Fake shrubs, oversized vases, low-profile chairs and decadent lighting fixtures make up the inner-workings of the newly remodeled sorority houses on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Greek Row.
Lisa Otte, an interior designer and creator of LOI Design Group, took on the challenge of designing these new interiors for the UNL chapters of the Chi Omega and Delta Gamma sororities.
Otte, a graduate from South Dakota State University with a bachelor’s degree in interior design, is established in the Midwest but has worked for clients around the globe. She helped with managing and producing trendy interiors for the Chi Omega and Delta Gamma sororities at UNL.
“I specialize in residential design, so it was a challenge to learn about sororities and learn how the girls function in the shared spaces and figure out how to best meet the needs of that many people in one space,” she said. “Beyond that, just make it a space that they're proud of and that is trendy and young, around the corner of the lifestyle.”
Otte said she prides herself in generating beautiful spaces her clients can be proud to live in while also reflecting each individual’s style.
“We worked really hard to pick things that were up-to-date with what the current trends were, while also keeping it timeless so that people 10 years from now can still enjoy it and it wasn't so specific,” she said.
A sorority house itself determines how often it will be remodeled, Otte said. Chi Omega and Delta Gamma remodeled following a 15-year wait. With Greek house remodeling, it’s not often that the house is completely done, but rather finished in smaller chunks. Most remodeling jobs are done in phases with small projects occurring over the summer.
Each house corporation board is in charge of initiating the renovations for their Greek house on campus. They set the budget based on previous project completions and past renovations.
“I gave a full presentation [to the board] of my vision for each home, equipped with furniture, finishes and budgets,” Otte said. “In turn, they selected me to execute the project.”
With each sorority, there are expectations within the house, like ensuring the furniture can seat many and withhold the foot traffic that comes and goes each day. Designers must also be able to match specific colors for the sororities and maintain the level of quality the board members expect.
Each sorority has a different personality it expresses with a specific style and color scheme. Otte said she had to establish that individual taste to make the girls feel comfortable but still make it livable for hundreds of members.
For Otte, designing for Chi Omega and Delta Gamma was a large task. There were many factors to take into consideration, including budget differences, space, overall design and keeping order throughout the process.
On the board for any sorority house, there are 25- to 65-year-olds, with each having different ideas of quality, presentation and budget. She said it can be very difficult to please everybody.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the most stressful jobs I’ve been involved in because you are working with a board of women that have been involved with [their house] or helped the place, not only when they were at the university,” she said. “Now, 20, 30 years later, they’re still involved in the process.”
Otte worked on the two houses at separate times, since most of her clients are residential inquiries. Through individual design jobs for varying residentials, she became acquainted with members of the House Corporation Board for both sororities.
“At this point, I do not have any other sororities in the works. It is all based on connections and timing,” she said. “I was very lucky to have been able to work on both projects when I did.”
Chi Omega is known for its sophisticated brick facade on Greek Row. Inside is a classy demeanor with lots of seating and a modernized chandelier that lights up the foyer.
“With Chi O[mega], I would say the overall design was a little bit more feminine. It was a little bit more classic. There was a lot of fancier touches, like the lighting was more glamour-driven, crystal chandeliers type of thing,” Otte said. “The layout of the furniture was more formal. The frames that were chosen for structure and the fabric for the furniture was a little bit more classic and formal.”
The main floor of Chi Omega has neutral colors, like grays and creams. The house also has elaborate and shiny light fixtures to brighten the place and some subtle plants to add a chic feel.
Anne Fuelberth, a member of Chi Omega and a senior music education major, said she was impressed by the design choices that were made for her Greek home.
“I think it’s a very timeless style,” she said. “It’s not like she tried to do anything too trendy. It’s very smooth and balanced.”
Otte completed the renovation for the Delta Gamma house this summer.
“We worked for months with the House Corporation Board to take the project to a conceptual design to reality. All the work happened over the summer, and the timelines were tight, knowing that the project had to be done before rush,” Otte said.
Delta Gamma now has soft light on the cool, gray walls and oversized vases on the tables. The blue hues were chosen to help the girls in the sorority relax.
“Delta Gamma, I felt, was a little bit more casual. We tried to saturate some of the colors a little bit more,” Otte said. “We went with frames that were a little bit more casually driven, and the fabrics that went on the furniture were very durable, but they weren't necessarily high-style.”
In the process of altering the decor of the house, Otte also repurposed certain aspects by refinishing the wood flooring and repainting the walls to provide a more neutral color palette. She said she also added abstract artwork to keep a modern feel.
“The frames were so specific to an era and then the fabrics as well; they were all pretty timeless. But then we brought in some accessories that would bring it to its current state,” Otte said. “We also worked with paint colors. We went with really modern.”
Julia Messineo, a senior human resource management major and president of Delta Gamma, said she was impressed with the refined design choices Otte made for the house.
“The women of Delta Gamma have been so happy with the first floor and basement redesigning and redecorating that was completed last summer,” Messineo said. “We are so thankful our House Corporation Board listened to our wants and needs and delivered more than we thought possible.”
This article was originally published in the October 2019 edition of The DN.