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The Magnolia Story
Author:Chip Gaines & Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story

Chip Gaines & Joanna Gaines


I have always been one to play it safe. If it were up to me, the less risk involved the better. But this isn’t how the story goes—because I am married to the one, the only, Chip Carter Gaines.

One day back in early 2012, my husband decided to go window-shopping online. That’s always a risky thing to do, but when Chip’s the man behind the mouse it can be downright dangerous. I never know what object—or animal—might show up at my front door on the back of some random delivery truck.

On this particular day, Chip happened to spot a used houseboat for sale.

We’d been living in a house that we were getting ready to flip and we’d just started renovating our farmhouse outside of Waco, Texas, which meant we were on the hunt for a temporary place to live. So Chip clicked through the pictures of that floating two-story shanty with its microscopic kitchen and had a full-blown Chip Gaines epiphany.

I really thought to myself, How cool would it be to move our family onto a houseboat? We can put it on one of the lakes down here, and the kids and I can fish for breakfast from the balcony. Wow! Jo’s gonna love this.

So he bought it. Sight unseen. We just barely had our heads above water at that point, and he went and threw tens of thousands of dollars down on that thing. And then he didn’t say a word. He had it shipped to Waco on a monster tractor-trailer and couldn’t wait to show off his surprise when it finally arrived. After all our years of marriage, he was still clueless about how I might react.

I had no idea any of this was going on, of course. But right around that same time, on some random weeknight, I received a phone call from an out-of-state number I didn’t recognize. I picked it up.

“Hi, I’m Katie Neff, and I work for a television production company,” the woman on the line said. “I saw some of your designs online, and I was wondering . . .”

This Katie had apparently seen photos of our most recent flip house that I’d designed, the one we were living in at the time. A few weeks earlier a friend of mine, Molly, had submitted those photos to a popular blog called DesignMom.com, and I’d been excited that a blog with thousands of followers wanted to feature it. It was the first time my work had ever really been featured on a design blog other than my own. I had a loyal local following back then, but no national following to speak of.

“I loved what you did,” Katie continued, “so I looked you up and read your blog too. I see that you and your husband work together, and I was just wondering: Would you ever want to be on a TV show?”

I sat there and thought, Did I just hear that right?

“What about us would you want to show on TV?” I asked.

“Well, we just love how organic it is—that you and your husband work together. Not only do you sell homes, but you also flip and renovate them. We think it’s unique that you’re a husband-and-wife team.” She went on and on, and I finally said, “Well, let me talk to Chip and I’ll get back with you.”

I got with Chip, and he immediately said, “That’s a scam. Don’t call them back.”

I was just skeptical. Back in high school I had some buddies who were always trying to get into modeling. They would go to these “agents” and “casting calls” and then wind up paying some guy $1,000 to take their headshots, and nothing would ever come of it. So, yeah, I thought it was something like that.

Jo really thought we should give them a shot, but I was just like, “Jo, I’m telling you, there’s no way this is legit. We’re gonna meet these people, and they’ll get us all excited thinking they’re gonna make us famous or something, and then say, ‘Oh, by the way, you need to pay us twenty grand.’ ”

I somehow convinced Chip to let me call Katie back. We didn’t have a lot of money just lying around, so I knew there was no way anyone could trick us out of thousands of dollars. (Of course, I knew nothing about that houseboat yet!)

Sure enough, within a couple of weeks Katie sent an entire camera crew to Waco to spend five days filming us for what they called a “sizzle reel”—basically an extended commercial they would put together to try to sell a television series based on the two of us and our little business. They never asked us for any money at all. They were legit, which made us wonder: Why in the world would anyone care to watch us on TV? We don’t even watch TV. These people have to be nuts.

After the crew spent a couple of days with us, they started thinking they might be nuts too. Chip and I were horrible. We were scared of the cameras, which is hilarious because Chip is the most talkative guy I know. But like clockwork, the moment that red light turned on, he froze.

My mouth was all dry and I couldn’t think straight, and Jo was a little dull. They just followed Jo around and tried to make something out of nothing. It was pretty obvious this could not make good television. We were just awful. We really were.

The crew had me stand in my kitchen and try to make pancakes with the kids hanging off of my legs while Chip was basically sucking his thumb over in the corner, and the whole time I was trying to convince the kids not to look into the camera so it would look more “natural.” It certainly didn’t feel natural, and it definitely wasn’t any fun.

On the fourth day, just before the camera crew was scheduled to go home, their top guy pulled us aside and said, “Look, if something doesn’t happen here, there’s no way you guys are getting a show. This just isn’t working.”

We figured we were pretty much done at that point, and it didn’t really bother us at all. The two of us had never imagined we’d be on TV. We’d talked to friends about the kinds of things they watched on “reality TV,” and from what we could tell, none of it seemed like us anyway.

Then something happened. The very next morning, the houseboat arrived. With cameras rolling, Chip put a blindfold on me and drove me to an empty lot by the lake.

With all cameras on me, Chip released the blindfold and said, “Ta-da!”

I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. A shipwreck, maybe? On the back of a semi?

“What is that?” I said.

“I got this for you, Jo!” Chip replied.

“That better not be for me,” I said. It was the ugliest, rundown-looking, two-story shack of a boat I’d ever seen. “What the heck are we going to do with a houseboat?”

“That’s our new home!” Chip said, beaming with pride at his purchase.

“What? You are crazy. We are not living on a houseboat.”

It quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t a joke and Chip wasn’t even close to kidding. I wasn’t mishearing him. He was dead serious about making that boat our home for the next six months.

I just about lost it. “How can we live on the water, Chip? Three of our kids don’t even know how to swim! Did you think this through?!”

Then he fessed up and told me how much money he’d spent on it. As it all sank in, I realized I’d never been so mad at him—ever—and that’s saying something.

“Come on. At least come look at it. I know this can work,” he pleaded.

As soon as we walked a little closer, we could see the holes. Holes. In the boat.

We pulled ourselves up onto the flatbed and went inside to find the interior covered in mold. Someone had taken the AC unit out on top and left a gaping hole in the roof, so for years it had rained straight into the boat. We tried turning the engine over, and of course it didn’t start. That’s when Chip got angry. “I think I got scammed,” he said.

“Chip, did you even look at this thing before you bought it?”

“Well, no,” he said. “It was a great deal, and there were all kinds of pictures. It looked like it was in great shape. Oh, wait a minute. I bet the guy just put up pictures of this thing from when he bought it, like in 1980 or something. That sorry sucker.”