Inside the 'Extreme Makeover' house, 10 years later

LINCOLN, Neb. - Of course, the most famous house in Havelock was perfect for Don Wesely.

He was from the neighborhood, a Northeast Rocket. He knew something about being a local celebrity.

And the former mayor needed a place. He'd been renting in the Country Club area and had looked at maybe 100 houses around town. But they sold too fast or didn't measure up or exceeded his budget.

Then he saw a story in the paper last summer. The house at 6825 Platte Ave. — the house hundreds of contractors and volunteers built while the rest of the city, and much of the nation, watched on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" — was for sale. And at $249,000, it was just inside his price range.

Wesely toured it that morning, all six bedrooms, six bathrooms, indoor-outdoor waterfalls and granite-countered laundry room. More than 4,000 square feet of prime time home design.

"It was more than fine," he said. "It was amazing."

He immediately offered his limit, a quarter-million even.

Wesely heard later the sellers had fielded half a dozen offers that day. He learned they chose his, he said, because he was from Havelock; he'd represented northeast Lincoln in the Legislature for 20 years.

Plus, he'd know how to handle the parade of cars that still circle the block, or the strangers who'd stop him in the cereal aisle to ask about his dream home.

For nearly a decade now, the dream home has cast a shadow on Helen Tipton's tidy, 988-square-foot house next door.

And it reminds her daily of that week in late 2006 when her street was overrun with tourists, TV talent, volunteers, contractors and cameras.

The crews worked around the clock, flooding the night with noise and bright light. So the show's producers put her up in a hotel because she had an important job — monitoring heart patients at the hospital -- and it was critical she got her sleep.

They also gave her $500 for use of her yard, but left her with dead grass, dead flowers and a string of broken promises.

"They took out my tree, took out my fence, moved my shed. I'm still having problems because of that house."

That house. That house stands out, and it still means something to people. People still drive by, 10 years later, just for a look at that house.

"The house doesn't fit this neighborhood. It's extremely large and it has lots of bells and whistles that our little houses don't have," she said.

"But that house is everybody's dream, that house represents all the dreams people have that someday they might get something free like that."

It was built for a Lincoln couple whose blended family — she had three teens, he had two — threatened to overwhelm his two-bedroom home on Platte Avenue. Instead of renovating, the show started over, hauling away the old house and constructing this mansion. All in six days.

Inside the 'Extreme Makeover' house, 10 years later

When the show aired in January 2007, millions of viewers watched Ty Pennington and his crew converge on 6825 Platte Ave., to surprise the couple. They watched the demolition and construction, and they watched the family vacation in Paris that week.

They watched Helen Tipton's working class neighborhood get attention it wasn't used to.

"You see it on TV, people get free cars and they get free houses," she said. "But those are places like Chicago and New York, not little Lincoln, Nebraska."

The family returned for the tear-filled reveal — preceded by its trademark chant: "Move that bus!" — and settled in their new home. They felt like they were living in a fishbowl, they said at the time, although the house on Platte Avenue began disappearing from the headlines.

Until last year, when Don Wesely opened his newspaper and learned Havelock's most famous house was for sale, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Inside the 'Extreme Makeover' house, 10 years later

The first floor is cavernous, almost medieval — with a castle-like staircase inside the front door, walls made of stone, walls made to look like stone, exposed brickwork, rough-hewn planks for the kitchen ceiling.

This house was so big it took him a few visits to finally find the last basement bathroom. And although the home was built in under a week, it's solid, he said: He's discovered a few loose tiles and a couple of bricks that need to be reset, but that's it.

If this house had been selling in another neighborhood, far from the clang-clang-clanging of trains in the Havelock shops, he couldn't have afforded it.

It's beginning to feel like home to him, but it took some time.

Lots of room — and rooms — to fill.

Such an eclectic house can accommodate almost any style of fixture, furniture or artwork. So a Persian-style rug with Wesely's face stitched into it — a gift from the people of Khujand, Lincoln's sister city in Tajikistan — fits right in on the wall above the staircase, not far from the suit of armor that greets visitors.

The former politician added a Kennedy Room, with portraits of the brothers and a JFK rocking chair. He turned the first-floor guest bath into the Lincoln Bathroom, with a fancy, framed photo of Abe above the toilet.

The photo-themed room's black-and-white wallpaper had a European flair, so it became his Paris Room, decorated with Eiffel Towers. He kept the tropical paradise room, adding bamboo folding chairs and a pair of stuffed pandas.

Former mayor buys 'Extreme Makeover' home

He brought in his own big pieces of furniture but bought even bigger — including a massive table from Mrs. B's Clearance Outlet at Nebraska Furniture Mart that now seems small in his dining room.

"I bought a few things and I had a few things. It's been a hunt."

It's a big house for one person. But he has three adult children, and one grandchild so far, and they all have their own rooms now when they return to Lincoln to visit. He's been a lobbyist for a dozen years, and he now has a home, and yard, perfect for gatherings and fundraisers.

He doesn't plan to make any changes. He likes the paint and the fixtures. He still marvels at his house every morning, he said, even after nearly a year.

"There are nicer houses and more expensive houses, but none was built in six days, and none was given for free on national TV," he said. "There's no other house like this."

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,