Saying Goodbye to Fixer Upper: A Look Back at Chip and Joanna Gaines' Rise to HGTV Megastardom
See how the HGTV stars became America's sweethearts as their hit series comes to an end
It’s a success story as American as red, white and blue.
Before they became household names, Chip and Joanna Gaines were a contractor and a decorator, respectively, hustling in tiny Waco, Texas, to grow his house-flipping business while she closed her housewares shop to stay home with their four young children. She was the shy one, while Chip’s puckish exuberance was as expansive as the pastures surrounding their 40-acre farm.
“When we mixed our personalities together,” says Joanna, 39, the straight woman to her husband’s class clown, “it created a spark.” That spark ignited their HGTV home-renovation series Fixer Upper in 2013, an instant hit that now draws more than 14.5 million viewers weekly into the Gaineses’ world, filled with cute barnyard animals and even more adorable children.
The show has led to a real estate and retail empire that extends well beyond their beloved Texas, where both grew up and which they swear they will never leave. “All of this sort of fell into our laps,” Chip, 43, told PEOPLE in 2016. “We were just living our life out here in little-bitty Waco. We had dreams and aspirations like most folks, but this has really been something else.”
People’s new special edition, The Best of HGTV, all about our favorite renovation and real estate stars, is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.
So the couple’s announcement in September, two months before the fifth season of Fixer Upper began airing, was shocking: It would be their last. (Fear not, fans: On April 10, HGTV debuts a spinoff series, Fixer Upper: Behind the Design, which examines Joanna’s process in focused, half-hour episodes.)
After four years of filming for 11 months of the year, growing their brand and raising four kids, “I realized the show was demanding time from me, and I needed to be giving it to our business, to our relationship and to my family,” Chip explained. “Our goal wasn’t to be on TV and ride this pony until it died of sheer exhaustion.”
WATCH THIS: Chip and Joanna Gaines Discuss Their Newfound Fame
Said the pair on their blog: “Our plan is to take this time to shore up and strengthen the spots that are weak, rest the places that are tired and give lots of love and attention to both our family and our businesses.” With things going at full tilt for so long, “this just felt like the right time to catch our breath for a bit.”
On Jan. 2 the couple revealed their newest project: Drake, 12, Ella, 11, Duke, 9, and Emmie, 8, will be getting a new sibling, a boy. “Gaines party of 7,” Chip wrote on Instagram. “If you’re still confused . . . WE ARE PREGNANT.” He added on Twitter that their happy news was the result of attending a “little too romantic of a concert” in Waco in October. “One thing led to another,” he wrote. “I could not be more excited!”
Family has always come first for Chip and “Jojo,” as he calls the woman he first encountered working at her father’s tire dealership when he stopped in to get his brakes fixed. Within two years they were married. Despite the traditional trappings, “from day one, when we were dating, I realized he is not going to be put in a box,” says Joanna of her fellow Baylor University grad, who had begun buying properties while still in college. “And if there’s a rule, he’s going to break it.” Or, in Chip’s words, “I’ve got Peter Pan syndrome. I love building businesses; I want to be a good husband, a good father. But I don’t want to be boring. I don’t want to be normal.”
Yet behind the on-air antics, the frequent hair checks and the childlike excitement he displays on demolition day, is an astute mind for building a brand that goes well beyond TV.
While their real estate business was growing to include a mini neighborhood of 38 custom-built villas (all sold) and completely booked luxury B&B vacation rentals, the Gaineses have made “shiplap” the hottest trend in home decor and have single-handedly transformed Waco into a tourist destination.
Forty thousand a week visit their retail compound the Magnolia Market at the Silos, which includes a home store, bakery, garden center, and a new restaurant. There are bestselling books; rug, paint and wallpaper lines; and products for Target.
Fixer Upper, Chip explained, has “been a dream. But for us, being on TV was never the end-all.” Leaving it behind, he says, is “scary but also thrilling. If we turn off the television, does it also turn off all these other opportunities? We have a funny feeling that it’s going to go the exact opposite.”
It’s worth the risk, say the pair. “Jo and I didn’t want to find ourselves years from now realizing there were warning signs letting us know we were exhausted,” Chip told PEOPLE. In the end the decision came down to the kids. “They would ask, ‘Mom and Dad, do you guys have to film again today?’ ” he said. “ ‘Can’t we just have a picnic? Does the film crew have to be there?’ ” Added Joanna, “The kids were so young when we started. Fast-forward to today, and our oldest is almost a teenager—they’re all growing up so quickly.”
So instead of smiling for cameras, they’ll now retreat to their 3,600-sq.-ft. farmhouse in Crawford, just outside Waco, with its welcoming front porch and miles of white shiplap and the subway tiles that Joanna has used in more than a few Fixer Upper kitchens. They start every day with coffee together on that porch, but don’t think they’re settling into rocking chairs forever. “We’re entrepreneurs at heart,” Joanna says. “So we’ll always be looking forward to what’s next.”
See much more from Chip and Jo, including their all-time favorite Fixer Upper makeovers and Joanna’s decorating necessities in The Best of HGTV issue, out now.