So here's the plan so far:

I really like the riverflow setup, and I love bright shiny schooling fish. The LFS has several fabulous showroom tanks, including a large community tank of Dennison's barbs, neon tetras, etc.

I'm going to set aside $50/month for this, and use the time to plan the layout & equipment with LFS expertise. They have plenty of barbs and tetra varieties, and I trust their ethics.

My wife's only criteria are that it should be pretty, shouldn't smell, and we can set up a cat tree near it (we foster for a rescue group and currently have 12 cats, 7 of which are kittens).