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Omaha Magazine

Elegant Entertaining by Design

Sep 30, 2020 12:24PM ● By Jenna Gabrial Gallagher
Susan McMannama’s blue dining room

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Along the front path and inside the wrought-iron gate of interior designer Susan McMannama’s Regency home sits a lovingly tended classic English cottage garden that hints at the elegance beyond her expansive front door. But around the corner, to the side of the home, is an explosion of native pollinators that tells another important story about McMannama’s decorating style: it’s abundant with color year-round, rooted in personal history, and manages to appear immaculate and effortless at the same time. “I just planted six coneflowers a few years ago, and all of this came up,” she said with a little shrug.

Inside the home is the same perfectly planned attention to detail, starting with a renovated kitchen, that was completed last November—giving Susan and her husband plenty of time to use it when they became cooped up at home with the pandemic hitting a few months later. “We’ve spent a lot of time in this kitchen,” said McMannama, an avid baker who, fortunately, had stocked up on ingredients to make Christmas cookies with her grandchildren before baking supplies ran low in stores. “The renovation made it a lot easier to handle quarantine.”

 McMannama, who purchased the home, built in 1978, with her husband seven years ago, knew exactly what she wanted for the kitchen—not only because she’s worked on the kitchens of so many clients, but also because she’d been planning what she wanted to do with the space for two years. “Honestly, if I’d known re-doing the kitchen was an option, I would have gutted it as soon as we moved in,” she confessed.   

The biggest change was raising the ceiling from about 8 feet high to 12 feet. Along with other structural changes, such as adding a second doorway (but removing doors) to the dining room and pushing back and widening the peninsula, the ceiling change opened the room and provided a more dramatic backdrop for her family heirlooms on display. Among them, the chandelier that McMannama and her siblings gave to their parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. Pieces collected from travels around the world, including a generously sized Italian majolica biscotti jar and equally impressive large soup tureen, are also featured.

McMannama had originally intended to keep the kitchen’s marble floor, but the construction team removed it while she was out of town. “The decision was taken out of my hands,” she recalled with more nonchalance than many could muster when discussing the literal disappearance of the ground beneath their feet.

But as a professional designer, McMannama knew how to pivot. She consulted three industry friends for their opinions on three options: 1) Replace the marble; 2) Install a wood floor, similar to that in the dining room; or 3) Get an entirely new floor for both the kitchen and dining room that would complement the colors in the foyer. In the end, she went with option 3, choosing a creamy gold herringbone inlaid wood. “It was a little more expensive, but I’m so happy I did it,” she said.

McMannama loves to entertain formally, with fine china, the family sterling silver, and stemware that is displayed with a curated collection of cobalt glassware on mirrored built-in shelves in the dining room. “I like to have dinner. Not just soup and salad,” she said. She was thankful that she got to use her new space for one joyful season of holiday entertaining before the world shut down for most of 2020. “Christmas is formal. I love to decorate and work in my mom’s Christmas dishes. We had 40 people last year, and it worked out beautifully with the new kitchen layout.”  

McMannama is also a firm believer that a well-designed room reflects the lifestyle of the people who use it. Since this is a working kitchen, she made sure to have a six-burner stove and covered the bar stools in muslin. “I have five young grandchildren. If these get a few spots on them, I don’t care,” she said, adding that she’s already picked out the upholstery for that future moment when the grandkids are older (and less accident-prone) and she can go a little more formal with them.

 

Throughout the home, McMannama’s sense of play and love of vibrant, jewel-toned color balances refined taste with personality, warmth, and a touch of irreverence. In the living room, an emerald green midcentury modern tuxedo sofa that belonged to her parents features a small needlepoint pillow her mother made that reads, “Thank you for not breathing while I smoke.” (The five grandchildren do not approve.)

The formal entryway features a champagne-colored Tibet wall covering from the luxury home interiors retailer Clarence House; the wall treatment looks like damask from afar, but up close features a bold dragon motif. “It was the one my husband and I agreed on,” McMannama said of the intricate pattern. Plus, it spoke to one of McMannama’s most closely held design sensibilities—something she learned from her grandmother that was bolstered by a designer who mentored her early in her career: every home should have at least one important piece from Asia. 

Although McMannama has several Asian influences around her home, the wallpaper is the perfect embodiment of her signature style, which is best summed up as a cocktail of grandeur and grace, family history, local color, global adventure, and fun. 

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