A Legacy of Loving Energy
A couple turns a former childhood home into an estate venue
By Cassie Bustamante • Photographs by Amy Freeman
In January of 1984, Michael Newell, the youngest of six children, came home as a newborn to a stately brick three-level house, completed just in time for his arrival. Sitting on 16 acres in Pleasant Garden and thoughtfully designed by his parents, McArthur and Dottie Newell, it was a place where they raised their family and hosted large parties and events. Sadly, after Newell’s father passed away in 2002, rooms that had once been filled with life became unused and closed off. Now, almost 40 years since first crossing its threshold, Newell — and his wife, Marche Robinson — are pouring blood, sweat and tears into his former childhood home, making it once again a place for lively gatherings.
After sitting empty for some time, his mother was considering putting the house on the market. Then, in 2017, an idea popped into Newell’s head. “I don’t even know why I thought it would be a really cool wedding venue,” he reflects. But the house had served as home to so many events over the years, from bridge club gatherings with tables spread throughout the main floor to homecoming parties — and even his own sisters’ wedding receptions.
Shortly after the discussion began, Newell found himself engaged to Marche Robinson, his long-time love. “We were both working and planning a wedding, so there wasn’t really the room to be thinking about it seriously,” recalls Robinson.
And so it was that on October 19, 2019, the couple wed in The Merrimon-Wynne house, an estate venue in downtown Raleigh, closer to the home in Brier Creek where they were living at that time. Throughout their wedding planning process, Newell says, “Every step I was taking in that house, I was thinking about this house. It was boiling inside of me at the time.”
As time went on, he remembers “constantly being bombarded by what was possible.” And then one day he found himself saying, “Let’s buy the house, renovate it and let it still be a place that has a legacy of loving energy.”
Robinson, who could easily picture what could be, says, “An estate venue like this, they’re kind of rare. . . This house was already the perfect place.”
Newell and Robinson discussed it with his siblings and his mother. “She was actually really excited about it and super open to it,” says Newell.
“She loved the idea,” adds Robinson. She loved it so much that she envisioned having her 80th birthday party there. And, in fact, the couple hosted the celebration at The Newell House in early November of 2022 as their first major affair. It was what that they both refer to as “a full circle moment.”
Of course, the house needed major renovations to become the classic, polished gem it is today, but these two are no strangers to long hours of hard work.
Newell works as a lawyer and is co-owner of Dame’s Chicken & Waffles’ Chapel Hill and Cary locations. Robinson is a lawyer-turned-influencer and shares her content on instagram at @marcherobinson. She’s also the founder of Isaline, a clean, vegan and cruelty-free beauty brand.
Both grew up with hard-working parents as role models. Newell’s father was an OB-GYN who often left the house in the middle of the night to deliver babies. Robinson’s father was a Greensboro entrepreneur who started his own businesses, Scott Tree Service and Scott’s Cleaning Service.
“He would get up in the middle of the night after working all day and go clean these buildings,” she recalls, “and I would beg to go because I was a Daddy’s girl.” Seeing him work so hard to create something of his own instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in Robinson that didn’t scare her away from taking on this project.
With a plan in place, the couple moved forward in creating what would become the estate venue it is today, which they’ve branded The Newell House. Right away, they enlisted the help of “brother-in-law” Howard (actually Newell’s sister’s husband’s brother). According to Newell, he’s a “fix-it-all, handy, design” kind of guy. With his skills and ability to visualize with Robinson, they started making strides.
Newell, in awe of how Howard and Robinson could picture what was possible in a space, says, “I was just like, ‘Can y’all see the things you’re saying? Is your mind making this? Because my mind is just hearing words!’” Fortunately, he trusted their vision completely.
Howard, who fully grasped Robinson’s modern-with-vintage-charm aesthetic, added picture frame moldings — a classic Georgian touch — and built several pieces of furniture. Robinson points out a custom-made florist’s work table as well as three movable bars he created, one of them a popular shade of blue. “Everyone loves blue,” says Robinson. “I feel like the sky, especially when it’s so sunny out, is just the perfect shade of blue so I feel like it just brings a little of that in.” And, yes, she adds, Newell is a UNC Chapel Hill alum.
A non-movable bar sits in the basement level “speakeasy” — an inky green space the couple named after Newell’s father, calling it the McArthur Lounge. Now his favorite area of the house, Newell says, “It was supposed to be probably my dad’s man cave.”
Robinson adds, “But every video and every photo, it’s like their dad is down here watching TV and it’s like — there are kids everywhere!”
