A Curated Home Vision RealizedMay 23, 2023 03:16PM ● By Kim Carpenter
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
The Knox’s Updated Westside Ranch [16 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
It was the sort of property many prospective house hunters wouldn’t have looked at twice. Small, cramped, and totaling barely 1,000 square feet, the late 1950s ranch was woefully out-of-date and lived in by a previous owner with a propensity for hoarding. But nestled on a corner lot on a quiet street, the District 66 home showed promise. It was already in the process of an extensive renovation, and most importantly, George Kleine and Tom Knox had vision.
They had imagination.
And they knew exactly what the property could be: a breathtaking multi-level home that would be a place to gather, entertain, and display their expansive art collection.
“We saw a ‘For Sale By Owner’ sign, took the phone number, and left a message,” Knox recounted of the serendipitous find. He and Kleine were in the process of downsizing from their Council Bluffs home and were about to sign a contract to build a home near the North Omaha Airport, but they weren’t completely sold on the location.
“We were minutes from signing, but something inside both us just said ‘no,’” Kleine said.
Instead, the couple followed up on a tip from a friend on another house in the neighborhood. That property was a bust, but something about this residence, which had been purchased by Todd Sanwick of Sanwick Remodeling Contractors and was in the middle of a massive rebuild, just caught their attention.
“The interior was down to the studs,” Kleine said. “You could see the old pipes and the installation.”
But Knox and Kleine could also see concrete sub flooring, indicating just how solid the build was—a perfect foundation for adding a second floor, expanding the basement, and adding enough square footage to bring the home up to circa 2,700 square feet.
“The contractor was originally going to tear the home down,” Knox explained. “They started to gut the interior and found the concrete. They just don’t make homes like this anymore.”
Then, there was the ceiling: a sloped one crafted out of solid cedar beams. “The thing that turned us on was the ceiling,” Kleine shared. “It was original.”
In a way, the residence came together around (and under) that ceiling, which sheltered what had previously been the living room. The couple added a foyer to extend the entrance, the site of the former kitchen. Now, the cedar ceiling became the focus of the new kitchen, a prime gathering spot.
But first, more demolition had to take place. A brick wall that housed a disproportionately small fireplace was removed in favor of a lengthy countertop and pale gray cabinets. A 12-foot granite island now spans the new kitchen, and an extra window situated high in the room increases natural light in the space. (Originally, the couple considered adding a skylight, but didn’t want to ruin the integrity of the roof. Recessed lighting proved a better compromise.)
A bright yellow abstract painting dominates the wall opposite the cabinets and adds an extra element of cheeriness. “It’s a brilliant color,” Kleine said. “The painting just sets the tone, and I love the orange in it.”
Art plays a starring role throughout the couple’s home. Immediately upon entry, a large print of an elderly Native American woman by Santa Fe artist Frank Howell greets guests (as do the couple’s pets, a curious dachshund, Buzz, and Charlie, a somewhat warier ginger cat).
“It looks like her eyes are opening and closing,” Kleine said of the woman depicted in the artwork. “She should always be in the entry, because she greets and welcomes you into our home and shares our life with visitors. Usually, our art pieces have significance.”
One of those pieces is deeply personal. A clear glass vase of colored sand sits quietly on a shelf in the kitchen. Knox and Kleine, along with Knox’s two daughters, poured the sand into the vase during their 2015 wedding ceremony, with each color—orange, blue, purple, and turquoise—representing someone in the blended family.
Such vibrant primary colors repeat throughout the home. Knox and Kleine collect passionately and widely, with landscapes, cityscapes, still lifes, and abstracts featuring prominently in the decor. Sources for art vary: nonprofit benefits, galleries, art festivals, travels, and even friends. For example, Katrina Swanson’s Omaha landmark paintings of well-known sites including Dundee’s four-sided clock, the Bronco’s Hamburgers sign, and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge dot the residence.
“We seem to collect a piece from Katrina every year,” Kleine laughed. “If people have good energy, we bring their pieces into our home.”
That energy extends into the living room, a graciously appointed addition that increased the home’s footprint and provides wall space for more art. The couple worked with Kim Hansen of Absolute Design Interiors to source furniture for the living room that would work with their existing items, like a stately grandfather clock, which made the move with the couple from Council Bluffs. Next to it hangs three ceramic renderings of U.S. drought maps by Omaha artist Jess Benjamin, snagged at one of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts’ annual art auctions.
“Those pieces are so heavy,” Kleine said. “We had to have them professionally installed.”
Spacious windows flood the space with light and provide a bird’s eye view to the elegant patio and backyard, which includes a profusion of colorful spring bulbs and a pollinator garden.
Knox likes the tranquility in this part of the home, which includes a slate fireplace that adds organic, textured appeal. “Everything is white, gray, or light blue. Do you know how hard it is to find just the right white?” he chuckled.
Minor struggles with pinpointing the perfect shade of white aside, the couple couldn’t be happier that they ended up here instead of their originally intended location.
“When we met the owner and saw the house, it was a handshake deal,” Knox said.
“I grew up in this neighborhood,” Kleine added. “We have friends and family nearby, and there are at least 20 restaurants within a couple of miles. This home just felt right.”