A Houseboat, Redefined: How the Burnett Family’s Life at Sea Inspired a Modern MarvelMay 27, 2021 04:30PM ● By Sean Robinson
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
For all intents and purposes, Greg and Melinda Burnett’s home is the absolute furthest from what most would call a houseboat—but all it takes is a closer look.
It’s the details that redefine everything. Stretching from one end of the house to the other is the open-concept kitchen and living room. Step inside and it’s all clean lines with neutral colors broken up by pops of red. It appears this is a normal contemporary home until the inspiration behind some of the more unique pieces reveals itself.
Take the two different sets of countertops, for example. One is bespeckled with blues and beiges representing the ocean and Earth, while the kitchen island is covered in a shimmering black symbolizing the night sky.
Inspired features such as these adorn the abode throughout. The space includes lighting fixtures in shapes reminiscent of jellyfish, a primary bedroom accent wall painted the colors of foaming island waves, windows everywhere to let in natural light like an actual boat. This 3,885-square-foot structure, built by Gaver Custom Homes, houses five bedrooms and four baths, and every inch is reflective of the colorful life lived by the family who inhabit its four walls. Interior designer Jennifer Owens of Owens Design Group in Stillwater, Minn., collaborated with the Burnetts to bring their vision to life.
“Before moving to Nebraska, we were from Minnesota by way of the Caribbean,” Greg said.
Three years ago, the family moved to Omaha after living on a catamaran sailboat for two years and in Minnesota before that. Life on deck wasn’t spent anchored to some dock either. The Burnetts started in Florida, then voyaged down to Colombia, South America, through the Caribbean, and even across the Atlantic.
Today, Melinda is a neurologist with CHI Health Clinic. Greg is a retired business owner. The couple live with their two teenage children and two cats. Their new home may be tucked within in an idyllic Omaha suburb—far away from any shoreline and without any ability to float whatsoever—but the interior was made to reflect their time as sailors on the seas.
“We are designers at heart. Even if I don’t have the skills, I can appreciate the creative process of making something your own,” Melinda said. “After our last remodel, we learned it’s so hard to ‘beat’ something exactly to the place you want. This time we just started from scratch.”
That process, building from the ground up, took the Burnetts two full years to complete. They broke ground in November 2018 and moved in November 2020. While there weren’t any major hiccups while building, the process took longer than originally planned due to the custom nature of the home.
In fact, they went through more than 30 iterations of the house during the design process alone. Not only did the Burnetts want touches that harken back to their time on the ocean blue, they wanted an energy-efficient home that was inexpensive to heat and cool.
“It’s very much a house built just for Greg and Melinda,” said Steven Ginn of Steven Ginn Architects. “It’s a house for people who spent years on a boat and then became landlocked. A home for people who are really involved and interested in the systems of the house, and also very committed to ending dependency on fossil fuels. I enjoyed working on this and collaborating with them for all those reasons.”
One way the home embraces “green building” that’s good for the environment is the army of solar panels that line the roof. The property produces as much as 14 kilowatts from 35 panels, which is enough energy to not only power the electricity inside, but often generates some excess that’s sold back to OPPD at a wholesale price. “We usually generate enough power to cover our use from April to October,” Greg said.
The exterior of the house, made entirely of stucco, is simple yet statement-making—a gray-and-white rectangle with a tower that intersects at just the right place.
“The front of the home faces west and it’s set where the road comes and turns at a right angle. It’s the focal point,” Ginn said. “That’s why we placed the tower aligned with the street. It was intentional to enforce the street’s facade.”
For Greg, it was important that every aspect of the home serve both form and function. If something is in the space, it should not only look good but do some good, too.
“Of course you want something that’s pretty, but it’s more important it work well,” Greg said. “My overall design principle is functionality meets beauty. That just takes time to construct and that’s OK.”
A perfect example of how this principle played into the home design is the inclusion of its many windows. Since they line the walls on the main floor, sunshine floods into the house and the family rarely needs lights on throughout the day.
“We are not cave people,” Melinda said. “Our boat had windows all the way around, so we always felt like we were outside. That’s what we wanted—an indoor and outdoor experience.”
Two other unique parts of the home bring the Burnetts that binary experience. First is their art deco lounge. Plush seating, a full bar, and a sleek fireplace open up to the backyard pool via a garage door wall. With the push of a button, the wall rises and the indoors and outdoors are linked.
They also have a sunset tower that allows them to access the roof and maintain the solar panels. When the family called a catamaran home, they would watch the sunset each night. Now they can do the same in Omaha from new heights.
“Not everyone in Omaha is similar, so there is an underserved population that craves contemporary design and something unique,” Melinda said. “This house meets that. It sails forward, not looking back.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.