All photos are courtesy of Amy Heavilin, @amyleigh_1902victorian on Instagram
When venturing down Martin Place in Franklin, IN, in October, you are sure to get a spooky spectacle. Each house down the historic street is bedazzled in ghosts, ghouls, and black cats for the thousands of trick-or-treaters visiting the street famous for Halloween. Upon arrival, you surely can't miss the grand Queen Anne Victorian decked out with more than 20 skeletons. The lively Victorian is home to Amy and Doug Heavilin, who document their adventures of renovation and historic preservation on the blog Vivacious Victorian. Heavilin's home is on the Indiana Historic Registry of National Landmarks. Formally called the Murray-Bryant House, their home was built in 1902. The Heavilins purchased the 22-room home in the fall of 2012 and moved in during the spring of 2013.
I sat down with Amy to talk about her home, her thoughts on historic preservation, and their traditions around the spooky holiday.
Megan: When you bought your home, did you know about the Halloween traditions on Martin Place? How did you decide to decorate with skeletons for the occasion?
Amy: The first year we bought the house, everyone asked, "Has anyone told you about Halloween?" And we were like, "No, what? What happens on Halloween?" When they told us, we didn't believe them. We used to live a few blocks over on Jackson Street, and we only got a handful of trick-or-treaters each year. So, the idea that there were thousands of trick-or-treaters about three blocks away who never came over to our house just didn't make any sense to us. So, we went over for Halloween and just sat on the front porch. We owned the house, but we weren't living there. We passed out candy and were totally blown away; the neighbors did all sorts of things, and every home had a different theme.
When we thought about our house, we decided to pick one theme and expand on it yearly. We started with just three skeletons, and now we have more than 20! We put them in the same spots every year but always buy one or two more to add. We look at the house and go, "Okay, we have two new ones; where do they go?" We have it down to a science now.
Megan: What do you love about Franklin?
Amy: When I first got my job at Indian Creek, we started looking around on the South Side. We love old houses, and we love different communities. When we ask people, "Where should we look?" Like, we're looking for an old house, because we're very familiar with the South Side, you know; people said look in Franklin. They also suggested Shelbyville. We looked at a couple of houses in Franklin and fell in love with the community. We liked the fact that you can walk to different places. You can walk to dinner, lunch, and the theater. Franklin seemed to have the best collection of old homes. You can tell the people are taking care of them.
Megan: What do you love about historic homes?
Amy: I like the character of old homes. I feel like there is a history to every older home, the story of people who once lived there. I also like the creativity of it. Many historic homes are individual and have their own unique character. Each one is different and not like any other around them.
Megan: What have been some challenges that you've seen in historic preservation?
Amy: We haven't run into a ton. We know that our house is on the Historic Registry of National Landmarks. This was our first house in that vein. So, of course, my brain goes, "I need to have everything approved; someone has to approve it."
I talked to Rob Shilts at FHI and asked if he could help walk us through this. I already wanted to ensure we were doing right by the house. So, we were already making choices to keep the home's integrity, but we learned that we didn't have to get things approved through the National Registry.
Although the National Registry does help you with some things, like funding or managing different tax credits to help keep the house where it is, they don't have a lot of red tape. That surprised me; I think a lot of people shy away from homes on the Registry because there may be specific rules that they're going to have to follow. But there's not. I think that probably many suburban home owners’ associations are more stringent than the National Register. But it did give us a lot of resources to use, ask questions, and learn about the house.
The other huge thing—that might not always be practical—is to live in the house as much as possible before making significant changes. Sometimes, people come in and say, "I know for sure that I want my kitchen to look like this," and then they knock down walls or make other major design choices. Eventually, you may realize that the house was designed in a way that will function perfectly if you just leave it as is. Living within a space for a while helps you know the quirks, like where the sun comes in through the window and where it gets hot and cold. When you know these quirks, you can start to build your restoration around that; that way, you're not wasting time or doing something that doesn't fit the house's flow.
Megan: Your house is so colorful. How did you pick the colors for your home?
Amy: My husband says it's just one of my natural gifts. I can see a color out in public, and then I can pick out the exact shade in a store. When I was first starting to learn, I used fabrics. I start with one object, like a throw pillow or wallpaper, and I pull two or three colors out of the item I want to use in a room.
There's a fun story about the outside colors. We do most of the interior work, but the outside of our home needed to be done too quickly and was too big, so we hired it out. Brown's Remodeling Company, who used to be in Franklin but now is not, was the company everyone suggested to us. Scott Brown's company came and did all the work, and they did a fabulous job.
When it came to colors, I told them that we should meet, and I could bring them the colors that I wanted to do for the house. And he said, "Well, that's not usually what we do. Usually, our team picks up the colors instead of the homeowners." We had a great relationship where we could banter back and forth. And I said, okay, you pick your colors, and I'll pick my colors, and we'll battle it out. It was great. We both arrived at this meeting ready to fight, but we had the same color palette! We had the exact same color values and everything.
Megan: If you could advise or encourage somebody who wants to go into historic restoration or restore their home, what would it be?
Amy: First, connect with the old house community—whether here in Franklin, in your community, or on Instagram or Facebook. The old house community is very, very, very helpful. If you buy an older home, contact the historic people in town and talk to your neighbors. Odds are somebody's going to know how to tile; somebody's going to know how to restore windows; and somebody's good at picking colors. Everyone wants to help because we would save as many houses as possible. But, financially, you just cannot. So, if we can help everybody else save their homes, then it is a win.
Make sure to visit Amy's blog, Vivacious Victorian, to get the inside scoop on projects they are currently working on in their home and learn more about historic preservation in Franklin. Also, don't miss your chance to see their mischievous skeletons this Halloween!
Megan Elaine is a writer and storyteller who lives in Franklin, IN.