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!