Stories from middle America

I’m sitting on my couch eating kimchi. It’s delicious. Kimchi used to be way too strong for me, taste wise. Since I like it now, I worry my taste buds are dying.

Last summer, I tried to make kimchi and have yet to try it. I bought the wrong kind of spice at the Asian Market, and it turned brown instead of the vibrant red I had expected. “That looks disgusting,” my friend Miranda observed as I hand mixed it. I now wonder since I am not of Asian decent, if making kimchi in my kitchen using Mason jars makes me a special kind of culturally illiterate asshole. I throw the jar out.

It’s almost weird to be in this moment, with these things. At the height of the Recession, I started a long unemployment journey that often left me with barely enough money to pay my bills. Buying kimchi on a whim at Whole Foods was a luxury I wouldn’t go near.

Despite my sudden financial trajectory, I still lived a life of privilege. I had parents who stepped in when I called. I had friends give me cheap housing and others got me a job when my unemployment benefits ran out.

For about a year, from 7 AM to 3 PM, six days a week, I would transcribe handwritten comments into typed text. Since I couldn’t afford the parking garage, even in the dead of winter I walked over a mile to my building. When my productivity slowed or I made too many spelling errors, I would get lectured about “increasing my output” for approximately five to seven minutes by my manager while her subordinate listened in. I was allowed two 15 min breaks and one 30 min lunch during the day, and was encouraged to work all major holidays for no increase in my hourly wage (which I did, because I needed the money and not a day off without pay).

I still job searched in my field, which ironically was copywriting and marketing. I was the finalist for so many jobs in exotic sounding cities like Seattle, Boston and New York City. So many times, I would lose out in the final interview round and be forced to return to my beige, windowless cubicle. So many times, I would cry the whole day.

Years later, eating this over-priced, Whole Foods kimchi – I’m mortified by how I looked down my nose at that job. It was a job; it helped me pay my bills, on time, every month. I worked next to Lyndsey – an aspiring self-taught photographer who loved her mom. And Gunther, a talented musician who came to work, got his shit done, and went home to his beautiful wife. To be ashamed meant I thought I was above the work and these people. Now I understand – you’re never above honest work.  

Dreams and reality don’t always mash up. But you do the work to get you there. Fanaticizing about a certain lifestyle or job won’t put the skills on your resume. Appreciating the here and now, the actions you’re taking to reach your dreams – that’s when you look back, connect those dots and think, “I got through that so I could be here.” So often, I’m reminded that many people never get the resources to pull themselves up.  If you’re able to better your situation, remember to not be an asshole  – life doesn’t owe you a cushy career trajectory paved in nice salaries.


Along with one day having a two car garage, a sunroom (or covered porch) is on my dream home bucket list. The combination of a good book, lounge chair, and sipping a glass of wine as sunshine fills my soul with its powerful vitamin D wonder drug, is my idea of heaven.

Since my home doesn’t currently offer either of those amenities, it was a treat working with a lovely client to make her sunroom as cozy as possible.

Unfortunately I don’t have any “Before” photos, but imagine a blank canvas. And now, ta-dah.


This client had just bought her first home, and seeing her excitement with every stage of the design was contagious. She really wanted her sunroom to function as a den where she could also entertain friends.


With hours of sun streaming in the space, I was very aware of the fabrics that we selected since discolored and fading textiles are not awesome. We added a couple of comfortable leather chairs for lazy Sunday hangouts, an indoor/outdoor rug, and a reasonably priced (and vintage-inspired) patterned ottoman. I think the look of the ottoman affords it to age with patina which will continue to that add character to the piece.


Clearly the best of part this room is that hanging rattan chair. It’s super inviting and envelops you as you sit in it. And maybe it’s some innate comfort that comes from swinging or rocking, but that action is incredibly soothing. Oh, and it looks pretty rad.

All photos by Dana Damewood.

I have spent almost an entire year finding excuses to not finish a living room revival I committed to last summer.

But, to be fair, one excuse is pretty legit. An excuse that may haunt me forever: my budget. It’s always encouraging me to get back to the basics and just live with what I have.

I truly believe in the value of a well-thought-out design. Obviously. That’s what I do everyday at Birdhouse. However, I live in a world that doesn’t always understand that value. It’s sometimes difficult to calculate the monetary value of my professional experience, and it’s even harder to explain that value to a very money-focused society. So I’m using my own living room revival to demonstrate how a professional (me!) can help create a space with aesthetic qualities to love, a space that helps a family function, and a space where family can interact with one another easily and comfortably.

By addressing certain problems within my own living room, I was able to come up with a solution for a room that functioned at its best.


Problem: Elongated shape of the room and an awkward layout off the dining room.

Solution: I created a main conversation/television watching area on the long wall of the room and another little seating area along the short wall. I layered a variety of textures and accessories to trick the eye into believing the room had better flow, mostly by focusing on other really personal additions to the room. I added new lighting, a new-to-me peacock wicker chair, a new walnut coffee table with the most amazing shape, and gave everything an overall edit to tame all the colors going on in my styling habits.

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The coffee table was built by Benjamin Petersen of Timbersmith. I worked closely with him to make this table something really special. I sent him an inspiration shape and an overall concept for the table. After selecting the materials to be used — walnut and hairpin legs — he built this one-of-a-kind piece for me. I am overwhelmed with the result!

Problem: Budget

Solution: Make a list of items needed and shop according to those needs. This eliminates excess spending. I found the peacock wicker chair for $9 at a local antique store. I selected lighting that was inexpensive: the floor lamp by the wicker chair I found at Target and the new floor lamp to the left of my sofa is IKEA. I also added depth to the room with new, lighter curtain panels. I took these panels all the way to the ceiling to create an illusion of height.


