Stories from middle America

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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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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.

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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

I’ve carried a lot of my parents’ mindset about home decor into my own adulthood.

If I’m not replacing something that’s damaged or badly stained, the guilt is very real. But I already have this, even though I really don’t like it. But it still works, even though it’s kind of shabby looking. But his mom painted that, so I can’t paint over it.

Remember my guest room? A month ago, it still had my comforter set from college, my bedroom furniture I painted in high school, and a rather dreary rug I picked up on clearance at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Fixing up that room for Air BnB has proven to be tougher and more emotional than I would have ever guessed. I’ve wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Screw this!” on several occasions. But two things have helped me put on my big girl pants and power through:

  1. The room doubles as my office. I’m in there between six and 10 hours a day, so I better damn well like it.
  2. Jessica took out a ton of the guess work for me. Having specifics spelled out for me eased a lot of my anxiety.
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Focus on what’s good

Instead of focusing on stuff that made me anxious (am I being wasteful? Is this frivolous? Why do I need things to be pretty, dammit?), it was encouraging to focus on the room’s good points. When I let myself come up for air, I found a few things that I loved about the room already:

  • Natural light. The guest room/office gets the best light in the house. It feels airy and peaceful all day long.
  • The wall color. A super pale olive that I love, the paint helps the room feel bigger than it is.
  • Neutral bedding.By the time Jessica peeked her head in, I had managed to say goodbye to my college comforter set. The new bedding doesn’t scream “Hello! I’m here!” when I’m in video meetings.
  • Heirloom Samsonite suitcases. They still have my great-uncle’s name and address in the tags, which I think is an awesome touch of the past.
  • A computer chair with personality. I found a pale, wooden computer chair on Craigslist and instantly gave away my huge black office chair.
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The trick was to let these elements shine through without detracting from the room’s dual purpose (guest room + office) and without massively redoing everything (not good for the bank account, not good for my mental well being).

Get rid of what’s holding you back

The trouble with holding onto things out of guilt is that it’s tough to view them objectively. It’s hard to curate a room when you’re seeing “she’d get mad” or “bad purchase” instead of simply “ugly rug” or “tiny lamp.” It helps to get feedback from someone who doesn’t see the extra baggage.

Jessica helped me pinpoint some specific things that were holding the room back from the peaceful, airy feeling I wanted:

  • The rug. The dark color sucked the life out of the room, and it was too large. It also didn’t vacuum well and had a contemporary, geometric pattern that didn’t mesh with the 1930s cottage thing.
  • The wall art. A couple pieces were too small for the wall space, and another piece had a dark, outdated matting and frame.
  • The pillows. Old and flat, they didn’t look welcoming at all.
  • The bedside lamp.Too small for the corner and kind of the same color as the wall, it got lost quickly.

Realize the power of tiny fixes

It’s all well and good to point out things that have to go in your life. I still needed some pointers to make sure I didn’t just fill the room back up with “this was on clearance” or “I have this thing in the attic.” After some gentle prodding from Jessica, here’s what I introduced back into the room:

  • A mirror. Larger than the previous wall art, the mirror is still simple and not so contemporary that it feels at odds in an 80-year-old house.
  • A new rug. This handwoven silk rug was definitely a splurge piece. It adds an awesome feeling of “This is my power office,” rather than “Here’s the random corner where I’m online all day.”
  • A larger lamp. I was afraid that a taller lamp would overpower the twin bed, but Jessica insisted I wouldn’t regret it. The large white shade pops nicely against the neutral green wall.
  • New pillows. A couple new shams and a large decorative throw pillow are making me side-eye my master bedroom now.
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There’s still more I could do, of course. Some 95-inch curtains wouldn’t go amiss, and I’d like to redo the matting and frame on that one art piece. The hub and router for the internet are still an unsightly mess of wires that I haven’t figured out yet.

But I already feel more relaxed walking in here every morning. I’d be proud to offer it to any guest. Guilt-free.

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Typically when one visits a friend’s house, they don’t enter into an obstacle course of unfinished renovation projects. That is, unless you visit my house. I welcome you with a myriad of hot messes: unfinished paint jobs, plenty of loose door knobs — you might get stuck in my bathroom, lucky you!

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Speaking of my bathroom, it has looked like this for about… oh, maybe six months. Honestly, maybe even longer. Who can keep track anymore? The point is that I have subjected my friends and family to this state of affairs for way too long.

In my defense, I’m not a scatterbrain. I do have the ability to finish tasks. I continually help clients get to lovely and finished spaces. But when it comes to my own house, I have a harder time with commitment. That might be one of the hazards of the job since I’m constantly trying to stay current while also timeless with designs. Or it could be that after designing for others all day, all my creative juices are spent.

But times, they are a changin’. I’m finally getting the ball rolling on my main bath renovation.

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The first stage to any design Birdhouse does is to create a vibe board. We scour online resources for inspiration images to help visually communicate the proposed design direction. We do it to speak the same language since not everybody’s “contemporary” or “Bohemian” is the same. We give those descriptions context in a setting with images.

My house was built in 1940, so I want my bathroom to be classic but still a little edgy. I plan to go with black, white, gray, mixed metallics, a little wood and a pop of green.

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After we get on the same page with our clients, we create a game plan mood board. This is a collage of all the room ingredients that we’ve settled on.

My main bath is pretty small, which means I don’t have room for a large vanity. To help with storage, I selected a brass medicine cabinet combined with a small shelf to hold toothbrushes and other items. The mirror needed clearance to open, so I found a really cool tube wall sconce for overhead lighting. And finally, I want to use this indoor/outdoor striped fabric for a custom, extra long shower curtain.

I’ve ordered the light and mirror and plan on installing those within the next couple weeks. I plan on keeping the momentum going and hopefully complete the renovation by midsummer.

Next, it’s time to complete some room renderings to showcase what the space will look like in a few months.

Stay tuned!

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