At Home with The Helveys: A Tudor TransformationAug 27, 2021 04:02PM ● By Carrielle Sedersten
Photo by Sarah Lemke
The Helveys are Nebraska natives. Jay is from Lexington, and Sarah from Lincoln. The two met while students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, began dating, and tied the knot just before Jay’s graduation from medical school. The couple uprooted and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, for Jay’s medical residency, eventually returning to Lincoln for a year before settling in Omaha in December 2007 when Jay accepted a job at UNMC.
The Helveys spent a decade in a Happy Hollow home with three stories, plus a basement. Navigating all those stairs was a bit cumbersome, as was the chopped-up floor plan.
“If we’d had the right flow and everything, over there, we probably would have never left that house because we had no idea what we were missing,” Jay said. An attached garage and a spread-out floor plan with fewer stairs and better room transitions were the missing pieces they found in their current Fairacres residence.
“Sarah and I are both professionals and busy, and it’s important to us that things outside of that are easier,” explained Jay, today a neuroradiologist and radiology professor at UNMC. His wife, Sarah, is a staff attorney at Nebraska Appleseed.
Even though the 1940s Tudor had crown molding and an elegant spiral staircase (made by the same architect who designed the one at Omaha Country Club), the home was far from turnkey like Sarah desired. The couple hired Paul Nelson of PEN Architect and general contractor Blair Freeman, both of Omaha, to help make their vision for the home come to life.
The Helveys initially thought they could achieve their design goals with a few changes. They quickly discovered it was going to take hard work and considerable time, like most good things do.
Before moving in, Sarah painted the window and door frames black, in spite of the weird looks her family gave her at the idea. Now, more than three years later, it’s a huge trend. Angela Larsen, their interior designer and owner of Larsen Designs, shared why: “Black, when used properly, enlarges a space and gives it depth and dimension. It highlights angles and architectural features like no other [color].”
In addition, nearly every room got a fresh coat of white paint, and all of its 80-year-old hardwood floors were refinished with a chestnut brown stain.
The Helveys also wanted the home to function well for their two daughters, Marigold, 15, and Marley, 11. “We wanted it to be a place where...our kids could come with their friends,” Sarah said, whether to hang out in the den curled up on the comfy cloud couch watching a movie, or in the rec room playing pool, ping pong, or shuffleboard.
In the basement, they installed “the mother of all egress windows,” Jay joked, for more natural light and an open feel. White shiplap on the wall was traded for retro panel board while new luxury vinyl tile flooring went down, and reclaimed wood drink rails and wooden stools made from old college football stadium bleachers were added.
The first-floor staircase also got a facelift. Carpet was removed and wooden steps were stained chestnut brown to match the floors. Photos of family life before Fairacres now hang on the rounded stairwell wall as it spirals up to the second floor, resembling a cresting wave.
“This is another one of my favorite things—the gallery wall—just because we had it in our old house and we were like, we really want to have one here,” Marley explained.
Larsen also incorporated knick-knacks and photos from the Helveys’ travels to Europe, South Africa, and Peru throughout different rooms. “We like to travel internationally, and we like to take our kids...ever since they were little,” Sarah said. Marley was only 2 when she went to Costa Rica on her first trip.
Besides international travel, including Greece this summer, education is another priority in the Helvey household. A second-floor octagon-shaped office, where a large book collection fills built-in shelves, provides a place to relax in a lounge chair by the fireplace and read. The cozy office, shaded by the tree canopy outside, also serves as a place to study. The custom-made dual desk next to the bay windows accommodates two people, whether it be Sarah and Jay working from home or Marigold and Marley doing homework.
The house has four fireplaces: one each in the office, the den, the basement, and the living room. The living room housed a “non-functioning, wood-burning fireplace,” and after extensive chimney renovations, it’s now a working gas fireplace. “We just didn’t want to have a big thing like that in the center of the house that didn’t work,” Jay explained.
The fireplace was the only major structural update in the living room. Design changes include back-lining the arched built-in shelves flanking the fireplace with textured indigo-and-black wallpaper, adding depth and interest behind family photos and travel souvenirs; and hanging a white-and-gold orbital light fixture above the stone coffee table and gray sofas.
Eight framed, original house blueprints featured on the living room wall remind them what it looked like when it was built more than 80 years ago.
An arched wall opening leads into the dining room and kitchen, after removing the wall between them. The double-hung grid windows and patio doors provide unobstructed backyard views when seated in any of the 10 indigo Eames-style chairs around the reclaimed wood dining table, made from distressed railroad boxcars. A southern exposure floods the open floor plan in natural light all day.
By far, the greatest room transformation was the kitchen. “[It’s] hard to grasp the change, as we removed walls, added doors and windows, and completely enlarged the space by removing a hallway,” Larsen said.
Larsen’s design included all new cabinets with modern gold hardware, relocating appliances and the sink, and using a mix of materials to cover the surfaces—from elongated hexagon tile and reclaimed wood floating shelves to handmade ceramic subway tile and show-stopping double-thick quartz on the kitchen island, where the Helveys usually hang out or eat.
The family loves being able to go out to their deck from the kitchen and eat al fresco whenever the weather is nice. “To have the grill right there was a big hit for us,” Jay said.
Originally, the deck spanned the width of the kitchen. Now it extends the entire width of the house, outfitted with a fire pit for making s’mores and a variety of seating options for kids and adults.
Sarah shared: “That’s a piece of our lifestyle. We like nature and being outdoors and [being] an active family.”
Down the deck steps there’s a carpet of green grass and a tree-filled yard where their three dogs—French bulldogs Baguette and Brie, and a Bernedoodle named Mo—have plenty of room to run. There’s also a floral display close to the Helveys’ hearts. “Our daughter’s name is Marigold, so there will always be some marigolds planted,” Jay said.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Home Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.