Franklin residents and lovers of historic architecture know the Queen Anne Victorian on Martin Place well.
Amy and Doug Heavilin’s turn-of-the-20th century home has been lovingly reborn, from it’s pink, blue and purple painted porch posts to its period authentic kitchen to its ornate original staircase. The restoration has been a labor of love, slowly moving forward over the past nine years room by room.
The Heavilins have been gracious in opening up their home and showing others their progress. Now, the couple will share the passion project with the rest of the world.
The house, as well as the Heavilins themselves, are going to be featured on “Cheap Old Houses,” a new show premiering today on discovery+ and HGTV. The show is based on the popular Cheap Old Houses Instagram account founded by Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, and will feature the pair as they explore cities and small towns in search of the perfect old homes to share with their 1.6 million followers.
“It’s fun to be asked, and to have the opportunity to hopefully show some other people that, yeah, it takes a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think it is,” Doug Heavilin said. “It doesn’t have to be an impossible thing. It’s doable.”
The segment on the Heavilins is scheduled to air Aug. 16 on discovery+, then Aug. 23 on HGTV.
To showcase their work, and emphasize the importance of saving fading historic structures, is an opportunity they relish.
“Once an old house is gone, once it has been stripped, once it’s knocked down, it’s gone forever. At some point, there’s not a lot of old houses left,” Amy Heavilin said. “Hopefully this encourages people to want to save that history of wherever they live, and say that this place is special, and we should try to keep it here for another 100 years.”
The Heavilins bought the home on Martin Place in 2012 for $114,000, after having already bought and restored a gable-front 20th century Vernacular style built in 1923, a 1930 Craftsman in Speedway, and a 1875 Folk Victorian home on Jackson Street in Franklin.
The building had formally been 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, leaving behind sections of the house walled up, kitchens and bathrooms in odd configurations, and doors bolted shut in strange places. Then in the 1980s, the house was opened up again before falling into deep disrepair.
Paint from the Victorian color scheme of pinks, salmons, blues and purples 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 Amy and Doug Heavilin accepted the challenge. They purchased the home, and have worked methodically to restore it in their spare time. So far, they’ve finished the exterior, dining room, library, kitchen, laundry room, study and one bedroom. Doug Heavilin is a software engineer, and Amy Heavilin is the band director at Indian Creek High School, so neither have professional experience in contracting or home restoration.
Rather, it’s a labor of love.
“Regular people can do this. I’m a teacher, he’s a software engineer, and we can still figure out how to do electrical and plumbing and wallpapering, things like that,” Amy Heavilin said.
Since 2013, Amy Heavilin has been documenting their project on a blog, Vivacious Victorian. The blog has an active following, and the Heavilins’ home is well know in the restoration and historic home world.
That is how Amy Heavilin first met Elizabeth Finkelstein.
Finkelstein, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation, started the social media account Cheap Old Houses focusing exclusively on older homes that were for sale but more affordable. The Instagram account grew out of another listing of old houses for sale, CIRCA Old Houses.
“We’ve known each other on the internet for years. She found our blog, and thought it was really cool what we were doing,” Amy Heavilin said. “So I wrote some things for her for that, and when she started the Cheap Old Houses account, it all took off.”
The popularity of the Instagram account earned Finkelstein and her husband, Ethan, a 10-episode series.
According to a release from HGTV, “In each 30-minute episode, Elizabeth and Ethan will be visiting a different location. At the end of each episode, they will ultimately have to choose between two low-priced properties to see which one will get the final feature on their Instagram account. Along the way, they’ll share the stories and unique architectural elements behind each home as well as their own vision for the house if given the chance to renovate.”
When the show was announced, a call-out notice searching for homeowners who purchased old homes for $150,000 or less circulated around the internet. At the same time, producers of the show had reached out to the Heavilins about their home. The couple expressed their interest in being part of the show, in part because they trusted the vision the Finkelsteins had for it.
“We live in a historic house, and we love the elements of a historic house. Elizabeth is a historic preservationist, which is why we’ve always hit it off well,” Amy Heavilin said. “She would never do a show that involves knocking out walls or taking out the historical elements of the house.”
But just because they were interested did not mean they’d automatically be on the show.
The Heavilins went through an interview process with the producers, in addition to giving them a Zoom tour of the home so they could make sure the house met certain criteria, such as having enough of the house restored to make for compelling television.
In late 2020, the Heavilins learned they were going to be featured on the show. Plans were put in place to film in January.
Immediately, the producers had a request: Could the Heavilins have the home’s library, which was in the middle of being restored, finished in time?
“That was like in six weeks. We’re really good at house stuff, but we’re very slow,” Amy Heavilin said. “We weren’t sure if it was going to happen or not.”
Still, they tried. They made a list of everything that had to be done to get the room camera-ready, such as mounting the bookshelves, adding cabinets and installing a vintage half-moon piece of purple and cream stained glass. They filled the bookshelves with all the books they had, then borrowed books from Madison Street Salvage to fill out the rest.
The work was hectic, but it got done two days before film crews arrived.
“There were piles of sawdust out front while they were filming the show,” Doug Heavilin said.
Over the course of eight hours, Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, as well as the rest of the film crew, toured the house while the Heavilins described the work they did.
The process meant for an exhausting day, but everyone involved was respectful and couldn’t have been better to work with, Amy Heavilin said.
“It was a really great experience. It was really fun,” she said.
After filming, the Heavilins weren’t sure what the timeline would be for the release of “Cheap Old Houses.” Only in the past month did they learn the show would premier on Aug. 9, and they would be featured in episodes in the coming weeks.
They are aware they’re only part of one show, but still, the opportunity to share what they’ve done is a special one.
“Our segment is only about five to eight minutes. Basically, we’re taking people on a tour and letting (them) know that this is what those houses that they buy could look like, if you put some effort and love and care and respect into it,” Amy Heavilin said.