Grace: Omahan veered off traditional female path to male-dominated field of homebuilding -
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:12 pm
her dreams lead down the street of dreams
Grace: Omahan veered off traditional female path to male-dominated field of homebuilding

Could this all be a dream?

I'm sitting in a comfy armchair, under a vaulted, cedar-plank ceiling, near a stone fireplace. This looks like a living room.

Only I'm outside, facing a golf course and the rolling hills of a neighborhood northwest of Omaha.

Homebuilder Nicolette “Nikki” Diamantis and I are relaxing on a patio she built.

Nikki is telling me about her childhood dream of building houses, how her father said that was ridiculous, that girls become nurses or teachers and ...

I drift into a trance. Everything is so beautiful at this custom house at 12769 Craig St. that she has built and sold for “seven-seven-seven,” a figure to which you should add three zeroes.

The exterior of the house has storybook shutters, a stone facade and a fountain in front. The interior, with 4,491 finished square feet, is decorated in country French style, with heavy-beamed, vaulted ceilings, a steam shower, two kitchens, three dishwashers and a workout room with French doors. The finishes, right down to the heated bathroom floors, are exquisite.

No wonder this home in the Deer Creek Highlands subdivision near 120th and State Streets sits on the Street of Dreams.

But I have to snap out of my reverie. I'm not here to write about six-burner Thermador gas ranges, hand-glazed cabinetry and separate butler's pantries, the stuff of my dreams.

I'm here to write about Nikki's dream. Which took years to make happen. Which took a supportive husband. Which took deliberate efforts to move forward through a nursing career she didn't really want, four children she did really want, extra school and doubts that she could compete in what remains a male-dominated field.

Nationwide, according to the latest census data, about one-fifth of single-family homebuilders are female contractors who share the business with a man. Solely female-owned builders are unusual. The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Homebuilders — a trade group that includes contractor entrepreneurs — is 7 percent women. That's one seven. No zeroes.

The contractors employ laborers, who also most often are men.

Cassi Petersen, executive director of the Metro Omaha Builders Association, said there are few female builders and tradespeople. More women work in the related fields of real estate and design and for title companies, she said.

So if this is the modern era, imagine what it would have been like in 1960s Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Nikki was growing up.

As a child, she sewed, made furniture for her Barbie dolls and troll collection and drew floor plans.

“I was obsessed!” said Nikki, now 58.

But Nikki found little encouragement to pursue architecture or construction.

So she listened to her father and studied nursing at the University of Iowa. Then, at age 20, Nikki married a first-year medical student in Omaha and moved.

She became a registered nurse, began working in Omaha hospitals and started having babies.

She felt incomplete.

Her husband, Steve, was pursuing the difficult and time-consuming specialty of cardiology. So Nikki threw herself into home decor, exorcising her creative demons on the first few of what would be 17 homes the Diamantis family would move to in Omaha.

“When you have a husband who is gone all the time, and all you're doing is laundry,” she said, “there has to be something that makes you happy.”

Moving so often would make me insane. But it was good practice for Nikki, who would move, remodel, resell and repeat.

She went back to school when her first child was a year old. She wanted to earn a bachelor's degree in interior design. She graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1983 and then commuted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her master's in textiles, clothing and design in 1989.

Nikki launched Nicolette Diamantis Interiors and worked so much with builders of new homes and Realtors that she became both. In 1996 she earned her real estate license. In 2001 she opened Platinum Builders, which has one builder: her.

In the pre-recession years, Platinum Builders built up to six luxury custom homes a year with price tags in the upper six figures. One sold for $1.2 million.

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Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

When the housing market slowed — it didn't quite crash in Omaha, as in some other U.S. cities — Platinum Builders built fewer big homes and focused on smaller houses with finer finishes. Nikki also used the slowdown to go back to school. She became a certified graduate builder, which involved 11 classes on everything from construction science to marketing.

She also earned certifications in kitchen design; aging-in-place, a specialty for building handicapped-accessible homes; and green construction.

This last certification makes her especially proud.

We spent the most time at 12769 Craig standing in the basement furnace room, a room that in my nearly 100-year-old dream home looks like something out of “The Silence of the Lambs.” But in this brand-new home, even this windowless corner gleams with fresh paint and energy-efficient, robot-looking machines that will heat and cool this house more efficiently (and cheaply) than most other systems.

The home uses a ground source heat pump, a geothermal system of underground pipes that uses the earth's natural, constant temperature.

“This is what I'm most excited about,” Nikki tells me. “There are five wells in the driveway. We went down 205 feet.”

Her home is rated a 44 on the Home Energy Rating System, an industry index. Nikki's score means this house is substantially more energy-efficient than other new houses of similar size.

This house will be the dream home to the family of four who bought it.

You still have time to catch Nikki's work on the Street of Dreams, including a villa at 13007 Craig St. that she designed with empty nesters in mind.

And you can see the other houses, which include some wow factors like an indoor sports court. The public event runs through Sept. 29.

If you go, take some smelling salts.

You may find yourself falling into Nikki's dream.

Or into one of your own.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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