modern was the look Jon and Jamie Jacobi were going for when they built their 1 ½ story home in The Prairies near 220th and Pacific streets last year. The couple appreciates the resurgent design style’s clean simplicity and contemporary feel.

To achieve that look, the Jacobis chose to incorporate glass into many of the home’s features. Most notable is a 36-foot-long catwalk with glass railings that runs the full length of the second floor. 

“At first we were going to go with a steel railing with cable spindles, but then decided glass was the look we really wanted,” Jon says. “We had seen [glass railings] in Vegas at Aria and the Cosmopolitan casinos and really liked them. The catwalk runs right through the middle of the house, so you can overlook the main level on both sides. It maintains the open look that we wanted.” 

Elite Glass of Omaha provided the glass panels and railing installation, while Glass Vice USA of San Diego provided the hardware clamping system. Sales manager Corey Matteo with Glass Vice USA says the use of glass railings and balusters in homes is growing nationwide. “They’ve been popular in homes near water, or with a view, such as those in Florida or Colorado. But we’re selling more in the Midwest and everywhere these days because they offer a lot of value. They’re an engineered product, so there’s no fabrication needed. And they’re made of a sustainable material and they last forever.”

For safety reasons, the Jacobis opted for 42-inch-high railings, a bit higher than the 36 inches that residential building code requires. With two small children, ages 2 and 4, they were concerned about the kids climbing them and dropping things over the sides. They also went with tempered glass, sometimes called safety glass, which is many times stronger than regular glass and poses less risk of injury should a panel break.

Each panel is topped with a slender cap railing made of stainless steel and features two small vice clamps. “When you look at it, all you see is the glass,” Jon says. “They look almost free-floating.”

The Jacobis added a midcentury modern flair to the home’s exterior as well, installing two 18-foot-high glass curtain walls spanning 16 feet on the front of the structure. The glass walls are slightly tinted to help prevent furniture and flooring from drying out or fading from sunlight.

“I had seen curtain walls on two other homes and loved the commercial storefront look,” he says.

While privacy might be a concern for some—“The house is wide open. You can see through the house, front to back”—the Jacobis don’t find issue with it, for now. But they had the forethought to have the home wired for large, power window blinds should they change their mind in the future.

Jon says the glass installation process was pretty seamless. “The materials all seemed well put together, very strong and safe.” But there were a few things he’s learned along the way. “When we engineered the catwalk, we had to create a really solid sub-floor to anchor the bolts that hold up the heavy glass panels. It created a little challenge for Profile Homes, our builder.”

He also learned that with two small children, the glasswork requires a lot of TLC. “You’re constantly cleaning the glass for smudges and handprints.”

Despite the added care, Jon is satisfied with their design choice. “The finished look is priceless. And the dog [they have a Westie] loves being able to see all the action.”


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

DIY Birdhouses

September 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mark and Leslie Kwasnieski want birdhouses to be properly crafted and well-kept so that every bird can find its own comfortable home. 

“When you drive around in the country, a lot of the birdhouses you see on fence posts belong to bluebirds,” Mark says. “Cowbirds then come in and lay their eggs with the bluebirds, so the bluebirds take care of the cowbirds’ eggs and raise them—because the cowbird is much bigger, when it gets older it pushes the bluebirds out of the nest causing them to die.”

Leslie continues: “That’s why you tailor the hole to the bird.”

They educate people on birds and birdhouses through the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program. The nonprofit program is dedicated to training environmentally conscious volunteers in the classroom and the field.

Leslie holds a master’s degree in biology. She initially joined the program to work with recovering birds of prey at Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery. Encouraged by the experience, she became a board member of the Nebraska Master Naturalist in 2011. 

Nowadays, the Kwasnieskis often visit local nature centers and preserves with their grandchildren. Mark has even held demonstrations on how to build a small and simple birdhouse roofed with a license plate at Heron Haven Nature Center in West Omaha. 

The couple donates their birdhouses to Nebraska Master Naturalist programs, such as those at Hitchcock Nature Center, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Glacier Creek Preserve, and Heron Haven. 

Mark says anyone with $4 for materials, a basic understanding of craftsmanship, and the necessary tools can build a birdhouse topped with a license plate.

Materials:

  • One 1-by-6-inch (actual width is 5 ½ inches by 72 inches), 6-foot-long cedar fence picket (dog-eared). “Make sure the wood is cedar because cedar has natural oils in it that keep insects from eating it,” Mark says.
  • One old license plate (this can be picked up at a thrift store or garage sale)
  • Four roofing nails
  • 14 (1 ½-inch) deck screws

Tools:

  • Table saw or handsaw
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Electric drill with a 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch drill bit and a 1 ¼-inch hole saw
  • Screwdriver or bits for the drill.

