WACO Chip Gaines is the force behind Fixer Upper, the HGTV renovation show filmed in Waco.
Gaines is from North Texas. He went to Grapevine High School and then moved on to Baylor University, eventually graduating with a business degree. He stayed in Waco because he had a successful lawn mowing business — plus, there was this exotic beauty at the local tire store. Those were reasons enough to stay, he says.
He’s like that — garrulous and self-deprecating.
“He was so proud of that lawn-mowing business,” Joanna Gaines says with an eye roll. She’s like that, she’s the grounded one.
He is the force behind Fixer Upper. She is the exotic beauty who became his wife in 2003. He plays a doofus to her diva, and they remodel homes. Theirs is the world of Magnolia.
Their company, Magnolia Homes, is part realty company and part remodeling business. They were flipping houses before their wedding and soon moved into remodeling, and lately, they have been building a subdivision, Magnolia Villas.
They’ve renovated hundreds of homes in the Waco area, and now they are doing it in front of the HGTV cameras.
Fixer Upper features a person, couple or family in search of new living quarters. The Gaineses show them three homes that are in sore need of work, and the family chooses the one it wants, buys it and then hands over at least $30,000 for renovations.
The houses in Waco are priced much less than similar ones in the Metroplex, and the renovation budgets seem reasonable rather than heart-stopping. The first episode featured a turn-of-the-century four square slated for demolition; the city sold it for $25,000.
The Baylor soccer coach and his wife bought it and ponied up $100,000 for reno work. That was probably the most extreme makeover of the first season; it was also the cheapest house with the largest renovation budget.
After the house is purchased, the Gaineses and their crews swoop in, and the magic begins. Chip is the general contractor; Joanna is the interior designer and budget keeper. After some amount of time passes, the home owners are brought back to the site and are posed in front of an almost life-size photo of the home in its pre-reno state.
“Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” Joanna asks. The photo panel, split down the middle, is parted and rolled off to each side. Voilà, there is the newly renovated home and the couple gasp and say “OMG!” Which, in Waco-speak, is “Oh, my gosh!”
Fixer Upper debuted in April, and as soon as the first 12 episodes were broadcast, HGTV asked for 13 more for 2015. Those are being shot and will begin airing in January.
Currently, Fixer Upper is in re-runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays.
All in the family
The appeal of the show is not the inexpensive home prices in Waco; nor is it Chip’s renovation work nor Joanna’s interior design. It’s their very likability and sweet interaction; the Gaineses are adorable.
He takes pages from the Mr. Right handbook. During the first season, the family — Chip, Joanna and their four children ages 4 to 9, go to Round Top for a long day of shopping. The fair near Houston is a weeklong marathon of antiques in barns, great finds in circus-sized tents and dubious junk spread on blankets.
The shopping ops stretch for miles along Texas 237. It is not for the faint of heart. Rarely do you see children in tow. But the Gaines family goes en masse, and as the kids swarm out of the vehicle, Chip says to Joanna, “You just shop, I’ll take care of the kids and the stroller.”
Viewers suspected television fiction; they even tweeted as much. “No,” says Chip, “that happened.”
“That is Chip Gaines,” Joanna says.
Jojo (his endearment for her) is the calm in the middle of chaos, although in her blog on http://magnoliahomes.net/ she admits to stressing too much and wanting to control impossible situations.
In one episode, Chip and the kids come by a home she is staging and he says they are going to the pound to pick out a kitty.
“We don’t need a kitty, we have a cat,” Joanna says. “No kitties and no dogs,” she implores. Next scene: The kids arrive with two kitties and Chip bears the news there is a dog, too.
When it comes to the renovation work, though, Joanna’s demands are always met, even if it means tearing-out work that will add days to the calendar and cost overruns to the budget.
“Joanna always gets her way,” Chip says.
She envisions the houses they renovate as open stage sets for living, not cloistered rooms of breakables. She almost always tears down walls — living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens are open to each other. Small spaces are eliminated to add breathing room.
“People want that sense of space,” she says.
Front yards that are overgrown with bushes and trees that block views are ripped out or trimmed so that the front yard also gets the expansive treatment.
Living with her own young children has impressed upon her the need for rooms and yards to be non-precious and welcoming to all ages, Joanna says.
Getting the call from HGTV
Writing about the balance between being a mother and her work with Chip brought the Gaineses to the attention of producers at High Noon Entertainment. The Denver-based company specializes in nonscripted reality television shows such as Food Network’s Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives; VH1’s Tough Love; and DIY’s Cool Tools.
A producer at High Noon had seen Joanna’s blog with photos of the flipped houses and asked if they could construct a show around the Gaineses to pitch to HGTV. Joanna and Chip agreed. HGTV ordered the first season and has now requested a second.
The production company chooses the homeowners. It does all the filming and editing with a crew of 11 that come from Denver and Los Angeles. The crew is deployed for six months to film the 13 episodes. The Gaineses are on-air talent and are paid as such.
Plus it is the Gaineses and their subcontractors who do all the renovation work, which is paid for out of the renovation budget the families bring to the show. Or as Chip is fond of saying, “These are real people, with real budgets, getting real work.”
The show is a fabulous advertisement for Waco; one almost suspects the city underwrites the show. Chip says it doesn’t. The opening images make Waco look positively bucolic; there are no pans of the eternally-under-construction Interstate 35.
It is also a great vehicle for all the Gaineses do. They are not only HGTV television stars, they are currently Waco television stars — appearing on a commercial for a local bank. Joanna has a home store, and Chip is a home builder and has a realty office. Their fame is spreading.
In July they did a segment on NBC’s Today about reclaiming the square footage left by college-bound kids.
Joanna uses stock from her home store, The Magnolia Market, and that of other Waco-based retailers such as Laverty’s Antiques & Furnishings and La Salle Shoppes, an antique mall, for staging the finished homes.
The products from Magnolia Market are available to the homeowners at the end of the shoot, and many of them do buy Joanna’s vision. Some pieces that are used on the show are given brief close-ups with the prices flashed on the screen.
The finished product
Most of Joanna’s finished rooms have a familial look. She likes a combination of white slip-covered furniture with traditional lines, large clocks, industrial shelving and baskets, farmhouse tables and walls painted gray with sparkling white trim. To carry the theme of all things magnolia, each Fixer Upper house is given a magnolia tree in the new landscaping.
Chip’s spare minutes are spent building a neighborhood of 37 garden homes, Magnolia Villas, designed for newlyweds and empty nesters in Waco. These charming houses in the Gaineses’ style — open layout, neutral walls with white trim, black iron light fixtures and dark wood floors, are compact, and there is no yard work expected of the homeowners. They are perfect for those looking to start out, or scale down.
“They reminded us of a place we had been in Colorado, with perfect little houses in a perfect little neighborhood,” Chip says. A quick drive through shows about a dozen empty lots left. On one of the streets is a Magnolia Homes truck with lettering on the back: “Making Waco More Beautiful One Home at a Time.”
The Gaineses have been asked to work farther afield. But they limit themselves to a 30-mile radius around Waco. Fans of the show, who have traveled from as far away as Indianapolis, come to see them and will stop by the shop to pay their respects.
The day the Star-Telegram was there to take photographs, a family from Oklahoma was sightseeing in the store.
For anyone who lives in Waco and wants to be a part of the Gaineses’ Magnolia-fication of Central Texas, all it takes is a desire to buy, a need to renovate and a budget of at least $30,000.