6 Things You Didn't Know About Chip & Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino
The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino.

If you look at just about any non-fiction bestseller list these days, you’re probably going to see The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines (with Mark Dagostino). In fact, the book’s been sitting on those bestseller lists in just about every format since its release in October, 2016. The book sold more than 120,000 copies in its first week, and its publisher, Thomas Nelson, has confirmed the book’s in a third printing with about 400,000 total sales and more than 1 million copies out on shelves. For comparison, those sales numbers put the Gaines’ ahead of John Grisham’s new book, The Whistlerand even Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (though the latter title will likely eclipse them over time, seeing as Pottermania continues to be a force of nature).

If you’re surprised at those numbers, you must not watch a lot of HGTV, where Chip and Joanna Gaines have a TV show called Fixer Upper that is easily the network’s biggest hit, with an estimated total viewership of 25 million once DVR and streaming are taken into account. Launched in 2013, the show was an instant smash due to two compelling reasons: One, the obvious affection, humor, and strong family values of the Gaines’, who spend a lot of time joking and teasing each other or cavorting adorably with their four children; and Two, the simple tweak they’ve put on the “real estate porn” genre. Instead of frantic renovations filled with product placement and flashy design choices, Fixer Upper is focused on affordable (all-in budgets range from $230,000 to $500,000), simple home renovations in the Central Texas area (the couple is based in Waco). Amidst shows that often seem overly concerned with money and “bling,” audiences find the Gaines simpler and more realistic approach refreshing.

This is especially true in the wake of the divorce announcement from another HGTV power couple, Christina and Tarek El Moussa of the show Flip or Flop, or the allegations that the hosts of Love It or List It, Hilary Farr and David Visentin, are not actually a designer and realtor, respectively, but actors (they are actors, but both have worked extensively in design and real estate). Chip and Joanna Gaines are, in contrast, a loving, traditional family who work hard and seem to legitimately care about their community and the people they work with—though they are not without controversy, either.

The Magnolia Story

You’d imagine that a couple with a #1 TV show and a bestselling book would be an open book, but we’re ready to bet there’s a lot you don’t know about them, even if you’re a huge Fixer Upper fan. The Gaines’ have worked hard to protect their private life and their family from too much intrusion from the TV cameras, allowing them to present a unified and carefully managed image to their audience. Nothing wrong with that—it’s just smart career management (and a sanity-preserving tactic in the modern age of 24-7 rumor-mongering on the Internet). Whether you’ve watched every episode or are just finding out about the Gaines’, here are five things we’re pretty sure you don’t know about America’s favorite design/renovation team.

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They’re The American Dream

Chip and Joanna Gaines
Chip and Joanna Gaines. Donna Ward / Getty Images

The Gaines’ look every bit the modern American ideal—and that’s because they are. Joanna was born in Kansas and is of Korean, Herman, and Lebanese descent. Chip was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but grew up in Dallas, Texas. Joanna’s family lived in Waco, Texas and owned an automotive repair shop there. They both graduated from Baylor University (she has a degree in Communications, he has a degree in Marketing). They married shortly after graduating college and have four children, ages seven through eleven, and live in Waco on a farmhouse they bought and renovated as newlyweds. The house sits on 40 acres of working farmland, and has more than sixty animals, including chickens, cows, goats, and horses.

In other words, the Gaines’ are as stereotypically American as they come, a mix of ethnicities who are raising a family and working hard at a business. This is the number one reason (aside from their simple charisma and obvious talent for resurrecting distressed properties) the show is a hit—there’s a simple honesty in their presentation.

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Joanna Was Bullied

Chip & Joanna Gaines
Chip & Joanna Gaines. Rob Kim / Getty Images

Of course, no story is without struggle, and Joanna Gaines has discussed some of the hard times she survived as a kid—specifically being bullied because of her mixed-race background. While it’s sometimes hard to believe that such thinking survives in modern-day America, it’s good to remember that Waco, Texas is a small town, and a family composed of a Korean mother and a German-Lebanese Father is undoubtedly very unusual there. Joanna has been open about her struggles with self-image and self-confidence as a result of those negative experiences.

