Stories from middle America

I spoke to a college class last week about Birdhouse and COOP and my vision for both. At first I didn’t really know what to say, but as the students asked more questions, I realized I was consistently telling a story. The story of what I care about.

I care about exposing people to original art. I care about designing with vintage pieces full of history and character. I care about working with local makers and not taking myself too seriously. Those have been my guiding principles for the last five and a half years, in business and in my personal life.

When my friends at hutch were looking to scale their furniture store in a similar manner, with similar principles, it made a lot of sense for us to figure out how to continue to collaborate with each other.

Previously, hutch had exclusively been a vintage furniture store. Now they wanted to expand their offerings to include new, contemporary pieces and work with a lot of the local makers that Birdhouse has partnered with over the years. It sounded like a great opportunity for Omaha to have a highly curated and design-focused store. So when they approached us to stylize the individual room vignettes, mixing and layering pieces to create a more intimate and homey feel, we were game for the challenge.

After a lot of work and a lot of planning, hutch finally opened their doors a few weeks ago, and I’m excited about the feedback the shop has gotten so far from our city.

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The first complete room vignette as you enter the space. Accessorized shelves line the opposite wall. 

The space flows from one room vignette to the next, a layout that navigates people naturally throughout the store. Brandon and Nick (hutch fellas) were very cognizant of the need for that natural guidance. They also wanted us to alternate the functionality of the vignettes from living room to dining room and so on.

A particular challenge for me were several walls of shelves throughout the store that showcase loads of accessories. Ginger helped a hutch employee with all the visual merchandising. They killed it, thankfully. Before they got on it, I was just standing at those shelves like, “Huh?” Note to self: Merchandising is very different from styling.

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A combined living room and dining room vignette featuring Gus Modern furniture, a media cabinet by local furniture designer Roost Artisan Home, handmade table lamp from Roger + Chris, and art pieces by Nicholas Bohac, Kim Darling, and Sarah Rowe

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Matryoshka by Nicholas Bohac, Media Cabinet by Roost Artisan Home, and Jack lamp from Roger + Chris.  Kim Darling art pieces.

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The room vignette that guests pass through at the front of the store. (You can barely see the door to my office back by the exit sign.)

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Gus Modern dining table and chairs, Roost Credenza, Bend pendant light and stool, and Matt Carlson limited edition screen prints.

Though I’m incredibly excited about the end results, there were a few challenges to this job. The retail floor space is close to 4,000 square feet. That’s big, and at times it felt overwhelming. I also didn’t source any of the furniture or accessories. Basically, I had to take a giant box with pre-selected pieces and put a crazy puzzle together. Holy buckets! That was not easy. But I think it honed my skills substantially and forced me to trust my gut more.

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A complete blank slate to start out with at hutch.

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Sooooo much empty space to fill!

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I did help curate some of the original art in the space. These limited edition prints are by local artist Matt Carlson

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Art by Kira Nam Greene. Yellow couch by Gus Modern.

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Nicholas Bohac art, Kartel pendant light and table lamp. Vintage Bertoia chairs. 

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 The vignette as you circle to the back of the store.

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A group of Peter Cales ceramic and wood balloons hang from the ceiling in a large area in the back of the shop.

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Kim Darling art

Looking ahead, the fellas at hutch and I realized that it would be fun to designate one room vignette where Birdhouse will receive complete creative control. hutch carries some really great lines of furniture and accessories, and we’ll have access to new arrivals before they’re even on the showroom floor. I’ll be like a kid in a candy store: free reign to cherry pick all my favorites and put together a showstopper room!

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The largest combined vignette. Kim Darling large art, vintage dining set, and Nicholas Bohac art in the salon wall. 

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My favorite vignette. I am slightly obsessed with this pink Gus Modern couch and I can always support some gold lamp action. Art by Kim Darling, throw pillows from Ferm Living.

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Art by Kim Darling. Fig tree from Mulhall’s.

