Brandon and Nicole Nicoloff add a personal touch to their Franklin home
By Jon Shoulders
All it took was one momentary glimpse for Nicole Nicoloff to fall in love with the historic Franklin home in which she and her husband, Brandon, reside with their children, Blaise, 12, and Olivia, 10.
The Nicoloff family was living in a custom-built 1980s home on Valle Vista golf course in Greenwood when Nicole and Brandon opened The Marshmallow Monkey, a Franklin-based home décor and floral shop, in July 2013. Not long after their grand opening, a serendipitous event occurred that would allow the couple to apply their love of interior design and vintage treasure hunting to a piece of local history that would become their home.
“We were commuting about eight miles to our shop every day, and every time I would leave the shop I would tool around Franklin and imagine what it would be like if I could have a bicycle with a basket on it and ride to work every day,” Nicole says. “I happened to spot this historic-looking house and saw a for sale sign, and I immediately could envision my grandkids playing out on the front porch.”
By July 2014, the Nicoloffs had officially become the owners of the 5,000-square-foot house on South Home Avenue that features four bedrooms and two and one-half bathrooms and was built in 1905 under the direction of its original owner, A.J. Engler. As manager of a successful local lumber business, Engler used the knowledge gained in his trade to design and install unique quartered oak woodwork throughout the home. “It was really supposed to be his masterpiece and his showcase house,” Nicole says, adding that the home was one of the first residences in town to feature plumbing. “There are built-in gutters and even a cold air return system under the cement in the basement that would suck cold air throughout the house. The original owner was very forward-thinking for his time.”
According to the previous owner, Julie Hass, Engler sold the house before 1910, after which it remained in the same family for several generations until February 1987 when Julie and her husband, Paul, assumed ownership. The Hasses undertook several much-needed restorations during their 27 years in the home, including a complete remodeling of the bathrooms with updated plumbing, a roof replacement in 1990 and a removal of downstairs carpeting to restore the original oak in the living room and maple in the kitchen and dining room. “We loved raising our family in that house,” Julie says. “We enjoyed the beauty, character and strength of the house. It made it easier for us to move on knowing we sold our home to a family that would love living there as much as we did.”
Built in a turn-of-the-century style known as Free Classic, which is typically identifiable by overhanging eaves, front-facing gables and prominent front porches, the home features distinctive wood patterns above each doorway, ornate fleur-de-lis designs on every doorknob and decorative wood molding in common areas — all speaking to the care that Engler took in his design process more than 100 years ago. “Even after we were three or four weeks in the house, we would find little features that we hadn’t seen before, whether it was a woodwork detail or a small hidden storage space,” Nicole says. “We knew it was going to be an adventure.”
A Tribute to the Past
The Nicoloffs’ primary consideration while renovating the home, which features four levels including the basement and an unattached two-car garage, was to retain as much of the original charm as possible while making necessary upgrades and applying their own touches. In adding what she calls a cottage charm to the kitchen, Nicole chose granite countertops, a patterned backsplash and new ceiling light fixtures, all of which complement the blonde wood cabinetry installed by Julie and Paul Hass. “The custom cabinets they put in replaced the original cabinets, which were metal,” Nicole explains. “Like the rest of the house, we made our decisions for the kitchen based on the existing woodwork color and details, which we felt it was important to keep alive and pay homage to.”
The Nicoloffs’ decision to paint over most of the home’s wallpapered areas, including the bedrooms and a small breakfast nook adjacent to the kitchen, was the result of both aesthetic and practical motivations. “Instead of removing the wallpaper, we painted over it, because we realized it was holding up some of the plaster,” she says. “I hand sanded the seams before going over it with high-quality paint. We wanted to use some lighter colors in certain areas to make the woodwork pop more.”
The breakfast nook’s east exterior wall now features a dark chalkboard finish on which Nicole added a few familial flourishes with chalk pencil, including an ornate letter N signifying the family surname, each family member’s initials and the name Hendricks in bold font, representing the French bulldog who joined the Nicoloff family in November.
A desk belonging to Nicole’s grandmother and a well-worn dining room table with sliding extension leaves, spotted by Brandon at a local garage sale, add subtle charm to the dining room, which also features a painted wall mural of a Madison landscape based off a photograph Julie says belonged to one of the home’s previous owners.
The home’s 34-by-40-foot top level, which features dark wood benches around its perimeter and originally served as a ballroom and gathering space, now provides the dual functions of a storage area and what Nicole says is a kids lounge for Blaise, Olivia and their friends. “There was originally a cloud mural on the dining room ceiling, but it was painted over at some point,” Nicole says. “I actually have a fine arts degree from the IU Herron School of Art, and I’m going to take a stab at a sky mural up there on the top floor as a tribute to that original mural. The ceiling up there is a bit more conducive to it because it was redone when the previous owners redid the roof.”
In an effort to breathe new life into the home’s basement level, the Nicoloffs installed a custom bar, round bar tables with high-sitting wood chairs and a liquor cabinet that Brandon and Nicole found at an estate sale. Leaving no area without unique accents during the original construction, Engler installed a tin ceiling with decorative hammered patterns in the basement that the Nicoloffs plan to showcase by removing unused electrical wiring installed along the ceiling by previous owners. “The final touch will be when we put slat board on the walls, because we want it to feel like you’re in a cellar,” Nicole says. “First we have to do some good insulation in the concrete walls and replace the windows.”
Patience is a Virtue
During the home’s construction, Engler installed knob-and-tube electrical wiring throughout — a method that was state-of-the-art at the beginning of the 20th century but has since been supplanted by more efficient residential electrical systems. The Hasses updated the wiring in the kitchen, bathrooms and third floor, and the Nicoloffs enlisted the help of Indianapolis-based Quicksilver Electric to replace the remaining knob-and-tube wiring and install additional electrical outlets in several rooms.
“The biggest challenge is how slow things have had to progress, because we’ve always been people who do things very quickly and try to get projects done over a single weekend,” Nicole says. “If you want to keep the original integrity of a house like this, you can’t hurry, and it requires some thoughtfulness in how you go about doing it the right way. Even arranging furniture takes some thought since there is only one electric outlet in most of the rooms. The key for us has been in modernizing without compromising what makes the place great.”
Given that most of their spare time is devoted to exploring garage sales, antique stores and estate auctions to keep The Marshmallow Monkey well stocked for the public, Nicole, 39, and Brandon, 44, take advantage of every extra second they have to acquire pieces for their home. Having spent the last 18 years in the health care industry, Nicole also spends much of her free time as an adviser for the Baird Group, a health care consultancy, while Brandon works at the shop on his days off from a full-time job as a firefighter for the city of Greenwood. “It’s been a lot of work but so worth it,” Nicole says. “It’s great to have a shop that helps the local community and to also feel like we’re kind of contributing to the history of the town by taking the reins of this amazing house.”
While several renovation plans remain on the Nicoloffs’ checklist, including new roofing and exterior paint, they have an extra special project in mind that they feel will be a fitting visual statement of their chapter in the home’s ongoing history. “I think we’ll look for a stained glass window with the letter M for above the garage door,” Nicole says. “It will stand for Monkey Manor, which is what we’ve named the house. I think it would be a nice way to make our mark.”