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Omaha Magazine

Light and Airy on the Prarie: Yutan Couple Raises Their Split Level to New Heights

May 27, 2021 04:29PM ● By Jenna Gabrial Gallagher
woven black barstools at white and grey island

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Most people carefully choose their homes. But Shirley and John Simons feel as if their split-level abode on a country road in Yutan, Nebraska, chose them. 

“We owned an old home in Yutan that we had completely remodeled,” John recalled. “The older man who owned this house—he had a big white beard, looked just like Santa Claus—approached us and said, ‘My wife and I would like you to buy our house because we know you will take care of it.’”

That was 23 years ago, and the Simonses have more than lived up to their promise to take care of the place. In fact, they’ve given the home, which sits on a scenic 10 acres, a whole new lease on life.   

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

  Built in 1970, most of the home’s original features reflected the vernacular of that era: smaller rooms connected by arched entryways; an oversized stone fireplace; heavy, dark woodwork; and a formal dining room and living room off the entry that no one ever used. Though the main living area had a western exposure that should have allowed for sweeping views of Nebraska sunsets, an attached covered porch off the kitchen darkened the space and provided a closed-in feeling. 

“When the family came to visit, I used to always feel stuck in the kitchen,” Shirley said, explaining her clan consists of three children and 11 grandchildren. “I wanted to open it all up so we could be together.”

“Shirley and John wanted a space that was light and airy and reflected their personalities more,” added Kelly Grimm, lead designer at Lee Douglas Interiors, who worked with the Simonses on their home. “We wanted to give them an open concept and let the light shine in. And, most importantly, we wanted to give Shirley the kitchen of her dreams.”

 The result is a transitional look that mixes clean lines, a rustic ranch style, antiques John treasure-hunted from all over the country, and art that Shirley purchased on a trip to Kenya. 

In the kitchen, custom white floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a gleaming white subway tile backsplash are illuminated with LED lighting, brightening
 the space. The couple planned to incorporate a walk-in pantry, but realized they would have to give up a lot of space to achieve that goal. Instead, they chose a wall pantry with touch-to-open cabinets and pull-out shelving, including one deep shelf where Shirley, an avid baker, stores her stand mixer. 

The kitchen island, with its dark wood cabinetry and lantern-style pendant lights, is crowned with a Cambria quartz countertop that has a river of gold veining with subtle purple flecks. “I love that there’s a little purple tinge to it,” Shirley said. “It picks up on the art around the room.”

In addition to John’s antiques and Shirley’s African art, the couple sourced decor pieces from Hearts & Fire and House of J, both in Omaha. A large farm table from Salt Creek Mercantile in Ashland is surrounded by contemporary formal chairs upholstered in a jungle print.   

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 It was important for the Simonses to work with local tradespeople—many of whom are from families they’ve known their whole lives. Their general contractor was Yutan-based John Hrabik of Home Renovators, Inc., while the plumbing was done by All Star Plumbing, also of Yutan. Trede Electric from Ralston handled all the wiring, and Omaha’s Prestige Construction is finishing their lower level. The heavy oak railing on the stairs in their entryway was replaced with a modern custom rail by Bender Ornamental in Omaha. 

An earlier project, the home’s landscaping, used bricks salvaged from the former Yutan jail, which the Simonses dismantled themselves. Their adult kids chipped in as well.

The family has always had a reputation for working hard. “We owned a lawn service, bagged firewood for gas stations, cleaned the high school…All in addition to my parents working full-time jobs,” said daughter Brenda Pietig of Elkhorn. Pietig worked closely with her parents, designer Grimm, and the contractors on the home remodel.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 One of the home’s pièces de resistance is an antique library cabinet from the early 1900s that originally belonged to a Yutan banker. Like the house itself, the cabinet ended up with the Simonses because the previous owners knew the family would give it the love it deserved. Their son, now in his 40s, restored it as a high school project. Today, it serves as the family’s china hutch and resides in the former dining room, which is now an open-concept office for Shirley, who recently retired after a 37-year career at Valmont Industries.

Throughout the home are practical, smart features, such as luxury vinyl plank (LVP) flooring, which is waterproof and an easier-to-care-for choice than wood, and a safer, more level surface than carpeting or rugs. All the window shades are electric, and the lighting is all on dimmer switches. “I don’t think I would have thought to do that,” John said. “But beyond that, I can’t think of any other features that are ‘smart.’”

Shirley didn’t skip a beat. Sitting in her chic, bright new living room, across from the man she’s loved for more than 50 years, she quipped, “Well, there’s us!”  

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  


Photo by Bill Sitzmann


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