Heart For Hospitality

By Caitlin Giddens

The Whytes are welcomed home in season 3 of ‘Fixer Upper’

Pictured: Photographs by Josh Morgan, Rachel Whyte Photography and Sarah Best

The first time Rachel and Luke Whyte saw their home, a 1989 two story in Woodway, they were not impressed — at least, Rachel wasn’t. But Luke saw the potential of opening the home to family, friends and missionaries. Rachel trusted Luke, and they bought the house. Soon after, they applied to be on “Fixer Upper.” Rachel, a wedding photographer and a photographer for HGTV, knew most of the staff at Magnolia. They also knew Chip and Joanna Gaines from Antioch Community Church, where Luke serves as young adult pastor. The Whytes were accepted on the show, and millions of viewers watched their outdated house transform during an episode that aired February 2.

During renovations, Rachel, Luke and their infant daughter, Haven, lived as nomads for four months. They moved three times, traveled to two countries and slept in 17 different beds. On August 15, the day of the reveal, they moved into their new house — a restful refuge they enjoy sharing with others.

WACOAN: What led you to apply to be on ‘Fixer Upper?’

Rachel: We were watching season 2 of ‘Fixer Upper,’ and I was working for the show. I photographed the houses for season 2 and 3 and took the product shots for [Magnolia Market’s] online store. At that time, we were deciding whether to move to a new house or wait another year in our first home. We started playing with the idea of doing ‘Fixer Upper.’

Luke has his real estate license, so we have the ability get on [Multiple Listing Service] and see what’s out there. We looked at several houses online, and Luke was drawn to coming to see this one.

WACOAN: What did you think of the house the first time you saw it in person?

Rachel: The first time we came to see the house, it was raining — one of those crazy rain days in the beginning of the year. I was not impressed. I thought, ‘If we bought this house, it would have to be $20,000 under the asking price.’ But Luke really saw the potential in this house.

We didn’t want to make an impulsive decision. We went back and forth in negotiations and waited it out for a few weeks. We finally came up in our asking price. In real estate, it becomes a competition. Suddenly, we really wanted this house.

WACOAN: What made you change your mind about the house?

Rachel: I didn’t really change my mind. I just decided to trust Luke and trust what Magnolia could do with the house. As soon as they accepted our offer and we went under contract for the house, we applied to be on ‘Fixer Upper.’

WACOAN: This was your second time to apply to be on ‘Fixer Upper.’ Were you anxious to apply again?

Rachel: When we applied for ‘Fixer Upper’ the second time, we really hoped we would be accepted. We thought we had an advantage knowing so many people involved in the process. But naturally, we were still nervous that it wouldn’t work out the way we hoped.

WACOAN: Tell me about the application process.

Rachel: The process was pretty quick. After we applied, we had a Skype interview with HGTV. We talked to a woman named Tina. Actually, we chatted with Tina the first time we applied, when we heard about the pilot of ‘Fixer Upper.’ That was when we were buying our first home before we were married. [HGTV] wanted us to spend $20,000 for the renovations, and the house didn’t need that. So when we talked to Tina again, it came full circle. We were accepted to be on the show.

WACOAN: After you were accepted, what were the next steps?

Rachel: We realized — since this is really happening — we needed to sell our home. We took pictures of the house and got it staged. It was sold within a month.

Luke: It may have been under contract in three weeks.

WACOAN: What were the next steps?

Rachel: At that point, we were in limbo. We didn’t know where we were going to live. When we sold our house, we worked it out so we would stay there for another month. That is what the buyers wanted as well. We moved out at the end of April and moved into our new house — pre-renovations — for five weeks.

WACOAN: Where did you live after that?

Luke: [Refers to a Moleskine notebook.] I have the stats here. We moved all of our stuff three times in four months. We traveled to four states and two countries. We slept in 17 different beds. During this time Rachel shot 10 weddings, and I preached eight times.

Rachel: I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy. And we had a 10-month-old. We are so thankful she is the most flexible infant. Haven could sleep in her Pack ‘n Play.

Luke: It was the craziest time. But it was fun. When we got stressed, we tried to say things we were grateful for. Sometimes through gritted teeth, we would say ‘We’re thankful for …’ That’s how we got through all the moving.

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WACOAN: Where else did you live that summer?

Rachel: We stayed at [Drew and Bethany] Steadman’s house for 10 days while they were out of the country. Then we moved to a retreat center [near Cameron Park] for people in ministry, for a week. After that we went on Antioch Community Church’s young adult mission trip to at San Diego, [California,] and Tijuana, [Mexico]. From there, we flew straight to Florida for my family’s vacation. Then we moved back into the Lamppost for about a week. Then we went to Colorado for two weeks. We moved back to the retreat center for five days. Then we moved into another pastor’s house, the Hartsocks’, while they were gone. After that we moved in with our best friends and lived with them for a week. That’s where we had Haven’s first birthday. After that we moved into [Carl and Blair] Gulley’s house for 10 days. That’s where we lived when we had the reveal [for our new house].

