If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, Thematic is the way to go if you want a well laid out customization route. You can do pretty much anything you need with Thematic, and the layout is completely controlled by the child theme.
The best advice is to go "premium" and have someone either convert a design you like, if it's not a WP design, or purchase one from one of the good vendors out there like Themeforest. There are so many people using the popular freebies that at this point it might detract a little from your site if you use it too. And frankly, the for-pay ones often look a little more professional than a lot of the freebies. Spend the money, get better results.