Friends Home Decor Experiencing Success After Reopening In Historic Hazel Dell School
Writer & Photographer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
There is a trend that is growing in popularity called “adaptive reuse” which says it is okay and even preferable to find a new purpose for old structures like churches and schoolhouses.
But not everyone has the ability to see the hidden beauty in a dilapidated building that may be slated for demolition. Mary Ann Huffman did and the Hazel Dell Schoolhouse, a Noblesville landmark, was given another chance. She saw what no one else could see and refurbished the 126-year-old schoolhouse, slated for demolition, and opened and operated her design business there for 10 years until the economy took a downturn. But the building meant too much to Huffman and the community, so she re-opened the store in November of 2017.
An Interior designer, Huffman not only has that ability, she has been ahead of the trend her entire career. As a Purdue graduate, Huffman earned an education degree and taught mildly mentally handicapped children, while living in an old home in downtown Kokomo. When she and husband Gary decided to start their family, they moved into an old farmhouse in the country and left her teaching job. But she still wanted to do something.
When the couple relocated to Noblesville in 1991, she rented space in the Emporium Antique Mall and then moved to the Logan Mall. While driving on Hazel Dell Road, the once two-lane country road, Huffman noticed the dilapidated Hazel Dell Schoolhouse. The two-room school built in 1892 was the second building for the school but it had not been used as a school since 1927. The building was missing half the bricks, there was no electricity or gas and windows were missing. If the building itself did not scare any potential buyers away, the overgrowth of weeds surrounding the building certainly would. But not Huffman. Her vision was clear this was the future home of Friends Home Décor.
She was determined to bring this important piece of Noblesville’s history back to life, and she knew this was where she wanted to run her design business from so she contacted family friends, Jim Pickering and Janet Vawter to see how she could go about finding the owner. They not only knew how, they knew the owner and the vision began to take shape.
“I spent two years tracking down permits to get the building zoned for commercial use, and my family and I began the process of clearing all the weeds away from the building,” Huffman says. “We were able to salvage the original beams and kept as many of the original architectural elements as we could, including the original bell.
“We added a kitchen so that we could bake cookies fresh at the store for our customers,” she adds. “We also added a parking lot, a staircase to the renovated attic and that still left 15-foot ceilings on the first floor.”
Adding in electricity, gas, new windows and a bathroom helped to modernize the schoolhouse.
When Huffman opened the doors to Friends Home Décor the first time in 2002, local residents visited and showed a strong interest in the building. They came armed with original report cards from family members that went to school there. They also came with photos of the children that attended in front of the original building and one even came by with the original clock that Huffman bought for the store and, while no longer in working condition, provided authenticity to the space.
When the 2008 recession came somewhat unannounced, Huffman and other small businesses in the area began to notice that “something was just not right.”
“We toughed it out for a few years, and, when the economy did not bounce back, we made the decision to put the property up for sale and close our store,” Huffman says.
The couple also moved to southern Georgia where Huffman opened three home décor stores while renovating the 1856 original plantation house. For a while, Huffman returned to Indiana regularly to visit friends, family and the clients she was still serving. She had some renters in the building but refused to sell the building for the offers that were coming in at half the value.
By the summer of 2017, she made the decision to re-open the store and within a matter of months she would close her Georgia stores and move the inventory to her Indiana store.
The store offers a variety of home décor and gift items that reflect her vintage and antique style but from vendors unique to Indiana. She offers pillows, napkins, lamps, candles, unique gift items and continues to provide design services. The store opened its doors in November of 2017 with all but two of her former employees and she added in two vendors in the attic, Hey Little Diddle and Delaney’s Loft.
Huffman believes that the schoolhouse and the store will help others see what is possible and invites the community to stop in to chat, peruse the store and relive a bit of history. The store is located at 16810 Hazel Dell Road, Noblesville.
To find out about events, sales and her famous “porch sale” follow Friends Home Décor on Facebook and visit them online at friendshomedecor.com. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Sundays. You can give them a call at 317-219-7490.