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Omaha Magazine

Behind the Bookcase

Apr 10, 2020 05:06PM ● By Liz Stevens

Prohibition agent Eliot Ness would turn in his grave to see what's behind the ordinary-looking gray bookcase filled with office knick-knacks in the middle of a downtown law office. 

In 2018, Carlson & Burnett reconstructed an old parking garage on the building’s first floor and opened its second office located at 2002 Douglas St. 

The office currently resides in the former Omaha Club, which featured a foyer with a coat closet and large staircase leading up to a bar and racquetball courts. When the club closed in the late 1990s, the building’s top floor was reestablished as a condominium and the lower level was turned into parking. 

After managing partner Darren Carlson sketched out his ideal office layout on the back of a cocktail napkin, he passed the drawing off to a friend who happened to be a retired architect to develop the blueprints.  

“I love construction,” Carlson said. “We built a building out west and I did most of the layout and design for that. All I need is a bar napkin. If I've got a bar napkin, I can draw anything. That is always my inspiration.”

The building construction and design was completed, and the office was open for business by April 2019. Along with his duties as managing partner, Carlson acted as the general contractor for the renovation process. 


Walking into the office, there is an eye-catching gong mounted to the wall that reads “Gong for Service.” Behind the cool-tone gray paint, the remaining office walls are mounted with unique art, one of which features a paintbrush coming out of the canvas and humorous plaques. 

The aesthetic is a constant echo of light-colored gray textiles with pops of red in furniture and other accents. The modern, eye-catching design is shown through glass the glass doors and walls. 

“A little bit outside the box. It’s generally light, trendy and modern,” said Carlson, noting that the company has created the same atmosphere in their West Omaha office. The atmosphere is important because lawyers often discuss heavy topics with their clients. 

“But it doesn’t mean you [clients] should walk in and feel like it’s doom and gloom,” Carlson said.

“Our byline is ‘friends of the family,’” associate David Thompson said. “We really aim to be a place that is comfortable for families.”

Off to the side of the space is a kitchen and lunch table equipped with comfortable seating and a popcorn machine. What looked like an average dining space was the front for the most popular conference room in the office. 

The gray bookcase next to the staff refrigerator swings open to reveal a small room with black leather couches with gray and silver pillows on either side. The modern design carries over to the private bar.

Along with sleek cocktail art featuring a classic gin martini and red wine, the space features quotes on the wall from two famous Rat-Packers and cocktail aficionados.  

In bold letters the wall reads “Alcohol give you infinite patience for stupidity,” from Sammy Davis Jr., and “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says 'love your enemy,'” from Frank Sinatra. Carlson originally chose these quotes to give the space a fun atmosphere.

Carlson said the speak-easy is used for small-group or late-day client meetings, and people can have a glass of wine while chatting. Occasionally, if the group meetings are large enough, they'll utilize the kitchen and dining area.

“We’re pretty casual and fun,” Carlson said. “We’re definitely known as a group that is not stuffy. Our goal in doing that is that people walk in the door and feel comfortable.”

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This article was printed in the April/May 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.