Joanna Gaines turns dreams into reality

It’s a hot Tuesday afternoon, and Joanna Gaines is buzzing around a home she just finished remodeling near Waco, Texas. She’s walking around in faded jeans, sneakers and a gray cotton T-shirt, re-positioning books on shelves and straightening picture frames on walls. To anyone who has seen her hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, this is a familiar sight.

Typically, toward the end of an episode, after she and her husband, Chip, have shown clients different real estate options, presented plans for a design overhaul and then completely transformed their home, Joanna pulls an all-nighter to stage the house for the following day’s big reveal.

For someone at the head of a booming company with more than 450 employees in businesses spanning real estate, construction, retail and food, Gaines is remarkably relaxed. She seems at ease, despite her hectic schedule, the noise of the landscaping machines outside and the lack of air conditioning.

“I’m sorry it’s so hot in here; my AC guy is coming today,” she apologizes as she continues to put finishing touches on the space. She glides through the living room, gracefully dodging tripods and lighting umbrellas during a recent photo shoot. Navigating equipment-filled spaces is the norm for Gaines, who films Fixer Upper three or four days a week, 11 months out of the year.

It’s difficult to believe that just three years ago, Chip and Joanna Gaines were not household names. They had shut down their home décor store to focus on flipping houses and raising a family when a producer stumbled on Joanna’s blog and approached her about a TV show. Fixer Upper aired in 2013 and quickly grew in popularity. Soon after, the two re-opened the retail side of their business and since then, growth has been exponential.

“People ask if I’m stressed, but to me, this is so much fun; it’s a dream come true, every part of it,” Gaines says. “The retail business is so much bigger than I ever dreamed it would be.”

In February of last year, the Gaineses’ company, Magnolia, only had 40 employees in construction and retail. Now, their real estate company has properties in major Texas cities, and their retail store in Waco fills a sprawling 8,000-square-foot space. Magnolia Market at the Silos is more than a home décor store; the grounds have become an attraction in Waco, with their historic silos, outdoor recreation area, food trucks and a stage for live music.

This year, Gaines created her own wallpaper and paint lines and launched textile and furniture collections. In July, she fulfilled a longtime dream of opening a bakery on the grounds, and the couple recently purchased property to build a restaurant, which they plan to open in early 2017. In October, the Gaineses released their first book, The Magnolia Story, and a lifestyle magazine.

From the first episode of the show, Chip has talked about Joanna being the brains of their operation, but Joanna says he has encouraged her at every step and been at the center of building their amazing team. “When you are married to a guy who takes chances every day, who loves risk and has great intuition and great business instincts — when you’re married to someone like that who pushes you to dream big, you dream big,” she says. “I think if I would have married someone safe, I would have never even tried to open up my own business, where Chip was like, ‘If you have a dream, go for it.’”

The Gaineses have erected their own mini empire in Waco, and Joanna is at the front of most of their operations. She insists on picking every item on the shelves at Magnolia Market at the Silos, and designed the pieces in the furniture collection herself. And it was her vision for the silos that led the couple to buy the land and turn the Market — complete with its swing sets, yard games and a transplanted Canadian barn that dates back to the 1870s — into a central Waco attraction.

If Chip is her motivation, her kids are her inspiration. Gaines says Drake, 11, Ella, 10, Duke, 8, and Emmie Kay, 6, empower her more than anything.

“Cooking for them and getting to create a home for them is an honor and a privilege, and it always has to start there first,” she says, adding that she always considers how new projects will affect her kids before taking anything on. “It’s the basic stuff where I always start, rather than having these huge dreams and going backwards.”

When it comes to creating homes for clients, Gaines also starts with the basics. Rather than begin by asking what style of architecture or décor that clients like, she asks what season of life they are in, what their family is like, whether they have pets. For her, it’s all about telling a story.

“I think when people have the freedom to tell their own story rather than trying to be specific to a certain design or style, there’s more freedom and it ends up feeling more like home,” Gaines says. “Those spaces we see in magazines and on the Internet are beautiful, but if there’s not that story there, then it’s going to lack that feeling of home.”

Being able to tell your family’s story through décor is one thing that makes the holidays so special, she says. To celebrate Thanksgiving, the Gaineses create a “grateful tree” or a “grateful garland” where they write things they are thankful for. The garland or tree is prominently displayed throughout the month of November so that each time they walk by, they’re reminded to be grateful. During Christmas, she decorates one tree in white and mercury glass ornaments, and the family decorates a second tree with all the ornaments and crafts the kids have made throughout the years.

“The holidays is the season where you really cozy up your spaces,” Gaines says. Adding texture to the home with extra throws and table arrangements can have that effect, she says, as well as incorporating colorful autumn leaves to a table setting for Thanksgiving or fresh tree cuttings and red holly berries for Christmas.

“Holidays are my favorite because it’s all about the five senses: what you smell, what you hear, but also what you can touch from a texture standpoint — it’s just warming up the space.”

But, Gaines warns, be sure family and friends take priority.

It’s a lesson that extends beyond the holiday season for Gaines, as she constantly has to balance the growing demands of her businesses with her life and family. Finding balance is a challenge, but one that she welcomes with excitement and gratitude. Their lives haven’t always been this hectic, but it was the early struggles of being entrepreneurs with young children that taught Joanna and Chip how to face challenges head-on.

“Without those trials and struggles, we wouldn’t know how to handle this, and so we’re thankful for that, as hard as it was,” Gaines says. “We worked so many hours trying to figure out how to make it that now it just seems like in order to be successful, you’ve got to have the struggles and you’ve got to push through them. If you quit, you’ll never get to see what’s on the other side.”


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