Stories from middle America

I like to play this game where I bribe myself to run with the treat of cruising through some of Omaha’s loveliest neighborhoods. That way I can snap a photo of some gorgeous house while pretending I live there and feeling all fancy and stuff. Inevitably, I’ll get busted by the homeowner taking a pic, often as my dog decides it’s a great time to poop in the creeped-out homeowner’s yard. After awkwardly leaving their sidewalk, I’ll scoot away with a little gem to share. Victory!

These are just some of the houses that had me charmed enough to post to Instagram in the last year.

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Dundee FTW.

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Gold Coast with the landlocked Nebraska’s take on a widow’s walk.

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Dundee and that ivy.

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Bemis Park’s historic Victorian dream.

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Country Club’s modern “House of Tomorrow” from 1936. Shoutout to East of 72nd for the info.

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Country Club with a house that looks amazing in every season.

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Joslyn Castle. OK, I kind of cheated.

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Country Club and complete lamp post goals. Those alliums are pretty adorable too.

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This fairy tale house in Country Club.

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A handsome Country Club Tudor.

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Country Club Area (not sure exact neighborhood) with the best whitewashed brick.

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Country Club with a red tile roof.

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This is actually in the Westside neighborhood of KC. But it’s too good not to share.

It’s not my goal to invade anyone’s privacy, so I never like to share street addresses. But I simply can’t stop myself from this game. There are too many cool, stately, interesting, and proud homes in the Midwest.

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. 

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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.

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In progress.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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