Near the entrance to Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg’s newly renovated kitchen, there’s a large framed print on the wall that reads: Start each day with a grateful heart. “I stop here every morning and reflect on how thankful we are to have found each other and to live in this house with the people we love the most,” Wahlberg tells PEOPLE in the new issue, on stands today.
Gratitude is a theme that runs throughout the St. Charles, Ill., five-bedroom Tudor he and McCarthy, 46, have lived in and slowly renovated over the last four years. “It’s the first house we looked at together,” says Wahlberg, 50. “When we came in the door, I saw Jenny’s face and I said, ‘I have to get this house. I just have to, this is the house.’”
For McCarthy, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the connection was immediate: “It resonated like home,” she says. “Even though the decor wasn’t us, I felt an energy telling us this is where we’re supposed to be.”
Related Video: Jenny McCarthy Explains Why She Was Miserable at 'The View'
Moving to the quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago meant the stars,who married at St. Charles’ Hotel Baker in 2014, would have to commute from New York City—where she hosts SiriusXM’sThe Jenny McCarthy Show and he films CBS’sBlue Bloods—to Chicago during the week, but they knew it was the right decision for them and their children: McCarthy’s son, Evan, 17, and Wahlberg’s younger son, Elijah, 18. (His older son, Xavier, is a musician and currently touring Europe with his hardcore band.)
“It’s one of the biggest questions I get: ‘How the heck do you guys make this happen?'” says McCarthy, who also tapes Fox’s The Masked Singerin Los Angeles. While their “schedules are absolutely crazy,” she says the week takes on a rhythm that now feels “very normal” to everyone.
“From Friday to Monday, we get to be here with the kids. And then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we work and stay in New York,” says McCarthy, who is celebrating the fifth anniversary of her SiriusXM show this month—and broadcasts from her home studio two days a week. “We get that one-on-one time as a couple there, and then we have our family time in St. Charles.”
For Wahlberg, who often spends summers touring with his New Kids on the Block bandmates and is now starring in the 10th season of Blue Bloods, the benefits of working on a long-running series gave him the flexibility to make the dual-city life possible.
“The success of the show required me to be out of town a lot but, at the same time, it also allowed me to go the producers and say, ‘Listen, it’s been 10 years and I’ve got to watch my kids graduate, go to homecoming, and do the things that I’m going to miss if I keep working five days a week in another city.”
The kids-first attitude was reflected in the early designs—or lack thereof—of the house.
“We lived without furniture for a year or two because there’s, like, a dozen teenage boys here all the time,” says McCarthy, who announced that she will not be co-hostingNew Year’s Rockin’ Eve this year so she can spend the holidays at home. The couple also have four dogs, black teacup shih tzu DJ (named after “Donnie and Jenny”), pomeranians Drogon and Nymeria, and French bulldog Lumpy.
Adds Wahlberg, “We said we’ll just hunker down in our bedroom like John Lennon and Yoko Ono and let the kids have the run of the house.”
Eventually, the couple realized they needed to “establish a real home and not let the kids destroy everything.” They turned to Chicago-based designer John Wolf of Wolf Home Design to help create a style that reflected their “music man-meets-glam fashion” vibe, but that was still functional and comfortable for the active family.
“John got who we are immediately and was so passionate about giving us the home we always dreamed of, that feels like us,” says McCarthy.
For Wolf, the goal was to capture who the couple is when not in the spotlight. “You see Jenny being glamorous on TV and Donnie performing on stage, and you might think they’re these aloof celebrities, but they’re so real and genuine and really fun,” he says. “I wanted the authenticity of their character to come through.”
The first piece that entered the home and started them on their decorating path: the piano. “We were happy living in a house with no furniture, and then a friend said to me, ‘I’m selling my baby grand piano. Do you want it?” And I thought, “Oh my god, I married a music man, so yeah,'” says McCarthy. “I called Donnie and said, ‘Well, it’s now time to get a couch so I can listen to you play.’”
Says Wahlberg, “If we’re going to splurge on something, we make sure it’s something we care about and that matters.”
The piano inspired the couple and Wolf to begin reimagining the main family room, which now features chic but cozy sofas and chairs, a dramatic art piece by artist Francine Turk (“I love ascension and angels,” says McCarthy), and a black, French-door entrance to McCarthy’s sewing room—embellished with sillver “D” and “J” handles.
“Then it went from piano to couch to chairs to rugs, and then it just traveled from room to room to room,” she says. Those others spaces included the sitting and sun rooms, formal dining room, her sewing room, his office, a Blondies cocktail-themed bar, and, most recently, the kitchen and breakfast nook.
“This is the spot where everyone gathers,” Wahlberg says of the kitchen area that was completed in August and features a large island with high-top stools, walk-in pantry ( that Wahlberg organizes himself), a black lacquered dining table, fireplace and an illusion flat-screen TV.
The renovations extended to the home’s outdoor space as well: a luxurious, kid-friendly pool (with a water slide, waterfall and grotto) and entertaining patio, private nature path, and one-hole practice golf green in the backyard (marked with a Wahlburgers flagstick, a nod to the burger chain Wahlberg and his brothers Mark and Paul co-own).
“We have a little trail we created just to take walks—it has a little Buddha and a fountain—and I know that means a lot to [Jenny],” he says. “I know if she’s stressed or has worries about Evan or whatever’s going on, that little space is where she can go. We’ve just carved out a little piece of heaven.”
Jokes McCarthy: “And we’ve had some fun date nights on that golf course—wink, wink.”
Through all the renovations and redesigns, the couple has remained focused on creating a place where they and their kids can retreat to escape the hectic world in which they often live.
“This isn’t an extravagant home, but there’s no greater symbol of our love for each other than this house and how much love has gone into it,” says Wahlberg.
While the renovations have been slow but steady the couple say it’s a home they’ve hoped for from the beginning. “When we first met, we talked about how we both longed to have a small town life with our kids,” he says. “We made it a goal for ourselves and said it out loud because we wanted to make happen. And here we are, together with our kids, and we’re grateful for every bit of it.”