Steve Harrelson, a former Texarkana resident and former Arkansas state legislator, now owns The Villa Marre, a historic downtown Little Rock home whose exterior was prominently featured on "Designing Women."
For Harrelson, purchasing the home, which was built in 1881, accomplishes a young man's dream.
"This house, when I was in law school, it was for sale then and I remember thinking if I was ever in Little Rock and more established, I would make a run at getting it and here I am 20 years later and it worked out for me," he told the Gazette this week. Harrelson has law offices in Little Rock, Texarkana and Shreveport, La.
His driving force in purchasing the iconic and easily identifiable home did not really have "as much to do" with the 1980s show featuring Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart portraying Atlanta, Ga., interior decorators.
Instead, Harrelson's love for the home's early history and his desire to take on another restoration project played roles in his purchasing it.
"I've always liked historical properties and helped renovate the old Foreman Building in downtown Texarkana, which serves as his law office. I have experience, that is the main thing—to try to have a piece of history I could help maintain and preserve for future generations," he said.
In 2005, Harrelson and his brother were instrumental in renovating Texarkana's triangular building in the 300 block of State Line Avenue.
And, now there's work to do at The Villa Marre.
"The house has been vacant for a year, so it is going to need some fundamental updates like painting and some plumbing work and some repairs to the roof. Other than that, I am visiting with people about the history of the house and I want to make sure I maintain its historical accuracy," he said.
The Villa Marre's architectural style is Second Empire, Harrelson said.
He reports hearing from many people who are enthused about his undertaking.
"I've heard from a lot of historical preservationists who have offered to find some old pictures and stuff to bring to me," he said Thursday as he was preparing to attend the Quapaw Quarter Association's neighborhood meeting.
He has connected with a retired architect who updated the home in the 1960s so it could be placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
"When they were removing the wallpaper then, they found some of the original stenciling and his wife came over and restenciled some," Harrelson said about the 1960s-era attention to detail.
He has made some historic finds of his own within the home.
"The most interesting thing I have found is someone's speech from a tour of homes in Little Rock," he said.
In reading about and researching the house's history, he described the people who originally owned the home were "colorful characters" and said someone interested in history would likely "get a kick out of" the Tour of Homes speech.
He originally intended for The Villa Marre to serve as his Little Rock law office, but he now believes he will live in the home he purchased for $463,500.
He has his own designs on converting some rooms.
"The previous owner used it for the event center and the upstairs had been modified from bedrooms to offices and that was my intent initially. But sitting in here and rethinking mentally each room, it will be easy to convert them back to bedrooms," Harrelson said by phone Thursday.
The 4,847-square-foot historic home in earlier configurations boasted four upstairs bedrooms and Harrelson says the original room layout downstairs remains with a formal living room, a formal dining room, a kitchen and a couple of parlors. The home also has an unfinished basement, he said.
The Villa Marre, located at 1321 S. Scott St., is about three blocks away from the governor's mansion.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports The Villa Marre has been on the market since 2016, most recently listing for $650,000. That price included a carriage house on an adjoining parcel that sold last month for $205,000 to Bloom Management Inc., according to Pulaski County real estate records.
"I thought it was the right time to take on a project of this magnitude," Harrelson, who turned 45 last week, told the Democrat-Gazette.