Southern Weddings

Author: Emily

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
4 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!

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Hey, newly-engaged friends! Have you moved on from that constantly-staring-at-your-ring phase? No? That’s okay, it’s a good one :) But when you do, you’re going to want to make sure you know exactly how to take care of that pretty sparkler so it stays in tip-top shape. We asked our friends at Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company, a company that specializes in protecting jewelry, for a few of their best tips, and here’s what they had to say…

Do regularly clean your ring at home. Jewelers Mutual recommends gently scrubbing your ring with a soft, baby-size toothbrush in a bowl of Dawn dish detergent and warm water. Dry it with a paper towel or regular cloth, being careful not to snag the prongs. Steer clear of open drains and floor vents – eek!

Do visit your jeweler twice a year for a professional cleaning and inspection. I only do this once a year, but I always do it in the month of my wedding anniversary so it’s easy to remember! My jeweler will do a cleaning and inspection for free for past clients — perhaps yours will, too!

Don’t wear your ring while doing certain activities. Jewelers Mutual recommends removing your ring before swimming, exercising, applying sunscreen and bug spray, gardening, and cooking with your hands. Which I’m sure is exactly what responsible people do. But can I tell you a secret? I leave my ring on for all of those things, mostly because I’m more afraid I’ll lose it by constantly taking it off than I am it will get damaged! If you’re going to go my route, be extra good about getting your ring cleaned and inspected regularly. And if you’re going to go the recommended route, choose one safe spot where you always keep your ring when it’s not on, like a pretty box or bowl.

Don’t pack your jewelry in a checked bag. Always wear it on your person or pack it in a carry-on, and handle your carry-on yourself. I’ve heard way too many sad tales of lost bags and airport mishaps to do otherwise!

Do turn your ring around if you’re traveling in a dangerous area. It’s a simple step to minimize exposure.

Do insure your ring. When I think about how much my ring means to me and how devastated I would be if I lost and couldn’t replace it, insuring it is a no-brainer. The cost is typically 1-2% of the value of your ring, and with Jewelers Mutual, you can choose your own deductible. They also cover replacement due to loss, theft, damage, mysterious disappearances (which, let’s be honest, most ring disappearances would probably be filed under “mysterious”), floods, and earthquakes. Many typical homeowners’ insurance policies only cover replacement due to theft.

For your own handy guide to all things cleaning and care for your engagement ring, download this guide from Jewelers Mutual today. While you’re there, get a quick quote to see how easy it is to protect your new sparkler. And now tell me (and be honest!): do you take your ring off or leave it on for things like swimming, exercising, and baking?

This post is sponsored by Jewelers Mutual, a company we’ve worked with for years. Thanks for your support of the brands who make Southern Weddings possible!

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Ashley Seda reply

    So glad I found this blog! I had been having trouble working with my current insurance company to add-on my ring. So excited to try out Jewelers Mutual.

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Even though we love wedding traditions like no one’s business around here, we can’t say it often enough: when it comes to wedding planning and budgeting, there are no requirements except what’s important to you, the bride and groom! Sometimes getting creative can be a great way to save money or cut costs in your wedding budget, especially when you can shift those savings to the things you’d rather prioritize instead. One idea for how to do that? Skip the brand-new wedding dress, and go with a consignment option!

After all, most wedding gowns have been worn once and then professionally cleaned, so the difference in wear-and-tear between a new and consignment gown is quite slim. And lucky for us, the South boasts some lovely consignment and sample bridal shops that offer the full bridal appointment experience so you won’t miss out on your showstopping “this is the one!” moment. One of our favorites is Meant to Be Boutique in Lexington, Kentucky, where they believe that regardless of how a dress got to their shop, a bride’s dream dress was always “meant to be” hers, and her shopping experience is their top priority! (At your appointment, you’ll have the entire shop to yourself to peruse with mimosa in hand!)

Meant to Be Boutique bride Natalie is one of many brides who didn’t intentionally seek out a consignment shop, but found one to be among the best local options: “It was more that I just wanted to check out the cutest bridal boutique in my town. I ended up being so pleasantly surprised with my experience!”

Aside from the potential savings, there are also reasons to consider a previously-loved gown. Buying off the rack is a great option if you have a short engagement and don’t have time to wait on a brand new dress to arrive from the manufacturer. Consignment shops also have a wide, ever-changing inventory of unique, one-of-a-kind dresses that are not limited to the current season’s availability! They’re also a great “green” option to reduce your wedding’s environmental impact.

Thinking of going this route? Bride Kathryn noted that, “There was mostly only one of each dress, so if I saw one I liked, I had to see if it was a size close enough to mine to make it fit with alterations.” Most dresses you fall in love with at a consignment shop will need adjustments, but as Kathryn said, “In my experience, every girl needs alterations, so it really doesn’t make much difference!” Bride Paige adds, “I wasn’t phased by trying on consigned dresses – I knew that Meant to Be wouldn’t accept anything that hadn’t been well-loved and cared for before coming into their shop.”

Just like at a traditional shop, it’s also important to shop with an open mind about designers and styles, since you won’t necessarily be able to find the exact dress you’re looking for on the rack. But if you do fall in love with a particular gown that may be out of your budget or no longer available, a consigned version of the dress may be your best option! That’s why Megan went with a consignment dress. “I shopped a few local bridal boutiques for my wedding dress, and of course I fell in love with a gown that was over budget. Instead of settling for another dress or cutting the budget for something else, I searched high and low for the gown and was able to find it pre-owned for less than half of the retail price! It was perfect!”

Remember that no matter how you and your dress found one another, all your guests will see on your wedding day is a gorgeous bride! Shopping consignment can be a wonderful way to stick to your budget while still wearing the dress of your dreams. Paige summed up her feelings on that topic well: “Whether the dress has been worn or never worn before, it is still a beautiful wedding gown. It’s also fun to think about a dress that not only gets to be worn once on a beautiful wedding day, but maybe twice.”

We’d love to know: did you wear, or are you considering wearing, a consignment wedding gown? I bought my dress new, but sold it to a sweet bride after my wedding, and like Paige, I was so happy someone else would get to wear her dream dress for half the cost!!

This post is sponsored by Meant to Be Boutique, our favorite consignment wedding dress store in the South. Learn more about them and find out how to make an appointment here!

emily Written with love by Emily
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Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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