When Chip and Joanna Gaines announced in 2017 that they had made the "bittersweet" decision to end their hit HGTV show, Fixer Upper, fans were at a loss.
Why? was the overarching question, especially because the couple and their sprawling Magnolia empire—which was expanding at a rapid clip—were so popular. And, though it seemed like they'd been restoring shiplap, commissioning hand-forged iron work and relishing demo day for forever, they had only been on the air since 2013. They couldn't be tired of their routine already...
But more importantly, they weren't tired of each other...
As it turned out, Chip and Joanna had arrived at a point where they did need to do a little refurbishment on the home front, and tending to their relationship and their four kids unequivocally outweighed the prospect of spending countless more hours in front of the cameras. It's not as if they didn't have a dozen other irons in the fire anyway, but those—from their Magnolia Journal quarterly to their Target line of housewares—could be dealt with, and responsibilities delegated, in a less public fashion.
"I'll give [viewers] a little credence. There is always 'What's next?' And for us, the most important thing in the world is Jo and I's relationship, followed very quickly by these four beautiful kids," Chip told Today's Savannah Guthrie. "And we didn't want to push it, red line it, for so long that we woke up and realized, we are at a point of no return. So, we wanted to take a step back and focus on the thing that was absolutely the most important thing to us in the world, which is Jo and I's relationship."
However, they assured folks, their personal foundation was sound.
"When you put yourself out in the public light like this, people are going to speculate like this and we have had our fair share of that, but Jo and I are just as happy as we have ever been," Chip told E! News in October 2017, after the shocked caused by their sudden announcement had died down (a little).
Added Joanna, "I think it seems weird to kind of leave on a high note. I think for people, there has got to be a negative reason to that. I think that is not always how life has to be. I think for us we felt that season five was just the perfect end to this beautiful chapter, but really the 'why' is time, you know?"
And they proceeded to make the most of their less-packed schedule.
When the final episode of Fixer Upper aired on April 3, 2018, they were two months away from welcoming their fifth child and they were more than content with the latest twist in their lives.
"If you would have told me that I'd end this season of the show pregnant with our fifth baby, I would've laughed," Joanna wrote on their Magnolia website blog. "Like the entire Fixer Upper opportunity as a whole, life has a way of surprising us. With our little ones getting bigger, we had this gut feeling that it was time to step back and focus on them and our businesses here in Waco, Texas. And although that's why we thought we decided to step away from the show, we now realize with this little one on the way that there was a bigger plan in place for us all along."
Crew Gaines was born last June, joining Drake, 14; Ella, 13; Duke, 11; and Emmie Kay, 9—and rather than tip the scales into utter exhaustion mode, Joanna said having a new baby in the house gave her "an extra kick" in her step.
"It woke me up a little bit," she told People in October. "Life was doing its thing, and this baby—typically you feel tired, but this baby, he's just like my second wind."
She and Chip were "just really enjoying this sweet season with a newborn and going to the office every day doing the things that we love."
Their booming Waco, Texas-centered business benefited from that extra burst of energy, too. Since shutting down Fixer Upper, the Gaineses have, in addition to growing their family (and that menagerie of animals they keep on their 40-acre farm), launched a Magnolia Home collaboration with Anthropologie; they're planning to expand the foodie arm of their business, which already includes their Silos Baking Co. and Magnolia Table restaurant, with a new coffee shop; and they recently purchased the 100-year-old Cottonland Castle in Waco to restore it to glory. Plus, right after the show ended, Joanna released her first cookbook, Magnolia Table, her second children's clothing line with Matilda Jane, this one including items for boys, and a children's book, We Are the Gardeners.
And, for all to enjoy from the comfort of home and phones next year no matter where you are, they're working on launching a whole new multi-platform network with Discovery.
"Our intention with this network is to create and curate content that inspires, encourages, and helps to build bridges across our communities," the pair said in a statement when their impending return to cable was officially announced in April. "We want honest, authentic programming that brings families together."
Their network and TV Everywhere app are due to debut in the summer of 2020, with a subscription streaming service to come.
Also in 2019, a year after their show ended, Chip and Joanna Gaines made TIME's 100 Most Influential People list and hobnobbed at the annual black-tie gala with the likes of Julianne Moore and Taylor Swift—who's been known to binge a Fixer Upper marathon on occasion. And, they were hired to help renovate Jennifer Lopez's $6.6 million home in Malibu—which Alex Rodriguez had to carefully coordinate as a surprise for his fiancée because the Gaineses rarely ply their trade outside of Waco.
So it's not as if they didn't want to be busy when they pulled the plug on what was HGTV's No. 1-rated show at the time. Rather, they just wanted to be busy on their own terms again.
They wouldn't trade their origin story for anything, but like any venture that turns out to be successful beyond one's wildest dreams, the brand became bigger than them, and playing goofy "Chip" and sensible "Jo" on Fixer Upper eventually took its toll.
"[T]he more staged something becomes, or the more required something becomes, it boxes me up, and I felt like toward the end of the Fixer Upper journey, I felt caged, trapped," Chip Gaines told Cowboys & Indians magazine for its January 2019 issue. "Jo and I couldn't figure it out. I mean, why? You're getting to have all this fun, right? But it's like if I put a camera in your face and said, 'Hey, say something funny.' Or if I put a camera in your face and said, 'Hey, be smart.' I just struggled with that environment. Especially at the end of it.
"At the beginning, it was so fun. The first three years of Fixer Upper were some of the best years of my life," he continued. "The last two years, not that we don't look back on them fondly, but they were more of a job. So, something about breaking out of that has been liberating. Jo and I are both just kinda giddy, just like, 'Man, what's the future look like and what's the next step?' Because we're both business people, and that's fundamentally who we are."
