Stories from middle America


One alluring aspect of cities like Austin, Portland, or Santa Fe is their noticeable investment in cultivating a flourishing creative community. There’s a buzzing energy that springs from neighborhoods full of galleries, retail and restaurants filled with things crafted by people who live up the street.

Omaha is slowly making strides to follow suit. And I’m excited to see so many of my peers acting as catalysts to help change our urban landscape.

Bench is a fine example of that. It’s a shared workshop and studio space for local furniture makers and artists in North Downtown Omaha. We’ve worked with several of those makers on a number of projects over the last few years. So when Bench’s owner, Ben Petersen, asked for some help pulling together the studio commons at their new location, we were happy to come up with a few ideas!


The downstairs workshop. 

The studio commons is on the second story above a large woodworking shop in an old industrial building. Several artist studios flank the area which functions as a coworking, break room and event space. The artists wanted to have multiple places where they could work at a computer or sketch designs. As a result, there’s a mix of regular and standing desks, and a group work table doubles as a conference table when needed.


Birdhouse and Timbersmith Goods collaborated on standing desk designs. (The boards under the legs were there because the desk had just been installed and the floors aren’t perfectly level. Ben was still adjusting things to avoid any wobbling action.) 


A work table made inhouse by Timbersmith Goods and a small stage that hosts local bands during events. 


Studio Commons hand-painted sign by Sharon Davis. 

Since Bench is obviously meant to be fairly industrial, we weren’t doing design at the level we would for, say, a residential space. But we did come up with a fun idea to paint the kitchen floor in a plaid pattern to help define the space better. The red pendant lights and yellow chairs add a hit of vibrant color.

bench4 lights

Birdhouse envisioned the wrap-around desks and Timbersmith Goods manufactured them. 

The existing overhead fixtures fit the overall aesthetic just fine (it’s a warehouse full of people that need to make messes, after all), but they didn’t do much for task lighting. We utilized wall sconces around the support beams and cantilevered lamps to bring more light to the standing desks.


The commons workspace at Bench is basically a large concrete and plaster box, which meant that it originally felt pretty sterile and could be very loud. Some basic white drapery panels added a little bit of softness. I had the idea to dip-dye them originally and approached Ellene McClay to help me implement that concept. Instead, she proposed a hand-splattered look that I love! Kudos to her for that.

The space still needs a few additions, but it’s already getting a lot of use from Bench’s members, as well as for makers’ market events!

All photos by Hooton Images.

  • Ellene McClay

    nice write up 🙂 Glad you like the drapes!!

    • Jessica McKay

      Thank you for your help!

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