Regal Meets RelaxedAug 29, 2022 03:44PM ● By Sean Robinson
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Stretching across the Omaha skyline—from the Capitol District to Little Bohemia—is a massive rainbow; one Jenni and Scott Herchenbach can see end to end. The neoclassical beauty they call home is situated atop a hill on 38th Street, and their view of downtown captures it all. The home comes with a widow’s walk, or a railed rooftop platform that the couple spend countless summer nights perched upon, enjoying the sights. The day before it was fireworks; now it’s multicolored hues fading into passing gray clouds.
Just moments before they made the climb through the attic and up a ladder, Jenni and Scott were nestled together in their living room. While sheets of rain poured outside and patio furniture flew from one end of their lofty porch to the other, all was quiet indoors. The dichotomy of those two scenes sums up the story of this house: a place where the outside and inside don’t quite match.
“This isn’t your typical 1906 house,” Jenni said. “We aren’t formal people, and from the outside it’s pretty fancy. But, walking in for the first time, I could picture this place as ours. Everything felt very livable and approachable.”
Located across Duchesne Academy, the historic home sits on nearly an acre of private land, catching passersby’s attention since the turn of 20th century. Four white columns stand at the front of the cedar house, and a fountain big enough to be a small pond is located on the south side of the property.
“It’s a very memorable house,” Scott said. “It’s built on the edge of the lot line, so you have this huge yard with 100-year-old oak trees. There’s nothing else quite like it in the neighborhood or area.”
From the outside, this mini mansion looks like it would belong to American aristocrats. However, it wasn’t the stately curb appeal that won over the duo when they bought the property in 2013.
Considering the couple’s “come on in and leave your shoes on” demeanor, it’s no surprise it was the home’s more relaxed and updated interior that sealed the deal for them. At the time, the home was the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)/Omaha Symphony Designer Showhouse.
“The house was built by C.J. Smyth, an Omaha attorney at the time, to look majestic but realistically be more family-oriented,” Scott said.
Inside, the home architecturally resembles an American foursquare, albeit with larger rooms. Many of the interior finishes, like the entryway fireplace, are original to the eight-bedroom, five-bath property. Even gas lines leading to every fixture—which were installed because Smyth thought electricity would be a passing fad—still stand next to wiring in the home’s bones.
Another piece of the home’s history can be found in the garden. It’s a tub pulled from the nearby carriage house, where the second owner of the home committed suicide after a Ponzi scheme he was running (to help afford the property, it’s believed) fell apart. Today, the tub has been made into a pretty bench to add a bit of character to the yard.
The bathtub isn’t alone, as seemingly all of the belongings used to decorate the home have stories to tell. In the living room, there’s a table that use to be an Omaha World-Herald printing press, and nearby sits a jar holding a two-bodied, one-headed piglet. The mutant pig was born on Scott’s family farm, then preserved after dying and later passed down to him.
“My decorating style is very eclectic because I pick things up as I find them,” Jenni said. “But, hey, there’s character in every corner of this home.”
After the Herchenbachs moved in, they wanted to respect and restore the pristine manor. Interior refinishing included updating painting and mechanical work, with more renovations taking place outside. Extensive landscaping was done and aluminum siding that was added in the 1980s was removed to expose the original wood—a decision that caused somewhat of a stir in the neighborhood.
“Our house is in a landmark district, so when we make certain exterior changes it has to be approved by a committee. One particular member was upset,” Jenni said. “They had gotten word the house was going to become dark green, which isn’t true except for a small spot on the very tip top of the house. Sometimes rumors go rampant.”
Rumors be damned—life in the Joslyn Castle neighborhood is good for the Herchenbachs. Empty nesters with six grown children, Jenni and Scott said this is the place where their family comes together to be one again. Their daughter’s wedding reception was held in the yard, and they love spending sunny days watching their 18-month-old grandson run around in the very same spot.
“The nicest compliment we get from people is, ‘It feels like home here,’” Jenni said.
It’s not just a family affair either. Celebrations in this home also take the form of house concerts, where artists like singer-songwriter Liz Longley and musical duo Barnaby Bright have visited, turning their living room into an intimate performance venue.
“There’s something really special about adding to the stories of the house and what the walls might say,” Jenni said. “The house feels best when it’s full of people.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.