Renovation Revelations: Former “Fixer Upper” Contestants Tell All About Their Experience On The Show
During its run from 2013 to 2018, the hit renovation reality show “Fixer Upper” did a lot of heavy lifting. The show followed power couple Joanna and Chip Gaines as they revamped, reworked, and remodeled properties on behalf of hopeful homeowners. The “farmhouse chic” style frequently utilized in the pair’s designs became a nationwide phenomenon.
Chip and Joanna not only revitalized homes but a general interest in Waco, Texas, where the show was filmed. Of course, every reality TV show has its fair share of behind-the-scenes secrets, and Fixer Upper is no exception. We’ve rounded up ten revelations about the show offered by former cast members that you might have missed.
A Done Deal
In Fixer Upper, each episode starts with a new couple choosing between three properties. Whichever home the couple chooses gets the Magnolia treatment. However, most of the time, the house show was just that—a story.
One of the former cast members, David Ridley, admitted that he’d had his eyes on his house long before the cameras started rolling. Lindy Ermoian also revealed that she had already purchased her property in advance—from her parents—and that despite her amazement on camera, it was actually her grandmother’s home.
Like any TV show, Fixer Upper ran on a tight schedule. Former cast members Jeff and Sara didn’t just show up every couple of days to chat. All their reactions and conversations were filmed in a single day in a process the couple described as “exhausting.”
The couple had to take some time off work to get all the shots the producers needed. Not only was the filming process done quickly, but the work on the house as well. Renovations on Sara and Jeff’s house only took three months to complete—that’s fast!
Only For Show
Couples don’t get to keep all the stuff shown in the big reveal at the end of the episode. A lot of the furniture you see during the big reveal is “staging furniture.” If the couples wanted some of the tables or chairs after the cameras stopped rolling, they would have to pay extra.
Some of the staged furniture was “taken from the designer’s house,” meaning Joanne fluffed some of the shots with her own belongings. Some custom-made items were given throughout the show’s run. Couple Jeff and Sara were gifted a few items for their music room.
While this practice is nothing new, it’s something the couples cast on Fixer Upper experienced multiple times during filming. Besides the house showings at the beginning of each episode, most of the cast’s on-camera reactions were genuine.
However, many lines had to be re recorded, either because the director thought they should be delivered differently or because they hadn’t quite captured the line on the microphones. This meant cast members had to recreate conversations they’d had minutes or hours earlier.
Couples who appeared on the show as clients had an average budget of around $280,000. Before going on, the couples were told they would need to spend upwards of $30,000 on renovations. True to their word, Chip and Joanna always stayed on budget.
Apparently, some of the show’s applicants don’t make the cut because Fixer Upper’s scouts can’t find “enough wrong” with their house. This does make sense—it’s a show about house renovation and restoration. You can’t fix something if it isn’t broken after all.
Working With The Gaines
What was it like being on the show? The show’s producers forbade the couples from visiting their homes until the work on their house was complete. But that didn’t mean the couples were allowed to move on the day of the big reveal.
There were always inspections and finishing touches to take care of before the keys changed hands. Additionally, the couples rarely communicated with Joanna or Chip outside of filming. Instead, they spoke to the Gaines’ team of designers while renovations were taking place.
The Design Process
Although the show implied that the finished product would be more or less a mystery to the couples, this was not the case. The Magnolia designers deferred much of their decision-making to their clients and would frequently reach out to them for feedback.
Lindy Ermoian said of the design team, “they really seemed like they wanted to please us.” The Magnolia designers even worked with Lindy’s nephew, an architect, in designing the house’s master bathroom suite.
From Start To Finish
Before renovations began, Joanne liked to get a feel for her clients, who were asked to set up a Pinterest board before the design process got underway. Then, Joanne would take inspiration and hone in on an image or detail on the board.
Chip and Joanna were always very detail-oriented when it came to adding finishing touches, even for items the cameras would miss. From hidden spice racks to door trims, every inch of the house was meticulously fine-tuned for its new owners.
