The Eilands – Charming Family, Charming Home

Growing up in Tyler, Heather Swink had passed by the Colonial Revival-style home, situated at the edge of what is now known as Tyler’s Azalea District, many times. As a teenager, she had never given any thought to one day living in that particular house. It was merely one of the many landmark homes that helped give her hometown its unique charm. 

Heather met Clay Eiland, her future husband, when they were both students at Grace Community School. “We met in 2001 in yearbook class. Clay was the editor, and I was one of the minions who worked on putting the yearbook together,” she says with a broad smile. “We dated briefly, but our romance was over quickly. We reconnected at TCU in 2006 just before he graduated.”

Having been a cadet in the ROTC program, when he graduated, Clay was commissioned to go to Italy. He traded his assignment with one of his ROTC buddies and went to Killeen, to be closer to Heather. The couple was engaged in 2007 and were married in 2009 at Marvin United Methodist Church after Clay returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq. Clay completed his military assignment in 2011, after serving as a U.S. Army Captain in Afghanistan, a member of the 4th Infantry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas. 

Returning to civilian life, Clay went to work for a pharmaceutical company. During the following two years, the couple lived in Tyler, Lubbock, and St. Louis, Missouri. While in St. Louis, Heather taught herself to sew and launched her first business venture, Lambie Love. “We both knew that we wanted to come home to Tyler to raise our children among family and friends,” Heather explains. “So, it was not long before we moved back to East Texas.” 

The couple lived in three different houses around Tyler before moving into the Azalea District. It was in one of the couple’s garages that Heather started her clothing line for children, which she named Charming Mary, in honor of her grandmother, Mary Irwin, and now her youngest daughter, Mary. “Since 2016, I have been designing clothing for newborns and children up to fourteen years old. Essentially, the business grew bigger and bigger,” says Heather. “Then, in 2018, I discovered I was pregnant with our fourth child. That is when we started looking for a larger home. Because of Clay’s work in wound care, we wanted to be nearer the hospitals, and we wanted to be closer to our children’s school.”

“When we started our search, there were very few properties available that could fit our growing family,” Heather continues, “We knew that whatever we found was probably going to need some renovation. That’s when we found out this house was available.” One of the main things that caught their attention was the large backyard. The couple knew it was a wonderful place for their children to run and play. “The kids loved the yard immediately! In fact, when we were looking over the house, the kids were outside. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were picking flowers and putting them in the baskets of the decorative gnomes.” 

Another factor that entered into the Eiland’s decision-making process was the fact they would be only the third owners of the home. Goldie and Dr. Sidney Bradford started building the home in 1934 after visiting “A Century of Progress,” the Chicago World’s Fair. Impressed with a design for a home that boasted the latest innovations in home technology, the Bradford’s conveyed their ideas and a set of plans to local architects Gregory and Cates. When it was completed, it was the first home in Tyler with air conditioning. Maurice Shamburger, the nurseryman who first brought azaleas to Tyler by rail from Georgia in 1929, was responsible for the original garden design, a design that remains very much intact to this day. The Bradford’s occupied the home for more than sixty years, until Goldie’s death in 1999.

Kelley and Casey Brownlow saw the house in 2000 while visiting from Houston and fell in love with it. Casey, who is a landscape designer, was particularly impressed with the magnificent garden in the back of the home and was excited by the prospect of restoring it to its original grandeur. Although, they were not intending to make a move to Tyler from Houston, they made an offer on the house and became the second owners. The Brownlows made some updates to the interior décor, being careful to preserve the historical integrity of the home’s original design. In 2012, the Brownlows opened the home to the public, hosting the Candlelight Party that is the kick-off for Historic Tyler on Tour.

“Most of the entertaining we do is with family friends who also have children,” Heather says. “We have only had one really formal dinner party since we moved here in July of 2019.” However, that will change this coming April when the Eilands will host another Candlelight Party for Historic Tyler on Tour. “When we moved in, we immediately began making the renovations we wanted. The only structural changes we made were to convert a closet in the entry hall to a powder room half-bath and we opened up the master suite bath to make it one large open space with shower and bathtub. Most of the other changes we made were basically cosmetic changes that reflect my aesthetic preferences.”

The original home had four bedrooms and two full baths. A detached mother-in-law suite was added by the Bradfords that also has a full bath. The living area consists of a large kitchen, a formal dining room, a formal living room and a casual sunroom at the back of the house, overlooking the backyard garden. “The sunroom was originally a covered patio that the Bradford’s enclosed. Goldie was an avid bridge player and would frequently host eight tables of players in that room,” so Heather was informed. “When we bought the house, the flooring of the sunroom consisted of tiles in the shape of a Texas star.” The Eilands replaced the sunroom floor with a versatile slate tile. 

Heather is a devotee of reviving thrifted furniture. Virtually all of the furniture in the home is what she refers to as “thrift bargains,” or pieces handed down from family. For instance, the sofa and armchairs in the sunroom are thrift store finds she had recovered by Texture. The rug that covers the slate floor is from Oriental Rug Galaxy. Most of the draperies throughout the house are by Sally Keeny Interiors. The rose medallion lamp is from Illuminations and the Foo lamps came from House of Wynne.

There is another room off the kitchen that doubles as the children’s playroom and as Heather’s workroom, where she does much of her design work using an iPad to create the surface designs for fabrics used to make the clothing for Charming Mary. “For a while, I attempted to design with watercolor paints and then scan them. Fortunately, technology came to my rescue. The iPad allows me to translate my vision into art; and my art into clothing.” 

The kitchen was originally designed with a breakfast table that had a built-in bench seat, reminiscent of the booth-style seating in cafes of the 1930s. The kitchen has been updated with modern appliances and is roomy, with ample space for food preparation and storage.

“One of the changes I made was to the wallpaper in the formal dining room. It was a beautiful, hand painted paper that was sadly disintegrating. We replaced it with grass cloth in lavender, my favorite color, that came from Phillip Jeffries,” says Heather. The dining table was a find from a Divide and Conquer sale, which Heather refinished herself. “When I was re-doing the chairs, at first I thought the cushions were filled with beard hair. It sort-of upset me, until I found out it was horsehair, which was once a very common upholstery stuffing material.”

The chandelier is from Restoration Hardware; lamps by Autry Antiques, as is the table scape prepared for the photo shoot. The embroidered hand towels and napkins are from Sadie’s Stitchery.

As is true for many families, the Master Suite is a refuge for the parents. The Eilands have created a space that is tranquil and relaxing. It is an ideal place to settle down after the children have all been put to bed. “One thing that is obvious when you walk through our home is that color plays a major part in my overall decorating scheme,” Heather confesses. She uses a basic color theme in every room, and then accents that color with contrasting fabrics, accessories, and artwork. The result is a cohesiveness where every element serves as a complement to one another. Although the color theme changes as one progresses through the house, each room blends into the next without any jarring effect, which yields a sense of discovery in how Heather has used color to enhance the living space. 

Heather is also a believer in shopping locally. “Shopping with my friends who have businesses here in Tyler is important to me. I also like to support local artists.” Local artists whose original work graces the Eiland home include Jana Autry, Becky Martin, and Andrea Rowan. The painting over the mantle in the formal living room is by a Texas artist, the late Harry Lewis. Additional paintings include Louisiana artists Martin Laborde and Camille Thibodeaux.

The Eilands have four children, Sophia, Teddy, Shepard, and Mary. The youngest, Mary, was born after the Eiland’s purchased the home and began doing their renovations. Her nursery is painted in a medium shade of pink and is the perfect setting for a now two-year-old girl. There is an antique sofa, another thrift find recovered by Texture. The antique sconces, plates and table are from Autry Antiques and the lantern is by Old World Design. Decorative pillows are from Etsy. 

“I really enjoy doing my own home decorating, and I source a lot of things myself. I am inspired by my surroundings. I find that if I enjoy my surroundings, then I am more creative. Although I majored in psychology, my minor was art, and one of my greatest satisfactions in my work is that it provides me with a creative outlet.”

Windows across the back of the house provide excellent views of the garden beyond. The type of windows throughout the house are rarely seen these days. The glass is encased in metal mullions, locked with a lever. There is a crank for opening sections of the windows to let air in from the outside. It might be noted that window placements are based on the premise of facilitating airflow throughout the house, a common practice in the latter nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, before the days of air conditioning. However, since this is the first house in Tyler to have air conditioning, the windows may be a throwback to what is now a bygone era. 

“One of the main things that really was attractive about this house is how rock solid and well-built it feels,” Clay says. “You can tell that all of the materials used to build it were made to last. From the plaster walls, solid wood doors to the brass knobs and hinges throughout. We also really love that we are in the center of town, but it somehow still feels quiet and private with all the mature trees.” 

“Another aspect of this house that I especially liked when we first walked through it is that the rooms are separate. Today, the fashion is for large open spaces. Because of the pocket doors in most of the rooms, it is possible to shut a room off from the others when we want more privacy,” she explains. However, because the rooms are spacious, and because they flow into one another, there is still a sense of openness. That is something that separates this house from others of its age. There is no feeling of being caged into a space; instead, the floor plan was so well-designed that traffic flow from one area into another is a natural progression. “We love this house! We enjoy living here and look forward to having our children grow up in a home that is more than just a house,” says Heather. 

Make plans to attend Historic Tyler on Tour 2022, including the Candlelight Garden Party and Home Tour showcasing the home of Heather and Clay Eiland, on Friday, April 1st. For ticket and event information, visit or call 903-595-1960. 

by Robert Marlin

Photography by Noel Martin