In 2003, Kristie and Justin Ziegler were newly wedded high school sweethearts who both enlisted to fight in the war against Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We were 18 and had no idea what we were doing,” says Kristie, who grew up with Justin in nearby Loxahatchee. “Recruiters feed you this stuff about the G.I. Bill and the housing, but that’s the good stuff. They didn’t tell us the realities of going to war in Afghanistan.”
For the Zieglers, reality meant being separated from each other for long periods of time as they witnessed everything from car accidents and house bombings to severely wounded children and suicides by fellow troop members.
Although memories of working as wartime first responders took an emotional toll on the couple, that did not prevent them from returning to Florida after their service was complete to start a family and a new life. After purchasing a home in Broward County, they welcomed one son (Jack, now 11) and then a second (Kohl, 10) into the world before adding a dog to the mix. As their boys grew and became more rambunctious, Justin began daydreaming about a possible move to Jupiter, where he had often surfed before the war.
“We honestly weren’t ready to buy a house because we thought the market was kind of crazy,” recalls Justin, who now works as a volunteer firefighter and co-owns a gym franchise in Coral Springs with Kristie. But then the perfect opportunity presented itself. An elderly woman was selling her 30-year-old home in Jupiter Farms, but it would need some work before it was market ready. Justin offered to purchase the home and then spend two months after the sale was final renovating the land-rich property before his family moved in. It was a deal.
When the seller passed away before the paperwork could be signed, the Zieglers had to wait out the probate process. By the time they moved into the three-bedroom home in August 2021, they came to accept that their dreamed-about renovations would now have to be done bit by bit.
Then one day in early October, a coworker told Justin about Military Makeover with Montel, a home improvement television show on Lifetime that gives veterans comprehensive home makeovers in gratitude for their service to the United States. Cohosted by talk show legend and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps veteran Montel Williams, along with Art Edmonds, the BrandStar original series enlists an array of home contractors to transform each veteran’s home and life.
“It takes all walks of life to help a human being,” says Edmonds, adding that the Jupiter community came out in force to support the family throughout filming. “Viewers see how important it is in this polarized time to put differences aside to help deserving U.S. citizens.”
Justin and Kristie applied to be on the program through the show’s website, not expecting much to come of it. “We honestly didn’t want to get our hopes up,” says Justin. “And to be honest, we didn’t feel deserving of it. We’re very blessed and fortunate in our lives overall. Anytime something good happens to us, I feel like, ‘Why us?’”
But they learned three weeks later that they had in fact been selected. “Honestly, our story is cool,” Justin reflects. “How many high school sweethearts do you know who got married and joined the military together and are still together?”
Earlier this year, Williams started interviewing them for the show. “They are really nice people,” Williams says of the Zieglers. “So many other veterans are living the same way they are, with their post-traumatic stress just below the surface. To be able to share their story and show how they’re coping gives others a sense of what they’ve been through.”
Just six months after moving into their Jupiter Farms home, the Ziegler family found themselves packing up and handing the keys over to a crew of well-intentioned strangers. “Our boys were like, ‘We have to move again?’” Kristie recalls. “But we kept a grateful heart about everything because it was all really exciting.”
In early March, the family was sent to live in a nearby Airbnb for the eight-day duration of the home makeover. The end result would be a total surprise, though the Zieglers were able to relay their wants and needs to designer and television personality Jennifer Bertrand, who sent the couple a design questionnaire to gauge their likes and dislikes and viewed their Pinterest board to get a further sense of their style.
Bertrand set out to create an abode that felt as open and vibrant as the young family. “The kitchen was closed off and didn’t work for a family with two young boys,” the designer says of the original space. “It had no storage. Some of the finishes were pickled oak, but not in a good way. There was the standard Florida tile, but not the good kind. It had builder-grade lighting, which can impact how a space feels. We wanted to bring in sunshine and light and create zones full of flow and function.”
Working with Jupiter-based Paradigm One Contractors, Bertrand infused the home with clean and modern California coastal chic while giving the Zieglers a new kitchen, new flooring, new bathrooms and tile, new furniture and lighting fixtures, and bedrooms that suit both parents and kids.
While crews tore out the old and brought in the new, Edmonds entertained the family with some local fun including jet-skiing and paddleboarding at the Jupiter Inlet, all of which was taped for the TV show. “You don’t realize how exhausting shoots like this are until you are in the middle of it,” says Kristie. “It was fun, but there’s a lot being asked of you, and the schedule was really full.”
When the makeover was complete, the Zieglers were escorted to the big reveal. As their car approached the home on March 22, they were greeted by the television crew and dozens of family members, friends, and supportive locals lining the driveway and applauding their arrival. Many were waving American flags. Kristie remembers sobbing as soon as she saw the brand-new black steel gate outside of their property.
When they toured the inside, they were wowed. “Anything would have made it better than what we had,” Justin says. “But the personal touches were what really made it for me. Jennifer knew we would love a gallery wall of family portraits. And we’ve never had a couch that we’ve liked, and now we have a large, comfy sectional.”
After hours spent filming, giving interviews, and posing for photographs, when the cameras and crowds finally left, the family got to work setting up their kitchen and unpacking boxes. “It took some time for us to get organized and purge,” says Justin.
Now that they’re settled in, it’s time to enjoy their new home—and maybe start planning the honeymoon they never had, as one generous show sponsor gifted them a ski trip to Colorado.
The Zieglers’ four-episode story aired on Military Makeover in May and June. Watch it online at militarymakeover.tv.