I did fix the extended background styling of the image back in version 2.5.3. If you are not on the latest version (2.5.4), you will want to do that.
Adding content above the 4 widgets…absolutely. Instead of putting your widgets into the Top positions, add them to the “Bottom 1, 2, 3, and 4” positions. This area does have a light grey background but you can change that from the theme options under the Colors tab for Bottom Widgets Background.
As for the search in the social bar…I missed that one. I will explore that on the next update.