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Unless you have Chip and Joanna or Ben and Erin at your side, completely renovating an old home requires a little more patience than TV magic. Put our friend Whitney Neal into the equation, though, with the same sort of passion she pours into her heartfelt photography, and you’ve got a new brand of magic. What’s even more beautiful than the finished product? The way Whitney and Michael’s marriage was strengthened over their two-year home renovation. We’re sharing the “afters” and a little bit about that journey today!

Thanks to Whitney for snapping for these beautiful photos, and Lynnesy Catron for the beautiful portraits!

The couple: Whitney and Michael Neal
Years married: Seven
Where they live: Louisville, Kentucky

Tell us about the process of fixing up a house. When visiting our house for the first time, we knew we had stumbled upon something good. It had lots of character, beautiful natural light, a great layout, and it was in a neighborhood we love. A lot of work was needed, but we shared the same vision for how we could bring everything up-to-date, and the same excitement for turning the house into a home—a place we could call ours. So, we snatched it up before anyone else could, and the moment we got the keys, we started the LONG process of fixing it up. After six months passed and it came time for us to move in, we weren’t exactly where we had hoped we would be, but it was “livable,” so we moved into the construction zone.

Some would call us weekend warriors, but as a photographer who works most weekends and a cop who works nights and all different days of the week, we often end up waging the war with our home on just about any day/hour that we can (without neglecting the other things we need in life: being with our family and friends and adventuring outdoors with each other and our German shorthaired pointer puppy). The only thing we knew for certain about our renovation process was that we were doing it together, and every project was going to take SO much longer than we had expected. An afternoon project turns into a weekend project, a weekend project turns into a month-long project, and a six-month renovation process ends up taking two years!

Which projects did you do yourselves, and which did you leave to professionals? We took on every project that we didn’t think would put our lives or the quality of the project at-hand at risk. Michael uncovered and refinished all of the hardwood floors, we sanded and painted every wall, gutted the kitchen and a bathroom, updated plumbing, laid tile, and more. None of it would have been possible without the help of our friends and family–my uncle who is a contractor, our friend who is a plumber, and our fathers, who are some of the most knowledgeable men that we know. Professionals were hired to refinish the pedestal tub that was original to the home, to add electrical throughout the house, and to install the range hood, tile, and shelving in our kitchen.

Did you run into any unexpected challenges? Over, and over, and over again. Every project had its own set of challenges that required problem solving, a new skill, or a different tool. In the beginning, we would easily get discouraged when a problem came along, or a project would begin to run behind, but we quickly learned to be patient and laugh at ourselves…especially when we had to make the third or fourth trip to the hardware store in a day.

Which room in your home is your favorite and why? Michael has two favorites: the dining room and living room, where there is the most natural light. My favorite is the kitchen. After so many months of takeout and frozen meals, I will never take a home-cooked meal on a real plate for granted!

While fixing up our house, we dreamed together, practiced teamwork, and got silly while pulling all-nighters over our favorite pizza and beer. We had so much fun! But… things got hard at times. We over-extended ourselves, cursed and cried, and fought with one another. We saw each other at our best, but we also saw each other at our worst during these days. The most rewarding part of it all is not being able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but knowing one another so much more intimately, and loving one another so much more deeply than we could have ever imagined.

What most makes your house feel like home? That our hands have touched almost every part of it. We came together and made a decision about every color, every light switch cover, every handle and knob. It feels like ours.

Where do you splurge and where do you save when decorating? We like to splurge on things that will stand out and make a statement, like a marble lamp, an accent wall of tile, or a colorful Turkish rug. Or, we like to splurge on things that we will get good use out of, like a heavenly linen duvet cover or a gas range. We’re not known to splurge on much, though, and are BIG fans of finding a steal. Our John Boos Block kitchen island is from Craigslist, our bedroom dresser is from an outlet store, and most of our other furniture is from antique stores.

What are some of your dreams and plans for your home over the next five years? Next up on our to do list is a privacy fence, a new concrete patio for an outdoor lounge area, and a big fire pit. We spent the first two years on the inside of the house, and now we’re dreaming up a place for our life to spill out onto, especially as our family begins to grow beyond the two of us.