While his father never got to use it as a true man cave, Newell and Robinson have made it into a space that would perfectly suit its original intention, complete with a bar, moody walls, lounge tables with upholstered banquette seating and even a separate room with a poker table. It’s the ideal space for an intimate private party or a place for a groom to prepare with his groomsmen.
As with any renovation, the overhaul did not come without unexpected bumps along the way. The home still boasted its original ceilings — popcorn ceilings that were popular from the mid-’40s to the early-’90s. Robinson knew she wanted them gone, but Newell wasn’t convinced. Eventually, she prevailed.
“They removed the popcorn ceilings and then someone flushed a toilet,” recalls Robinson. “And it just started dripping everywhere!” The “popcorn” had been absorbing the unseen drops of water leakage. Robinson quips, “See, I saved you money! I saved you money!”
Another snafu arose from the foyer’s trademark feature, a 24-inch tile, charcoal-and-white checkerboard floor. The original flooring was checkered as well and Robinson wanted to “keep that classic look, but make it a little more modernized.” Unfortunately, mishaps resulted in breakage and they ran out of tile a week-and-a-half before the date of their first affair, a Sip & See open house set for September 24, 2022. Unable to find the same tile anywhere locally, Robinson called the manufacturer directly and was told, “It looks like we have some in Georgia.’” The very next morning, Newell and Robinson drove to Southern Georgia to retrieve the tile, bringing it back to Pleasant Garden at 10 p.m.“ And then the next day the guy was supposed to come and do the tile and couldn’t come because he was sick . . . ,” Robinson says, able to laugh about it now. Finally, with just 24 hours until the Sip & See, tile installation was complete. “And it was all worth it!” says Robinson.
While they had their fair share of tribulations during the renovation, many pieces fell easily into place. Newell and Robinson, who met as tweens at Mendenhall Middle School, maintained several local connections and friends in the area who ended up serving them well.
On a visit to a local nursery, Newell ran into an old childhood buddy, Landon, who’d just moved back to the area about six months earlier. Knowing that Landon had culinary expertise, Newell decided to approach him to help provide in-house catering.
“I just felt like it fell together in a way that it was meant to be,” says Robinson. “Because what are the odds that he moves back from New York, was doing catering, went to culinary arts school,” . . . and happened to be at the garden center that fateful day.
According to Robinson and Newell, Landon, whose horticultural experience has enhanced his gastronomy skills, utilizes fresh-from-the-garden, roots-still-attached ingredients. Robinson says, “Everyone who’s come to our events was like, ‘This is the best meal!’”
In the week prior to hosting that first Sip & See at The Newell House, Robinson recalls the help and hard work of Landon and another childhood friend, two of Newell’s best friends.
“I feel like that is a core memory for me,” says Robinson. “That week leading up to that Sip & See, it was me, Michael, our brother-in-law, Howard, and then it was Landon and David, who’s also a friend that grew up here. His parents still live literally right down the street.” She adds, “We really put, obviously, a lot of love into the house, but the fact that it can be friends that grew up coming to the house [now] helping is really cool.”
In addition to an in-house catering service, The Newell House also offers an in-house florist, who, you guessed it, just so happens to be a friend of Newell and Robinson.
Like Newell and Robinson, Adeola Glover wears many hats: lawyer, mother, and owner and lead designer of Bea Morad. “We both have these creative sides to us that you don’t really get to use when you’re doing [legal] contracts,” says Robinson. “And so she started her floral company right before we got married — we were her first wedding.”
Robinson reflects on hiring Glover to create the florals for own big day, knowing that every entrepreneur has to have that “first” client. “Sometimes we see these really successful people and businesses . . . you forget that they had to have their first job. If nobody took that chance, then they wouldn’t be where they are,” she muses. “And it’s kind of like with the venue, the first couple that gives your venue the chance. You know, you need that couple that breaks the ice.”
And have they booked The Newell House’s first wedding? Yes. In fact, the first marriage celebration is booked for October 22, 2023, just two days after the couple’s third anniversary, one day after Robinson’s birthday and two days after Dottie Newell’s birthday. But, in a true full-circle moment, the bride, who is getting married on her own late father’s birthday, was delivered into this world by none other than McArthur Newell, OB-GYN.
Newell smiles as he recalls his father as “this big figure that everybody came to. Super funny, always ready to talk.” While he insists that he isn’t quite the talker his dad was, it’s clear that he’s working hard, like his father did, to build something lasting for his family.
“Obviously I can’t fill his shoes,” says Newell, “but being able to be there for my family, my mom, everybody else . . . and bring people happiness — I don’t think I could have done it in a better way than doing this.” OH
For more information or to schedule a tour of The Newell House, visit thenewell.house.
Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.