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 updated lobby.
Kim Darling original painting and postcards of the building through the ages.
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.
The lobby before.
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.
Lots of scaffolding to paint the 3-story sign.
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!
It was pretty fun to stage one of the model units.
Because I’m casually walking with my bag, duh.
That’s a damn fine kitchen in a rental unit.
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.