Fine Feathered: Living the Good Life in Omaha, Nebraska

A designer combines her love of community, cooking and secondhand finds to create a thriving business and blog in Omaha.

| November/December 2013

  • The portrait in the dining room is Jessica's favorite piece of art in the house. She found the vintage wood pedestal table at a local antique shop and the Eames-inspired dining room chairs, originally used in a Nebraska school, at a flea market. The Sputnik chandelier is from eBay.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Jessica and Chris' dog, Lisey, is the COOP blog's official mascot.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • In the living room, a collection of local art, throw pillows and a rug are pulled together by the clean lines of the sofa, a hand-me-down from Chris' mother.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Shelves stocked with books, pottery, photos and trinkets act as functional decor along the front wall of the living room.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Jessica and Chris use a spare bedroom as their home office. The chair is upholstered in a custom fabric, and the midcentury dresser holds office supplies.
    Photo By Dana Damewood

  • Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Chris and Jessica found this wingback chair in an antique shop and had it reupholstered. They had the curtains made.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • A kitchen island and vintage stools create a cozy seating area and extra storage in the kitchen.
    Photo By Dana Damewood

  • Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Jessica converted her home's attic space into a master suite, a technique she often suggests to clients to expand living space without adding on to a home's footprint.
    Photo By Dana Damewood
  • Jessica and Chris' dog, Lisey, is the COOP blog's official mascot.
    Photo By Dana Damewood

  • Photo By Dana Damewood

When it comes to living the good life with sustainability and style in mind, Jessica McKay of Birdhouse Interior Design wrote the book…or the blog, as the case may be. Her blog COOP, written and edited by herself, husband Christopher Van Buskirk and a handful of contributors, is “all about dropping pretense, getting our hands dirty and still enjoying the finer things in life,” a philosophy that’s helped Jessica build a thriving community of artists, artisans, cooks and writers, as well as a bustling interior design business, in the heart of Omaha, Nebraska.   

Flock Together

In a way, Jessica’s life today came about because of ties she built within the community. Raised in New Mexico, Jessica came to Omaha after graduating college with degrees in art and sociology. She met her husband, Christopher, and the two bought a 1910 American Foursquare home in a historic neighborhood. “It needed love,” Jessica says. “It had been partially renovated in the ’60s and it was so bad. We completely renovated it and restored it to its former glory.”

The reinvigorated home was put on a home tour, and people started asking how she had done various parts of the house. “I started helping people, and then I started a design blog to chronicle what I was doing,” she says. Jessica fell in love with helping others see how they could renovate their spaces, and she realized it was what she wanted to do full time. She and Christopher sold their home—at 2,400 square feet and three stories, it was much more space than they could use—and used the money to buy a 1½-story brick Tudor home and launch Jessica’s business, Birdhouse Interior Design.

At Birdhouse, Jessica puts to work a love of vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces, a predilection inspired by her mother. “I’m lucky because my mother has great taste, and in my family we have always had cool antiques,” Jessica says. “I would go to auctions with her once in a while, and I always liked that. I like the history of things.”



Out of the Nest

As her fledgling business got off the ground, Jessica discovered that her taste for the well-patinaed became the lynchpin to her design aesthetic. Before she got into professional design, she chose secondhand because it was easy on the budget, she says. “Then I started realizing it adds so much more personality and character to the space when you mix in those pieces because they feel more one-of-a-kind,” she says. Now when she takes on a new project, her first step is to visit the house to see what the clients have, figure out the design direction, then determine which things they already own that can work. “Either I’ll push clients to keep something they already have and reupholster it or paint it or rework it somehow, or I’ll find really great-quality vintage pieces,” she says.

She also helps create custom pieces for her projects, a task made possible by her well-established network of local artists and artisans. Around the same time she opened her design firm, Jessica and Christopher leased a small studio space in an up-and-coming part of downtown Omaha, where graphic designers, photographers and designers could showcase their work. Jessica had already started renovating secondhand furniture finds.  “It was kind of a small showroom,” she says. “We kept some of the furniture we had revamped there, and we would host local art shows.”






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