News and Tribune

January 2, 2010

FLOYD COUNTY HOME: From watermelon farmhouse to modern abode


Marlana Robles has updated her home while keeping some original features to mix the old with the new.

The outside of the home keeps of its older charm, but the inside is more modern than classic.


Retired from the Marine Corps, Marlana Robles picked New Albany as her new hometown, randomly from a map of the United States.

“I couldn’t have picked a better neighborhood,” Robles says of Silver Grove subdivision in New Albany. “My neighbors are so warm and friendly. We check on each other, and they’ve told me so much about the history of the house.”

Now a teacher in Louisville, Robles has made remodeling her McClean Avenue home her passion. In a neighborhood that was once a 100 acre watermelon farm, her home is the original dwelling.

“I found a postcard inside one of the walls, dated from 1906,” Robles explains. “The sender told about the long trip back to Charlestown, after visiting this house when it was new.”

While Robles maintains a healthy respect for the past, there is nothing museum-like about her historic home, unless by “museum,” you mean “art museum.” Although she claims not to be creative, a centerpiece of her warm and sunny living room is a multi-colored sculpture Robles painted and assembled herself. “I found the cardboard forms in the back of a magazine,” she says. “I painted them and then turned them different directions, and framed it.”

Complementary colors throughout the house bring energy and liveliness to the stylish digs. The sunny yellow living room trimmed in blue and green gently glows from the deep violet kitchen. “Live,” “Love,” “Dream,” and “Laugh” are the four commandments that highlight the kitchen, in large script letters around the room.

“I’d like to insert ‘belly’ over this one,” says Robles, pointing to the “Laugh” sign, which hangs in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. “It’s not enough to just laugh, you’ve got to belly-laugh once in awhile.”

There’s plenty of room to belly-laugh, not only inside the house, but outside the kitchen on the spacious shaded deck. Robles extended the original deck, making room for a table and additional chairs. She also had a concrete patio poured at the rear of the house, wrapping around from the deck to her hot tub. A privacy fence encloses the area.

“When we first took the original fence down, the neighbors said the back yard looked so much nicer without it,” says Robles. “I agreed.” Relocating the privacy fence affords Robles a wide-open back yard bordered by shade trees, leaving lots of sun-filled patches for a future garden spot.

Robles did much of the remodeling and “This Old House” maintenance herself.

“Sometimes I like to rent tools just to see how they work,” she confesses. “We’ve jack hammered the basement now,” she laughs, explaining how the process sent vibrations through her grown son’s body. “I like to hire contractors that let me do some of the work, as well,” Robles says. “That way I learn a lot.”

At the end of the day, Robles’ comfy master bedroom awaits her. Decorated in darker tones from the warm end of the palette, the deep reds and rusts harmonize well with the working fireplace, neutral carpet, and houseplants. Contemporary artwork decks the walls in the private retreat.

Robles chose colors to use throughout the home from pieces of artwork, or signature furnishings. She then accessorizes the room accordingly. Sometimes her first impulse isn’t the right one. “I like how they call those little cans of paint ‘auditions,’” she says. “Sometimes you’ve got to get the color on the wall before you know if you like it.”

While Robles has completely redone the entryway and several other rooms of the house, it’s still a work-in-progress. Plans for overhauling her pantry, office nook, and second bathroom are beginning to come together, while she leaves her mind open for how to assemble a media room from a former bedroom, and a bedroom suite in the rear of the house. Between retiling the bathrooms and choosing new paint colors, Robles is content to enjoy her achievements while the rest of the house takes shape in her imagination.

Locals may not have been able to rent power tools 100 years ago, but one can’t help but think the industrious farmers who dug out the basement by hand (hauling dirt away by the horse-cart load, according to an elderly neighbor), would be pleased with Robles stewardship of the farmhouse.

Whether replacing the ceiling beams, the subfloors or the windows in the house, Robles is blooming where she’s planted in her New Albany home.