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A Work in Progress



Story by Lee Rennick | Photos by Erin Kosko

“The house wasn’t done when we first looked at it,” said Shantel Littlejohn. “But, we’d been stalking it on Zillow. Watching them build it. The first time we went to look at it, it didn’t have any stairs and the front yard was mud. But, we fell in love and put an offer on it that day.”

Unfortunately, there was a cash offer already on the table. Shantel, her husband Otis, and daughter Bexley had to wait two days to find out if they were going to get it. They drove by every night until they heard the home was theirs. Their original plan had been to wait about two years to buy a home, but when they found this home, they couldn’t wait. 

“We love everything about it,” added Shantel, “the two floors, the double doors, the small wraparound porch that doesn’t block the sunlight, all the windows, the brick, the backyard, the garage on the side. The symmetry. Just everything.”

From Spec House to Dream House

One of the spec homes built by Shane McFarland Construction in Riverview Cove, it boasts lots of local sourcing. The tile and carpeting came from City Tile; the plumbing and appliances are from Ferguson’s Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery; the lighting came from Team Electric; the trim materials from Haynes Hardware; the hardwoods from Jeffco Flooring and Supply; and the brick from Alley Cassetty Companies.

Brandy Lauer designed the home in the Modern French Farmhouse style, which blends well with what Shantel calls her “Modern Organic” style. She loves lots of natural wood and earth tones.
“She really has an eye for design,” said Otis. “Before we got into the house, with the mud and no stairs, I said this ain’t the house she’s going to pick…and now, I see it all coming together. I see it now.” 

“I have a big imagination,” said Shantel with a laugh. “It’s probably from all the Sims gaming I played as a kid, building houses.”

Since this is their first home, they are slowly furnishing it and decorating it. They have started with the public living spaces, as they soon hope to be able to have their families over to visit. It has only been a few weeks that they have been in the home, so the focus has been on getting things moved in and purchasing the big pieces. 

“We bought the major pieces from Restoration Hardware,” said Shantel, “including the dining room table, the breakfast room table and the oversized sofa with lots of fluffy pillows. The rest has come from lots of different places.”

Shantel has been gaining inspiration for the interior design from things she has seen on Instagram and Pinterest, then adding her own twist. Her sources have been places like Amazon, Wayfair, Pottery Barn, Target, CB2, Pottery Barn Kids and Home Goods.

“I really like Jenni Kanye, that’s where I got both the dining and office chairs, and I like A Floral because their stems look much more realistic,” added Shantel. 

Focus on the Kitchen Work Space

The other main focus has been the kitchen, because that is where Shantel works. She is a social media influencer at Nutrition by Shantel. She gives women advice on how to lose weight eating the things they love. She has 160,000 followers on Instagram, 200,000 followers on TikTok and more than 3,000 members on her website. 

Trained as a nutritionist at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), she was tired of the diet mentality where it was all about taking away. So, during COVID, she began doing videos about how to lose weight in a more positive way. Women were ready to listen. Her videos and website took off. 

Her cheerful, bubbly personality shines through as she explains how she remade the kitchen to be her stage. It is obvious why her videos are so appealing. 

The lighting over the island and the door pulls on the cabinets from Marsh Cabinets had been black. She replaced both with a much warmer gold. And, she loves the gold against the white countertops by MT Granite, and all of the light from the canister lights.

“I had been making my videos in our old apartment kitchen, that had no island and was really dark,” said Shantel. “This is so much better. So much more inviting.” 

A lot of what she does on her videos and working with her members is normalizing foods. She thinks that …regulating urges, overeating and cravings is feeling like you can’t have things. And, human nature is to want things you can’t have. So, the minute you desensitize something, it helps reduce the need to want to eat it. It’s all about balancing foods. 

“It’s not that pasta causes weight gain,” said Shantel. “It’s too much pasta. If you go to my Instagram right now, I’m making pasta, I’m using a frying pan…I’m using foods that people use in their everyday life.” 

One of her family’s favorite recipes is her Sage and Thyme Crispy Chicken Thighs.

Ingredients 

12 oz. of chicken thighs, bone-in with skin, about 4 oz. each
2 sage leaves
4 thyme sprigs
5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed with a knife
Salt, pinch
Pepper, pinch
1 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 Tbsp butter

Instructions 

Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.

Set the chicken out for five to 10 minutes to let it reach room temperature. Salt and pepper the thighs on both sides. Using a small knife, flip the thighs and make holes around the bone. This helps the chicken cook through evenly. Heat a pan to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then add chicken thighs, skin side down. Do not move them! 

Add the whole garlic cloves, thyme and sage to begin to toast them in the pan. Make sure they're in a little of the oil so they don't stick to the pan and burn. Move them around the pan every 30-ish seconds.

After about three to five minutes, flip the chicken thighs. Cook for three more minutes, then add butter and baste your chicken thighs with a spoon for 30 seconds to infuse the herbs. Flip them so they're skin side down again, baste once more, then put them in the oven for about 12 minutes, baste them again halfway through the oven cooking time.

Remove. Let them rest a few minutes, then top them with a little flaky salt and enjoy! It makes four servings. 

“You can eat things like my crispy chicken thighs, because it’s really about portion control, listening to your hunger cues, your body and your fullness and about balancing the plate,” explains Shantel. “When it comes to weight loss specifically, it’s a math problem. Calories in versus calories out. And so, if we can balance our plates and have our taste buds honored, then it is a portioned plate that we still feel satisfied from, but it helps reduce the longing.”

Her business has grown so quickly, that Otis has become her finance director. He has a finance degree from MTSU, which is where the two met. 

Future Plans for the Home

Originally, they were looking in College Grove, in Nashville and in Brentwood for a home. They loved the “modern-ness” of the homes there, but they love Murfreesboro. So, when they saw this house, it really caught their eye because it provided what they were seeing in College Grove, but it was in Murfreesboro. 

“And, everyone we worked with to get the house was so great,” said Otis. “Our team was amazing.”

While they are taking the decorating slowly, they have big plans for the rooms that are currently unfinished. They both have large, close families whom they love to entertain, so they are looking forward to turning the mezzanine space upstairs into a media room for their daughter, nieces and nephews to watch movies, and there are two guestrooms they are working on for overnight visitors. Shantel is originally from Tullahoma and Otis from Knoxville.

“Otis is a fourth,” said Shantel. “They call him ‘Little O’ and his father ‘Big O.’ We have a photo in the kitchen of the first Otis, his son and grandson. It is the only one with all three men together in one photo.”

Upstairs in the bonus room, Otis and Shantel are planning to have a space for the kids to play and a space where Otis can do yoga, something he does every day. 

“I started doing it,” explained Shantel, “then he started doing it with me and has now surpassed me.”

Outside, their patio will eventually be furnished so the adults can sit and watch the kids playing in the backyard, where they also have plans for a raised bed vegetable and herb garden so Shantel has fresh ones to cook with. 

“We already have the beds, we just need to put them together,” explained Shantel. 

While they have added trees and hydrangea bushes at the back of the property, all of the landscaping around the house was put in by Superior Property Solutions. 

The plans are there, but they know it will take some time to pull everything together. 

“Since we came from an apartment to a five-bedroom house,” said Shantel, “we have a lot more space to decorate and grow things in.” 

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