Organized chaos is this couple's secret to marital bliss.
Text by Lindsey Anne Baker
Photography by Daniel Johnson
How do a minimalist and a toy collector find harmony at home? Through a really cool toy box.
But let's back up eight years to when Katie Torpy and J.J. Carroll met. Carroll, an artist, had just moved back to his native Omaha. He had been living on the East Coast, initially with no intention of returning to the Midwest. But commuting more than two hours each way between New Jersey and New York City every day began to wear on him, and a friend's offer to share a house in Omaha was successfully tempting.
“Omaha is a great home base,” Carroll says. “There's a great quality of life. I can't explain it. Something clicked.”
He met Torpy at his own housewarming party. An Omaha native, she had been living in Chicago, where she worked as a dog walker. At the time of Carroll's housewarming party, she was between apartments.
Something clicked, too, between Torpy and Carroll – and with Omaha. “It was nice to be home," she says. "I met J.J. and fell back into the community. There were more opportunities here.”
The two were married in October 2012.
Now, Torpy is program and office manager for the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, which promotes sustainable development through education and advocacy. Carroll, who has a long history working in framing, recently opened Choice Custom Framing & Gallery. The full-service framing shop and art gallery is located in the Benson neighborhood.
Torpy is the minimalist to Carroll's collecting – he has an extensive collection of toys and action figures mostly from the 1960s to 1980s, as well as original comic book illustrations and other art. So when they moved into their early 1930s house in May 2011, the couple compromised. Carroll could display his toys – as long as they were inside a tidy display case.
That case, which came from Joslyn Art Museum and was originally owned by Sarah Joslyn, is the cherry on top of their eclectic living room. Carroll selected the toys to go in the case, and arranged them according to the color spectrum. (The curious can watch a time-lapse YouTube video of Carroll filling the case.)
The collection fascinates just inside the entryway. It's organized chaos, neatly balanced by mismatched vintage, mid-century modern-inspired furniture throughout the open living and dining rooms.
There are other collections throughout Torpy's and Carroll's house as well, including a book collection, half of which is currently tucked away, and an assortment of plants inside a small sunroom off the dining room. The house itself, which boasts its original storm windows and an extra I-beam that bolsters the old red oak wood floors, seems to be a catalyst for further collecting. Torpy and Carroll have already sanded and refinished the floors, and they're slowly painting rooms and picking out furniture to complement each space.
In their previous home, they hung wall-to-wall art. “This,” Torpy says, gesturing around the living room, “is breathable.”
It's all about reducing clutter, Torpy says. “It's artful clutter.”
And the couple is still nesting.
“Come back in two years when we'll have a finished product to show,” Carroll says. “Some of the most exciting stuff is still to come.”
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