How Young Homesteaders Are Reviving The Colonial On Park

A 1940 brick home in Brazil is lovingly restored and updated to show off its historic glory.
Photography by Tony Valainis

Though it’s considered a small town today, Brazil, Indiana, has a secret, moneyed past. Before World War II, it was the heart of a thriving brick manufacturing industry. More millionaires were crammed into its compact city limits than inside the sprawling borders of Indianapolis. As a result, Brazil boasts a number of stately older homes, the Maurer House among them.

The Colonial Revival home on Park Street was built in 1940 and originally owned by Indianapolis surgeon Dr. J. Frank Maurer and his wife Susan. The story goes that one day, Dr. Maurer spotted a house he admired off Route 40 in Plainfield. Infatuated with the look of the home, he tasked Burns & James Architects out of Indianapolis to erect his own version.

Photography by Tony Valainis

The brick abode was the talk of the town for its forward-thinking designs and contemporary tastes. It was so newsworthy it even made the local paper, The Brazil Daily Times, appearing in an article titled “New Maurer Home Represents Best Efforts of Modern Building Craftsmen” on May 6, 1940.

But flash forward to today, and the house, looking much as it did when it was first built, is now lauded for its historic value rather than its novelty. This is because the home’s young, hip owners, interior designer Kemp Harper and his partner Kevin Boling, are doing all they can to lean into its original style.

The pair wanted an older home for a long time. They restored their first house, a Craftsman—a popular 20th-century style—but they later decided to go for something a bit older and came across the Maurer House in 2016. Taking their design cues from contemporary aesthetic movements, like cottagecore and dark academia, Harper and Boling are returning to simpler times. They consider themselves homesteaders, keeping nine chickens, two turkeys, and a beehive out back. Like many millennials and Gen Zers, they’ve taken up old-timey hobbies since the pandemic. They garden, can their own vegetables, collect honey from their hive, and prefer to restore or upcycle features of their home rather than buy new.

Photography by Tony Valainis

Since buying the home, they’ve completed several restoration projects. In the breakfast room, for example, Harper tore out the crumbling wall panels, exposing the original horsehair plaster underneath. He then hand-painted the surface to create an abstract landscape mural that encloses the space in layered shades of green. The horsehair plaster gave the mural a gritty, aged feel that Harper liked. “Everything in the house has a scratch mark, or a ding, or a leg loose,” he confides. “But all this gives the house character.”

Next, in the kitchen, Harper also hand-painted the now harlequin floors—but only after laboring intensely for two months. This included scraping off the linoleum and adhesive bit by bit, and then meticulously sanding down the residue with a belt sander. The result? The design looks like it’s been there forever. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in the couple’s home that doesn’t feel charmingly old.

Photography by Tony Valainis

Take, for example, the silhouette art on the living room walls or the collection of jadeite glassware in the antique hutch. There are still lifes in the kitchen and a baby grand piano in the corner. Candles (made from beeswax, of course) molded by Harper into classic busts are carefully placed under glass cloches. Antique taxidermy hangs on newly wood-paneled walls.

While collecting these items, Harper and Boling make headway in renovating the home, giving it some modern upgrades while respecting the historic style of the house. The original shutters were rotting off the hinges, and a windstorm blew several off the house and shattered most of them. So Harper and his dad recreated cottage-style shutters in a pretty shade of green to correspond with the patina on the aged copper gutters and downspouts. The verdant hue ties in with the front yard’s soaring oak trees, which are just as old as the house and command the grounds.

Photography by Tony Valainis

Harper and Boling ensured the bathrooms still boast the original rose pedestal sinks and jade tile floors. These materials hail from the 1940s, when items were built to last.

Sure, a few contemporary touches are blended in with the old here and there. Classically tailored sofas pair well with a modern ottoman. But the couple eschews most newfangled trends—no Joanna or Chip Gaines modern farmhouse style to be seen here. At the same time, Harper doesn’t like “a heavy, spindly Victorian look,” he says. “Rather, I do borrow elements from older fashions and make them feel fresh and new.”

He and Boling take inspiration from 1990s Martha Stewart and her legendary first home, Turkey Hill (hence the crisp white dishes adorning the dining room), and the old-money New England look of Ralph Lauren. The home’s library is draped in knotty pine paneling reminiscent of backdrops from old Ralph Lauren ads. Step inside the house, and you feel transported to another place and time.

The home also embraces a more cozy life modeled after the pair’s forebears. “I’ve always been a grandma at heart,” laughs Harper, who was influenced by his grandmother who lived near Brazil. She grew up on a farm, raised pigs, and canned. Harper says he inherited his favorite hobbies and design aesthetic from her. Boling also spent a lot of time with his grandmother, and the couple credits their childhood upbringings for their strong appreciation of the past. “We’re now a little old school, but it works for us,” says Harper.

Photography by Tony Valainis

Akin to how Frank Maurer must have felt viewing the home in Plainfield, Harper and Boling were smitten with the doctor’s former home. Boling’s mom was a real estate agent and alerted the couple to the property when it first hit the market. “The back gate was unlocked, and we let ourselves in the backyard,” Harper explains. “Kevin’s mom said we could pop in and have a look.” The yard was an oasis of mature trees and plants. A magnolia branched over a pond, and English ivy scampered across the path and framed the picturesque scene. The spot felt like a secret garden of sorts, and the couple immediately realized that the home had plenty of space for them to pursue the homesteading activities they craved.

The yard also includes a central fountain surrounded by a fish pond. Stones found tumbled on a grassy knoll now accommodate the rose garden and a chicken coop. Francois Carre furniture in an Art Deco–inspired design is arranged on the brick patio. “When we walked into the backyard that night, I didn’t even need to see the inside,” says Harper. “I was like, I’m sold, because this is where I want to spend my time, out on this patio. And we do.”

Photography by Tony Valainis

That is, when they aren’t restoring their house or entertaining. Harper shares their adventures on his Instagram profile, The Colonial on Park, where he currently has more than 42,000 followers. Recently, the pair was featured on an episode of the Magnolia Network’s Diary of an Old Home. And this past Thanksgiving, Harper partnered with Williams Sonoma to create a tablescape with the brand’s Plymouth Turkey Dinnerware Collection.

The couple believes the effect would have surely delighted the original homeowners. “In my mind, Mrs. Maurer and I would have been the best of friends,” says Harper. “We have a baby grand piano that sits in the same corner she had hers. She loved rabbits, gardening, and the color pink. I only hope she’d be happy with how we’ve maintained the place.”