NEW YORK — With all the joking and hamming for the camera that Chip Gaines does on "Fixer Upper," it's hard to believe that he initially was the shy half of the husband-and-wife duo that's garnered huge fans and ratings for HGTV.
"He was scared of the camera at first where it was a real phobia," said Joanna, who plays the Abbott to Chip's Costello. "He would freeze up and then he would have to exit, and it would just be me."
To say that edge wore off is an understatement __ he once got so comfortable that he ate a dead cockroach, just to prove he would. Joanna responded with a mix of shock, humor and disgust, and he drew plenty of laughs, including from viewers.
It's the combination of humor, love and chemistry between Chip and Joanna that have made the Waco, Texas-based home improvement show one of HGTV's most popular shows — its recent season finale was the fifth highest broadcast in the network's history. As the name suggests, "Fixer Upper" has the couple taking a subpar home and remaking it into a dream house thanks to Joanna's designs and Chip's carpentry work. Devoted watchers now know all about Joanna's love of shiplap (wide-wooden board siding), their four kids, and even the carpenters they use.
"We love seeing the transformations. It inspires us to see the potential in our own home," said Tara Melodick, of Toms River, New Jersey. "(They) have such great chemistry. They really seem to love each other and love what they do. How many people get to make a living doing what they love most, with the person they love most?"
Even celebrities tune in.
"Ryan Reynolds has tweeted out at us a few times and Scott Foley and his beautiful wife watch the show and every now and then live tweet with us so we've become, you know, Twitter friends with these folks. It's really been something else, I mean very surreal," said Chip.
The Gaines' are expanding their business. Besides their real estate and construction business and "Fixer Upper," there's a home line with paint and rugs, a Magnolia Market store located at silos in Waco, which they recently renovated for retail and a gathering space, plus a bed and breakfast called Magnolia House in McGregor, Texas.
A book called "Magnolia Story" is scheduled for release this fall.
Other tidbits from the Gaineses:
HOW THEIR MARRIAGE TURNED INTO A HOME RENOVATION PARTNERSHIP:
Joanna: When we were dating, Chip was doing the whole real estate (thing). He was renovating homes and so I would just come along with him and watch what he did. (The) first year of marriage, we just started partnering together, so honestly, we don't know it any other way. ... We always have to be kind of together on these projects. I need to get his input, he needs me and I think we figure out a way to balance it all out.
WHY ARE THEIR KIDS SO WELL BEHAVED?
Chip: Lots and lots of editing. They are great kids. We try to watch them really closely because obviously they didn't ask for any of this, they're just kids. Our oldest is 11 and youngest is six and it's been now, almost four years, 3 1/2 years that we've been doing this. ... Once that van rolls in the kids get geeked out because they know there's all these snacks that these guys basically house in the back of these vans. All four of our kids just run to it like it's Christmas morning.
HOW LONG DOES A HOME RENOVATION REALLY TAKE?
Joanna: Depends on a house. Right now we're working on seven homes for season four ... so the smaller homes we'll have done in eight weeks and the larger projects will be 12 weeks. It's definitely expedited, because in our business at home, generally it takes 4-6 months for any larger renovation.
DO CLIENTS PAY FOR THE FURNITURE?
Joanna: It all depends on the client and their budget. Our show features real clients with real budgets. The furniture budget is not part of the renovation budget, it's something some clients add at the end. About half of our clients already have all their own furnishings, some of which I use for the reveal, and others buy the items I decorate the home with. The main reason I decorate the rooms for the reveal is because I want the clients to get the full picture of how to maximize their newly renovated space.
WILL THEY EVER LEAVE WACO?
Joanna: Every day we get an email, "Come to Florida or come to New York." As much as we'd love to, with our children being so young, we've decided to stay in the Central Texas area so we're close to home. But, later, when they're off to college I think we'd love to take our show on the road.