Chip Gaines explains why TV wasn’t always as fun as it looked, and considers his family’s next chapter.
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the January 2019 cover story. Read the full interview when the magazine hits newsstands December 11, or order a copy here.
Cowboys & Indians: How has the break from TV been for y’all? Has anything been surprising about it? Have you found the offers pouring in, or an unexpected yearning to return to the small screen?
Chip Gaines: TV was a funny thing for me. I’m an authentic, sincere person. So, as long as things are natural and organic, I’m in my element. But the more staged something becomes, or the more required something becomes, it boxes me up, and I felt like toward the end of the Fixer Upper journey, I felt caged, trapped. Jo and I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, why? You’re getting to have all this fun, right? But it’s like if I put a camera in your face and said, “Hey, say something funny.” Or if I put a camera in your face and said, “Hey, be smart.” I just struggled with that environment. Especially at the end of it. At the beginning, it was so fun. The first three years of Fixer Upper were some of the best years of my life. The last two years, not that we don’t look back on them fondly, but they were more of a job. So, something about breaking out of that has been liberating. Jo and I are both just kinda giddy, just like, Man, what’s the future look like and what’s the next step? Because we’re both business people, and that’s fundamentally who we are.
Most of our creative energy goes toward business-related concepts; and the TV part of it, it’s like, do we want to do that again? We are having so much fun enjoying our family and growing this business here in Waco. What the TV future looks like is a big, fat question mark.
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C&I: Maybe if you do anything more in TV, it will allow you to call the shots and do it exactly how you want to do it. That could be the silver lining to the last couple of years of hard work.
Gaines: I believe that the hard work that we put in to this show, to our relationship, our family, our business, that those things pay dividends, and it’s not always the very next day, but I think in the next decade you’ll look back and see all the fruits of your labor.
C&I: The common denominator in all of your past businesses and projects is a certain willingness to take a risk at the beginning.
Gaines: Sure, sure. At the end of the day I think that’s what makes entrepreneurs special. The one thing I do know about myself is that I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not a finance guy, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a doctor. Even in this business that we run currently, entrepreneurialism is the engine that drives us to the next thing. About a year or two ago, we came up with the bright idea to do a restaurant. How does a restaurant fit into any retail universe? Obviously, our show was about construction, so the construction part of the restaurant was certainly relevant. But the restaurant part of the equation was completely non-relevant.
C&I: Yet it’s now part of Waco’s Magnolia experience. You and Joanna have also entered the publishing fray with Magnolia Journal and gotten a warm reception from readers. A magazine is its own set of challenges — how have you guys navigated them?
Gaines: It was a dream come true to some extent. And I always thought — because I was so nonstudious — that I was a bit dull. I never felt dumb when I was in conversations with people, but when I sat in a school room and did the academic thing, I just always felt out of sorts. I felt really backwards. And I don’t mean to keep overstating the opposites-attract thing, but Jo was the opposite. When she was in first grade, she had the right color pens, she was dressed appropriately. The teacher was always calling her out in a teacher’s pet kind of way. And I was more the kid in the background going, “Wait, what chapter are we on?” “What’s a syllabus?” I famously asked my sophomore year in college.
But with writing, it was something that Jo and I didn’t realize about either one of us. She thought she would be an engaged writer, and she likes it in one sense. But doesn’t like the thorough process of going through, rewording, and what I call being a wordsmith. Through the process of running the magazine, we both have found our strengths and our weaknesses. I actually had to become a real student. I get pages of information on my desk weekly, to where I go through it, and I like to trade this word for that word and put quotes here and put, you know, inappropriate commas there. But it really tells the story the way I want it to be told.
C&I: The Magnolia empire now employs hundreds. What do you look for in an ideal team member?
Gaines: I think for us, I’d rather pick up a really hard worker than the smartest guy in the room. I don’t want to overstate that, because obviously the smartest guy in the room is handy to have around on occasion. I don’t want to belittle intelligence, but for us, our traits are that we work hard, and we’re good people, and that’s it. And then the next step is go get it. Let’s see what you got. And some people are cut out. I mean, in fairness to just life, not everybody’s built to do stuff. Some people need security. Some people just need a paycheck, some people need to punch a clock, and God knows I do not throw rocks in their direction at all. I literally had this thought today: If you don’t make your living in the mud and the muck, be slow to critique those who do. That’s a real mantra of ours around here. ... I want those people to have the room to go make some mistakes, try something and fail, fall flat on their face.
Shortly before this edition went to press, Discovery confirmed that it was in “exclusive talks” with Chip and Joanna Gaines regarding plans to launch a new Magnolia-branded cable network. Visit magnolia.com to follow the developments.
Photography: Lead image courtesy HGTV, cover image: Mike D’Avello, courtesy magnolia.
From the January 2019 issue.