Tag Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Jason Decker

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Elite Landscaping

As a kid, Omahan Jason Decker was known as the neighborhood yard boy. Today, as owner of Elite Landscaping, he still spends most of his days working outdoors, creating and installing beautiful landscapes and outdoor entertaining spaces for homeowners. “I can’t picture myself doing anything other than this.”

Q: When did you first discover your love for working in the outdoors? How did you get your start in landscaping?

A: Growing up in Armbrust Acres, I mowed 15 yards a week all through grade school and made good money for a young kid. At 15, I started working for a local lawn and landscape contractor. While I worked for my old boss, I read many books on landscaping and learned trial by fire. My parents were always my guinea pigs. They were my first pond, patio, landscape design, fire pit, lighting job, etc. School was never my thing. I just loved being outside, the hard work, seeing the fruits of my labor, and interacting with people.7_BackyardFirepit_Web

Q: What education and training do you have in landscape design? Who were your mentors?

A: I graduated from Millard North High School in 2001 and then attended Metro Community College for one-and-a-half years, taking classes in advanced landscape design and plant knowledge. For the most part, I am self-taught. My mentors were definitely my father, Bob, and mother, Rose, who instilled in me great ethics and morals and taught me at a young age that hard work pays off. My mom continues to support me in my business as the company’s office manager.

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Q: What kind of projects does Elite Landscaping take on? Who are your customers?

A: Our main area of work is in outdoor patio and pool projects. We are the main installer for Lumbermen’s high-end clients, and Bell Pools and New Wave Pools are great companies we work well with, referring business to each other. I do all my own landscape project work—meeting with each client, designing and bidding each job, then watching over the job site through completion. We only do around 15-20 projects a summer, and we continually keep in touch with clients, keeping their properties in peak shape with maintenance annuals, potting, and service work, etc. My customers are generally very hard-working professionals—small business owners, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, executives for local businesses. They love their homes and yards and want them to be one-of-a-kind retreats where they can spend time relaxing and getting away from the rigors of work and enjoying family time. Ninety percent of my work is referral-based, while a few jobs are generated by my website and my exhibit at the Omaha Home Show.IMG_8731_DxO_Web

Q: What part of landscaping do you enjoy the most? What inspires your designs?

A: The most creative and enjoyable part is the design process—I’ve come up with some very unique and challenging designs, and I have a great team of guys who are very skilled and able to execute our designs well. Traveling is what inspires me! I travel about every six weeks, and at least once a year out of the country—Rio de Janeiro, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Miami, Las Vegas…It gives me something to look forward to, and it refreshes the mind and body.

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Q: How do you enjoy your spare time?

Spending it with my girlfriend, Christie. She is the first woman who’s ever been able to get me away from work in the summer, our busiest time of year. We enjoy going to movies, sitting on the outdoor patio with friends for drinks, and dining out at Pitch Pizzeria, J’s on Jackson, M’s Pub, Roja, among others. We also like going downtown, and the Benson area is always fun. I also like to golf or just hang out with my bulldog, Diesel, and watch sporting events.

For a photo gallery of past projects or more info on Elite Landscaping, visit elitelandscapingomaha.com.

Q&A: Jared Gerber

Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Kent Behrens, and Tom Kessler

Inspired by design from a young age, Jared Gerber knew early on he was destined to go into architecture. Today, he makes his living helping homeowners design custom living spaces that not only reflect their personalities, but also fit their natural environment.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background. How did you first come to discover your love of building design?

A: I think the architecture seed was first planted while I was growing up in Virginia. We would take school field trips to Colonial Williamsburg, and I found myself more interested in the architecture of historic buildings than anything else. I really enjoyed studying the aspects that make a building unique—the setting, the form, the details…and trying to discern the things I liked and disliked about a particular building. These experiences also gave me an appreciation for historic preservation.Ascott-07_Web

Q: Where did you receive your education and training in architecture? How did you end up in Omaha?

A: My family eventually moved to Nebraska, and I went to high school in Fairbury. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I decided to take a break and found a job working at an architectural firm specializing in churches in Charlotte, N.C. I loved being two hours from both the beach and the mountains, but I missed the four seasons and my family, so after a couple of years I decided to move back to get my master’s from UNL. Immediately after graduation, I found a job in Omaha. I’ve been here ever since.

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Q: Tell us a bit about your firm. Do you specialize in any niche of architecture or price range? What do you enjoy most about what you do?

A: I founded Gerber Architecture, PC in 2005. I started as a commercial architect but gravitated to the residential side after designing my first house project. I soon discovered that residential design is very rewarding because it has such a direct, personal effect on a client’s everyday life. Today, about 90 percent of my work is residential. I’ve designed a wide range of projects, from simple room remodels to multi-million-dollar additions and remodels to new-construction homes. I enjoy the design phase the most, as that’s the time when the creativity is flowing and there’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy with a project. I also enjoy the beauty of working with different clients. Each homeowner collaboration—discussing their wants, needs, and ideas—creates a house that is truly distinctive, and each offers different problems and solutions. And although most of the drawings are done on the computer now, I still enjoy doing the initial schematic drawings by hand.810-09_Web

Q: Tell us about one of your favorite projects. What challenges and rewards did it offer?

