Authenticity Rules Supreme in Laurie Leahy's Omaha HomeJun 25, 2021 04:14PM ● By Carrielle Sedersten
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Laurie Leahy takes arts and crafts to the next level. Since she was old enough to hold a sewing needle she’s been be a maker of sorts; as of late, primarily things for the home. She hooks rugs. She knits. She crochets. She upholsters fabric and leather furniture. She makes curtains. She paints. She even installed her granite kitchen countertops on her own.
“I have done every crafty thing you could ever possibly think of over my life because I just make, make, make, make,” said Leahy, whose day job is as a food stylist for Omaha Steaks.
Nothing in Leahy’s 1940s Morton Meadows Tudor home has gone untouched by her creative hand.
“I think in the past five years, that’s when I really started expressing my style,” Leahy said. “This house is a complete reflection of me. It was like a blank canvas.”
The Tuscan-beige plaster walls and timeworn oak floors throughout the first floor provide a warm, organic backdrop for her many Facebook Marketplace finds, lovingly reupholstered and refinished to her tastes; among them, a canvas-covered high back sofa and rattan loveseat and chair in her living room, layered with sheepskin and pillows of varying textiles.
Leahy’s style includes a bit of everything—smokey glass chandeliers, a midcentury modern dining set, Bauhaus era-inspired chrome-legged chairs, and a lot of plants, including an 8-foot-wide philodendron selloum which serves as her living room centerpiece.
“I always want to be unusual,” Leahy said. “I want to be different and unique and one of a kind.”
Her eclectic style creates little moments of visual interest throughout her home that allow you to journey to different cultures and eras all in one place.
Leahy started collecting antiques and vintage items at age 15, which only helped grow her appreciation for genuine furnishings. “I am so about authenticity,” Leahy said. “I don’t like anything that is fake French or fake whatever. I just want the authentic, or as authentic as I can afford.”
Buying from the original source, even if that means waiting longer for it to ship from overseas, is worth it to Leahy so she can have authentic pieces, such as a Moroccan black-and-white abstract rug and French enamel cookware.
When it comes to artwork, though, all she has to do is head down the street to Collector’s Choice Estate Sales at 35th and Center streets, where she’s found many of her favorite pieces. Oriental works idealizing Harem girls and rabbis, along with hand-colored Chinese prints from 1790 embellished with intricate gold-painted frames, are among her past finds and now hang in her living and dining rooms.
A photo from local artist Justin Grabenschroer, and a gold leaf painting by John Thein, her college art professor, hang above her sofa. Meanwhile, various paintings, etchings, and a Gemsbok Oryx skull rest on the fireplace mantle, along with a wood sculpture titled ‘Weight of the World’ done by Leahy.
Having extra time at home over the last year, Leahy started sculpting again after a 30-plus year hiatus. So far she’s created three Louise Nevelson-inspired wood sculptures, each with its own metaphorical meaning.
“I would just get into it and lose track of time,” she said. “I’m one of those people where it’s all intuitive. I never plan anything.”
Perfection is not her goal. She doesn’t feel the need to smooth out the rough edges of her home (or her life) for it to be beautiful. “I love patina. I love imperfection. I love things that show their age,” Leahy said. That includes the wide-plank raw pine subfloor that’s in her upstairs bedroom, discovered after she and her son pulled up “a gazillion layers of floor.”
After that project was complete, Leahy got rid of the black wrought-iron staircase railing she had hidden with a canvas cover for years and replaced it with a railing made of vintage newel wood posts and copper pipes.
She redid the upstairs more than five years ago, intending to turn it into an oasis. Natural light diffuses through linen curtains covering the space in soft, warm light during the day. At night, a cluster of pendant lights hanging above the stairs glows, and a golden arch floor lamp illuminates the room. Leahy likes to sit on her rattan couch, surrounded by pillows and her cat, Io, and make shag rugs, methodically hooking yarn through grid-patterned canvas. She says it’s her therapy.
Even though she only set out to make the upstairs an oasis, she ended up turning her whole house into a nurturing space.
“I want people to come in here and feel at home. And just very serene and comfortable and soft, like you want to touch things... because I’m that kind of person, just very into the senses and looking at beautiful things, smelling beautiful things, touching beautiful things,” Leahy added.
Leahy’s made her home into a living art exhibit filled with decor from different eras, styles, and places that all come together to express her truth and wholeness.
Visit Leahy’s Instagram to see her latest projects in progress.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.