Whitney Neal is a delightful member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
5 Comments
  1. avatar Abby reply

    Stunning!! I love the neutral colors and rich wood details! This is a timeless house! Congrats! All the hard work paid off!

  2. avatar Whitney reply

    Thanks for sharing, friends! It never gets old to reflect on all our hard work!

  3. avatar Anna reply

    Love this gorgeous home! Amazing job, Michael & Whitney!

  4. avatar Lindsay reply

    HOUSE ENVY! What a beautiful home…so specifically curated, and it SHOWS! You can tell you both poured your heart and soul into it, and I am so tickled for you both that you get to spend your lives, growing old there. Be well!

  5. avatar Wedding Pixie reply

    What an amazing job they did on the decor, simple yet stunning. Love it.

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Our most astute readers might recognize Jillian and Hayden from our most recent print issue, V9, and I’m thrilled to be showing you even more images today the blog! My favorite part of their home tour? While it’s not their forever home, it’s evident the two of them are doing a wonderful job at living intentionally and joyfully right where they are. And their dog is pretty cute, too :)

The couple: Jillian and Hayden Pottkotter
How many years have you been married? Two
Where do you live? Houston, Texas

Tell us a little bit about your apartment. Why did you choose to live there? Our apartment has two bedrooms and is in an established neighborhood tucked away in the middle of Houston. We found this “diamond in the rough” completely by accident when we were looking for a park to take our dog to when we first moved to the city. We would go on walks every evening, dreaming of being able to live in this area that we had fallen in love with. We like that our complex is an older, smaller community in the middle of a “normal” neighborhood, filled with families, pet owners, and frequent get-togethers among neighbors. We even have a nightly “Yappy Hour” where we walk our basset hound, Watson, to the park to romp around with other residents’ dogs!

What are your favorite things about apartment living? What are the biggest challenges? One of the things we love about apartment living is how cozy it is. We did not have a ton of furniture or decor when we were first married, so it would have been very daunting to move into a large space right off the bat. Apartment living enables us to utilize every space, making our home more comfortable and livable! One of the biggest challenges about living in an apartment is not having a yard or garden for ourselves and our stir-crazy dog. We so look forward to one day having immaculate gardens and a yard to call our own! There are also many things we cannot change about our apartment, such as our giant mirrored wall or the small windows, but we are thankful for lessons in contentment and the gentle reminder that material possessions aren’t worth yearning for anyway. At the end of the day, what matters the most is who you share your home with, not your 80’s jazzercise mirrors!

Which room in your apartment is your favorite and why? We see the most life lived in our living room, which is what makes it our favorite room. Whether it be spending time with our Young Life high school friends, relaxing with a glass of wine and The Office at the end of the week together, or our friends coming over to watch college football (gig ‘em, Aggies!), this room embodies exactly what we imagined our home to be. We prayed that our home would be a place where people would feel comfortable, valued, and welcomed. We hope that our living room will always be a place for this!

Tell us about the process of moving in together. Do you have any tips for blending your two styles? Luckily, we have pretty similar taste when it comes to what we want our house to look like. I have also been fortunate that Hayden has trusted me when it comes to decisions about decorating; I defer to him when it comes to maintenance. I think the most important thing we have learned is to share our vision, listen to each other’s opinions, and decide on details together. We won’t make decisions without consulting one another and making sure that we will both love the outcome.

What most makes your apartment feel like home? We love that many things in our house hold a memory or sentiment—from the sand dollars found in the ocean on our honeymoon to the vintage oar from my grandfather’s home on Lake Superior—these things tell the story of who we are as a couple and truly make this apartment our home. We both desire a “collected home,” not filled with things we could have bought from a store, but a home filled with meaning, stories, and character.

What are some of your dreams and plans for where you live over the next five years? We plan to stay in our apartment for the next two years, until I finish medical school. Our future is uncertain with regard to where my residency will take us next, so we cannot really make any concrete plans until then. No matter where we end up, we would be thrilled to buy a fixer upper and spend time making it our own. We would love to stay in Houston, but would also welcome a new adventure with open arms, as long as we get to do it together!