A: One of my favorites was a new house that I designed on a beautiful 40-acre lot south of town that was full of bur oak trees and teeming with wildlife. With a large acreage, you not only design the residence…the creativity extends to the broader view of the site, the approach of the house. Siting the house can be the most difficult task…the vegetation, views, sun patterns, and topography are all factors the homeowner will live with every day. In this case, there was an open, flat area that initially appeared the best placement option. However, after further analysis, pushing [the residence] back to a spot nestled within some trees gave the house a feeling like it belonged…as if it grew out of the site. The finished house is not huge—less than 3,000 finished square feet—but it’s the siting of the house, the quality of the spaces, and the craftsmanship of the details that reflect the homeowners’ personality and make it a great project. The house was featured on the AIA [American Institute of Architects] Omaha Home Tour a couple years ago, and I’m still getting feedback from attendees on how much they appreciated the house.Wehrbein-02_Web

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. Family, associations, and interests outside of work?

A: My wife, Kristine, and I have been married for almost 24 years. We have two boys—Creighton, a sophomore at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., studying archeology, and Drew, a junior at Westside High School. We enjoy traveling, touring houses, and trying out new restaurants. I’m currently on the board for AIA Omaha and help organize various events for our membership. Interacting with my fellow architects helps keep me updated on changes going on both locally and nationally. I’m also a bit of a beer aficionado and enjoy some of the local and regional craft beers and the monthly home brewer’s club at the German-American Society. I’m a former athlete and a huge football fan and often take in a Husker game with my boys.

Q&A: Dan Cullinane

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midwest Iron Doors’ designer Dan Cullinane designs unique metal artworks for building exteriors and interiors. His creations grace the doorways of some of Omaha’s finest residences. We asked Cullinane about the design process, where he gets his inspiration, and how the company is poised for growth.

Q: Tell us a bit about your personal background. How did you come to work for Midwest Iron Doors?

A: I grew up in Papillion and went to school there as well. I’ve always had an interest in art, and I enjoyed drawing a lot as a child. My family’s business was in construction, so I grew up enjoying building and creating things. I still do. For years, I worked for the owner, Ryan [Steele], on and off between my deployments in the Army and while I worked for OPPD. Then, Ryan offered me a full-time job, and I left my position to help him grow Midwest Iron Doors. Ryan is definitely my mentor. He is successful at everything he does and is very dedicated to all aspects of his companies. He’s not afraid to take risks.Hofer-Sanctuary-1_Web

Q: Tell us a bit about your product and the company. What makes Midwest Iron Doors unique?

A: We are the only iron door company in the U.S. that offers a true thermally-broken door. These doors provide thermal insulation while maintaining maximum structural strength. This is our own patent-pending design. The thermal break design is the brainchild of me, Ryan Steele, and Lane Hinton. We started the design with a simple drawing on a dry erase board two years ago and after working long hours to create prototypes and deal with redesigns, we came to where we are today. Our doors range from around $3,000 to whatever the customer wants. We’re in the middle of transitioning to a supplier and setting up dealers across the U.S. We currently have five dealers in Iowa, three dealers in Nebraska, and one dealer in Kansas.

Q: What is the process for creating one of your original works?

A: Our doors start out as an openingdrawn into a blueprint. We take that opening and the vision of the homeowner and create something that is not only a door but an expression of who they are. The most creative part is taking what a customer has in their mind and turning it into a design on paper. The most challenging is definitely the construction aspect of the doors and ensuring that the customer gets the highest quality.Scott-Carson-Door_Web

Q: Besides ideas from customers, what inspires your designs? Tell us about one of your
favorite projects.

A: There are many things that inspire our door designs. We take into account shapes from nature, the architecture in surrounding buildings, and pieces of art that may have a special meaning to someone. One of my favorite projects was last year’s Street of Dreams home for Absolute Customs. The home’s interior designer, Sallie Elliott, went with a vintage Omaha decorating theme. We were asked to contribute, and I drew inspiration from the Joslyn Castle when creating a front door for the home.

Q: Who makes up Midwest Iron Doors’ clientele? How do you market your products?

A: Our customers are generally mid- to high-end homeowners who want to add a detail to their home that sets them apart. Our doors are used for home entries, wine cellars, and even commercial and apartment buildings. We recently supplied doors for a historic dorm remodel at Kansas University. We market our product by putting ads in numerous direct mail publications. We also do four home shows a year, and we supply doors to builders who are in the Street of Dreams. We had four doors in last year’s Street of Dreams and already have two doors in progress for this year’s Street of Dreams and are hoping to add to that number.Deats-2-Copy_Web

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally.

