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Omaha Magazine

'A Vacation Every Day' Vision Realized: The Johnsons' Sandy Pointe Lake Dream Home

Jun 23, 2020 01:05PM ● By Hannah Amrollahi
view of Johnsons' lake home from beach

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dan and Erin Johnson designed their dream home with one essential element: uninterrupted views of water on the horizon. 

“We’ve always been drawn to the water,” Erin said. 

That pull intensified in 2009 after visiting relatives in the Virgin Islands. They briefly considered buying a home in an island paradise, but the Johnsons eventually found “the vacation every day mentality” of lake life at Sandy Pointe in Ashland. 

“We’ve been Nebraska residents for all 40 years of our lives and we were hell-bent to stay,” Dan said. 

 After years spent renovating houses, the couple wanted to realize their own vision. 

Dan, a project construction manager, had the background to act as on-site manager on their home build, and Erin had the ambition to handle the design and budget. 

“Having experience and knowing my wife’s commitment, there was no doubt in my mind we could achieve it,” Dan said. “We both wanted the challenges of building ourselves.”

The Johnsons took their vision to lake communities around Nebraska. 

“We knew we needed to get the right lake,” Dan said.   

 They settled on Sandy Pointe, halfway between Omaha and Lincoln.

“[The community] was planned out great,” Erin said. “You could tell it was very family-oriented.” 

The property developers, Dan Muhleisen and Roger Severin, supported the unique design.

“Our house was always going to be cutting edge,” Dan said. “Instead of standing in the way, they encouraged it.” 

The Johnsons selected the lot with the widest berth of water and enough depth to allow for a southwest positioning of the home, which captures the longest sunset. In December 2015, they started grading. 

The first contractors called were window fabricators to help realize Erin’s vision of an uninterrupted view of the lake through 20-foot by 10-foot glass doors.

“They draw you to the lake,” Dan said. “You come home and it immediately relieves your stress.”

The Johnsons also preserved another of the lot’s natural assets, its trees. A felled hackberry is incorporated into the home as a stunning headboard, shelves, wooden trays, and a seven-seat kitchen island.

 “The remnants of the tree are worked throughout the property,” Dan said. “We ran out of it.” 

Dan Vollmer, a carpenter and owner of The Barnwood Store (formerly Barnwood Trays), fabricated the island from four slabs with a live edge that celebrate the wood from grain to bark. 

“We’ve done other tops,” Vollmer said, “but nothing that wide, that long, and that heavy.” 

The kitchen’s open design continues the communal floor plan, while the full-size fridge and freezer facilitate hosting guests.

“[Vollmer] deserves tremendous credit,” Dan said. “The kitchen island is a centerpiece in the home.” 

Gentle repetition of the style, material, and color—from light fixtures in the kitchen and stairway to white walls throughout to light wood stain on shelving, railings, and counters—help blend the interior spaces effortlessly. Inventive touches, such as the tiling of the kitchen backsplash and shower, make new rooms feel both familiar and refreshing. 

 “We wanted it to be clean but warm,” Erin said. “My husband has more modern tastes. I have more farmhouse tastes. We had to meld the two together.”

Ashley Welch at Salt Creek Mercantile in Ashland was very helpful in finding home materials and furnishings that mix urban industrial and farmhouse styles, Dan said. But not everything could be locally sourced. The homeowners acquired elements of décor from several states, pulling ideas from Pinterest and former vacation spots the couple loved as well. Focal points, like the dining table, received specific attention.   

Oftentimes, “the right piece and the right size ended up being custom work,” Erin said.

The Johnsons also considered environmental impact when choosing home materials and features, seeing eco-friendly products as worthy investments. The house is a rare Nebraska residential property certified as a LEED green building, but achieving this designation was an uphill battle.

“We knew we were inefficient from the start with the [glass] doors,” Dan said.

In order to meet the strict criteria, Dan focused on conserving energy. He used spray foam insulation in the interior and exterior walls, installed heated floors, hung solid core doors, and purchased energy-saving Bosch appliances to help tamp down utility costs. 

While Dan was focused on saving energy, Erin worked to eliminate wasted space. Rather than individual guest rooms, which frequently sit empty, the Johnsons designed a 15-foot-tall bunk room with six beds and skylights that provide starscapes at night. The beds include private nooks equipped with USB chargers.

“When you have a lake house, everyone wants to visit,” Dan said. 

Daughters Kiya and May Johnson gave input during home design as well. Kiya enjoys her balcony, which adds character to the house and is a good space to relax.   

“It was very much a family project,” May said. “We all had to go through everything together. It felt like home before we moved in.” 

The house has an asymmetrical, modern industrial facade softened by wood and designed for road or lake viewing. Outside, a sunken fire pit, 15-seat outdoor island, and a bar are all situated carefully to preserve the view.

The Johnsons contracted out or completed each project themselves, adding a second shift to their full-time careers.

“We gave up three years of our lives, and almost all of 2017 to 2018 to construction,” Dan said. “It is not rocket science. If you give up the time, anyone can do it.” 

Erin remembered packing a swimsuit, towel, and change of clothes each morning in hopes of getting in some fun after another long work day.

“If the boat was still out, we’d get on the lake. You’d almost race to see the sunset,” Erin said. Now that the family is settled, “We couldn’t imagine leaving.”

“It’s the crowning achievement of our marriage,” Dan said. “When I look at this house, I look at what Erin and I can do.” 

This article was printed in the July/August 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.