Their endlessly surprising 2017 began with, not a whimper, but perhaps a tired sigh.
2016 had been one of those years where the more exasperating side of fame had bared itself to Chip and Joanna in the form of lawsuits, backlash related to the pastor at their church, and the general poking-of-holes in the glossy Fixer Upper facade when some started to inevitably question just how real their show really was.
"This living out loud thing is not for the faint of heart," Chip wrote on their website on Jan. 2, 2017, calling it a "New Year's Revelation." "Jo and I don't want to hide, we want to live brave & bold lives and we wish that same thing for you as well. But words can cut deep and having someone misunderstand your intentions can hurt as much as just about anything. If I misjudge people and am wrong, I want to be wrong having assumed the best about them. The bottom line is, I would rather be loving than be right."
When they announced that September that the fifth season of Fixer Upper would be their last, the Gaineses acknowledged that they needed time to recharge, because going from locally esteemed but nearly broke house flippers and shop owners to household names and wealthy business moguls had been a drain on their battery.
"We would be foolish to think we can go and go and fire on all cylinders and never stop to pause," they stated at the time. "Our family is healthy and our marriage has honestly never been stronger. This has nothing to do with a fraudulent skincare line or anything else you'll inevitably read. This is just us recognizing that we need to catch our breath for a moment. 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."
"The way we kind of ebb and flow with life is just these gut instincts," Joanna explained on Steve Forbes' What's Ahead podcast in April, "and just kind of being in tune to what we feel like is right for our family. And sometimes those decisions, you think, 'is this right or is this'—you hear everyone say, 'No, no, no, you need to stay doing this.'"
And she had experience with going out on top, or at least on the rise, having shuttered the original Magnolia, the first boutique she and Chip had in Waco, barely two years after it opened. But, she just knew it was the right thing for her to do.
"In March of 2006 we sold off everything—the inventor, the displays, even the cash register. And it was hard," she recalled in their 2016 memoir The Magnolia Story.
They almost sold the painstakingly renovated building, too, but—divine providence once again—all the deals fell through and it remained their headquarters-in-waiting for the next business venture to come. And, sure enough, they reopened the store in 2014.
"Right behind [their kids' school] were these two massive silos...and I thought, literally within [an instant]—I drove past it and I had this tug, saying, 'Go back. I want you to park and look at it,'" Joanna remembered her aha moment to Forbes last month. "So I go back, and I stare at it, and it all kind of got downloaded, and I saw it. I saw what the Silos is today."
And so the seed for Magnolia Market at the Silos was planted, as well as what became a variety of local businesses with international reach.
But not even their mega-celebrity status, with the famous fan base that comes with it, has altered their priorities one bit. Family, faith, giving back to other families and their community remain at the top while they explore new ventures and shore up the ones they've got.
Looking back to when she closed her first business, Joanna said it coincided with the realization that she didn't know why she was working so hard to have a picture-perfect life—epitomized by a spotless white couch in their living room that the kids couldn't comfortably act like kids around—when a facade isn't what makes for a happy home.
"I think when I got to the core of it, you know that 'why' was missing," she told Forbes. "So for me, now, it's creating these beautiful moments with these kids. And perfection, which used to be this thing I chased, because it's beautiful, it's hard to get, something about it"—"other people will notice it and think something about us," Chip added—"yeah, what is that?" Joanna agreed.
"That was really appealing to me," she reflected, "but in that moment that kind of all fell off and...I hated it. I thought, you know, that is such a lie, and for me to chase that even for two years was such a waste. It felt empty. And so I finally started decorating, I finally started mothering out of this place of knowing my 'why,' knowing why I'm here. I'm trying to help people in their homes, I want to help them allow their kids to thrive. I saw my kids not thriving in that moment—well what am I doing all this for?"
While they couldn't have imagined where that simple intention would take them, they've arrived back at the same place, emotionally and spiritually.
And now that Chip and Joanna, who are celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary Friday (and first as parents of five), have weathered a journey that's left other couples retreating to separate corners, they're committed more than ever to taking this wild ride together.
They continue to acknowledge that the 24/7 togetherness that their professional and private lives continue to require isn't for everybody. But it's still everything for them.
"There's an old adage that's like, 'you hurt the people that you love the most,'" Chip said on What's Ahead last month. "And there's some odd truth to that, and for some reason Jo and I, real early on in our marriage, we had some conflict and it was probably around not having any money, or that little renovation we were working on together...but I remember pretty vividly, as we were fighting against each other, trying to figure out whose fault it was that we were in this particular predicament, it became so clear to me that there was no net benefit to either one of us to constantly try to work things out in that way."
"We flipped that on its ear and we were like, 'no matter what comes our way, it's you and me versus the world, essentially.' So if there's a renovation that goes over budget, as opposed to us figuring out who bought the paint and why didn't the carpet happen exactly the way we thought, we would come together and say, 'How is it we're going to resolve this issue that we're in?'"
Chip concluded, "I would encourage couples that that's the secret to our success, is just to pull for one another. At the end of the day, Jo and I care about each other. We care about each other's hearts, we care about each other's souls. We care that each other are taken care of, and are healthy and successful. And when you kind of put those fundamentals in place, it makes a lot of this other stuff feel a little less relevant.
"It's not the end of the world. If we've got money, it's she and I. If we don't have any money, it's she and I. It makes things a little less life or death."
"And it makes us want to tackle big things," Joanna added, "whether it be a network or a magazine. It makes us go, 'hey, it's us against that, let's try it.'"