MCGREGOR, Texas – Two green blocks stared back from the screen like a traffic light signaling, “Go. Go.”
Could they be? Vacancies?
Chip and Joanna Gaineses’ Magnolia House vacation home famously sold out through the end of the year, just hours after reservations went online last February. But here it was, a Monday in July, and as I poked around the Magnolia House website, consecutive green blocks on the reservation calendar meant it was available the next Sunday and Monday nights.
Hmmmmm. Two nights at $700 each, plus tax, would cost more than $1,500. In McGregor. Not even Waco. McGregor, 20 minutes south of Waco and nowhere near anyplace else.
I closed out of the website, waited a minute, then pulled it up again.
I could almost hear Joanna asking, “Are you ready to see MY fixer-upper?”
Who gives a shiplap what it costs? I pulled out my MasterCard and texted some girlfriends. We were taking a road trip to the Magnolia castle to live like HGTV royalty.
For anyone who has been living under the TV instead of watching it for two years, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Waco are the hottest non-Kardashian couple on TV right now. Their reality-remodeling show, “Fixer Upper,” is reportedly the most successful HGTV show ever. More than 25 million viewers turned in to watch the third season of the series, the network says. Season 4 begins Nov. 29.
But the show was just the beginning.
The Gaineses have built an empire under the company name Magnolia that started with remodeling and real estate and now includes a home goods market, bakery and garden shop in a renovated grain silo complex; a furniture line; rugs; paint; throws; pillows and, coming soon, wallpaper. And on the 2017 horizon: their first restaurant, a newly renovated breakfast, lunch and brunch spot in Waco’s historic Elite Cafe.
October is a big month for Chip and Joanna. It kicked off with a “Silobration,” a three-day festival to celebrate Magnolia’s first year at the silos. They launched the first issue of their own quarterly home- and lifestyle-focused magazine, the Magnolia Journal. And their highly anticipated memoir, “The Magnolia Story,” hit shelves.
The Gaineses’ following is not so much cultlike as megachurchlike. Everyone digs Chip, 41, a garrulous goofball with a toothy grin, sandy-hair mop and self-deprecating sense of humor, for whom every “demo day” is Christmas Day. Everyone hearts Joanna, 38, the exotic beauty (of Korean, German and Lebanese descent) with a design mind that could dream up a rustic, farmhouse-chic remodel of a cardboard box — complete with a “fun” kitchen island and sliding barn doors.
Chip grew up in Colleyville, Texas, and attended junior college before entering Baylor. In Waco, he earned a business degree, started a successful lawn-mowing business, began flipping houses and, most important, set his sights on Joanna Stevens, who was working at her dad’s Firestone tire store and starring in its commercials. They’ve now been married 13 years and live on a 40-acre farm outside Waco with their four school-age kids, all of whom appear on the show.
Chip and “JoJo’s” wholesome lifestyle and melt-your-heart chemistry — whether they’re joking about his “dad bod,” bantering about who will call a client with bad news or setting up sweet surprises for each other — are as much a part of their appeal as the fact that they brought the term “shiplap” out of the 19th century and into a hashtag. Apart, he knocks down walls, and she hangs giant, antique clocks on new ones. Together, they work miracles on castaway spaces and forgotten places.
In one of the first stories published about them in 2014, when “Fixer Upper” was just breaking ground, a Star-Telegram writer said, “He plays a doofus to her diva, and they remodel homes. Theirs is the world of Magnolia.” Two years later, it’s a Chip-and-Joanna world, and we’re all just living in it. If you stay at Magnolia House, you get to sleep in it, too.
A love connection
Magnolia House started as a fixer-upper on “Fixer Upper.” In each episode, Chip and Joanna show clients three houses in disrepair, give them visions for beautiful remodels, then go to work on the one the clients choose. When a family looking for a home in McGregor turned down the big white Victorian, Joanna got the idea to turn it into a vacation home. Chip signed on, and they bought it for $190,000.
“From the first moment I saw it, I could envision bringing it back to life,” Joanna says on her website. (Through their spokesman, they declined a request for an interview.) “I loved the story of the house.”
The 2,868-square-foot home was built by a banker in 1892 and owned by descendants of the original family until the Gaineses bought it. They called it the “Wild West House” on the show because, they said, it “sometimes served as a makeshift cash repository when money was being transferred via stagecoach.” The property once included other buildings in the backyard, including servants’ quarters, a wash house and an outhouse. Some of the bedrooms were rented out to traveling soldiers in the early 1900s.
“The design inspiration for this house was taken from my own home,” Joanna says on the website. “I wanted it to feel like our farmhouse so, when guests stay here, they feel especially welcome.”
They completed the renovation late last year, revealed the property on a “Fixer Upper” holiday special, and invited their parents to be the first guests. While it’s been called a “bed-and-breakfast,” Magnolia House is not actually a B&B. It’s a vacation rental that sleeps up to eight people, and the whole house must be booked for at least two nights in a row.
Another misconception: Chip and Joanna don’t run Magnolia House. That job belongs to Rob and Marianne Ward, sweet grandparents from Waco who tend to the home and its guests with the same warmth and generosity that the house exudes. They live on the property in a pretty “fixed-up” carriage house that also was featured on an episode earlier this year.
Up to 35,000 Chip-and-Joanna fans journey to Waco each week to visit the Magnolia Market at the Silos complex. For many, the pilgrimage includes a drive down Hwy. 84 to find Magnolia House, stop and take photos from the sidewalk in front. But they’ll just get as far as the wrought-iron fence around the property.
Only those who book stays receive the key code to walk through the door, into a “Fixer Upper” fantasy.