Raise your hands: Who didn’t know what shiplap was a year ago? And now, who wishes more than anything that they had at least one shiplap accent wall somewhere in their house?
If this resonates with you in any way, shape or form, you have Joanna Gaines to thank. The 39-year-old mother of four and her husband of 14 years, Chip Gaines, have become one of the most-watched duos on cable, let alone just HGTV. Their signature show, Fixer Upper, attracted an all-time high of 25 million viewers over the course of its third season (factoring in episode repeats throughout the week). The season-four premiere last November pulled in 3.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-news show on cable that night.
So with its fifth season on the horizon, Fixer Upper wasn’t exactly an overnight sensation, but just like when Chip saw JoJo for the first time behind the counter at her dad’s tire shop in Waco and knew he had to ask her out—when the timing is right, it’s right.
Though they’ve had a devoted following since premiering in 2013, doubling their ratings between seasons one and two, over the past year and a half the Gaineses have become not just the biggest fish in Waco, Texas, home of Baylor University and some refreshingly affordable real estate, but they’ve now surpassed mere HGTV stardom.
Funny enough, you can tell people have really reached the next tier of fame once others start trying to poke holes in their success balloon. First, as always when it comes to real estate and renovation shows, the microscope was cranked up on how the show really worked (often times the home about to be fixed up has already been purchased, so the guess work is staged). Then the openly religious couple were scrutinized for belonging to a church with a pastor who’s a critic of same-sex marriage and there were calls for the Gaineses to denounce him or otherwise explain themselves.
And just today came the news that Chip Gaines was being sued for alleged fraud by two former business partners who claim he got them to leave Magnolia Real Estate for a song, two days before Chip and Joanna hitched their wagon to HGTV. A lawyer for Chip says their team is confident the claims will prove meritless.
Plus, just as with anything that’s overwhelmingly upbeat on the surface—like La La Land or unicorn food—there just will be backlash.
Sigh, the price of fame. Your fans may adore you but nothing you do (and even the stuff you don’t do) will ever go unnoticed again.
It bears repeating that Chip and Joanna, who didn’t immediately respond to the pastor controversy, had never publicly expressed any discriminatory views or otherwise gave off the impression that they’d agree with the pastor’s archaic sentiment. Meanwhile, plenty of people picked up the story, which originated on Buzzfeed, but a number also came to the couple’s defense (mainly by those who thought the Gaineses shouldn’t be judged by an affiliation, but also by others who would’ve agreed with the pastor anyway).
They addressed the general issue in a New Year’s post on the Magnolia Market website, in which Chip acknowledged that 2016 had been “tough”—for everyone, that is.
“Plenty of folks are sad and scared and angry and there are sound bites being fed to us that seem fueled by judgement, fear and even hatred,” he wrote. “Jo and I refuse to be baited into using our influence in a way that will further harm an already hurting world, this is our home. A house divided cannot stand.
“If there is any hope for all of us to move forward, to heal and to grow—we have got to learn to engage people who are different from us with dignity and with love. Joanna and I have personal convictions. One of them is this: we care about you for the simple fact that you are a person, our neighbor on planet earth. It’s not about what color your skin is, how much money you have in the bank, your political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, nationality or faith. That’s all fascinating, but it cannot add or take away from the reality that we’re already pulling for you. We are not about to get in the nasty business of throwing stones at each other, don’t ask us to cause we won’t play that way.”
And about the fame game: “This living out loud thing is not for the faint of heart. Jo and I don’t want to hide, we want to live brave & bold lives and we wish that same thing for you as well. But words can cut deep and having someone misunderstand your intentions can hurt as much as just about anything. If I misjudge people and am wrong, I want to be wrong having assumed the best about them. The bottom line is, I would rather be loving than be right.”
Reading that, you really still don’t know where Chip and Joanna stand on the particular issue in question—but at the end of the day, the sunny formula that makes for every episode of Fixer Upper is so far removed from anything that might be construed as controversial, you’re either just watching or you’re not. Simple as that.
Besides, after what happened with the second most popular couple on HGTV, Flip or Flop‘s Tarek and Christina El Moussa, Fixer Upper fans are probably too busy reassuring themselves that the marriage that makes up the backbone of the Magnolia empire remains as solid as ever.
Chip and Joanna have peppered their show with charming anecdotes about their courtship, a routine they have down to a science which largely consists of Chip’s self-deprecating boasts about his charm, athletic prowess and dad bod, followed by Joanna’s good-natured eye rolls.
And it works. The show is just as recommendable as a series about a #relationshipgoals couple as it is about home decor, their dynamic is that real-world appealing. Even if the concept and their back-and-forth gets repetitive (though, really, that’s the HGTV way), Fixer Upper goes down easy, making it perfect for leave-it-on-this-channel marathon viewing.
But how did all of this happen again?
As of the 2016 U.S. census, Waco was home to 265,207 people, and though Baylor is there, the city’s name has been synonymous since 1993 with a disastrous standoff between the FBI and a cult. That may still be the case, but Fixer Upper has definitely wedged its way into the zeitgeist, and you can bet the people of Waco prefer one distinction to another.
A federal judge was named Texan of the Year in 2016, but there was a campaign in the works to nominate the Gaineses, who are officially hometown heroes.
“I don’t know, I think this city has the potential to be a really great city, and I think every now and then what we come up against is just trials,” Joanna told Texas Monthly in October. “For anybody to be great one day they’re going to have to go through these trials, and it’s how you deal with it and how you overcome those trials. I feel like Waco in 20 or 30 years—we’re going to look back and this isn’t going to be the same town. This is going to be the town that could.”
