The Encounter magazine article
Loft Life: John Prouty
John and Jim Prouty were driving to Eppley Airfield in 1997 when a for-sale sign on an old liquor warehouse at Ninth Street and Capitol Avenue caught their eye. Ten days later, it was theirs.
At that time, the brothers’ family business, Wessco Graphics, needed a home. So the Omaha natives transformed the warehouse into office space for themselves and for Prouty Place, a salon owned by Jim’s daughters, Jami Finazzo and Juli Prouty.
“My brother and I have owned 11 buildings in downtown Omaha,” John says, “and this is the only one still standing.”
It’s also the only one that became John Prouty’s home.
For the past seven years, John’s home has been the 140-foot long, pie-shaped portion of warehouse one address south of Prouty Place on Ninth Street—an eye-popping contemporary-meets-industrial showcase for John’s diverse art collection, his own art creations, and a dazzling example of the best in Old Market urban dwellings.
A modest entryway doesn’t prepare John’s many visitors for the huge expanse—nearly half a football field in length—that greets them once they venture a few steps. The concrete floors and towering painted-black walls won’t let you forget the home’s blue-collar past, while the tasteful, contemporary furnishings and eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs reflect the personality and tastes of the well-traveled connoisseur of the arts who lives there.
The home’s 4,000-square feet looks even bigger than that figure, given the nearly wall-less internal layout of the living space, designed over a six-month period as the brothers worked with Omaha’s Avant Architects. Construction, performed by builder Myles Carlyle and local subcontractors, took an additional 11 months.
One of John’s top priorities was to create a unique formal dining room that features no walls, just supports, at the room’s perimeter. John is an active member in Omaha’s arts community and frequently entertains his contemporaries at formal dinner parties and large, informal gatherings.
“I can’t see how people without formal dining rooms live,” John says.
The kitchen is a unique creation, too, with dishes, utensils and other kitchen supplies on shelves rather than tucked away in cabinetry—“If you don’t see, I don’t have it,” John says—and a large kitchen island with a thick, concrete countertop.
A slotted wall created from sheet metal curves away from the kitchen, separating a living space from a cozy den. As the home narrows from 60 feet at the front wall to 20 feet at the home’s back wall, you pass a baby grand piano in the narrowing hallway before the concrete ends and a few knotty-pine steps leads to the only bedroom in the home and a bathroom with a spacious shower.
The home’s unique geometry aside, the art that fills the shelves and walls of every room gets the most attention. John loves to travel with friends and family, and he frequently buys art from the 78 countries he has visited.
Pieces from Africa, Asia and Europe are featured prominently, each one, it seems, with its own story from John. Works by local artists, such as paintings by Terry Rosenberg and Dan Boylan and sculptures by Catherine Ferguson, share space with John’s own creations of metal works, photography and curiosities, such as a framed patch of an iron-scorched silk shirt.
“I’ll tell people I’m a minimalist, but they don’t believe it when they see my walls,” jokes John. “I say I’m the world’s worst shopper, and the world’s best buyer. I know what I like, and if I see something I like, and I can afford it, I get it.”
John’s love of art came early in his life. He attended Dana College in Blair, graduating in 1970 with an art degree. John continues to dabble in art; his hobby is art welding, and he’s currently taking a class in concrete as an art form.
Wessco Graphics, in business since 1904, was purchased by John and Jim’s father, Art, in 1948. Art owned the business until he bought a competitor in 1972, leaving John and Jim with Wessco.
“I starting working with Wessco, and Dad was the competition,” John says.
The brothers’ father was famous for his stern rules, including one credo, John says, that has served the Prouty family well: We don’t talk family in a business setting; and we don’t talk business in family setting.
With a dazzling home and an office next door, John says he rarely finds the need to venture from downtown Omaha. “I bought a new car, and I’m on the fourth tank at the six-month mark.”
John says he appreciates the restaurants, shops, bars and arts all within walking distance as well as the “great diversity” of people living downtown: students, singles, young professionals and empty-nesters, among others.
“I know more of my neighbors here better than when I lived out west,” John says. “It’s like a small town. Our front yard might be concrete, but it’s still our front yard.”