These panels are Nate Burkus for Target and just what my budget was looking for.


Lastly, I restyled my bookshelves by editing all the color I had previously incorporated. This helped make it more cohesive and pleasing. It’s still an eclectic mix but now a mix that all works together.

Even though I don’t love the extended completion date this project ended up having (!), I’m happy that it stayed true to the concept I created. It’s turned my living room into one the most enjoyable spaces for my family and me. As a designer, that is my North Star, my point. This project is so close to finished. I’m still on the hunt for artwork above my sofa though.

Problem: Art budget

Solution: Make my own original art. I LOVE original art, but my budget just won’t allow for that. By bouncing several of my ideas off Jessica, we’ve come up with a concept for this art that fits me completely. But, shh! The only thing I’m going to share about my art today is it’s vibe board.

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I apologize for the very amateur photos I’ve got here for now. Until I have my artwork complete and have professional photos taken, these will have to do. Stay tuned!

The object enthusiast studio

You know those people who can remember everyone’s name, are great with numbers, or have impeccable timing? It’s usually a skill that comes so easily to them, they’re oblivious that it’s basically a super power.

Emily Reinhardt’s super power is style, and it’s most evident in the subtly Bohemian collection of ceramics she designs and produces for her company, The Object Enthusiast.

Follow her Instagram feed, and you’re treated to gorgeous photos of her work and other striking compositions. It’s clear she understands all the little ways that you can imbue your personal aesthetic into aspects of your life and business. And it never feels staged because her styling comes from such an authentic place.

Most likely because she’s an authentic person. She’ll sip on a Miller Lite while glazing gold patterns on a delicate ring dish. She’s honest and open about the struggles of running a small business, yet has confidence when she speaks about her artistic talents and goals. And she’s genuinely rooting for her peers to succeed and for Omaha’s creative community to grow and prosper.

Emily recently moved into a new, beautifully organized studio space at Bench. We popped over for a chat about her thoughts on the “maker movement” and to learn more about her creative process. (And maybe drink a Miller Lite or two.)



COOP: We met via the power of the internet! I was stalking your work on Instagram (thanks to our now-mutual friend Amanda‘s recommendation) and dreaming of a way to get one of your pieces in a project. That’s when I realized you were in Omaha!

How long have you been here and where did you originally call home?

Emily: I love hearing the story of how you found me, Jessica! I’ve lived here for almost two years; I grew up in the KC area and was living in Wichita for about 10 months before I came to Omaha.

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COOP: How did you choose ceramics as your medium? For years it seemed like ceramicists didn’t get the same kind of love as painters or photographers. Lately, I’ve felt a big push to celebrate work like yours. Do you think it’s because your pieces are functional as well as beautiful? And is that why cities are beginning to focus on their “maker” communities?

Emily: I discovered ceramics when I took my first class in 2008, basically just to fulfill a three-dimensional design requirement for my art education major. I received some mild praise from a professor, and when he left the room, my instructor was so excited. She told me that he never says that to anyone and that I should change my major to ceramics. I think I went to the office right after class to make the switch — I might have even left class early to do it.

I think so many people are torn between the “art versus craft” debate, and a lot of people don’t agree on where ceramics belongs. I am happy to be called a maker — I want my goods to be lived with. I never picture them on a pedestal in an all-white gallery. I think people are finally starting to focus on building up a collection of objects that they can live with. Fine art isn’t accessible to everyone, but a lot of times pottery can be.

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COOP: Tell me a little about your creative process?

Emily: I am hit with new ideas at any time. It’s usually just a thing that I usually live with that I picture to be designed differently. Whether it’s a planter or a salt shaker or an incense holder. Some ideas take longer than others to figure out; it rarely happens on the first try. But I’m not a sketcher. I hate to draw because I don’t think I’m very good at it. I usually just dive right in with an idea and try to build one right away. Sometimes it comes out right, other times it needs a few adjustments. Lately I’m trying really hard to push myself away from just white and gold objects. I can’t help but love that combination.

COOP: What does a typical work day look like for you?

Emily: A work day usually starts around 6:45. I walk the dog, make coffee, hopefully breakfast, and I’m usually at the studio around 9. Each day is a little different. Some are devoted to computer work and shipping orders, other days are all about making or glazing or something else. The dirty, clay-filled days are my favorite.

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COOP: What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made?

Emily: I’ve had a handful of “oops” moments, and I learn so much from them. But they’re awful. Last year, I definitely got myself in trouble with saying “yes” too often. I would get caught up with requests for my work and feel totally flattered and excited, and I over-committed myself BAD last year. I overdid it with wholesale orders and shows and “made-to-order” items in my shop around the holidays. Burnout wasn’t something I was expecting to feel so early on in my career. It left me scrambling for new ideas and feeling uninspired. I made some changes and still catch myself getting overwhelmed at times, but I knew I didn’t want to get back to that place of feeling uninspired.

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COOP: As much as I love the idea of “follow your passion, and the money will come,” that’s not always what happens. What’s one concrete piece of business advice you’d give to someone looking to turn their passion into profit?

Emily: I know that I am never done learning. About my business, my craft, my purpose . . . all of that. I think one of the best things we can do is to keep allowing ourselves to learn more. Invest in opportunities that broaden your perspective, that help you grow and develop and pick up a new skill or talent. When I think about the things I don’t know yet, I catch myself looking forward to what will be different in five or 10 years. What will I be really good at then? What new skill will I have picked up? What will I know?

All photos by Heather and Jameson