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I watched ‘Fixer Upper’ for the first time and this is what I thought

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A Curbed editor watches the show for the first time—on finale night

A man and a woman stand in front of a fireplace flanked by a tall built-in bookcase.
Chip and Joanna Gaines show off their latest renovation.
Photos courtesy of HGTV

As an editor at a website about all things related to the home, I had never watched a single episode of Fixer Upper, the uber-popular HGTV series hosted by married couple Chip and Joanna Gaines and set in Waco, Texas. So with the show coming to a close after five seasons, what better time than now to do so?

I started with ... the end and watched the series finale, which didn’t feel momentous at all. Just another day for the Gaineses! Like all makeover shows, this one followed the same formula, and I was expecting a little more. But is that even fair to ask? Perhaps it’s reality television’s predictability that keeps bringing viewers back to the reseeded yard.

Or maybe it’s Chip’s winning personality? Say what you will about the guy, but I liked his energy, man! Especially when he air-guitared all over the place to prove his mettle to the episode’s subjects, rocker Mike Herrera, the frontman of punk band MxPx, and his wife Holli, a Texan, who were relocating the fam from Washington state to, yes, Waco. Punk no longer, eh?

Which brings me to Joanna, arguably the face of the entire Magnolia enterprise. She seemed a little low-energy, but I still dug her vibe. Down-to-earth, patient with her man-child husband, and, most importantly, decisive about her vision. And after five seasons of home renovations—which we all know are not walks in the park—done in the sweltering Texan heat, who can blame her?


So the budget for Mike and Holli, who have two kids, was $300,000. That included the cost of the new house and the renovations, which was kind of shocking to me in how low that seemed, but I suppose it is true that everything’s bigger in Texas, including what you can get for your hard-earned cash. They wanted an older house that could also accommodate a recording studio for the punkmaster.

The first of three houses they looked at was a five-bedroom-two-bath for $110,000. That left $190,000 for the reno, which seemed incongruous? Why not just buy a new house for that money instead of adding value to a home that isn’t worth the cost of the reno? In any case, they passed on it.

They passed on the second one, too, which was a three-bed-two-bath for $95,000. $95,000! Does that even cover the cost of the materials to build the house in the first place? Anyway, they didn’t even go inside because the bright yellow paint job, ominous metal fence, and concrete “yard” were enough to turn them right around. I liked it. And with a $210,000 renovation budget, they could have easily replaced all three eyesores a million times over. But what do I know.

The third house, which, spoiler alert, is the one they chose, was a 1910-built three-bed-two-bath measuring 1,924 square feet (significantly larger than the other two) with an asking price of $125,000. Walking in felt like a breath of fresh air: tall ceilings, molding, window trim, baseboards, and, above all, great proportions.

The new living room.
Jennifer Boomer/Verbatim Photo Agency courtesy of HGTV

I liked how, as soon as they got inside, Joanna already knew what she was going to do: move the walls, open up the space, redo the floors, all new light fixtures, and so on. It was like she was narrating the renovation in real time. Good instincts, Joanna!

Out on the front porch, Chip asked what they thought of the house. “I honestly don’t even think we have to think about it,” Holli said. “This just feels like home.” Bam! How many times have those very words been uttered in the history of Fixer Upper?

Chip wanted to take an aggressive stand with the offer, so he put in a lowball offer of between $95,000 and $110,000. They purchased the house for $110,000, leaving $190,000 for the reno. Still a lot of money. But as Joanna noted, old houses often have expensive surprises. And sure enough, there were plenty.

On demo day, which I can tell is Chip’s favorite day, the little caravan of towheaded Gaines children came to help. The good news was that they found old shiplap walls behind the new ones. The bad news was that a lot of it had been eaten up by termites. And some of the basic structural elements were poorly done.

“We’re spending so much money building this house the way it should be that our budget’s about to be shot,” Chip said. “This is very frustrating,” Joanna sighed. Maybe they should have gotten an inspection?

But ever the optimists, they knew they could make it work. “The good thing about catching stuff like this early on is that it really sets my expectations for design and budget,” Joanna said. “We just manage the budget but we also still try to implement beautiful design. That’s the balance that I love the most.” Hear! Hear!

The “beyond” kitchen.
Jennifer Boomer/Verbatim Photo Agency courtesy of HGTV

Fast forward to the reveal of the “modern industrial farm”-inspired house, which came together pretty nicely. There was an abundance of shiplap, which I personally don’t care for, as it makes the interiors look rough-hewn and shoddy. Maybe that’s where the “farmhouse” part comes in.

But the only truly cringeworthy element of the new design was a very large metal board bearing the lyrics of a song that Mike wrote for Holli during their early days of dating that Joanna thought would add a personal touch to the dining room. Just, no. But Mike and Holli liked it and even got a little emotional seeing it, which is all that matters, really.

If I’m being nitpicky, I also didn’t love what they did to the living room. It was all shiplap walls, with a large built-in bookshelf painted a dark blue and dressed in decorative books. An old fireplace mantel was moved from another room and slapped on to this section—and looked it. This particular wall looked like some hotel chain’s idea of what a cool, moody library would look like. But the rest of the living room looked comfortable and inviting.

The kitchen, on the other hand, turned out great. “This is just beyond. This is beyond!” Holli exclaimed. A subway tile backsplash (in a herringbone pattern behind the stove), dark cabinets, white counters, shiplap ceiling, large island—all of the things. The master suite and bathroom (concrete counter and marble tiles, nice) were also well done, as was the little girl’s room painted in a pink ombre that I wouldn’t mind for myself.

The transformation of the garage into a music studio for Mike wasn’t too shabby either. An acoustic wall made of cut blocks was a cool touch that the homeowners appreciated. I warmed up to it.

All in, the renovation cost $175,000, leaving the project $15,000 under budget, which I thought was pretty impressive. Would I decorate my theoretical fixer upper like this? Why not. Did I learn valuable lessons about construction, design, and how much work it takes to make a house a home? Yes. And what about those Gaineses? I feel like I’ve made two new friends.