Stories from middle America

About a year ago I had the overwhelming feeling of needing space. Life had been a series of extremes for me – from ventures that didn’t quite work out as planned, to meeting my partner in life. It left me taking on emotions at such a speed that I wasn’t really processing, or for that matter, enjoying or learning from any of them.

I doubt I’m alone with this, but when I’m in a distracted headspace it’s hard for me to be creative. And since creativity is a main component of what I do for a living, something had to give to allow some unfettered room in my noggin. Unfortunately, the open little brain bubble came at the expense of this site.

But I’ve missed it.

I like having an outlet to share the ramblings of my brain. And I realized that writing a blog post is actually really good for organizing my thoughts, which motivates me in other aspects of my life.

Then there are the contributor essays.

I once read an article where some famous actress loved Ina Garten (duh, she’s a badass) and wanted to be on The Barefoot Contessa. Ina politely declined because she preferred doing the show with her friends. That’s kind of how I feel about these ladies. I like them. I like hanging out with them in real life because I think they have interesting things to share. So it’s fun to see which things they choose to write about and put out into the world.

Yadda yadda yadda – you get the point. I’m back on this train.

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Sometimes, old is bad. As in, don’t eat that moldy peach, and you should probably toss out your gross toothbrush after a few months. Sometimes, new is totally awesome. I’m always down to cuddle with babies, puppies, and fresh paychecks.

When it comes to architecture, age is an amazing storyteller. But you can combine old and new to tell an even greater story.

Our recent Birdhouse project, collaborating with Dicon Corporation, did just that. The old? Omaha’s version of the Flatiron building: built in 1912, and inspired by New York’s original version, the triangular building was originally office/retail spaces with a ground floor restaurant. It later became a hotel and then another round of offices last updated in the ’80s. (Oh, and let’s not forget the rumor that it once served as a mobster safe house in the ’20s.)

The new? Our restoration and renovation plans, which shook up the building’s traditional styles and injected them with fun details to make the building stand in an era all its own.

After languishing for some time in a stagnant area of the city, Dicon had another vision for the historic building and tasked HBA architects to carve out 30 apartments from the irregular shaped footprint. Birdhouse was brought on board to select finishes throughout the building, design the lobby and transform the 3-story interior courtyard area into a shared lounge space for tenants.

Hotel Flatiron - Birdhouse Interiors

Hotel Flatiron updated lobby. 

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Kim Darling original painting and postcards of the building through the ages.

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For the lobby, we wanted to add back some of the character and grandeur that the original architect envisioned. We suggested a classic black and white stone tile laid on a diagonal pattern, and neo-traditional furniture pieces. The original trim was beautiful, but disappeared with a dingy coat of off-white paint. I loved the idea of making it a focal point, so we upped the contrast by painting it high-gloss black.

As we helped update the space, it was important to remember that we weren’t the first to stake our flags here. Omaha is fortunate to have Restoration Exchange which is an awesome organization focused on historic preservation. We happily worked with them to secure historic postcards from the early 20th century featuring different parts of the building (including the Flatiron Cafe). Once we blew them up, they made really personal and original art pieces.

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The lobby before. 

hotel flatiron courtyard - birdhouse flatiron hotel omaha - Birdhouse Interiors bar

Next came the interior courtyard. The ceiling is a giant skylight so the lighting situation took a little creativity. We eventually settled on custom brackets attached to the walls that played nice with some really interesting hanging lanterns that I thought bridged that old-meets-new land. Seriously, they are rad.

courtyard in progress

In progress.

flatiron sign in progress

Lots of scaffolding to paint the 3-story sign.

Roost custom table

Original table top from Roost Artisan Home. You can see the space from every floor so we wanted the tables to complement the custom floor pattern we designed.

A larger project like this also afforded us to bring in several local makers who contributed their talents to breath new life into the area. Sharon Davis painted the Flatiron sign in the courtyard; Jeremy Estill of Roost Artisan Home made custom tables with laser cut tops; Reify Design created concrete coffee tables; we sourced several furniture pieces from hutch; and there is an original oil painting from Kim Darling in the lobby. A lot of local love!

flatiron omaha model unit

It was pretty fun to stage one of the model units. 

flatiron birdhouse interiors

Because I’m casually walking with my bag, duh.

unit other view

Hotel Flatiron Unit - Birdhouse Interior Design

That’s a damn fine kitchen in a rental unit. 

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The unit kitchen in progress.

Buildings are a direct tie to a city’s culture and evolution. People were around before us, and those people cared about their city in the same way we do. They worked hard to design something beautiful; to build something strong; and to create something lasting for their community. I really appreciated how Dicon wanted to tell the story of the building and honor those people, but encouraged us to add some contemporary flavor to attract a current audience. Highlighting the history and existing architecture, while updating the design in fun new ways is pretty much Birdhouse’s sweet spot, so this project was a perfect fit.

All photos (minus the exterior and before shots) by Dana Damewood.

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.

hooisunroom

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.

sunroom

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.

rattanchair

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.

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.)

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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.

the object enthusiast studio

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

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