Stories from middle America

I love having new contributors! And today I’m excited that my new studiomate, Daphne Eck, is sharing an insightful and honest observation of herself that sparked while working on a DIY backyard project. Daphne is a writer and creative strategist at She mostly lives in Omaha, Nebraska right now, where she takes on house projects that are beyond her actual skill level. Her husband, Caleb Coppock, currently has custody of their two sweet and slightly crotchety sister cats, Carol and Nancy, in Portland, Oregon. Daphne visits her three Portland loves quite often; you can almost call her bi-regional. Or would that be mid-coastal?

My DIY Backyard Patio

This spring, I built a retaining wall in my backyard and made it into a little patio area. When my husband and I moved into our house four years ago, the backyard was a long, narrow hill with a chain link fence bordered by a sad little row of daylilies and hostas. The first two years, I added more plants bit by bit. Last summer, we replaced the broken tin shed with a new one and had a flat patio area dug into the hill. Winter came and the project was still in progress, turning it all into a muddy mess. Meanwhile, my husband, Caleb, took a kick-ass job in Portland, Oregon, and we became a couple with a LDR.

With Caleb on the west coast, I continued the project on my own this spring. I built a retaining wall – all by myself! – then got a professional to pour a concrete pad. I filled everything in with so much dirt, planted a little sod, split a bunch of perennials from my own yard and pilfered a bunch more from my neighbors (with their blessing, of course). Now it’s a peaceful spot where I feel surrounded by beauty, yet set apart from the world. I’m so proud of what I’ve done!

The project has been well timed on a personal level, too; with all the changes that were happening with our now two-household lifestyle, I realized I needed to recalibrate some things. I began to receive all the time and space I had been given for what it really was – a gift. A chance to choose (again! always again!) the way of living and being that I really want for myself.

The outdoor physical activity and alone time was just what I needed while I processed and practiced my new ways. I had a lot of time to think as I dug trenches and learned how to level the ground. I listened to music, podcasts and books while lugging concrete blocks from the shelves at Lowe’s to my car to my backyard to the slowly growing wall. My muscles and my psyche both grew stronger as I shoveled and hauled and dumped what felt like a hundred wheelbarrows of dirt. One day, on the recommendation of my therapist, I sat in the backyard and watched this brilliant little video of Brene Brown spewing some wisdom about boundaries. And then I stayed a while longer to ponder it all. Turns out this DIY project had as much to do with my life as it did with stacking concrete blocks into a retaining wall.

patio before patio progress daphne patio progress patio after

A Garden With A Wall

When you realize that you’ve spent too long
Believing not-nice things about yourself.
When someone you don’t even like anymore
Told everyone that you’re to blame.
And you went ahead and believed them for a while,
But at the same time tried to prove them wrong.
And the I’m-not-right-inside feelings
Have festered inside and gripped your belly
Then bubbled up and out your throat,
Spilled onto those you love the most.

When you let your boss or pastor or weird idea of god have the deciding vote.
When you’re good and helpful and on point with all the things
Then are mean to your husband
Because dammit you’re tired of the striving,
And mad as hell about what you gave away,
And can’t he get with the program for once?
When “compassion” looks more like resentment than love.
When you don’t know what you’ll allow and what you won’t.
When you’re Nebraska Nice but way off track inside.

One friend tells me she’s not sweet, but she’s kind.
Another one says she’s never kept a boundary that felt too tight.
My neighbor told me she’d rather show what she believes than say it.
Someone I met the other day is certain their partner is doing their very best.
This other lady I know isn’t gonna make her sister-in-law prove shit.

What if I mustered the best thought about you that I could?
What if I went a little wild and did it for myself, too?
What if I just assumed the best of us all?
What if I only worked in the wholehearted variety of yes?
What if I allowed my “no” to resound?

What if I took this project on?
Created it from a picture that’s inside my head.
The neighbors couldn’t see it yet,
But I knew that it was gonna work.
I’d get my strong hands and back and arms and legs and YouTube to help.
I’d build a wall,
Not the kind to keep people out
But one to situate myself within.
I’d ground myself in the earth
Right here under the canopy.
Imagine it into existence,
Sketch out my plan on paper
(And even with the garden hose in the dirt).
Decide where to build it up,
And what to shovel out.
I’d dig the stone blocks in, almost a foot beneath the soil,
Build on that foundation,
Just high enough to create a cozy spot.

I’d make a garden out of it
Grow what comes to me–so long as it’s beautiful and free.
I’d dig out roots from my very own soil.
And gratefully receive others from my friends.

I’d water the new plantings every day,
Kill anything that didn’t belong in the sacred space
Then once it’s done, I’d plop myself down in this chair
And look at what I’ve done.
Take a minute with it.
Let it really soak in.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.05.13 PM

Dundee FTW.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.01.40 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.05.32 PM

Dundee and that ivy.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.03.38 PM

Bemis Park’s historic Victorian dream.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.01.23 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.59.33 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.02.01 PM

Joslyn Castle. OK, I kind of cheated.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.06.05 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.02.59 PM

This fairy tale house in Country Club.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.59.52 PM

A handsome Country Club Tudor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.59.17 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.59.02 PM

Country Club with a red tile roof.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.05.48 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 2.20.08 PM

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. 

flatiron omaha north lobby

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

flatiron stairs - wallpaper bend chairs vestibule

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 6.16.52 PM flatiron lobby before

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. 

kitchen during

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.

hogan outlet hogan outlet online outlet hogan outlet hogan outlet scarpe hogan outlet hogan scarpe outlet hogan outlet hogan outlet online outlet hogan outlet hogan hogan scarpe outlet hogan outlet hogan outlet online