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Omaha Magazine

Benson Bungalow, Restored

Sep 30, 2020 12:12PM ● By Hannah Amrollahi
Benson bungalow, blue with yellow door

Photography by Sarah Eve Lemke and Bill Sitzmann

In 2014, Bryan Frost and Luka Gonzalez were house hunting in Benson when they discovered a gem in disguise. The property’s overgrown trees and vegetation were so immense, the listing didn’t include a picture of the front of the house. The home exterior’s brown and green palette left it with little curb appeal, and across the street a fire-damaged property lingered. 

“It looked like that house where the witch lady lives,” Gonzalez said. “This was the witch house in the neighborhood.” 

And, the neighborhood was not “the Benson” it is now, Gonzalez said. But it already had a bar and music scene. The couple decided it was a good place to make an investment. 

“We kind of took a risk in this area,” Frost said. 

The house sat on a relatively rare double lot making for a large yard, and the home was in pretty good shape under the brush, with recently refinished floors and good wood under the siding. Frost, as an interior designer and the owner of vintage decor business Black Awning, had the experience to know it was a realistic fixer-upper.

“It had good bones,” Frost said. “A house with all the character in it already.” The possibilities were evident, and the couple made their move.

The house is a classic bungalow, with a veranda, sloping roof, and dormer windows that provide good light. The ground floor had two bedrooms, a living area, dining room, kitchen, and a bath with the original enamel tub.

“A lot of the houses we were looking at had been flipped and they looked pretty much like an apartment,” Gonzalez said. “[This house] had been flipped somewhat, but not to the extreme where they completely changed the whole character of the house.”   

The front of the home is now welcoming, with its pine trees cut back and a quirky street light sculpture lighting the way to a bright yellow door. The exterior’s blue, found on a vintage palette by Frost, is striking and “of the era,” and accents the signature veranda and roof with white trim.

“We’ve really made an effort...in our selections highlighting eras and design elements that would have been here traditionally,” Frost said. “[Like] elements of wallpaper that you would have seen in homes.”

Bold walls carry on to the inside, with blue crane wallpaper accenting the bathroom and a patterned landscape wallpaper reminiscent of line drawing or metal etching accenting the primary bedroom. The wallcoverings were installed by Debbie Nelson, owner and operator of Stuck on You Wallpapering. After 32 years in the business, Nelson takes referral work only and does not maintain a website.

“I like doing stuff for [Bryan],” Nelson said. “It’s always going to be something different, something fun.” 

Nelson remembers a decade where most of her work was removing paper in favor of paint, but she is glad to see wallpaper making a comeback in the last five years.   

“It drives [design in] the rest of the room,” Nelson said. “There is something you can’t get with paint.” 

Nelson recommends spending extra for a paper sample and being bold with pattern. People don’t stand close to walls, so subtlety will not be easy to catch, she said.  If the wallpaper is properly applied with a specific primer, it should not be difficult to remove or damaging to the wall, she added. 

 Also in the bath, Frost incorporated era-appropriate cement tiles and restored the original clawfoot tub. The blue-hued bathroom packs a lot of style per square foot. 

“We have a really nice blend of antique and vintage and an appreciation of all eras,” Frost said. He estimates 80% of the house is vintage or antique, and his passion as an antiques dealer is felt all through the home. A copper chandelier in the dining area and use of rugs, gallery walls, and “tchotchkes” in many rooms serve as evidence. 

“You see the difference between the original and the mass-produced,” Frost said. “I like to find something that tells as story, or we found together, or [has] a history.” 

Some of Frost’s most-treasured pieces are heirlooms, including his armoire. When his grandfather and grandmother moved into their sod farm house in Hemingford, Nebraska, they found the cabinet. 

“I’m the one who had certain pieces I wanted from my family,” Frost said. “I told my mom that and she let me have them early.” 

In the bedroom, eclectic pieces blend easily with Eastlake furniture, an early style from the start of the modern movement in the 1890s, with less extravagant molding and a streamlined feel. This style would eventually be pared down to the midcentury design that’s popular today. 

“What we think of [as] midcentury has actually been around much longer,” Frost said.

Frost has fond memories of his grandparents’ farm, which the heirlooms help bring into his home.

“You don’t have to keep it all,” Frost said of furniture and decor passed down through the family. “Anything you loved, you should keep and hold on to.”

Whether it’s the furnishings or the home itself, Frost and Gonzalez keep an eye out for the undeveloped.

“We knew if we just put in a little TLC, it would become a beautiful home someday,” Frost said. “We saw the potential in it.” 

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