Even from a distance, it was easy to see that the grandiose Victorian house on Martin Place was in trouble.
Paint from the Victorian color scheme of pinks, salmon, blues and purple was peeling off in chunks. Chunks of slate roofing lay scattered on the ground. Years of rain damage had warped the walls, peeled off the wallpaper and left ceilings caving in.
But Doug and Amy Heavilin saw the potential.
“It wasn’t pretty. But it was gorgeous,” Amy Heavilin said.
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The Heavilins have spent the past four years repairing, restoring and revitalizing one of the city’s most iconic homes. They fixed the roof and repaired the exterior, repainted it in a wild color scheme and created an era-authentic kitchen and butler’s pantry.
The house has 22 rooms, and the Heavilins have finished four so far. They’ll open up their home to the Franklin Historic Home tour this weekend.
Though the project is ongoing — and likely will be for years — the couple are relishing slow transformation of an architectural marvel.
“We’re not bothered living in chaos,” Doug Heavilin said. “It’s a journey.”
The building, built in 1902, is formally called the Murray Bryant House. Henry Murray was a cattle farmer who built the house as his city home. Roy C. Bryant was a prominent builder and lumber baron who served as Franklin’s mayor from 1930 to 1936, according to research done by Amy Heavilin.
Over time, it had been converted to apartments. Sections of the house had been walled up, kitchens and bathrooms had been created in odd places, and doors bolted shut in strange places.
When those apartment conversions were reversed in the 1980s and the house opened back up again, it left behind a trove of quirky features, such as all bathrooms segregated into existing bedrooms.
Throughout the years, the house had fallen into deep disrepair. Mostly recently, it had been foreclosed on and sat vacant.
But something about it had always captured Amy Heavilin’s imagination.
Doug Heavilin, 39, is a software engineer who works from a home office. Amy Heavilin, 38, is the band director at Indian Creek High School. Since they were married, they’ve been drawn to historic homes in need of restoration.
Their first home was a gable-front 20th century Vernacular style built in 1923. After that, they found a 1930 Craftsman in Speedway, before moving to Franklin into a 1875 Folk Victorian home on Jackson Street.
“We’re a really good match for each other. He’s very detail-oriented and into structure of things, whereas I’m more space oriented and visual,” Amy Heavilin said. “I’ll say to Doug, ‘This is what I want to do. How do we do this?’ Then he figures out the mechanics of it.”
Though she and Doug Heavilin had put years into restoring the house on Jackson Street, and they had just purchased a cottage next door to the house to work on, the Murray Bryant House was one she was in love with.
When it came on the market, she wanted to take a peek inside. Just for fun, she told her husband. They were driving home from a vacation and had 12 hours in the car to discuss it. Finally, they agreed to simply go over with the real estate agent for a tour.
“We got there a few minutes before the Realtor, and were looking in the windows. She looked in, let out a little gasp, and I knew it was done,” Doug Heavilin said. “I didn’t know all of the details or how we’d work it out, but it was done at that point.”
When they purchased the home in 2012, the excitement over their new project was tempered by the reality of the project. Water damage was found throughout the building, as a leaky roof had left walls peeling, floors rotted and portions of the exterior pulling away from the main structure.
Still, the house had the bones of a work of art. Beautiful woodwork outlined each room and doorway. Pocket doors in good condition separated different rooms. The entry hall, with its ornate wooden staircase, was gasp-worthy.
“So many people have woodwork that’s painted. That was our big thing — the stuff that’s broken in this house is the stuff that can be fixed. Ceilings and walls are time consuming to fix, but they’re not hard to fix,” Amy Heavilin said. “But all of the stuff that’s awesome is still here.”
The Heavilins moved in and started work on their renovations.
“Most people think we’re crazy that we moved in, but it’s a big enough house that we can tear one whole part of the house apart and live in another part,” Amy Heavilin said.
The exterior was the initial focus. Slate roof tiles had to be installed, rotted wood was torn out and replaced, and the whole thing was sanded, scraped and repainted in a combination of gray-blue, red, purple and gold.
The beautiful wrap-around porch, with recreations of the original posts and a gorgeous wooden ceiling, created the perfect approach to the home.
Inside the house, the main project has been a lovingly recreated kitchen. Originally a porch and then a breakfast nook, the space had only one outlet and narrow walls.
They pushed the walls out, and reworked the electrical system. Painted in a gentle apple green with black cabinets, the room blends vintage with modern seamlessly. The marble tile floors look original, even though the Heavilins installed it themselves.
A gleaming Victorian-style modern stove gives the appearance of history while providing up-to-date cooking power.
“We’re trying to do the permanent fixtures of the house period-correct — the floors, the lighting, we want to do that correctly. But then we might have more modern fabrics or wallpapers,” Amy Heavilin said. “We don’t want to make if feel like a museum.”
Off the kitchen, the laundry room was assembled using repurposed cabinets, a sink from their previous home, countertops they made themselves and other hand-me-downs.
A butler’s pantry features black floor-to-ceiling cabinets, a servant’s staircase and an antiqued mirror Amy Heavilin did with muriatic acid. Historic lighting is a passion for the Heavilins, and their vintage, period-accurate chandeliers and fixtures have been installed throughout the home.
On the second floor, the Heavilins have finished one bedroom, done with a turn-of-the-century boardwalk feel.
“If we made our list of everything we’d possibly want in a dream house, the only thing this doesn’t have is a garage,” Amy Heavilin said. “That’s a small concession to get everything on your list.”
Aspects of the house are still in serious need of repair. Though the roof has been repaired, the interior water damage has left walls cracked and portions of the ceiling falling down.
“I keep thinking it’s going to be like a comedy show, where we touch it and the whole thing comes in,” Amy Heavilin said.
Much of the second floor and the third floor have to be redecorated. The master bedroom, with its unique angels-and-birds mural taking up an entire wall, is being used as a workshop for the time being.
Flooring needs to be torn out, paint schemes chosen and curtains sewed to accent the windows.
While the work is being done, the portions that have been finished are attracting attention throughout the preservation community. The couple had been featured in This Old House in 2010, with a spotlight on their Jackson Street home.
The magazine put the Murray Bryant House on the cover of its June issue, focusing on the paint scheme and the exterior.
“The back of the house is configured very strangely from when it was apartments, and it didn’t get done very well. This is the part of the house where we’re probably going to take a lot of the walls out and move some things around,” Amy Heavilin said.
The house is the Heavilins’ “forever” home, the one they plan on being in for the rest of their lives. As such, the renovation timeframe is more manageable.
“We’re not tired of doing it. If we ever get sick of the work, maybe we’ll start paying people to do it, but we have a passion for it,” Amy Heavilin said.
The Murray Bryant House
Where: 14 Martin Place, Franklin
Owners: Doug and Amy Heavilin
When was it built: 1902
Original owners: Henry Murray, a cattle farmer who built the house as his city home; Roy C. Bryant, a prominent builder and lumber baron who served as Franklin’s mayor from 1930 to 1936.