Sara Gutierres and Jay Braun have always loved to explore the world. So much so that before purchasing their home, Braun didn’t think he’d become so invested in a house.
“What we were doing at the time, and we still love doing, is we were traveling a lot and doing a lot of wilderness stuff," he remembers. "We were kind of nomadic in many ways. I used to boast that I could live in a tent.”
But in 1990, Sara went for a run around the neighborhood one morning and saw someone putting a “for sale” sign in the front yard of a house.
“I ran home and I said: 'There’s a house for sale on Maple Avenue. I think we should go down and look at it!'"
They called the realtor and once on the property, they made an offer on the spot.
“I’m not even sure that we were looking for a house at that point," she said. "It was just one of those things that happened.”
At the time, the cost of the house, $130,000, was very high for a “couple of academics” like them.
Their home was originally built for a woman named Irene Wilkie in 1937 by Tempe contractor Leonard Carr. Carr is also known for building the Tempe Beach Complex and stadium in the 1930s.
In 2009, Gutierres and Braun applied for and obtained the historic designation from the Tempe City Council.
Their home was originally 1,222 square feet, but in the late 1940s, a small bedroom and bathroom were added as a second story, for a total of 1,500 square feet.
In the 1950s, a casita was built in the back yard.
After living in this house for 27 years, Braun and Gutierres embrace the unique character of their home and have adapted to the relatively small living space.
“I love living in this place," Braun said. "I like the kitchen now. You don’t have to walk anywhere to get anything. You just have to make sure you don’t keep buying stuff because there’s no room for it.
“It’s worked out wonderfully. Our kids like it. They love coming down here with their children."
Said Gutierres: “We are making a concerted effort to declutter and live a more minimalistic life, though we like to pick up stuff when we travel. But I think that we do live more simply than if you had a giant expanse of a house."
Braun, originally from Alaska, started collecting masks first. Gutierres, who used to teach social psychology at Arizona State, had a study abroad class that traveled to Costa Rica, and soon started bringing masks home from Latin America.
“Sara started bringing these masks back because I’d been collecting masks from Alaska and Canada for a long time… and so every time she’d go on a trip to Costa Rica she’d come back with some gorgeous masks," Braun said. "I love them all.”
A home without much character would have never been a space Gutierres and Braun would have considered living in.
According to Braun, “a place like this, you adapt to the place, you don’t adapt the place to you. Everything that’s unique about the place commands a certain kind of respect, so you live in it rather than conforming it to your needs.”
Gutierres had always thought about living in this neighborhood because of its unique charm and diversity.
“It is an interesting funky neighborhood, with all these interesting old houses," she said. "Every house is different, and it’s also a very friendly neighborhood,” referring to their Maple-Ash neighborhood association, a group of people interested in preserving the houses and the neighborhood’s historic value.
Since retiring about 10 years ago, they’ve had more free time to travel together, something they’ve always enjoyed.
“The last 12 years have been just incredible,” Braun said. “I’ve had the opportunity to go all over the place. We don’t buy a new car every year, but we sure have been to some incredible places, the memories of which are so much more valuable than a new car.”