A Place of Their OwnDec 30, 2021 11:38AM ● By Karen Campbell
Photo by Sarah Lemke
When busy professionals Tippi and Steven Denenberg moved to their Happy Hollow home in 2002, they were expecting their first child. The house, built in 1928, had been recently renovated and was about twice the size of their former home.
“Neither of us have any talent in the area of remodeling, and we didn’t want to have to do anything to it at all,” said Tippi, a retired veterinarian, community volunteer, and yoga instructor (she founded OneTree Yoga Studio). Husband Steven is a facial plastic surgeon. “It's a big house, and I just had an inkling we would fill up all five bedrooms,” she said.
Tippi’s intuition was correct. Over the years, the couple filled the home with five children–Danny, 18; Michael, 17; Sasha, 14; Sima, 12; and Solomon, 9.
“The Romper Room,” as the family referred to the basement, was where the action happened for the clan growing up, overflowing with toys, shelves of books, and even two swings.
While the family was on vacation in Mexico in January 2018, a pipe burst near the entryway inside their home. Water rained throughout part of the first floor, through the floorboards, and poured down into the basement for two full days.
“I am not big into material things at all, but when I came home I just started crying,” Tippi said. “Everything was destroyed to the point that the water was way up into the bookshelves and a crowbar had to be used to get them out.”
Immediately after the cleanup, Tippi and Steven were faced with a tough decision: remodel or relocate?
With the encouragement of her husband, Tippi spent about a year looking for the perfect next home for their family.
“Steven would find something wrong with each one I thought might work,” Tippi said. “I finally just realized he loved this house so much and didn’t
want to move at all.”
Once resolved to stay put, the couple chose Angela Larsen, principal designer of Larsen Designs, to take the lead on design, with Doug Kiser acting as general contractor for construction.
The Denenbergs decided to renovate the entire home, starting with the basement. They had a few simple requests for the Romper Room remodel: It had to be colorful, durable, and fun. It also had to deliver good natural light, as the basement had one tiny window and two window wells.
The family also wanted a lower-level bedroom and bathroom in the plan. This would allow Danny, a 2021 graduate of Omaha Central High School who’s active in local musicals and theater, to have his own room for a year before heading to Harvard University next fall.
“The Denenbergs are all so creative,” Larsen said. “There’s always something going on, whether it’s music, singing, or discussion, and I wanted the rec room and bedroom to match the creativity of their family.”
Larsen said she chose a Mondrian-inspired design for the basement, referring to the modern, color-block art style made famous by the Dutch painter of the same name. She selected the color scheme based on the multi-hued flecks in the bathroom’s tile.
Two shelves along the south wall of the rec room display artwork created mostly by Danny, Sima, and Solomon. The kids also wanted a place to create art, so the doors of a closet originally used as a root cellar were removed and the entry widened to become an art nook. Larsen chose a deep eggplant tone for the nook to accentuate the colorful geometric wallpaper on the east wall. A quartet of simply framed black-and-white photographs feature Danny in various yoga poses.
“The mural is of a photo I took this year at Balloon Alley in San Francisco,” Larsen said. “We loved that it complements the kids’ colorful artwork.”
A hangout area, as Tippi called it, is positioned directly behind the couch and made from maple and wood-grain laminate. The kids use it for doing homework, eating snacks, and watching TV. Four chairs provide additional seating. Warm-toned throw pillows on the dark gray couch add dimension and a casual flair to the rec room.
“Sima is our hyper-social kid and uses the space a lot to host slumber parties,” Tippi said. “This has been the perfect place for the kids to Zoom during the pandemic.”
Tippi said her kids weren’t thrilled the swings wouldn’t be making a return to the basement, but installing monkey bars softened the blow. Jamison Hiner, a local woodworking, metal, and fabrication designer, crafted the monkey bars and the basement railing from cold-rolled steel.
Larsen chose an indigo-blue commercial carpet for both the rec room and a majority of Danny’s room because, with zero slack, it's ideal for heavy traffic.
Two windows were installed in Danny’s room in addition to two recessed windows, all with electric window shades. A custom maple sliding bedroom door emulates the rec room wallpaper and provides the room privacy when closed.
“We wanted it to be a door but also art,” Larsen said. “It was designed it to be oversized, which allows as much light as possible in when it’s opened up.”
The built-in furniture, including a desk, cabinets, and drawers, are also made from maple and wood-grain laminate. Splashes of blue and orange on a few of the cabinet faces add a playful element. Danny’s favorite books, his music and theater awards, and his knitting supplies fill the built-in shelves.
Larsen designed the deep-gray headboard pattern to complement the lines of the bedroom door and rec room wallpaper.
The decor theme extends into the en suite bathroom.
“The bathtub is an original and we found it in Omaha,” Larsen said. “We had it custom-painted gray to go with the color scheme.”
Danny said his favorite part about his bedroom suite is the open, urban vibe. He points out that the tile on the bathroom wall is reminiscent of what one might see in a subway station.
“This room is why I took a gap year,” Danny said, laughing while referencing his great setup.
Tippi said the kids love their new area and the family was thrilled it was completed just before the pandemic hit. The remodel of the rest of the house was halted due to COVID-19, and delays continue due to shortages of construction materials. But Larsen said “things are lining up” and remodeling should start again in the very near future.
Until then, the kids are happy to just hang in the basement, sometimes quite literally from the monkey bars.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.