Happy Accidents in Happy HollowNov 01, 2022 08:04AM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann & Sarah Lemke
When Ben Haverkamp’s work in the medical field brought him to Omaha in 2020, he and his wife Allison were looking for a home like the large 1950s ranch they had loved in Kansas City. But inventory was slim, and instead of midcentury modern, they ended up with century-old charm.
The circa-1920 home in Happy Hollow was gorgeous, and spacious—four levels, five bedrooms—and boasted some features rare for the era, including an attached garage, finished basement, and drywall. Its wood floors and trim work were in great shape. The home’s high-quality materials and craftsmanship and evident care meant many of the original fixtures and features were still intact 100 years after its construction.
But there were some oddities, like parallel staircases that led to the same landing. Vintage bathroom fixtures in different shades of teal. Small, closed-off rooms. A kitchen with three entrances. Busy primary bedroom wallpaper, with curtains in an identical print. Impractical storage options.
“It hadn’t really been updated,” Ben said. “It wasn’t realistic in this day and age to have a master with no closet and no bathroom.”
So, when the couple purchased the home in the summer of 2020, it was with a vision of “could be” and a plan to remodel.
“We had never renovated anything before,” Allison said. “I felt like we started with a much smaller plan—and then we’d run into things.”
“We didn’t know what we were getting into, I think,” Ben reflected. “We took a crash course in 1920s homes, but I think we bit off a little bit more than we expected.”
There were some unpleasant surprises during the renovation, like the discovery that the slow drains were due to 100 years of buildup in the home’s pipes, or finding five inches of concrete where they were expecting to find subfloor. But with the project managed by G. Lee Homes, the renovation yielded beautiful results, and the family moved in by the end of the year.
“The kitchen and the primary suite were really our biggest projects,” Allison said. “They were the things I wanted to updated the most, just to be more functional.”
By removing the superfluous staircase, space was created for a kitchen expansion. Angie Hall, a project coordinator for the builder, said the homeowners had solid design ideas that were also achievable.
“The white and brass vintage range, green-painted cabinets with gold cabinet hardware, along with full quartz backsplash and waterfall ends on the island were the main design elements that they wanted to see in the kitchen area,” she said. “In the master bathroom, a large, vintage clawfoot tub and walk-in shower were important to them, along with keeping two arched stained-glass windows original to the house.”
The quartz and other kitchen colorations were copied from the previous Haverkamp residence.
“We pulled a lot of inspiration from that (Kansas City) house,” Allison said.
“This house obviously is from a very different period, more of the Art Deco period,” Ben said. “So we had to change our style a little bit; we tried to meld it together.”
The spacious new kitchen nicely accommodates entertaining a large extended family. The wood floors, refinished for uniformity after being concealed under carpet for decades, stands up to the couple’s energetic Bernese mountain dog, Malfi, and their nearly 3-year-old daughter, Maeve (a baby boy is due in late October).
“It’s not a museum. It has to be functional for us and our daily life,” Allison said. “It can’t stay pristine '24/7/365.' It’s right in that balance between wanting to have a cool, unique home space, but also make it livable.”
Allison and Ben also have their dream ensuite, sacrificing a small bedroom but gaining the features they desired.
“We expanded the master bath into an unused guest bedroom to create a larger master bath with a freestanding tub, walk-in shower, double-sink vanity and a private water closet along with walk-in closet and a second-floor laundry room,” Hall said.
The Haverkamps made a few fun discoveries, or as Ben called them, “happy accidents,” like an old-fashioned phone nook, and a wall safe behind a wing-out mirror. A locksmith was able to open it, and inside was a decades-old business card from the very same locksmith business. “It’s so old that it has four digits for the phone number,” Ben said.
Other happy accidents include two bookcases brought over from the Kansas City house that fit spaces between living room windows like they were custom-made for it, and a vintage sofa that nestles perfectly into a spot in the sunroom off the living room—itself a happy accident of sorts, with a one-of-a-kind floor the previous owner found under carpet.
“The black-and-cream marble checkerboard floor in the sunroom is a very unique element that is original to the house,” Hall said. “My favorite room in this house is the sunroom.”
Ben spearheaded many of the design details, Allison said.
“I have the ideas, and she helps make them realistic,” he said. “It’s really a joint effort.”
The couple’s midcentury modern furnishings—some vintage, some merely with the look of the era—and decor have transferred nicely to their 1920s home. Ben’s pride and joy, a bar he made from a vintage console television, is a nice showpiece that reflects the homeowners’ desire to respect the home’s best period features while expressing their own style. “Hopefully we balanced that,” Ben said.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.