The wrought iron bird cage/lamp in the entryway had to stay, though the fake birds in the cage did not.
The metal gates dramatically marking the entrance to the dining room also would remain, though the murals depicting sea gulls flying above a blue sea could be removed (it would take a professional, as it turned out).
So mandated the offspring of James and Helen Herbert when their youngest son, Tim, and his wife, Doreen, bought the ranch home on Dillon Drive three years ago.
Tim — and his eight siblings — grew up in the sprawling home. From the house with black shutters, they rode their bikes to the Elmwood Park swimming pool on hot summer days, played pickup games with neighbor kids after school, explored nearby Memorial Park.
“This was the ultimate house to grow up in,” said Tim, now a social studies and special education teacher at Omaha Central High School.
He wanted the same kind of childhood for his kids, Dane, 13, and Cade, 9. So did Doreen.
Not quite four years ago, when Tim's parents announced they were selling the house they'd called home for 40 years, they asked their nine children if any of them wanted it. Tim, who was just four when his parents bought the house, was the only one who spoke up.
His siblings were happy that the home would stay in the family — the house, with its big kitchen, huge living room and labyrinthine basement was the setting of nearly every Herbert holiday. It was the backdrop of countless memories and the link to old neighbors and friends still living on the street.
“When we think of family, we think of this house,” Tim said.
But the siblings didn't envy the task of bringing the house up-to-date.
The house, built in 1961, was a bit of a shrine to an earlier time. It had a flagstone entryway, a sitting room between the entryway and kitchen paneled in dark walnut with an enormous stone fireplace and built-in shelves. It had intense, geometric wallpaper and monochromatic bathrooms outfitted with both tile and fixtures in shades including electric blue and a color Doreen described as “alligator yellow.”
The World-Herald featured the house and its original owner, an art collector named Maxine Sloan, when the home was relatively new. The story highlighted the home's modern design and furniture (and mentioned Sloan's hobby of making covers for telephone books). Photographs of the home revealed the spacious living room filled with sleek, midcentury furniture, the iron gates to the dining room visible in the background. The headline: “Variety in art, styles avoids dullness.”
While Tim's parents had remodeled some over the years — including dividing the spacious basement into seven small paneled bedrooms to accommodate their large family — all of these touches remained, as did elaborate wall sconces, the bird cage light, dining room gates and that sea gull mural.
Doreen, a nurse at the Nebraska Medical Center, a lover of interior design and an avid viewer of HGTV, was relatively undaunted.
“The bones were good,” she said.
So she and Tim got to work.
The wall sconces went, as did the dated blue carpet, the bright blue sink and toilet in one of the bathrooms, the alligator yellow tile in the other. The sea gull mural — which turned out to be wallpaper printed to look like a painting — was removed, even though it had its share of fans among family members and friends. One neighbor still mourns it, Doreen said.
“I had looked at it a couple hundred thousand times,” Tim said. “(The sea gulls) had to go.”
They added a patio in the front, to mimic the front porch of the 1920s bungalow they had owned (and loved) before. They added a sunroom, which doubles as a mudroom, in the back of the house. They painted over the paneling, removed some of the geometric wallpaper, leaving a bit for posterity.
They removed the fake birds from the bird cage, and Doreen began decorating it for the holidays. Currently, it's outfitted in glittery heart ornaments for Valentine's Day.
“We're just trying to blend our likes with what was original in the house,” Doreen said.
It's still the home of Tim's childhood. But it's his and Doreen's home now, too.
And it still is the setting of nearly every Herbert family holiday.
Older kids play in the basement rec room under the glow of a plastic light fixture designed to resemble stained-glass (another relic from before Tim and Doreen moved in). Little kids play in one of the basement bedrooms, converted to a playroom with bins of old toys. Adults converge upstairs in the horseshoe-shaped kitchen, with its white tiled countertops and double-range original to the house.
Many family members come early and stay, in the guest room on the main level and the basement bedrooms too, calling ahead to reserve their rooms.
“When we have family gatherings, all of our bedrooms are usually full,” she said. Tim's eight siblings and the more than two dozen nieces and nephews and dozen great-nieces and great-nephews don't generally all make every single holiday. But it's not uncommon for holidays to draw more than 40 members of the extended Herbert clan.
After Tim's dad died in 2010, and his mom died in 2011, extended family gathered following services in the living room, where they shared their memories. One of Tim's nephews recalled Helen — his grandmother — catching him and some cousins playing on the roof. Rather than chastising them, she baited them down with sandwiches.
As other family members shared their memories, Tim noticed a common theme.
“All of them were things that happened here,” Tim said.
Now he and Doreen are making another generation's worth of memories in the home.
Their older son rides his bike to the swimming pool in the summer. Both boys play after school with the neighbor kids, often in the Herberts' yard or basement. Tim and Doreen sit on their front patio sometimes in the evenings, chatting with friends and passers-by.
And they'll continue fixing up the house. Two big projects remain — remodeling the kitchen, and carving out a man cave for Tim in the basement.
His parents were there for 40 years, and Tim hopes they'll be there just as long.
“I guess I'd always hoped that I could grow old in this house,” he said.
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