A Philosophy of Choices

I’m going to start with this : it’s hard to restore a house that’s so prominent in the community.


The response to our restoration has been – almost unanimously – incredibly supportive. Our neighbors all around were convinced that they were going to be living with a vacant lot soon (and, it very well could have happened).

But seriously – EVERYONE knows this house. I was in a totally different city the other day buying fabric, and when they asked for my address, the cashier said, “I LOVE Martin Place! Which house is yours?”

Me : “The second Victorian on the left.”

Her : “I LOVE that house. The one with the turret.”

Everyone knows this house.

“My girlfriend lived in the downstairs apartment when we were in college in the 60s. Can I come in and see it?”

On Halloween : “I’m just going to peek in the windows. Mama needs some eye candy.” (not kidding).

People stopping by with notebooks wanting information. People driving by slowly and looking at everything. People walking down the driveway to examine to turret. The man in the neighborhood who talks to himself and told the outside crew they were working too slowly for his liking.

A photographer waiting in the driveway for us to find out if he can shoot it.

Being asked to be on a home tour before we even had keys.

“This was my grandfather’s house. I grew up here. Can you please rip this fence out? I hate it.”

I’m sure some people find this annoying. Me, I love it. Because every person that stops by might have a clue or a story or something to share that I didn’t know.

This house has a history. One that we are thrilled to now be a part of.


I want everyone to love what we are doing, but I know for sure that can’t and won’t be the case. I figured that most of the angst would come from the paint colors – they are pretty bold. Last week, there was some banter online about the porch, and the columns which were going to a salvage shop, and how it was a shame that we chose to rip the columns off the porch after previous owners spent so much time installing them. I’ll be honest – it’s tough to read that someone thinks that – not only are you making a poor choice for the house, but that in some way, you are dishonoring other people who have lived in and loved the house.

Goodness, no. And I’ve thought enough about this in the past few days to really want to write about it.

I may make fun of things in this house that I think are bizarre, or that I think don’t go with the original intent of the house, or things that are “dated.” My father laughs at me all the time when I say something is “dated.” But, there is a HUGE difference between color schemes and decor from the 1980’s, as opposed to those that fit the house’s original time period. We aren’t trying to be historically perfect, but we are attempting to be very historically sympathetic. And I often will use humor to bring my points home.

Public service, there WILL be a blog post called “Things I Don’t Understand,” discussing all things murals and wallpaper and frogs and chandeliers installed with coat hangars – so if you are sensitive you might want to skip that post.

But despite the teasing that I do, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand that – at one time – someone put an incredible amount of care into the decisions for this house. The mural in the master bedroom? Anytime someone sees it, the reaction is the same : “Wow. That is incredibly awful. But someone took a lot of time to do it. It’s so well done.”


I don’t disagree. But just because it’s well done, doesn’t mean I plan on keeping it.

And the porch posts had to go. The porch has been destroyed by water and insects. The bottoms of the posts are toast – and I find it remarkable that it all lasted almost 30 years. I HOPE that with proper maintenance, our restoration of the porch lasts 30 years. When choosing the design for the porch, we had three options : revert back to the type of post from when it was built, recreate the posts from the 1986 restoration, or choose something else. We went with the first thought, and I don’t regret it one bit. Any time that I can take this house closer to 1902, I am going to do it. And I don’t believe that it’s negating other people’s work to do so. When your house is made of wood, it isn’t going to last forever.

We plan on living here forever, so our choices will be made with historical accuracy in mind, but also in mind with how we want to live. And many of our choices are being mandated by condition – when we rip out a decoratively painted ceiling in the front parlor, it isn’t going to be because we hate it – it’s primarily because the ceiling and wall are collapsing from water damage. Sad? Yes. Necessary. Yes.

This is our house, but we feel very strongly that it’s the community’s house as well. When people tell you that you have one of the “most architecturally significant houses in the county,” that’s a huge deal to live up to. And we won’t be perfect. And I’ll hate some of the things I choose to do in 5, 10, 15 years. People call the house the name of who they know that lived there : “The __so-and-so__ House,” “The __previous owners__ House.” On the blog I call it Martin Place, but it’s really “The Murray-Bryant House,” named for the first owner / builder, and the most prominent person who lived here. Both of these approaches are typical when naming houses. We’ve never called it “The Heavilin House,” because in the historical aspect – it’s not ours.

I don’t want this to come about as rant-y – I’m not meaning for it to be. I’m sure other restorers have dealt with this issue, so I really felt compelled to write about it – remember that show on TLC where people re-did a house they just bought and invited the previous owners to look at it? That show was AWKWARD.

So, it’s OK if you don’t like something we are doing. In fact, I LOVE having chats about WHY we’ve chosen the path that we did! Want to know why we aren’t doing concrete or stone steps like in the picture from 1910? Because we can’t afford to. So, challenge me. Ask me. Turn up your nose at me. Flatter me. Fall in love with this house. Tell me something is dumb, or something is beautiful. I’m OK with it. As an educator, I love research and learning and making decisions and teaching people about what I found. Just, please assume – always – that what we do always comes from love of the house, and not from taking away what others have done.

Do you have any stories about people’s reactions to your renovations? Tell me! I want to hear them!


  1. And for a bit more encouragement, know that there’s someone across the street who’s going to think I’m making a grave mistake ripping off the vertical aluminum siding that was installed over my house’s vertical aluminum cornice. And I plan on explaining my reasoning to him by beating it with a 2×4 and screaming die! die! die!

  2. I love that you spend so much time thinking about this! I am on the west coast where the Victorians are not as common and I love seeing the ones in my parents’ neighborhood being lovingly restored (especially the wild and colorful paint jobs). I am just discovering your blog and going back through the posts and it is so interesting to see your decision making (and nice to see that you do take budgeting into account too). You should be so proud!

    1. Thanks, Anne! I’m glad you’re liking it – I find the process (both mine and other people’s) so fascinating – I like the WHY as much as the WHAT. And with 22 rooms, budget is a big part. We hope to do it right and make it beautiful, but not go broke. Well, broker! Ha! So it’s always on the forefront, for sure. So glad to meet you!

      1. Wow, 22 rooms, that’s amazing! Thank you for sharing/documenting as you go along, it is fascinating to watch you in process.

  3. You have the right idea. Constructive critique can be helpful and educational, but in the end, you’re responsible for making the final decisions. Sometimes the strongest opinions aren’t even the most accurate (those in favor of your old porch posts, for instance). And while I wouldn’t always make the same choices as you, I respect them, and often learn things I apply in my own projects.

    Armchair restoration goes both ways, but it’s a lot more painful and frustrating when it’s coming than going. I try to remember that when I’m tempted to criticize other people’s work, as they could often just as easily criticize me for my own choices (and with some of my past ones, I’d be inclined to agree!). I’m glad you have a thick skin and continue to share your restoration with all of us, despite the risk of criticism.

    1. I agree! We often discuss what (of the things we’re doing) will be hated on by the future. I’m TOTALLY okay if someone doesn’t like my style choices, but I’m hopeful that the effort we’ve put into saving the structure and history of the house is respected. It’s a fine tight rope to walk, and I know that being as public with our restoration, I’ll get more feedback than most. But it’s okay – I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and most people are SO supportive.

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