Life happened fast for Markus and Lilly Neubauer.
After graduating from college a year apart, they married in September 2009 and bought their Midway Hollow home the following December, just before the first-time homebuyers credit expired. He was 26, and she was 24.
“I can’t believe my life sometimes,” Lilly says.
The quaint 1950s ranch-style house, however, was far from perfect. During their first visit, they watched as other potential buyers left the showing, unimpressed by the wall-to-wall blue carpet and other outdated features. But the creatively inclined couple saw potential.
“People couldn’t see through some of the stuff,” Lilly says. “I’ve always been into seeing what a little elbow grease can do. I figured, there’s 52 weekends in a year — how hard can it be?”
It didn’t take much to transform the 1,200-square-foot space into a picturesque starter home full of indie art and eclectic treasures that showcase the Neubauers’ wonderfully offbeat style.
They pulled up the drab carpet and restored the original hardwood floors underneath; repainted the walls throughout; and replaced the countertops and backsplash in the kitchen.
“We just took it room by room,” Lilly says. “It all of a sudden looked totally different.”
Dreaming up the ideas was easy; financing them proved more difficult. As twenty-something newlyweds just beginning their careers (Markus in civil engineering and Lilly in marketing), the Neubauers didn’t have much money to throw around on home design projects. So, they worked odd jobs on the weekends for extra cash. Lilly landed a few babysitting gigs and worked booths at expos. Markus spent one summer driving a pedicab at Rangers games.
Now Lilly feels happy every time she sees someone pedaling away on three wheels, tourists in tow.
“It reminds me of how hard my husband worked for things,” she says. “It’s funny how, as you become more secure in things, you look back on the difficult times with such fondness.”
Lilly grew up just down the street in Preston Hollow and attended St. Monica Catholic School and Ursuline Academy, so for her, this really is home. Markus was born in Germany to his military dad and German mother, and he moved to the Dallas area when he was 5. He still returns to Germany about every two years. Lilly and Markus met while working at a pizza place in Lubbock, where Lilly was pursuing her public relations and art history degree at Texas Tech University. Markus later graduated from the SMU Lyle School of Engineering honors program. Their different personalities mesh well, and the hours they’ve dedicated to home design efforts have brought the two closer together.
“Markus and I make a really good team when we’re working on projects,” Lilly says.
One project that made a big difference involved installing a built-in sitting area and shelving within the wall behind the dining area. Markus says Lilly envisioned it from the beginning.
“I didn’t even know what built-ins were,” Markus says. “I didn’t get it. What’s the point?”
Now, it’s his favorite spot in the house, with a view of their backyard chicken coop.
“Lilly is really good at visualizing things before they exist,” he says.
The teamwork also prepared them for what was coming next: parenthood. And in typical Neubauer fashion, it happened fast.
Bringing home baby
Markus and Lilly always knew they wanted to adopt even though they could conceive naturally; it was a conversation that just kept moving forward. They began the process with a domestic agency in Austin.
“We’re like the 1 percent,” Lilly says of couples who adopt by choice. “They were surprised we continued to show up.”
Most couples wait 18 months or longer to receive a lead on an available adoption. For Markus and Lilly, it took just three months.
On Christmas Day in 2013, Lilly became uncharacteristically emotional, crying for strange reasons and pacing around the house. She didn’t know that her baby was being born that night.
“I just had this gut feeling,” she says, and then, “They called and said, ‘There’s a baby in Austin that’s ready for you.’ ”
Two days later, they brought their new daughter, Heidi, home to an unfinished nursery scattered with boxes. The floors throughout the house were lined with drop cloths after a fresh painting project. While the baby slept in a bassinet, Lilly and Markus spent their waking hours completing the nursery.
Lilly says that if they hadn’t already experienced the ups and downs of DIY projects, “We would have sat around in shock. The team was back together.”
Markus admits that the first six weeks were a blur, but the unconventional way of becoming parents certainly had its advantages.
“All of a sudden, it’s there,” he says. “We don’t have time to overthink it.”
Heidi’s nursery came together. Painted a dreamy sea-glass green, it features images of elephants — a species known for adopting babies without biological parents.
Completing the project
Even with a baby, now over a year old, the Neubauers continue to tweak and update their home.
“This year has been about adapting things to make the most out of the space,” Lilly says.
They just installed a skylight in the living room. To open up the space even more and avoid hazards for Heidi, they removed the coffee table altogether. Instead, they have an end table between the back of the sofa and the wall. Propped up on the table, and no doubt the first thing to catch any visitor’s eye, is a 5-by-5-foot canvas painting of iconic country singer George Jones by local artist Clay Stinnett.
Lilly had noticed the painting at the vintage oddities shop Dolly Python, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Soon after they adopted Heidi, Lilly decided to call Stinnett directly and ask if he could deliver the piece since she had her hands full.
Lilly’s mother visited the same day, opening the door to find in the living room Stinnett, a 6-foot-tall bearded, tattooed man, hanging a bizarre piece of art, while Heidi slept peacefully in her swing.
“She was probably thinking, ‘Yeah, she’s not evening out any time soon,’ ” Lilly says.
Much about the house still evokes a youthful abandon — the decorative mirror lined with colorful images of Mexican wrestlers; a hallway full of gig posters for The Old 97s, Cake and Rhett Miller; a typographical print by Ludwig Schwarz displayed in the dining area that reads, “They hate us for our free gum.”; and a sign in the kitchen meant to display the family name but customized to say “House of Keeping it Real.”
Parenthood has not stifled this couple’s eccentric tastes. If anything, it’s an extension of it. There is something special about two different people getting together and raising another person who is different from them, Lilly says.
“I think different is good.”