Along with stylizing the store vignettes, Birdhouse has a small studio office housed within hutch. We collaborate on events often, and I source a fair amount of their pieces, so I love that my clients can get a peek at them in-house. However, we aren’t their in-house designer — we’re more similar to a co-op of sorts. By piggybacking our services onto one another, we can continue to inspire and challenge each other to give Omaha an amazing resource for furniture, art and design.

All photos by Dana Damewood Photography.

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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!

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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.

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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.) 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Over the last few years, a lot has changed in my life and in my business. And I’ve discovered the only thing that feels right to me is living an intentional and honest life, and sometimes that means it’s messy. I don’t want to be perfect or design perfect spaces. Honestly, those are boring.

Inevitably COOP is starting to reflect those changes.

I don’t want to only share the glossy style posts we see on most lifestyle blogs. I love pretty as much as the next person, but I like the behind-the-scenes adventures more. I don’t want anyone buying filler items for their house, and I don’t want to throw filler junk up on this site. I want to get to the guts of everything. Get underneath the shiny surface and dive into what’s real.

And thanks to Steve Gordon of RDQLUS Creative, who designed the badass rooster logo (dude, I want a T-shirt!), and Eric Downs who revamped our website, I feel like we can communicate this philosophy better.

We’re also adding a couple new regular contributors to the mix.

My best friend Amanda Rucker is a smart, accomplished, and hilarious woman. She’s also my partner-in-crime and adventure. 2015 felt like a time to make this little space on the internet feel more personal. So I persuaded her to help me recap the sometimes ridiculous but mostly wonderful experiences we work hard to make time for in our lives.

If mindfulness is a buzzword right now, there’s good reason for it. A consistent yoga and meditation practice has positively impacted my life more than anything ever has. It’s not weird, everybody. It’s awesome.

Stefanie Monge is a yoga teacher and a bartender. (See, people don’t fit into boxes.) Her approach to zen is really accessible and I never feel intimidated being myself or trying something new in her classes. I’m really looking forward to reading more from her.

Here’s to a new look and some new perspectives!

Photos via Hooton Images.

You took weeks to view a half dozen spaces before making an offer on that house with the perfect built-ins by the fireplace. Or you spent hours searching Craigslist, while posting feelers on your social media feeds for leads on apartments in your dream neighborhood.

You took the time to find the right place for you, the space that fit your needs and felt like home.

After all that effort, doesn’t it make sense to be as intentional designing your space?

We suggested this more selective approach to design while working with creative couple Caleb and Daphne to make their charming home a perfect combination of lived-in and cool, with an inviting living/dining room. We also created a functional, multi-tasking, business meeting area. They needed a lot from this little room, which meant taking our time to find the just-right pieces was the only option.

I explained the design inspiration last year. We’ve made considerable progress on the implementation.

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These clients work from home, so this small front area needed to serve multiple functions. Though it won’t always be used for business needs, occasionally the clients hold meetings or quick brainstorm sessions in what might normally be their home’s living room. There is no stand alone dining room in their house.

And since the couple loves to regularly host intimate dinner parties, it made sense to focus on bringing in a large table that can function as a dining area and as a workspace, instead of attempting to use furniture made for lounging.

 

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Though there wasn’t enough room for a couch, we still wanted a place for people to take a seat. We loved the vintage caned chairs the clients already owned, but felt they could stand out with new upholstery. This bold floral pattern looks cool and contemporary played against the white walls and abstract art. (Caleb is a talented artist; lucky us!)

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We knew that white walls would keep the snug room feeling bright and airy. The trick was adding texture and interest with mustard colored velvet drapes, an antique Persian runner, and varied lighting elements: a Jonathan Adler green table lamp and beautiful brass ceiling fixture from One Forty Three.

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The real showstopper is the custom mural Caleb painted on the back wall. It acts as a vivid focal point, yet doesn’t overwhelm. The layered Teal Gardner art adds a contrasting brightness and hit of color. And that touch of pink in the adjacent hallway? What a fun moment.

We’re not completely done with everything. The chairs around the table will be replaced once we find the perfect set by Milo Baughman. Soon, every piece will have a purpose and be exactly what our clients love.

It was fun to read our client’s experience on thoughtful design and working with Birdhouse.