In Franklin, rich with preservation resources, a couple restoring a 22-room Victorian believes patience is the most valuable of them all.

The staircase—never painted—made the Heavilins want to buy the house before seeing the rest. The entry is one area they haven’t yet touched.Photography by Tony Valainis

When Amy and Doug Heavilin first moved into their Queen Anne Victorian in Franklin, the carpet was so sullied it inspired a game of “guess the stain.” A hand-painted, cherub-infused scene and fake English ivy accents inspired “count the angels” and “someone please explain why vines were a thing in the ’80s.” The exterior was in need of immediate attention; the slate roof had deteriorated, and it was actively raining indoors. The balcony was peeling away from the second story, and soffits had given way to wood rot, then animals. But for the Heavilins, it was love at first sight.

The three-story, 4,600-square-foot home on lovely Martin Place, close to the town square rejuvenated by the nonprofit preservation group Franklin Heritage, had always been on their radar. They had a not-so-secret soft spot for the turret, whose curves were reflected in the porch overhang and cascading front steps, and they had peeked through the front windows to see the dramatic entryway and staircase with wood in good condition. Then, in 2012, the couple was traveling home from a vacation in Maryland. To pass time during the 13-hour drive, Amy was browsing Realtor.com on her phone. And there it was: the Queen Anne, vacant and foreclosed upon, but with a come-hither listing price. “Let’s just go see it,” Amy said. “That way, we can say we’ve seen the inside, and we’ll know what’s wrong with it, and we can walk away.” Doug agreed. But five hours into the drive, the pair was thinking about what they needed to do to sell their current home. Two hours later, they called their real estate agent. Ten hours into the drive, they had, in their minds, moved to Martin Place.

“When people buy a house and flip it right away, it does the house a disservice,” Amy Heavilin says.

Amy shares this story on her blog, Vivacious Victorian. The site was born from a desire to document her and Doug’s “adventure in restoration,” and has loyal followers around the globe. “I just thought a few friends would keep up with it,” Amy says. “But we show the details so that other people aren’t scared to try something.” That includes wallpapering, woodworking, tiling, and upholstering. But a quick glance at the blog shows that they also have learned how to restore a claw-foot tub, hand-paint a ceiling medallion, and mill their own woodwork. The curved woodwork in a bedroom was the biggest challenge. “We kept trying new things that were big and involved, and when we got to the end of it, they just didn’t work,” Doug says. “It was frustrating, for sure.” But Amy, who is a teacher at Indian Creek High School, believes there is no such thing as failure as long as you try. So they gave Plans B through F a whirl before finding a veneer thin enough to get that curvaceous bend. And now that the trim is stained to match the rest of the woodwork, you’d never guess it’s not original.

That’s the thing about these two—they’re patient. And they want to do right by the house, which was built in 1902. “When people buy a house and flip it right away, it does the house a disservice,” Amy says. “But when you live in it, the house tells you what it wants you to do.” The Heavilins are still learning about their home seven years after purchasing it, still determining where to install fireplaces or lay down tile. So far, they’ve completed seven of 22 rooms: the kitchen, the laundry room, the first-floor bathroom, the study, the dining room, the butler’s pantry, and the bedroom inside the turret.

A guest bedroom occupies the home’s turret.Photography by Tony Valainis

Each room has a distinct palette. The study’s black-and-gold ceiling medallion and luxurious black wallpaper nod to Purdue University, Doug’s alma mater. Brass fixtures and a rain showerhead make the adjoining bathroom feel more like a high-end hotel, and the tile, designed and laid by Amy herself, is a sea of calming grays, whites, and yellows. Head upstairs, turn left, and step into a cozy chamber with black walls, wood floors, and a delightful blend of prints, from floral pillows to tropical-colored curtains. Six large windows in the curved room made furniture layout a challenge, so Amy and Doug built a custom combination desk-vanity and a wardrobe with doors fashioned from old picture frames to fit the space.

“You either have to have a lot of time on your hands or be very rich to restore an entire home in a year,” Amy says. “But if you’re willing to be patient, you can do the things you want.” The Heavilins have been rewarded along the way, not only with love from their online following, but also surprises from the house itself. Some were delightful, like discovering a pie plate in a ceiling during a demolition—Doug figures it was placed there to catch a drip in a bathroom pipe above. On the other hand, he says, “every generation of lighting that has existed was in this house.”

Acknowledging that there are 15 rooms to go makes Amy smile. “It’s going to be a long time to get through the rest of them,” she says. “But both us feel like we never want to leave.”

Styling by Kristin Sims | Gallery: