When Kristen and Paul Gubbins toured their future home for the first time, the real estate agent apologized profusely.
As they walked through the rooms with newspapers in the windows, no electricity or running water in parts of the home, and in a “depressed” neighborhood, the agent told the newly married couple everything could be modernized. But that was always what they didn’t want — Kristen and Paul had found the time capsule they were looking for.
“The realtor kept saying, ‘This is horrible and not acceptable,’ and I don’t think she realized that I loved it. It was the fourth house we looked at, and we said, ‘We have to go back and get it before anybody else does,’” Kristen says with a laugh.
The high school sweethearts at Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., became only the third owners of the two-level 2,500-square-foot house built in 1899 on N. First Avenue. Since moving into their first home in February 2002, the couple has added their signature touch.
“We’ve always collected vintage stuff,” Kristen says. “It is very us. We were always kind of different in high school. Ever since I had my driver’s license at 16, I’d drive to the thrift store. A lot of the stuff we had already, but we had a lot of space to fill.”
Collectibles and knickknacks decorate the walls, such as miniature figurines, an oversized Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup lantern, record players, chattering teeth, a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, globes, and clocks.
The home originally was one residence, then renovated into a doctor’s office in the 1930s, then converted into three apartments in the 1950s, but they were rented out only for a few years.
The Gubbinses purchased the home in 2002 from an elderly owner, Maxine Stultz, who had lived there since 1947. She lived by herself after her husband’s death in 1961. Kristen and Paul converted the home back to a single-family residency for it to be zoned properly.
Kristen is quick to dispel any thoughts that the renovation happened overnight. It took more than a decade of decorating, redecorating, and repairing on a shoestring budget. The Gubbinses, who have two kids — Eli, 9, and Winnie, 3 — both are landlords and work out of their home as fulltime eBayers, which aids in the decorating process with the constant hunting at thrift stores, auctions, and yard sales, but it also means they had to be patient when fixing up their dream home. Paul also is a computer programmer who does some freelancing.
Some of the projects they have undertaken through the years are converting their second downstairs kitchen into a vintage laundry room, restoring all electricity and plumbing, adding white metal cabinets, removing asbestos flooring, and resanding wood floors.
The Gubbinses also have been very fortunate along the way. The preservation quality was nearly perfect, including a tiled fireplace, which has no chips or cracks. They found a box of extra tiles, in case they’re ever needed.
As the Gubbinses remodeled parts of their home over the years, they discovered saved trim, wallpaper, and rolls of linoleum flooring, all saved tidily. Original 1920s wallpaper lines the kitchen pantry and a closet.
“We’ve been able to do remodeling where you can just patch the original back in,” says Kristen. “It would be a big challenge if we didn’t have that.”
The luck continued when blueprints indicated pocket doors would be enclosed in a wall that was built over them.
“People had told us they’ll be in the wall — ‘Cut open the wall and they’ll be there,’” says Paul. “We got a sledgehammer and knocked a small hole in the wall and they weren’t there. Now we had a hole in our wall. But later we were at a yard sale across the street and we started talking to the guy. He said, ‘Well, I have a set of pocket doors I can sell you.’”
“We don’t know (if they are the original), but it’s uncanny that they screwed right into place, the finish matches the fireplace, and they’re the right size,” says Kristen.
The Gubbinses have also proved extremely resourceful with their limited budget. Kristen calls Paul “her handy man,” while Paul says Kristen simply closes her eyes and waves her hands and a design is created.
Kristen, who studied art at Murray State University, made the home’s curtains, recovered the dining room chairs with fabric she bought as a teenager, and covered cardboard boxes with fabric to store eBay inventory.
This type of ingenuity also led the Gubbinses to buy the homes on either side of them in order to make the neighborhood better and satisfy their hunger to continue fixing up old homes. For supplemental income, they rent out both to close friends and fenced in all three backyards to make one big backyard, which they share.
“In the last couple years, it has been less about what my house looks like and more about the people gathering in it,” says Kristen.
For more information on the Gubbinses’ vintage collection, check out The Robot Parade Vintage on Facebook.