The Real Chip
According to former cast members, Chip was about as loopy off-camera as he is on camera. Jaime Fergusson described him as “100% a goofball.” A lot of his antics were cut from the show because everyone would crack up laughing.
Apparently, Chip cracked more jokes than holes in walls. When the cameras were off, he very rarely did much physical labor —at least not the heavy outside stuff, according to Lindy. It’s probably for the best—laughter and construction equipment don’t often mix well.
It’s All About The Gaines
According to many of the show’s former cast, a lot of special scenes were cut from the show. One of the Gaines’ clients, Chris, played a song for his wife in the new music room at the end of their tour. This song was even incorporated into an ornament for the room.
But his serenade never made the cut in their episode, which surprised Chris and his wife, Lindy. Ultimately, it’s a show about the Gaines—it’s all about what—or who—draws the views. People watch the show for Chip and Joanna, and there is only so much time per episode to devote to anyone else.
Reactions are Sometimes Staged
It’s no secret that not everything you see in reality is, in fact, real. To make the show engaging enough to watch, producers do have to stage some scenes. In the show, some reactions to houses are staged for dramatic effect.
Sometimes, they would bring in homes that are the exact opposite of what clients were looking for. These instances are staged for a reason: to get a dramatic reaction. Audiences like seeing the shock on clients’ faces when they are presented with a home that is not what they wanted.You can’t trust everything you see on T.V.
Chip doesn’t do much manual labor
Many clients from the show note that Chip does very little of the manual labor. Rather, the Gaines have a huge team of designers and contractors that tear the house down to build them back up again.
Some people have expressed frustration at the amount of work the show portrays Chip doing in the show because this is not the case off-camera. Still, Chip and Joanna work hard to create the dream homes we see on T.V.
The homes are still flawless
A blogger interviewed a couple from the show that was very happy with their home. They explained that it was obvious the Gaines were incredibly busy with their many projects across Waco, Texas.
While they agreed that Chip does not do as much manual labor as is portrayed on the show, it didn’t bother them because their home was still flawless. They commented, “Chip Gaines may not have driven every nail, but you would be hard-pressed to find a single flaw in our home”.
They didn’t renovate every room
While it appears on T.V. that the Gaines transform the entire home, this was not always the case. They were working on tight schedules that did not allow for them to make extreme changes to each room of the house.
The show makes it appear differently, obviously. The rooms they usually renovated included the living room, kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and potentially a kid’s room. For any other renovations, the home owners had to make other arrangements themselves.
Some lucky clients got the whole house
While time and budget put restraints on many of their projects, the Gaines did do entire renovations on a select few homes. Jaonna explained in an interview that if they had the budget to work on the entire house they would do it.
In these cases they would work on the additional spaces after the reveal. These projects are separate from the budget shown on T.V.
The Gaines weren’t T.V. naturals
When the Gaines were first approached to do the HGTV show, they thought it was actually a joke. And when they started the show, they were not naturals on-screen. Joanna said “Chip and I were horrible”.
They had difficulty being themselves on camera. They did warm up eventually and were able to show their humorous selves on screen.
Some of the staging isn’t real
While the homes always appear to be beautifully furnished on-screen, they are not always as they appear. Producers actually use virtual editing to make the homes look like the “dream homes” of their clients.
They’ve added couches and tables in post to make it look like the house is fully furnished. In some cases, the production team even added in painted grass to make the yard look more lush and green. You can’t believe everything you see.
One couple was very upset
Most of the clients on Fixer Upper are very happy with the outcome of their home. Of course, the Gaines and the HGTV production want to make a great show, but they also want to make their clients happy. However, one couple in particular was very upset with their experience.
Ken and Kelly Downs from season 3 felt they were misled about the safety of the neighborhood when a car drove into their home one night. They found that there was a ton of commotion from the bars in the area and it wasn’t the quaint quiet place that they had been led to believe it was.
Chip got sued
Joanna and Chip owned Magnolia Real Estate Company long before their show with HGTV. Chip bought out his partners to assume full ownership of the company himself once he signed the television deal with HGTV.