Photography: Kimberly Chau | Styling: Jennifer Laura Design

Written with love by Jess Metcalf
1 Comment
  1. avatar Wynelle Cowdery reply

    Absolutely adorable. So proud of you both especially Hayden as I was his Spanish teacher and he was an awesome student.
    I wish you both all the best. Keep up the great work! So creative and welcoming. Blessings and a big hello from England!

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Long before I joined the Southern Weddings team, I loved following the Southern Newlywed features on the blog. While the photos each week are beautiful, the newlywed interviews are unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, because it captures the story behind the images. The combination of Christine’s background in design with both their hearts for hospitality is evident in both the images and interview below, and I hope you find inspiration for both your home and marriages below!

Big thanks to Britt Latz Photography for these lovely images!

The Couple: Christine (32) and Drew (32)
Years Married: Three
Children: Ellie Kate, 12 months
Where They Live: Historic Fairmount in Fort Worth, TX

Tell us a little bit about yourselves. We have been married three years, and our life is a constant adventure. One minute we are planning a couples’ obscure competition party with friends and the next one of us has locked our keys in the car. Something just always seems to be going on. Drew works with high school and middle school students at Watermark Community Church, and I am the owner and lead designer of an interior design firm, Christine Zeiler Interiors, while also trying to spend as much time as possible at home with (our daughter) Ellie Kate. We love to try new restaurants, take our German shorthaired pointer to the park, and have family dance parties.
Tell us your love story in one sentence. After many failed attempts to be set up on a date by a mutual friend, Drew predicted we would get married after our first date; one year later we were married.

What is your favorite part of being married? We get to see each other at our very best and our very worst but in spite of our imperfections, we are radically committed to each other. That’s been remarkable.
What has been the most surprising thing about marriage? Although we only knew each other for one year before getting married, there have not been a lot of surprises when it comes to knowing the other person. We talked a lot during engagement about our lives, expectations, and experiences, so we knew fairly well what we were getting ourselves into ;)

Where do you splurge and where do you save when decorating? What are some of your favorite sources for home things? We splurged on a very beautiful vintage rug from NYC for our living room. We have been fortunate to be able to trade services like photography for our bigger upholstery pieces like our sofa and bed and other custom built pieces like our dining table and coffee table. Additionally, window treatments were gifted from the workroom in Nashville I worked with. A lot of smaller things such as lamps, side tables and dressers we have purchased from IKEA and upgraded by performing IKEA “hacks” or gotten from Target. Other pieces of furniture have been acquired at flea markets or are family heirlooms.

Do you rent or own? We own. We love our home. We moved to Fort Worth and were determined to find our house in two days, which was the window of time we had to visit before we would move one month later. Miraculously, we found what was relatively the home of our dreams by searching cool coffee shops in town and looking for houses in those neighborhoods. In the last 2.5 years the housing market in our area has exploded. We would love to either add on to our house or find a larger house in our neighborhood that we can renovate so we can raise our family here and host friends, family, and the students and families we serve.
Which room in your home is your favorite, and why? Does our front porch count? We love our porch! Also, to our surprise, we have really loved our daughter’s nursery. Before she was born we rarely went in that room but now It’s a place we often gather and hang out. It is the only room in our house we bought all new furniture for and got to make a complete design plan for. The room has great natural light and the daybed is super cozy. The wall sconces above it are the perfect lighting for reading stories at night too.

Our house feels most like home because our furniture pieces that have stories behind them and personal photos throughout our house. We try to decorate with items that can also be used or have meaning behind them and not just stuff we quickly find to fill up empty spaces. A lot of our lives are lived in our home and we are amassing a lot of life together in our home. It is our home because of game nights we have had, the family dinners we have hosted, the ministry we have done with our friends, and the children we are raising here.

Who cooks dinner? I cook, and Drew cleans up afterwards. Drew has occasionally cooked his go-to spaghetti or what he thinks is his award-winning chili, but in reality he got the recipe from me.
What is your go-to weeknight meal? Weekend meal? The Crunchy Kale Bowl from Joy the Baker is a staple and amazing. We add Trader Joe’s chicken sausage to it to add some meat. A regular weekend meal would be eating out at Torchies Tacos.
What’s your favorite place to find recipes? Joy the Baker and The Defined Dish are some of my favorite online places for new recipes. I also like asking my friends for their favorite go-to recipes. That’s actually how I have found all of my favorite recipes! They are rarely a flop.