Neither Chip, 42, nor Joanna was born in Waco, or even in Texas, but both attended Baylor and their reluctance to take their show—and, subsequently, their home-renovation empire—on the road in favor of staying local has obviously endeared them to their adopted city. Moreover, reportedly anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people a week visit Waco to see Magnolia Market and the Fixer Upper houses up close.
The couple always joke on the show about Joanna’s warehouse full of antique and odds and ends she hoards for her design projects, but in reality Magnolia Market is headquartered in a 20,000-square-foot converted cotton mill—hence all the casual talk about the silos.
Chip had just graduated with a degree in business from Baylor when he flipped his first house. He and Joanna, who studied communications, didn’t meet at school, but at her dad’s Firestone auto parts shop in 2001—yet Chip knew her first. He had seen her on local TV in commercials for the shop, and when he finally met her in person he went for it.
Years later Jo would reveal in their 2016 book, The Magnolia Story, that he was an hour and a half late for their first date (he disputes that—”I was, like, 20 minutes late”) and they didn’t have a second one for several months (most shadily, a $50 bet with a friend over who could wait the longest before calling a girl back was involved).
But still…Chip persisted, and she gave him a second second chance. Four months later, he said, “I love you,” and Joanna said…
“Thank you.” (Two weeks later, when he felt comfortable enough to say it again, she responded in kind.)
After a little over a year of dating, they tied the knot on May 31, 2003, and soon went into business. Chip was focused on flipping houses and Joanna had her Magnolia Market boutique.
Life wasn’t all shiplap and antiques from the start, however. Tensions rose early on as they struggled financially—which they can laugh about now.
“She cried,” Chip later described their newlywed phase. “That was sort of her thing during year one. If we ever write a marriage book, chapter one will be called, ‘she cried.'”
Almost a decade later, they were still barely afloat flipping houses, when a call came just in time from a producer who saw some of Joanna’s designs on DesignMom.com and wanted to know if she and her business-partner husband would be interested in a TV show.
“That’s a scam. Don’t call them back,” Chip said.
Now the Magnolia brand includes Magnolia Realty, serving five major cities in Texas; Magnolia Market at the Silos; a housing development, Magnolia Villas; Magnolia Home paint, rugs, pillows and throws; a recently launched quarterly magazine, The Magnolia Journal; and the Magnolia House vacation rental, a 19th century-era mansion in nearby Fredericksburg that Joanna turned into shiplap heaven. It sleeps eight and starts at $695 a night (there’s time to save up, it’s booked through 2017).
Courtesy: Waco Heart of Texas
The Gaineses themselves live in a 100-year-old farmhouse on 40 acres of ranch land with their four children, Drake, Duke, Ella and Emmie Kay, an ever-growing menagerie of animals and no TV set.
As for the significance of the magnolia, as Joanna explained in The Magnolia Story, when she was first dating Chip, they were driving around one day when he pulled over, got out of the car and climbed a magnolia tree to pluck off one of the blooms.
“It was the first flower he ever gave me, and I fell in love with magnolias after that,” she recalled. “Now we plant one in the front yard of every job we finish to remember where we started.”
Well hot damn. Focused on the bigger business for awhile, Joanna reopened her Magnolia Market boutique in Waco around when she and Chip started shooting Fixer Upper, and its wares are now available online as well.
“It felt almost overwhelming,” Joanna told The Hollywood Reporter last October, talking about the various offers they’ve turned down as their brand blew up. “We’re local businesspeople, so we’re thinking very local. ‘Seize it while it’s here,’ that’s what we hear, but we want this brand to last. TV is just part of the equation.”
The Gaineses also genuinely seem to enjoy being in business together, and while it’s not all playfulness and romance all the time, they remain on the same page about what they want from Fixer Upper and from each other.
“I think a lot of couples feel the need to get away from each other now and then, to take little breaks, and they come back after a girls’ weekend or a guys’ fishing trip or something all refreshed and happy to reconnect because they missed each other,” Joanna wrote in The Magnolia Story. “We were just the opposite and still are. We seem to give each other energy. We function better together than we do apart, and I don’t think either one of us has ever felt the urge to say, ‘I need a break from you.’
“Don’t get me wrong,” she added. “We’ve certainly had our share of disappointments and arguments, but we just always wanted to tackle our issues together.”
Sounds about as perfect as one of Joanna’s well-appointed homes.
And while Chip and Joanna’s level of adorableness doesn’t sit well with everybody, adding to the inevitable skepticism about the level of reality that this type of reality TV achieves, you can’t blame them for being a really great couple. It can seem like a more exciting proposition to watch a couple break up, but what’s not to like about two people who seem to really love each other?
“I think it is their perfect imperfections,” Allison Page, general manager of HGTV and DIY, told Texas Monthly about the star couple’s appeal. “They have the kind of marriage and family you’d want. It’s not perfect. He does silly things, and they occasionally trip over their words or sweat on each other. They are the best of what’s real in life. It’s not a kind of fantasy—perfected, glossy, everything works every second. There’s an authenticity in their relationship and that comes through in the show.”
Chip, meanwhile, admits that their way of life—together all the time, for work, play and family—isn’t for everyone.
“The negative is, if it’s not meant to be, don’t try to force it. It is not for everybody,” he told People about going into business with one’s romantic partner at a KILZ Master Class in Waco in February. “And don’t worry about it that it’s not for everybody. Who cares? And then the positive is when you decide to go for it, just really weigh on each other’s strengths and try not to cross over into each other’s lanes.”
Added Joanna, “Get a mediator, get a designer. If you can’t figure it out bring in someone that will help so you don’t end up ending your marriage.”
“You can either bring in a designer now or you can bring in an attorney later,” Chip noted. “Your choice.”