Photography: Courtesy HGTV
Photography: Courtesy HGTV

Talent, ambition, and charm have given Chip and Joanna Gaines household-name fame — and an ever-growing empire.

If it were up to Joanna Gaines, every Waco, Texas, kitchen would feature a farm sink. It would be fair to say that the female half of the couple behind the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper has more than a passing predilection for these apron-front sinks. It’s likely that in any given episode she’ll imagine how one of these oversized fixtures would transform the room. Transforming Waco into a design hub? That was far less likely.

Before Joanna and Chip Gaines refurbished Waco’s place in the cultural zeitgeist, it was most famous for being the location of the tragic 1993 shootout between the FBI and the Branch Davidians. That, and it’s the halfway point between Austin and Dallas. When Baylor University isn’t in session, the city’s population sits around 130,000, and it has all the trappings of small-town life. There’s so little to do in Waco that one of the longtime hobbies of students is known as “tortilla tossing,” which is more or less what it sounds like. You walk out onto a bridge and throw tortillas at a piece of concrete that emerges from the Brazos River.

Waco isn’t much to look at, but that’s exactly the kind of challenge Joanna and Chip take on with their remodeling company Magnolia Homes. You could say Waco is the ultimate “fixer upper.”

The show follows a simple formula. On real estate day, Chip and Joanna show a home buyer three houses in their budget in or near their desired neighborhood. There’s always one house that’s cheaper, but less move-in ready than the others. Often the buyer picks the problem house. There’s design day, when Joanna shows her renovation and décor ideas, and then demo day, when they start construction. (Chip loves demo day!) Finally there’s the big reveal. (“Are y’all ready to see your fixer upper?” they ask every episode before pushing aside a large canvas-printed “before” picture to reveal the “after.”)

Photography: Courtesy Magnolia Market
Photography: Courtesy Magnolia Market

Now in its fourth season on HGTV, the show’s popularity isn’t just due to America’s love of habitation underdogs. The Gaines family is undeniably charming. When they met, Chip worked in real estate and home renovation. Soon after they married in 2003, Joanna established Magnolia Market, her design store, with a good eye but little experience. Eventually they merged their specialties into Magnolia Homes. They caught the attention of High Noon Entertainment — whose other shows include Cake Boss and Hurricane Hunters — and in 2013, the pilot for Fixer Upper aired.

It’s not just the familial charm and design television formula that make this HGTV’s most popular show ever — it’s also the couple’s quirkiness, in style and in personality.

For every wall “Jojo” opens up, Chip tears one down. They are always excited when they find shiplap behind drywall and will add the wooden boards to existing wall surfaces and paint them. The result, when combined with the newly installed or refurbished hardwood floors and reclaimed wood accents, gives the houses the look of a bright white rusticity. Then for the big reveal, Joanna temporarily outfits these houses with giant clocks, oversized vases and brightly colored hardback books — all of which can be purchased from her shop.

Photography: Courtesy Magnolia Market
Photography: Courtesy Magnolia Market

Just a few years after the first episode aired, the couple has built a design empire. In downtown Waco, Magnolia Market sits in the shadow of two silos from a historic cottonseed mill. While the market sells Joanna’s farmhouse chic decor, Magnolia’s Seed + Supply sells an assortment of DIY terrariums and succulents. In June, Silos Baking Co. opened, outfitted Fixer Upper style, complete with farm sinks in the bathroom. Local purveyors, including Milo Biscuit Company, Common Grounds, and Cheddar Box, park food trailers on the large, well-kempt property, which is filled with lawn games and pergolas. It’s become a tourist destination attracting visitors from across the country.

The city of Waco has branded the surrounding area as the Silo District and even rolled out a trolley line to quell parking concerns and ease transportation to and from the recent developments. A boost in tourism can be seen in other pockets of the city as well. A new company, Waco Tours, opened in 2016 and offers tours of Fixer Upper locations and of the general area. Near the Magnolia business, older places like Balcones Distilling and Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits along with other businesses in the downtown area enjoy this influx of visitors.

For new and old visitors alike, downtown Waco is proving to be quite the charming place. On Season 3 of Fixer Upper, one of the projects was Magnolia House, a bed-and-breakfast 20 minutes outside of town, which opened in spring 2016 and remains fully booked through June. But it’s not just Waco the Gaines are fixing up. Their furniture line, Magnolia Home, is sold throughout the United States. In October, their memoir, The Magnolia Story, hit bookshelves, while their lifestyle magazine dedicated to all things Magnolia hit newsstands. The couple also purchased the recently shuttered Elite Café in Waco and plan to open it serving Chip’s favorite meal: breakfast.

Joanna and Chip Gaines plan to ride this wave of success as long as they can. The boat they’re sailing in? Well, it’s probably made of shiplap.


Learn more about Chip and Joanna Gaines online.

From the January 2017 issue.

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