After getting some good feedback on this forum from Byron and others, I've made some adjustments to my 40g re-scape plans that I hope are more fish-friendly. I like the simple hardscape (DW & rock only) of the Aquarium Design Group examples on their site, but with a compromise so fish will not be too stressed in the "minimalist" environment.
I think a minnow-type fish, either White Clouds or rasboras for the large, main school and a school of 5 cories TBD
Filter: 75g HOB
Substrate: tan fine grained gravel and a few river rocks
Tank Background: either dark gray or taupe
Driftwood: Northern Catalpa. This is classified as a deciduous hardwood that is slightly soft, but very rot resistant. There are lots of it around here and the branches have the look of mini-Manzanita (very densely angled and interesting). I have a few 30" dried pieces that I found that are soaking. Not leaching/darkening the bucket water after 4 days and of bark not softening much. Almost thinking I should not scrape bark off to let help soften or darken tank water? We'll see if leaching increases over the next week...
Plants: Frogbit to give fish some cover and shade
Light: 1 55w, 6400K compact fl.
Opinions? Thanks in advance!