Birdhouse's Beautiful Sustainability
"I don't like to throw people's things away," says Jessica McKay, owner of Birdhouse in Omaha. "Not only is it wasteful, but it takes away some of the story of their life. Spaces look better when things have been collected over time."
Over the past eight years, Jessica has become one of Omaha's go-to designers for transforming older spaces into Instagram stunners, but sustainable interior design wasn't necessarily what she set out to do. More like it chose her.
"It's almost a case of what you put out into the world is what you get back," she told me. "I like to live in a sustainable way, and my clients are people who are drawn to that."
The New Mexico native moved to Omaha in 2005 and was pursuing a career in social services when she bought her first home, built in 1910, in Field Club. "I've always loved the character and soul of older houses. All of the details, the original woodwork, things just aren't done like that today."
As a trained artist, Jessica threw herself into putting that house together, and she got great feedback when she included it in a fundraising home tour for the Field Club neighborhood. "I knew I was excited about the house, but when strangers were getting excited about it, I realized this could be a career."
Several classes (to nail down the technical aspect of things) later, and Birdhouse was born. Last year, the company expanded by opening a showroom on the ground floor of the iconic Flatiron building (they designed the interiors for the Hotel Flatiron upstairs). "I've always wanted a place where our clients can see and touch the furniture in a space and be inspired by it," Jessica says.
Almost all of the furniture at Birdhouse is produced in the U.S. and much of it is handmade, which makes for a smaller carbon footprint. They also sell locally-made pieces, such as lighting from Pax Modern, based in Kearney, NE, and artwork by Omaha-based painter Andrea Stein.
It's a Birdhouse hallmark to source from companies that are intentional about being eco-friendly, such as Selamat, based in San Francisco (but with some roots in Nebraska), and Lostine from Philadelphia, as well as those with fair labor practices, like Indego Africa, a nonprofit that helps women artisans in Africa use their skills to escape poverty.
"There's this eternal triangle in design: fast-good-cheap. You can't have all three," says Jessica. "Yes, you might have to pay a little more for a beautiful piece that's responsibly manufactured and will last a long time, but if you're going to bring something into your home and care about it, it should be something you can feel good about."