Modern touches add to Classical Revival home's character

Smyth House's front room features eggplant walls. Designers incorporated some of the homeowners' tastes, and Robyn Tait is fond of the color eggplant.

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When John Campbell and Robyn Tait return from an extended vacation in France next week, they may not recognize their home. Or at least parts of it.

While the couple has been away, a team of interior designers has been turning their three-story Classical Revival home at 710 N. 38th St. — known as the Smyth House after its first owners — into this year's ASID Designer Showhouse.

The house in Omaha's historic Gold Coast area was built in 1906. It hasn't changed much on the outside but has had several updates inside. For its latest incarnation, the design team and showhouse organizers wanted to retain some of its historical features as well as updating the rooms, said Beth Settles of Interiors by Joan and Associates, the showhouse design chairwoman.

“Modernize but keep the integrity of the house,” she said. “Let the character of the house shine through.”

2013 Designer Showhouse

What: Benefit for the Joslyn Castle Trust

Where: 710 N. 38th St.

Free parking: Duchesne Academy, 37th and California Streets; St. Cecilia Cathedral, 40th and Burt Streets

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, Friday to May 19

Admission: $15 a person, available at door; $12.50 advance tickets, at Hy-Vee stores or omahadesignershowhouse.com.

Campbell and Tait bought the house in 2003 for $427,500. It's a bright and clean white structure with columns that stretch two floors and frame a big front porch.

Showhouse event coordinator Kristine Gerber said Tait told her they purchased the house after first looking at it “as a lark.”

“John and I and our three children (now adults) were living on 40 acres west of Omaha,” she told Gerber in a note, “and noticed an open house sign while visiting Duchesne Academy (which is right across the street). We were smitten with both this house's grandeur and its extensive gardens.”

Smyth House also was the showhouse in 1980 — it's the first time a house has repeated — and a lot has changed since then.

The interior of the house needed an update. The family already had started the process and were open to help from the American Society of Interior Designers.

Designers worked closely with the owners on the plan that retains many of the original fixtures — from bathroom hardware to chandeliers and other lights — and incorporates them into the new look. Although several pieces of modern art are scattered throughout, they fit into the overall scheme.

The decorators created their palette with the couple's favorite colors in mind. Tait is especially fond of eggplant, which worked perfectly with what the designers wanted to do, Settles said.

“We're using traditional colors — warm, rich, elegant colors,” she said. “Sapphire blues. Crimson reds. Cinnamon browns.”

The exception is the third floor, or the kids floor. Those rooms boast turquoise, bright green, orange and red, and some bolder designs.

“They are brighter, fun colors,” Settles said. “There's a zing to them.”

The rooms easily flow from one to another with no jolting changes in colors or design, something that hasn't always been a feature of showhouses.

That might sound mundane, but it's not. Each room has a distinct character.

Some of the layouts, such as the double seating areas in the living room, are directly related to the way the house looked in the 1920s, Settles said. The fireplace area in the vestibule that greets visitors has changed little over the years.

As the showhouse is designed, the home has four bedrooms, but the playroom and game/media room also could be converted to bedrooms, as could the master suite dressing salon. There are four bathrooms, left close to their original states, and an elegant powder room.

Omaha pioneers Constantine J. and Kate Smyth and their five children lived there until 1917. Smyth was attorney general of Nebraska from 1896 to 1900, and was chairman of the Great American Exposition of 1899. He was appointed chief justice of the Circuit Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, which prompted the family's move to Washington, D.C.

Notable people passed through their vestibule: Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, other politicians, and social and business leaders.

In Omaha's early years, the Gold Coast neighborhood was the center of Omaha's upper-crust activity, especially in the 20th century before World War I. By 1916, most of the Ak-Sar-Ben board of governors lived in the area, and they were recognized as the most influential men in the city.

In 1919, the Smyths sold the house to Ingvard and Drexeline Sibbernsen, in-laws of a Smyth son. The couple allowed a viewing of Constantine Smyth's body after he died in 1924. Sibbernsen, who owned an electric car, commissioned architect Thomas Kimball to build him a garage. He also purchased the lots to the south of the house to create a formal garden, perfect for parties with the neighborhood's social set.

Thomas O'Connor, a Douglas County Commissioner, bought the house in 1945. The O'Connors wanted to sell the lots that held the garden for a duplex development in 1948 and turn the house into apartments, but the City Planning Department denied permission.

The Boganowski family purchased the house in 1977 and began serious restoration work. They located the original fountain on the south side of the house, which had been buried at some point.

After Tait and Campbell bought the house in 2003, Tait's parents gave them the current fountain. The gardens surrounding it are Tait's passion, Gerber said.

Campbell is retired from Ag Environmental Products and Ag Processing Inc. Tait is a yoga instructor.

The couple thought their vacation in France would be a good way to get out of the way. They have an option to purchase the furnishings they like after the showhouse is over.

The couple renovated the kitchen a few years ago, so the design team didn't do any major work in that room. The home's basement — also not part of the design plan — will be used as the showhouse's boutique and will include an area to read about the history of the house and the neighborhood.

And the garage? It will be a cafe for weary visitors.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1067, carol.bicak@owh.com

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