How does your family handle finances? We go back and forth with who manages the budget, and right now Drew is taking one for the team and updating it. We use every dollar which is great but pretty time-consuming. However, it works really well for us because we know where literally every dollar is going. :) There’s also a great feature where you can create funds for budgets that you may not make purchases for every month or occasionally overspend on monthly but it keeps track of what you have left for the year, which we really love.
What’s your best tip for balancing your relationship and other life priorities? We find that life priorities are like other things in life. When you put the biggest things in first and the then the next biggest thing in second and so forth, the rest sort of takes care itself. Matthew 6:33 states an important principle for our lives and our marriage: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things we be added unto you.” Practically, we try to go on a weekly date night. Drew gets off on Friday so we try to spend the day together as a family either Friday or Saturday. It is also very important to us to stay connected to our friends. We try to allow our marriage and our lives to be an open book so that the people who know us best can speak truth to us when we start to live selfishly and center our lives on ourselves rather than the other person.

We like to try and come up with creative date nights. One idea we really liked was we had to imagine that our first date was in Fort Worth. (It was actually in Nashville.) If our first date was in Fort Worth, where would we take the other person, what would we do, and what sort of questions would we ask each other? We thought for sure that conversation would seem redundant because we are married, but we were surprised how fun conversation was talking to each other like we were just meeting.

Which items from your wedding registry do you use the most often? Our Nespresso coffee machine, white plates and dishes from Williams Sonoma and our Vitamix.
What different decisions, if any, would you make for your registry if you knew then what you knew now? We got married in our late 20’s so we kind of knew what we wanted. And our friends and family were very generous so I don’t think we would change anything.

What is one small way you love or serve your spouse? Every Sunday we sit down with our weekly schedules and talk through the week- it really helps us set expectations for the week and communicate when we can get good time together, split up some of the chores that need to be done, as well as make sure we are resting well and planning fun activities with our family and friends.

Do you have children? We have the sweetest little 1-year-old! We know our family is not complete yet, but I am looking forward to taking some time to enjoy Ellie Kate before getting pregnant again.

Before getting married, I wish someone had told me… Every season of life has really sweet aspects, but there are new aspects of life in marriage that are amazing and you can’t experience as a single person.
This year, our family is most excited about… Enjoying our backyard! After the photos of our house were taken we took on the big project of re-landscaping our backyard, and we can’t wait to enjoy it now! We have a gas firepit, long farm table with string lights that go over our entire backyard, grass, and native Texas plants! Our dog tore up our yard before so we are now reclaiming it as our shared space with Cooper. We are also looking forward to family vacations this summer at the lake.

What is your favorite memory from your wedding? Our first dance at our wedding was really special to both of us. We danced to the song “All I Want is You” by Tristan Prettyman.
How do you remember your wedding in your home? Pictures mostly. Each year on our anniversary we watch our wedding slide show and reminisce on the beautiful evening from the comfort of our living room while drinking our wine from our wedding. The décor we had at our reception is also scattered around our house: cake plates, a box with photos, blue mason jars, etc. We have three of our favorite photos from our wedding hanging on the wall in our bedroom too.

Is there anything else about your home or family life that you think our readers would be interested in? When many people think of a home they think of the things that go in them, but we hope when people think of our home, people think about the memories that happened here, the stories shared, the lessons learned, the meals shared. Don’t get me wrong, as an interior designer, I definitely care about how our house looks, how we use our space intentionally, and that each room functions well, but if we had a beautiful house with no one to share it with, it wouldn’t feel like home to us, it would just feel like a pretty showroom. I loved the book Bread and Wine and often have to remind myself to have people over even if there is a big mess in the kitchen or even if I didn’t have the time to cook a gourmet meal. Just light a candle and turn on some music and enjoy the moment with the people around you.

Thanks so much for sharing your hearts and home with us, Christine and Drew! If you want to see more of Christine’s lovely design work, be sure to check out her website.

Written with love by Jess Metcalf
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