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They Don’t Own a TV

Yes, despite being huge television stars who have made their fortune from a TV show, the Gaines’ have admitted they don’t own a TV. This pre-dates their celebrity; when they got married, an older couple they were friendly with challenged them to go six months focusing on their marriage instead of TV shows. They wound up enjoying the time so much, they went another six months—and twelve years later they still haven’t gotten around to getting one.

They’ve also stated they won’t get their kids cell phones, because they want their kids to have simpler childhoods—to “go outside and connect with nature, play with your friends and get dirty.”

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Chip’s Started Plenty of Businesses

Chip Gaines loves getting his hands dirty and revving up successful businesses, saying he’s launched more small businesses than he can probably count. These have included a local laundry aimed towards college students, a couple of landscaping companies, and even a fireworks stand. Magnolia Construction—which is a real business based in Waco, and not just something created for the show—is by far his most successful venture.

This doesn’t mean the Gaines’ were always successful—in fact, they’ve admitted that before the show came along, they were pretty much broke. “I remember when we first got married the only money we had was what was in Chip’s pocket,” Joanna says of the time. “If I needed to go grocery shopping it’s whatever was in his pocket.”

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They’re Committed to Waco

A lot of fans want Chip and Joanna Gaines to take their show on the road, literally, and do what a lot of other successful HGTV shows have done: Spin off into other cities. Joanna interned in New York City, where she had her first design awakening, so why not a Fixer Upper special in the Northeast? Or California?

But the Gaines’ have been pretty clear that this isn’t going to happen. “We have an actual construction company in Waco, Texas,” Chip says of the idea. “I’ve been with these folks—our electricians, our plumbers, our carpenters—we’ve got 25 employees that have been with us, at least some of them, since the very beginning. So who we are as a company really stems from our relationships there locally.”

Waco’s not a big city, but it’s not exactly a small town, either, with a central population of about 130,000 and a metro area of 260,000 or so. The Gaines’ run several businesses there, attend church there, and are obviously committed to the city as their home—a refreshingly old-fashioned attitude that helps explain the couples’ appeal. In fact, Chip met Joanna when he took his car in to her father’s repair shop in Waco—after he’d already fallen for her through the photos of her kept in her father’s office, and the couple’s first “fixer upper” project was the very farmhouse they bought as newlyweds in Waco.

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They’re Not Without Controversy

Recently, the Gaines’ have been the subjects of a firestorm of controversy when the website Buzzfeed published a story alleging that the church they attend, Antioch Community Church, is anti-gay. The church, a nondenominational, evangelical “megachurch,” has Jimmy Seibert as its pastor. Seibert has been very clear that the church regards marriage as between one man and one woman, and that homosexuality is a sin—and a choice. In fact, he has openly stated that he has “seen hundreds of people” convert from homosexuality to heterosexuality.

While the Antioch Community Church’s stance on LGBQT rights and same-sex marriage might be boiled down to “hate the sin, love the sinner,” it’s a controversial position for stars of such a popular show—on a network that has historically been very gay-friendly, often featuring same-sex couples house-hunting and renovating on its shows.

Chip and Joanna Gaines haven’t issued any direct statements regarding the revelations, and it is entirely possible they disagree with their pastor on the issue. What they haven’t been shy about is their spirituality. “Our family has made a commitment to put Christ first,” Chip said in a recent interview, calling this “a lifestyle our parents modeled for us very well. They showed us how to keep our marriage and family centered around God.”

Things to Come

What also remains to be seen is how the controversy will effect the ratings of their show—and future book sales. But even if sales drop significantly, The Magnolia Story is already a blockbuster. The bestseller lists are usually filled with thrillers, romances, history texts, and the occasional cook books, making The Magnolia Story a bit of an outlier and a surprise smash. And now that you know a bit more about Chip and Joanna Gaines, it might also be the next book on your own coffee table.