Instructions:

Step 1: Measure and cut the board. Starting at the bottom of the picket, cut two 6-inch-long pieces for the sides; cut another 6-inch piece for the bottom; and cut two 9-inch-long pieces for the front and back. 

Step 2: On the 9-inch pieces, measure 6 inches from the bottom and make a mark. Do this on both edges. From those marks, make lines to the top center of the boards with a ruler. The lines will be at 45-degree angles from the 6-inch marks (for a 90-degree roofline). Cut the wood along the lines. 

Step 3: Select one of the 9-inch pieces as the front of the house. Measure 3 inches from the point and mark. Cut an entry hole using the 1 ¼-inch hole saw on your drill. 

Step 4: Pre-drill six holes, three on each of the edges of the front of the house with the 3/8-inch drill bit. Attach the two 6-inch pieces to the edges of the front of the house with six screws, making all of the bottoms even. Repeat to attach the back of the house.

Step 5: Place this framed birdhouse on the remaining 6-inch board. From the top looking into the birdhouse frame, outline the inside with the pencil so that you know how much material to trim away. The board should fit into the base of the birdhouse. Drill four 1/4-inch holes in the bottom piece for ventilation and drainage. Use two screws to attach this to the rest of the frame, one per side. 

If the bottom has a loose fit, you may need an additional screw on a third side. Remove the screws in the spring to dislocate the base for cleaning.

Step 6: Bend a license plate in half from short end to short end until it reaches a 90-degree angle, making sure it is still readable, and place it atop the birdhouse. You’ll need four roofing nails (two for each side) to hold the license plate tight on the birdhouse. You can use exterior caulk to seal the license plate to the birdhouse frame and fill in under the roofing nailheads.

Step 7 (OPTIONAL): If you want to add a perch, you can use a nail, screw, or a twig. Drill a hole based on the size of what you are using. Pound the nail partially in or add the screw. If you use a twig, make the hole then glue the twig into the hole with waterproof glue. 


Visit snr.unl.edu/naturalist for more information about the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Elderberry Bounty

August 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Foraging berries is one of many underappreciated outdoor activities that Nebraska offers. Putting one’s kids to work on a ripe berry bush with a couple of pails will give them an opportunity to appreciate the natural world. 

Finding berries to pick is not difficult. Berry farms are plentiful in the state, and even roadside ditches offer opportunities to pick berries for those who know what to look for. Elderberries—for example—are plentiful, often seen, and often overlooked.

Paul Read, a professor of horticulture and viticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who grows elderberries, says they are a native small fruit in the genus Sambucus. The common American elder shrub, Sambucus canadensis, has a semi-woody stem from which foliage and a “cyme” (a type of flower cluster or “inflorescence”) grows. The semi-woody stem contains a soft, white pith at its center. “When I was a kid, we used to remove it [the pith] and make whistles,” Read says. The stem can support a shrub 12 or more feet in height. 

The small, sweet-smelling white flowers are “umbrella-shaped.” The cyme contains many small flowers that develop into deep-red to black individual fruits, which are no bigger than a quarter inch in diameter. In midsummer, the odds are that anyone driving around the countryside could find elderberries in bloom on roadsides and in ditch banks. In the fall, the clusters of dark fruit weighing down the plants give them away. 

Elderberries make fine jellies, jams, pies, and wines. The flowers can also be made into wine. Aside from tasting good, elderberries are healthy. Read says that elderberries have many of the beneficial characteristics generally expected of fruits and vegetables. In addition, he adds, elderberries are one of the fruits highest in antioxidant content. Elderberry products, such as concentrated juices, have found their way into the health food market. 

Read does not forage elderberries because he has a cultivated “Adams” elderberry growing in his garden. He says there are other “cultivars” (varieties) available including “York” and “Nova.” However, foraged elderberries will be pretty similar to cultivars. 

“Birds love them both,” he says. Foragers should expect to compete with birds for perfectly ripe berries. When cultivating, throwing a net over the plants will help keep the birds out.

Elderberries are easy to incorporate into the home garden. Read recommends spacing elderberry plants out in a field and cutting them back each year so the height is uniform. 

Whether homegrown or foraged, harvest elderberries when they are very dark in order to benefit from the increased antioxidant content and enhanced flavors. He adds that they are not difficult to grow or harvest, and most commercial elderberries are harvested by hand.

Consuming the fruits of your forage will connect you to the source. You will know the environment. You will know your environment. In the cold sterile aisle of the grocery store, it is easy to forget: Nourishment comes from the earth.


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.