A: My wife, Jessica, and I have been married for over five years now. I have one boy, 18 months, and a newborn son born in April. I enjoy spending time with my family, whether that means walking the trails by our home or catching a bite to eat somewhere in town.

Q&A: Rebecca Harding

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha native and a principal with TACK Architects shares her passion for design, the people who inspire her, and the reasons she’s excited about working in her hometown.

Q: Tell us a bit about TACK Architects. What makes the firm unique?

A: We are an Omaha-based architectural studio founded in 2011 by Jeff Dolezal, Chris Houston, and myself. We’re a fairly young but tested firm, combining 45 years of experience between us. In that time, we’ve created thoughtful, unique projects, integrating our passion for detail and design. We work with a wide range of clients across the nation, providing works of architecture and interior design in the form of high-end residential, commercial, and cultural projects. TACK references a course of action, or method, in order to achieve a goal, especially one adopted through rigor and critical thinking. This is especially true of our work, where good design is a process that vets out and tests ideas. Our design philosophy explores notions or craft, tectonic expression, sustainability, and contextual specificity, while working hard to understand our client’s objectives, budget, expectations, culture, and mission.

Q: Where does the name “TACK” originate from?

A: We wanted to differentiate ourselves with something meaningful that referenced our work and disposition; something people would remember. Within the context of sailing, to “tack” means to change the direction of movement of the sail in order to maximize the benefit from the wind. We felt the term evoked a sense of freedom and determination. Leaving our comfortable corporate careers behind was scary, but exhilarating at the same time. The three of us have been friends and collaborators working on several projects together for over 10 years. We trusted each other’s talents and passion to build a company together at a pivotal time in all our lives.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue your career in Omaha?

A: Returning to Omaha in 1994, after receiving my Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and traveling abroad over a six-year period, was a choice I made for several reasons. Omaha was at the inception of major architectural developments and making its mark as a changing and dynamic Midwestern city. The opportunity to begin my career with well-established architects was ripe and I was ready to reconnect with my roots. My time away from Nebraska and having the opportunity to study in places like Italy, Russia, and Scandinavia provided me with priceless educational experiences in different cultures and the ability to view works of art and architecture that have influenced me over the years. I returned to Omaha with an appreciation beyond my expectations. Omaha is a very special place where people are passionate and hardworking, with ethical beliefs in line with my own. As the city is in the process of expanding new redevelopment efforts, such as the Riverfront, Aksarben, and Downtown and North Omaha, I have the unique opportunity as an architect to help shape the future physical environments in and around Omaha that the next generations will enjoy for years to come.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

Q: Any mentors that have influenced you? Other influences on your design tastes, methods?

A: My father is an oral surgeon and an amazing artist. As children, he used to show my sister and me some pretty gruesome slides of some of his surgeries. I was fascinated by how he could turn a mangled face back into something beautiful again. The precision with which he manipulated bone, muscle, and cartilage while controlling proportion and angles was magical. The combination of science and artistry was a concept I have been obsessed with since I can remember. The practice of architecture is very similar (although a life is not on the line). Other influences include Bauhaus architect, Le Corbusier, for his pure and streamlined designs in architecture and furniture; and Modernist architect, Sverre Fehn, for his sensitivity to context and beauty. Both of these elements can yield very diverse design solutions, but to me, they are very important to the foundations of architecture. It’s true that beauty is somewhat subjective, but beauty can be universal elements like proportion, scale, rhythm, etc. For me, it manifests itself in everything from a field of corn in the middle of summer (viewed from any elevation or angle), to the reflection of the sky in a puddle of water in the driveway.

Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in residential and/or commercial architectural design in Omaha?

A: When I first started practicing in Omaha 16 years ago, it was difficult to get clients to stretch out of their comfort zones. Reputation and trust comes from past projects and what you’re able to physically show the client that’s real. Most people have a hard time understanding abstract concepts or unusual materials until they see them, or can touch them. However, architecture isn’t just about design in the physical sense. We work with many clients on strategic facilities planning; where we help them make decisions on how much space they really need or can grow into. I think this type of service is what makes us really valuable, not just that we’re good designers but we also help people plan their projects and make good decisions at the beginning of the process. This planning works for most project types: residential, commercial, retail, corporate offices, etc. We definitely are seeing an upswing in the market right now.

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. What do you enjoy in your leisure time?

A: I was born and raised in Omaha and attended Westside High School. I was a competitive figure skater up to about the age of 12. When I retired the skates, I took up many other sports and have continued to be active in my adult life. I enjoy running…Not only is it great exercise, it’s great therapy. The stresses of life and work seem to melt away with every step on the pavement. I hope to sign up for another marathon in 2013. I have been married to Brinker Harding for 13 years and have two daughters, Elizabeth (10) and Grace (7). I am truly blessed by them! They remind me what is really important in life—family, humility, love, joy.