Tag Archives: Steven Ginn

Embracing Arts + Crafts

November 5, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not often that architect Steven Ginn is asked to tear down half a house, then renovate the remaining half. But the prospect of a crazy complicated project didn’t deter the veteran architect. In fact, he welcomed the challenges of creating a cohesive home for his clients, Rod and Lisa Johnson, in their lovely Fairacres residence. Lisa was the primary collaborator, working with Ginn and master craftsman and contractor Don Stein to create a traditional yet functional home that would embrace their natural surroundings and social lifestyle, keeping sustainability in mind.

From a design perspective, the team was tasked with hatching a house that flowed seamlessly from the existing framework to the new addition. The end result is the stunning 8,000-square- foot home at 6729 Davenport St. Set on over an acre, this English Arts and Crafts beauty fits right in with the historic neighborhood. That was intentional, as Lisa didn’t want something that would be viewed as an eyesore, lessen the curb appeal, or annoy her neighbors in the well-known and well-loved enclave.

Arts and Crafts is more of a movement than a specific style of house. But, generally, it’s understood that the design approach sprung from a rejection of the Industrial Revolution and the dehumanization of art and architecture. Arts and Crafts homes emerged as places to express one’s humanity, commune with others, embrace nature, and honor workmanship. A focus on the hearth and heart of the home is an example of an Arts and Crafts expression. In the Johnson home, the master bedroom fireplace and large outdoor fireplace are examples of this in practice. Additionally, Arts and Crafts homes typically offer multiple places to gather. The Johnson home fully embraces this design element, which makes socializing a breeze.

“I love how the house is big and open with great flow, so that it is so easy to entertain friends and family and so easy to live in day to day,” Lisa says. “I love that it has been a hub for my kids and their friends, partly because of the features that we built in that make it a fun, easy, welcoming place for kids or adults to hang out…things like a media room, exercise room, large built-in couch, game room and (lockable) wine cellar on our lower level, as well as a pool, hot tub, fireplace, outdoor kitchen, and basketball court outside.” 

The home’s multiple porches and balconies are another design feature that’s common in Arts and Crafts homes, as they serve as yet more gathering spaces and help link the indoors and outdoors. For Ginn, the link to the outdoors was integral in the design process. The whole house was designed around two pin oaks, one in the front yard and one in the back. The office, in particular, offers focused views of nature as the doors were designed to line up with the oak in front. According to the architect, “The connection to nature lends itself to a stronger sense of place.” As such, a courtyard was created to allow the tree’s roots to thrive for decades.

Bringing the outdoors in was part of  the Johnsons’ vision as well. “The biggest inspiration was probably our beautiful yard…using the outdoor space better and creating beautiful views.” Lisa is overjoyed with the end result. “I love the big beautiful windows and the way that light floods in through them, even on gloomy days, and I love how each window is a frame for the scenic view of the pretty yard and trees beyond it.”

An appreciation for nature also lent itself to sustainability. The home is heated and cooled by a geothermal pump, which reduces power consumption, and was built with extra hybrid insulation to keep energy costs low. Ginn says he wants the house “to stand the test of time” and inspire the owners to lovingly maintain the home well into the future. An architect always aims to build homes that will be relevant and useful in 30 more years, he says.

With classic features, good bones, and smart design, this Fairacres beauty is destined to be around for generations to come. 










This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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.