On the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” — you might have heard of it — Chip Gaines is often gently chided by his wife, Joanna, for … well not always making the smartest decisions. Whether it’s walking across a floor of uncertain stability, eating a cockroach or bringing another animal home to the farm, Chip always manages to find a way to earn a roll of the eyes from his wife while also endearing himself to her.
In his new book, “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff,” which will be released October 17, Chip opens up about the really dumb things he’s done in his life, things that not only upset Joanna but put him in legitimate life-and-death situations.
“I’ve literally and figuratively fallen on my face more than once,” Chip said. “For every good decision, there were a few bad ones mixed in. Of course, it all ended up being worth it for various reasons, not the least of which being that it made for a pretty great story.”
And the book is full of stories about Chip’s less-than-stellar decision-making, from an ill-advised trip to Mexico to an ATV wreck — complete with a stick-figure illustration of the accident — that nearly killed him shortly after he became a father for the first time.
Honestly, back in my twenties, the only thing I would have felt after surviving that crash was pride. Sheer, unabashed Texas pride. But I felt something different as I left the hospital that day. After looking into Jo’s tear-filled eyes and staring at my beautiful son in his car seat, I felt…stupid.
“The book is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and these thoughts have been in my head for years,” he said. “Once the pen hit the paper, I was off and running. When it’s your own story, it surely comes a lot easier. Reminiscing is a lot quicker than researching.”
“Capital Gaines” isn’t Chip’s first foray into writing. He and Joanna co-wrote, along with Mark Dagostino, “The Magnolia Story,” which debuted at the top of three categories on The New York Times best-seller list on November 6, 2016.
“‘The Magnolia Story’ is really about how Jo and I started this thing and how Magnolia came to be, so to speak,” Chip said. “For this book, I wanted to encourage entrepreneurs — anyone, really — who have interests they’re hesitant to pursue. I think everybody needs somebody to say, ‘It’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes, keep your head up and, most importantly, stay in the game and try again.’”
Chip said he didn’t use a ghostwriter for the book but did credit his wife for “remembering details and reminding me of things from 10 or 15 years ago that I have forgotten. She may not have technically been a co-author on this one, but she was by my side from start to finish. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Chip — who says in the book that he didn’t learn the alphabet until midway through first grade — did most of the writing on the book on the back porch of the family’s farmhouse, usually early in the morning.
“There’s something so calm and at the same time so energizing about being up before the sun,” he said. “The farm really served this purpose well for me.”
Still, it was a trip to California that he and Joanna took that helped propel him to the end of the writing process.
“We went to Napa for a few days this summer, and it was just what I needed to get this thing across the finish line,” Chip said. “There’s something special about surrounding yourself with people you love in a beautiful place that allows you to really clear your head, reflect and focus.”
Chip devotes four pages of “Capital Gaines” to the process of choosing the cover photo of the book, which, he admits, not many people liked. There were three photos that were contenders to be on the cover, he writes, and he allowed employees, visitors to his office and even the FedEx delivery guy to vote on which one should be used. The voting wasn’t close.
It’s very important to take other people’s opinions into consideration. It’s crucial, even. You can’t operate in a vacuum. But in the end, it’s your life. It’s your work. The conclusions you come to ultimately reflect you, and it’s critical that it reflects you honestly.
Now that the book is finished and set for release, Chip is back at work helping oversee several ventures in addition to Magnolia Market at the Silos and the TV show. Chip and Joanna recently announced a partnership with Target — Hearth & Hand with Magnolia — that allows the couple to work “with a retailer to create a collection that could reach more people at a more affordable price point,” Joanna said in a Target news release on September 12.
They also recently opened Hillcrest Estate, a second vacation rental home to go along with Magnolia House, a rental space in McGregor that began accepting guests in 2015. Hillcrest Estate was booked for months out about 45 minutes after reservations became available. The same thing happened with Magnolia House.
“It’s not something we ever expect,” Chip said. “With Hillcrest Estate, similar to the Magnolia House, our hope was that friends and families from all over could come to Waco and make lasting memories. [Hillcrest] was a fun one because it’s a house Jo and I had admired for years. But the ability for us to go in there, fix it up and provide visitors with a home away from home in Waco is something we’re really proud of.”
And there’s Magnolia Table, a breakfast restaurant that will be located on The Circle in the former Elite Café building.
“A few more months and we should be ready to open up,” Chip said. “Lately, Jo has been spending a lot of time doing what she does best. She’s been finalizing every design detail, everything from choosing finishes, textures and paint colors to designing the tables, chairs, tiling and light fixtures. As is the case for any construction project, there have been a few setbacks along the way, but we’re on the home stretch. We really want this restaurant to both honor Waco’s past and bring a new sense of optimism for the future.”
In “Capital Gaines,” Chip writes about the day he knew he was going to become an entrepreneur, and it all started with him staring out of a classroom window during a business class at Baylor University, watching a man mow the grass. He then had a conversation with the owner of the landscaping company.
That was the very moment when I finally knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life, what I felt truly passionate about – not necessarily lawn care, but dreaming up and starting businesses. It was that day I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur.
The vacation rentals, the restaurant, the marketplace, all of this is taking place, of course, in addition to continuing production on “Fixer Upper.” The show that propelled Joanna and Chip into the national spotlight is consistently one of HGTV’s most-watched shows, with episodes on the network’s schedule several days each week.
The show resonates with people, Chip said, because “Jo and I are just regular people. Nothing has come easy for us. I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to. This all really does seem like one of those American dream stories you hear about growing up. But we love each other, we put our family first, we work hard, and we’re passionate about what we do.”
The popularity of the show and the quick rise to fame caught the couple off-guard, Chip said, and it’s taken time to adjust.
“To some extent, this all kind of fell into our laps out of nowhere. This living out loud thing certainly takes some getting used to,” he said. “We’ve learned words can hurt and that someone misunderstanding your intentions is something you never get used to. But Jo and I had to accept the fact that no matter what, we can’t please everyone and that’s OK.”
And before the show was in existence, not everything that Chip and Joanna attempted worked out exactly as planned.
“About a decade ago, as you might remember, Jo and I were preparing to build a residential development,” Chip said. “It was the largest investment we’d ever made, and we found ourselves fantasizing about a concept we were admittedly unfamiliar with. Like everything else we do, we jumped in with both feet. But that was around the time of the national housing crisis, which also slowed things here in town. We had days and weeks and even months where we honestly didn’t think we were going to make it, but the lesson we learned in perseverance was worth a million dollars. The lessons learned from challenging circumstances like those are the ones that stay with you forever.”
Between Jo and me, we’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Riding out the turbulence, even living through a few nosedives, has allowed us to see that fear isn’t part of how we’re willing to live our lives. We’ve experienced some of what people deem as the ‘worst possible scenarios’ together, and we’ve come out on the other side.
Despite the occasional hurtful words, Chip said he and Joanna are still having fun, “and I hope that comes across in everything that we do. The bottom line is that we genuinely love what we do and who we do it with. It doesn’t get much better than that.”