Text by Lisa McEwen | Photos by Frank Miramontes, DMI Agency
or Melanie and Robby Martinho, there really is no place like home. And home is in Tulare, surrounded by longtime friends and a large extended family.
What makes life in their hometown even more enjoyable, though, is the chance to spend time with those same friends and family members in their new-to-them house, thoughtfully remodeled and updated in 2019.
The Martinhos have been married for 34 years and are in the midst of that glorious phase of life when their adult children have successfully launched their lives and careers, leaving them happy empty-nesters. They are free to live life on their own schedule and have created the ideal home to enjoy it all.
Sitting down to an interview in the sunny backyard, Melanie and Robby explained how providence, coincidence and perhaps a little luck combined to help them find their forever home.
“This house was meant to be for us,” Melanie said, as pups Mikko and Belle hopped on the couch and joined the outdoor interview.
“We have known all the families who have lived in this home, and they are all good friends of ours.”
On a Friday evening early in 2019, the couple, who work at Visalia Ceramic Tile, a family business owned since 1977, gathered for a drink at Fugazzis in Tulare to cap the end of a hectic week. They had just accepted an offer on their home in Tulare in Paseo Del Lago and had 30 days to find a new place to live.
“What are we going to do?” they asked themselves. Then they saw a dear friend, Joann Watte, and told her of their situation. Watte said she was about to put her Tulare home on the market.
“She invited us to come by and take a look the next day,” Melanie said, “and we realized right away we were interested. Homes in this neighborhood are hard to come by. This is home.”
As business owners trained to give new life to spaces, Melanie and Robby agreed to enter escrow and came up with a plan to add their own style to the 40-year-old home. Interestingly, this is their seventh home, but the first that they didn’t build themselves.
A speedy purge and packing frenzy ensued, with the couple downsizing 1,000 square feet. Son Bryce, who works in the family business, told his parents to store their belongings and move into a spare bedroom while the home was remodeled. They happily obliged, and less than three months later, Melanie and Robby moved in.
One of the perks of owning a tile business is the knowledge and experience that comes with a construction project.
The Martinhos’ expertise shines through in their home, a veritable showroom of what tile in its many dimensions, colors and textures can do in a space.
In addition, the Martinhos installed new lighting, doors, paint, fixtures and added many custom features, including crown molding in every room.
Robby had tiled the master bathroom for a previous owner, and the couple decided to add their own style to make this into one of their favorite rooms. They gutted the bathroom, and Melanie put her personal touches in with a two-seater Jacuzzi tub, walk-in shower with several shower heads, marble tile and chandeliers to “give this room some bling!” she said.
But Melanie is quick to deflect any credit. She often tells customers who visit their showroom: “If you can dress yourself, you can dress your house. Anybody can do this. And if you’re not sure, keep it blank for awhile. Spend some time getting to know your home first.”
After six months, Melanie pointed out a few areas where she is still deciding how to decorate. She encourages homeowners to be patient and take their time.
At the Martinho home, the results of several months of thought and work are a comfortable and modern look, perfect for entertaining, which is one of their shared hobbies.
In the sun-drenched backyard, tile comes to the forefront in the re-conditioned pool, which is lined by a raised seating wall that extends throughout the backyard. A covered patio allows for easy gatherings around the barbecue, with wine barrel conversation tables and relaxed seating areas. French doors bridge the gap between inside and outside, allowing natural light to flood the informal dining area and kitchen, and offering a view to the backyard’s fountain, pool and birdlife.
Gazing at the activity in the backyard while enjoying a cup of morning coffee is Melanie’s favorite way to start the day. Melanie and Robby agreed that one of the benefits of moving into an older home is the presence of mature landscaping.
“We never stayed in a house long enough to see the landscaping grow up,”
Robby said. Sago palms from their previous yard made the journey to the new home, dotting the fence line and adding a playful touch at various heights.
Generating delicious food for their many gatherings is made easy in the kitchen, which is one of two rooms that were barely changed (the other being the laundry room).
“These rooms already looked really good, and we only repainted the cabinets,” Melanie said.
Another minor addition was a diamond-patterned tile backsplash behind the stovetop that matches the hearth around the gas fireplace in
the living room.
Across from the fireplace, a wall features Melanie’s collection of Sid Dickens tiles, which she loves for their encouraging words and artistic images. She enjoys perusing the stock at Hedgerow House in Tulare, and Rosemary and Thyme in Exeter. She recently gave her daughter, Brianne, 23, her first tile to begin her own collection.
Continuing through the home, a formal dining room with seating for eight encourages visitors to sit down for conversation, a meal and a glass of wine.
A total of three bedrooms and three bathrooms complete the main floor, accessed through a beautiful front door with sidelights filled with scrolled,
The design is echoed in a wrought-iron staircase that leads to the basement, where Robby’s “man cave” is located. A former playroom, the space was re-imagined as a spot where friends can gather over a drink, play shuffleboard and shoot darts.
The dartboard was made by Robby using corks from wine shared with friends. Also, Robby built a wine room to showcase his wine collection. A bar constructed with wine crates is the perfect touch for a relaxing area of the home where guys can be guys. (But Melanie said her girlfriends like to hang out in there, too.)
Back upstairs, while climbing out of the basement, one gets a glimpse of the home’s literal crown jewel: a stainedglass window.
Melanie admits that when they first purchased the home, she wanted to take the window out. At certain times of the day, the glass is dark and the design unrecognizable. But Robby countered and, in the spirit of compromise, the window stayed.
Adding another example to their belief that this home was destined to be theirs, Robby’s sister, Karen, and her husband, Joe, came over one day to visit. Joe took one look at the window and said, “That sure looks like my mom’s work!”
Sure enough, upon closer examination, the Martinhos found Jana Aquafresca’s signature. “If this house is not meant to be ours, then what is?” Melanie asked. Adding to the fun of their new home is the neighborhood.
“All of our friends are here,” Melanie said.
Spontaneous potlucks are called, and the couple can quickly join in the fun.
“We have a golf cart and we can go everywhere and see our friends. We just put our food in the cart and bring everything with us!”
After 34 years together, the Martinhos offer a positive outlook on life that is inspiring. Emails from their business include the hashtag: #gladtobehere. In short, they love what they do, where they live and each other.
A sign in the master bedroom reads “Grow Old With Me, The Best is Yet to Be.”
Which is how they look to their future together in their new home.
“We put a lot of love into our home, that’s for sure,” Melanie said.
Robby added, “Whatever you do, do it with love and you can’t go wrong.”