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

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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