WACOAN: Were you surprised so many friends opened their homes to your family?

Rachel: From the beginning, we knew it was going to be stretching to move from place to place and not have a consistent home. But because of the generosity and hospitality of our friends who opened up their homes, it really wasn’t bad. It was even fun at times. Luke emailed all of the Antioch staff, asking if anyone knew of places we could temporarily stay, and he got so many responses. People offered to let us stay in their homes with them and move their children out of their bedrooms for a few days.

It was incredible, and we were blown away by everyone’s generosity.

WACOAN: What was the most challenging part of moving so often?

Rachel: Being in my first trimester of pregnancy. I was really tired. I shot 10 weddings, so we would set up a mobile office for me to edit photos.

Luke: She would work on kitchen counters.

Rachel: I worked anywhere I could. It was hard to manage it all.

WACOAN: Did you store anything in your new house? Or did you have to move everything?

Rachel: We had boxes in the garage.

Luke: And then we had the rooms that Magnolia didn’t touch. Magnolia renovated two of the bedrooms and one of the three bathrooms.

WACOAN: What happened when they started the renovations? Could you come to the house?

Luke: We were legitimately out of the house.

WACOAN: Did you drive by the house during renovations?

Luke: They highly recommend you don’t, and we wanted to be surprised. Our surprise was real. We didn’t even drive down the street.

Rachel: We stayed at the Gulleys’ house, which is half a mile away from our new house. So it was hard not to drive by.

WACOAN: I’m sure your neighbors watched the renovation process.

Luke: We call them the slow-rollers because they drive by the house slowly. When we moved into our house, we had 10 a day. We made sure our curtains were closed.

WACOAN: Did that bother you?

Luke: No. The whole thing about this experience is sharing it with other people. We gave a tour to 30 people one day. We were having a neighborhood potluck and invited all our neighbors over. We love that. We wanted to share this experience as much as we can.

WACOAN: Rachel, did working for the show affect this experience?

Rachel: It really didn’t. A lot of the people who work for Magnolia are young adults at Antioch. So we were already close with them. We’re friends with Lindsey Hawkins, who was our project manager. That definitely helped because we trusted everyone.

WACOAN: What did you envision for your new home?

Luke: A refuge. A place for people to come from all walks of life and be refreshed.

Hospitality is big for us. We want to be a refuge — a place to get away from the craziness of life. We want people to experience warmth and love in our house. We want to host people from all over the world here. We’ve hosted two professional tennis players from South Africa. We want to host missionaries. We have big families, and we want to be able to host them.

Rachel: I have three siblings at Baylor [University], and Luke has one sibling at Baylor. Our parents come for games, and we like to be able to host them.

Luke: We have family night with our siblings every Monday night.

WACOAN: Why is hospitality important to you?

Rachel: We have been blessed. Our families are generous, and that allowed us to buy our first home. We’ve been blessed with this nice home, so we want to open it up to people.

Luke: We want to give from a place of abundance. For some reason, we’ve been blessed with this house. For us, it’s a matter of stewardship. It’s our joy to open our home to everyone. It’s a part of following Jesus because that’s what he displayed for us.

Rachel: We did the same thing with our home in Dean Highland. That was more of a challenge.

Luke: This house has allowed us to increase our capacity. In our old house, we would have 40 people over, and we’d be like sardines. Now, hosting is a lot easier.

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WACOAN: Tell me about reveal day.

Luke: Reveal day was fun. I remember looking at Rachel and saying, ‘It’s finally here.’ It was a tough time, but it flew by. My family flew in from Colorado, and Rachel’s family came in from Nacogdoches.

It started early. We met Chip and Jo [Gaines] and waited with them in the Suburban. And then we drove up to the house. Here’s the thing: Rachel isn’t good at allowing herself be surprised.

Rachel: It’s part of being prepared.

Luke: I love surprises. I looked at Rachel, and I could tell she was trying to get a peripheral [view]. I told her she couldn’t look at it.

Rachel: I could tell the house was white. That’s what I expected it to be, so that made me feel at ease.

WACOAN: After they moved the canvas, what was your first impression of the house?

Rachel: We both just loved it.

Luke: We were blown away. We had expectations, but they did so much more than we could hope for. It was everything and more that we wanted. We did ‘Fixer Upper’ because we trust what Chip and Joanna do. We know people who work at Magnolia. We know Chip and Jo personally.

Rachel: It’s Chip and Joanna’s heart to bless the families they work with. It’s not about producing a product that makes them look good. It’s about blessing a family for years to come.

Luke: Because of that, we didn’t take a lot of control in the design process. We said, ‘Hey, this is who we are,’ and then we took a step back.

Decorating our house is a challenging task because we’re different people. I would build a log cabin in the woods. Rachel wants a clean, simple look. That’s what we saw when we walked in — Chip and Joanna blended our styles. When we walked in, I saw the ‘Colorado room.’ I loved that because I haven’t lived in Colorado for 10 years.

WACOAN: After you saw the house, what happened next?

