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Omaha Magazine

From Corporate to Craftsman

Dec 22, 2023 11:36AM ● By Katy Spratte Joyce
home maker Wattle & Daub’s James Patrick Sechser home january february 2024

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

"I really like working on old stuff; I've always been one to look at the things that go unnoticed and find the beauty in it all," artisan woodworker James Patrick Sechser recently shared. "I feel more like an artist than a carpenter." 

That confession is an apt reflection of what drives the Omaha-based business owner, who turned his passion for honoring old materials and techniques into his full-time gig, Wattle & Daub Craftsman. The name is intentional. “Wattle and daub” is a building technique that dates back thousands of years. It involves using a woven lattice of wooden strips, the “wattle,” which is then “daubed” with a sticky material typically composed of wet soil, clay, sand, straw, and even animal dung. Wattle and daub is often evident in the construction of many historic buildings.

"I consider myself a craftsman who specializes in historical preservation," Sechser explained. “My bread and butter are doors and windows.”

The artisan grew up among the massive trees and stately homes near Elmwood Park and has always appreciated the beauty surrounding him in East Omaha. But his journey to Wattle & Daub began in 2014, when he and his wife, fellow Nebraska creative Buf Reynolds, purchased a 1923 craftsman-style home in Dundee. Their first significant house project included a kitchen renovation during which they removed a wall, which involved discarding an old-fashioned café (swinging) door. Although the end result was beautiful and functional, looking back, Sechser regretted losing that unique door. 

This experience inspired a protective spirit toward the rest of the home, and the original fixtures that remained morphed into an adoration of what Sechser affectionately calls "the old ways," which range from techniques to tools to styles. Tinkering at home led to the realization that other historic homeowners must feel the same way. So, after honing his fenestration restoration skills as a side hustle since 2020, the artisan made the leap from corporate life to founding Wattle & Daub in 2022. Through his company, Sechser has found a community that cares about adherence to historic craftsmanship with responsibility and sustainability in mind.

These days, he is swamped with a double-hung window project in Mercer Park, a Dundee window and door refresh, a Bemis Park custom door, as well as additional projects. Plus, more than just residential clients come knocking. Roughly 15% of Wattle & Daub's business focuses on the commercial sector. A certain iconic lilac door at Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop in the historic Joslyn Castle neighborhood is an excellent example of Sechser's efforts. 

"An unfortunate series of break-ins led to the loss of several panes of art glass in our early 1900s door," said owner Katina Talley, who turned to Sechser for a solution after a mutual friend sang his praises. "James quickly arranged a time to come assess the door and walked me through the restoration process," she expanded. 

The craftsman stripped the door, removed and replaced damaged and rotting wood, restored the hardware, and installed new panes of art glass. "Now we have a lovely, original door with improved energy efficiency and charm," Talley gushed. 

Customers have certainly noticed the updates. 

"That purple door has gotten me more business than any other project," Sechser laughed. 
 
Looking ahead, the woodworking artisan visualizes his growth in a few key ways. He will continue to update his newly-heated workshop and focus on acquiring more historical tools. He also aims to continue working on projects with regional restoration mentors Randal Weber and Ben Brunick, who worked on the windows at the Sioux County Courthouse in Harrison, Nebraska, and hopes to master crafting more windows and doors from scratch. 

Finally, Sechser will continue the painstaking updates for his own home. In fact, he's currently replacing the ropes from his house's double-hung windows with brass chains for a fully vintage aesthetic. The future is bright for Wattle & Daub Craftsman and the historic homes of Omaha and beyond. 

For more information, visit oldomahahomes.com

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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