Rachel: That evening they moved out the staging things we didn’t purchase.

Luke: They give you the option of buying the furniture they used in the staging.

Rachel: At wholesale prices.

WACOAN: Did you buy anything from the staging?

Rachel: We bought photos and decorations in the living room. We already had our own furniture, so we didn’t need to buy new stuff. We are about 90 percent done with decorating now.

WACOAN: What was your first night in your house like?

Rachel: It was really nice. For several weeks we would wake up and think, ‘We’re in our home.’

Luke: The challenges of that summer made us appreciate this home. We’ve been here for eight months, and we still wake up and ask how we live here.

The tour starts in the front entrance, the first space the Whytes saw on reveal day. To the left is the stairway made of iron railing and metal cabling. Throughout the entire house, the dark wood flooring balances the light-colored walls.

WACOAN: What was the first thing you saw when you walked in?

Luke: They wouldn’t let us look in the living room yet, so we saw the stairs first. I thought, ‘This is the coolest stairway I’ve ever seen.’

WACOAN: Did you pick out the floors?

Rachel: Yes. They are laminate planks.

Across from the stairway hangs a metal sign that reads, ‘Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.’

Luke: With the mountain piece, they unknowingly hit on something big with Rachel’s and my story.

The reason I’m back in Waco is because I almost died climbing a mountain in Alaska. We asked Chip and Joanna if they knew about that, and they said they had no idea. It’s so cool when things like happen. It makes it sweeter.

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Across the stairway, the Colorado room features a fireplace made of exposed rocks. The mantle is made of one piece of wood. The wall is decorated with black-and-white photos of the Whyte family.

Luke: That mantle is so cool. It’s just a big piece of wood. I love that.

Rachel: We wanted this living space to be functional and comfortable.

Down the hallway, Rachel’s office is located by the children’s play area. Her desk is large, but simple, a quiet place to think and work. The colorful play area has several containers to store toys.

Rachel: We have a babysitter that comes in the afternoons four days a week. She will play with Haven while I’m working. It’s nice because I can still see her and play with her.

Next to the playroom, the kitchen is bathed in white and gray. A large island with a marble countertop sits in the middle of the room. The cabinets are light gray with gold hardware. There’s plenty of space on top of the marble countertops.

Rachel: This was the one room I had opinions on, as far as design choices. I asked for white or light gray cabinets. I wanted light marble countertops. I love that they chose the herringbone tile. And I wanted the gold hardware. I love this kitchen.

WACOAN: And you can cook and watch Haven play in her area?

Rachel: I can work in my office or cook, and she still has access to her toys. But she prefers to go into the spice cabinet and pour out the spices. We’re working on that.

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Up the stairs, the master bedroom is to the left. All the furniture is made of dark wood, complementing the barn door separating the master bedroom and bathroom.

Rachel: Luke really wanted a barn door, but he never communicated that. They did that without knowing. We moved in the furniture we already had, but would like to refinish it someday soon. We got the framed floral prints over our bed from Magnolia Market when we lived in our first home.

Past the barn door, the master bathroom looks airy and inviting. It features two farm sinks, a shower and bathtub. A glass door leads to a private balcony overlooking the back of the house.

Luke: The bathroom is a mega highlight.

Rachel: I took a bath about three times a day when I was pregnant. That was a huge blessing.

WACOAN: How far along were you when you moved in?

Rachel: Eighteen weeks.

Luke: She had a little bump on reveal day.

And then there’s the balcony. We wanted a two-story house with a balcony, if possible. This is where I had a golfing competition with Chip.

The guest bedroom and bathroom are across the hallway. The guest room is simple but inviting.

Rachel: In this room, they just changed the floors and painted. We redid this bathroom ourselves.

WACOAN: Have you had guests often?

Rachel: We’ve had people here more often than not.

Next door, the nursery has two cribs. One side of the room is decorated with soft pink and turquoise, and the other is decorated in mint and gray. The decor is whimsical and playful, perfect for two infants.

Rachel: [Magnolia] didn’t do this room either. We finished this room last. After we moved in and found out we were having a boy, I quickly made it my mission to make the nursery gender neutral so that the kids could share a room. I kept with the tribal theme I had used for Haven. Where I had used coral, beige and turquoise for her, I decided to go with mint and gray for James. I picked very similar fabrics for his quilt and aimed to make everything coordinate as much as possible.

Down the hall is another bathroom. It features the same sink and light fixtures as in the master bathroom.

Rachel: This is the other bathroom we did ourselves. We tried to match everything, the sinks and light fixtures.

WACOAN: How did you match everything Magnolia renovated?

Rachel: After your house is completed, Magnolia sends you a selection sheet of all the materials used in your home: paint colors, light fixtures, cabinet hardware. That was super helpful as we continued to remodel.

WACOAN: I didn’t know that. Were you surprised by anything during the renovation process?

Rachel: We were mainly just impressed with how seamless the process was for us. Magnolia’s team was incredibly professional and helpful, so that made it easy. We’ve been so impressed with the process.

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