His former partners filed a lawsuit against him because they felt he kept them in the dark about the T.V. deal. One former partner stated, “There was a sense of betrayal and frustration. Once I had sold him my interest in the company… I never heard from him again”.
People rent out their homes to fans
The Gaines have collected quite the following in the course of their show. Fans are eager to stay in homes that they have built and designed. Former clients of the Gaines have noticed this and capitalized by renting out their homes to fans of Fixer Upper.
One couple from the show, Jill and Joshua Barrett, made their Fixer Upper home an expensive vacation rental. They charge people $360 per night to stay in their home designed by the Gaines. That’s some pretty good business sense.
The Gaines have an Entrepreneurial spirit
The Barretts and other couples have started renting out their properties and some worried if Chip and Joanna would take offense. After all, they are benefiting from the hard work they put into their homes.
Jill Barret said that the Gaines have absolutely no problem with the business venture. They understand real estate and are entrepreneurs as well so they respect the tactic of renting out the homes.
How did they get the show?
Joanna and Chip remodeled and flipped homes long before they did it on T.V. They flipped more than a half-dozen homes with the Magnolia Real Estate Company before HGTV approached them.
Joanna posted many of their home projects and her personal designs on her personal blog, which had gained a lot of internet traffic. A producer at HGTV capitalized on the talent he saw in Joanna and the network reached out.
The Gaines are changing Waco’s stigma
Waco, Texas is known for some pretty unfortunate events. The cult leader David Koresh famously conducted his business in Waco. Additionally, a biker shootout in 2015 killed 9 people. These tragic events have been linked to the city for years.
The Gaines put a fresh face on Waco with their bubbly personalities and positive perspective. Waco loves the couple for the positive publicity they have brought to the city.
The poster reveal was a last minute decision
The show is famous for the giant “before” photo posters that they use to hide the final reveal of the homes. The idea was actually a very last minute decision during the pilot episode of the show.
Little did they know that these famous “before” posters would become a trademark of the show as well as a fan favorite. Fans will be excited to know that clients get to keep the enormous canvas if they wish when filming is over.
Joanna asks clients to make a pinterest board
A former Fixer Upper client revealed that Joanna usually asks homeowners to create a pinterest board of the kinds of home designs they like. This helps the design team put together something that is well within the taste of the client.
One specific client, Rachel Whyte explained that she and her husband both made pinterest boards with their own unique style. This posed a challenge for Joanna to please both parties when designing and renovating their home.
They have to please everybody
Most of the clients on Fixer Upper are couples, and often the pair have differing styles which creates a unique problem for the design team. How do you capture two different styles in one home while satisfying both parties?
Joanna’s obvious design skills allow for her to blend the styles in a way that satisfies both partners. If they have kids, she also works hard to try to incorporate some of their style as well.
Clients are excited to see the designs they’ve come up with
While not everything is real in the show, the excitement clients feel to see the designs is genuine. They have no idea what Joanna will come up with after they’ve given her an idea of their style.
Their reactions are often perfectly real! On design day they see a visual representation of what the home will look like for the very first time. This is an exciting experience for any homeowner.
They can make decisions without the client's approval
When it comes to home renovations, something unexpected always comes up. This often means unexpected costs coming up. According to the casting application, the Gaines can make some decisions without consulting the clients.
While they work hard to please their clients, Joanna notes that final renovations choices may be different that what was originally agreed upon. Usually, the team doesn’t stray too far from the original desires, however.
Joanna comes prepared
Joanna brings tons of extra decorations and materials that will certainly not all be put to use. She works by the phrase “better safe than sorry”. Behind the nickel decorated rooms are rows of plastic storage bins that house tons of extra house decorations.
She mentioned in an interview, “It’s inevitable. I’ll need more books. I’ll need a certain vase. I always like to bring too much so that in the end I have what I need”.
Clients don’t get one-on-one time with the Gaines
Many clients have noted that other than their time on-screen, they don’t see much of the Gaines. And this does make sense. Outside of the show they have 4 kids and multiple businesses.
Some clients are just fine with not spending time with the Gaines as long as their homes are complete. Other clients resent the fact that the show portrays the relationship between Chip and Joanna and the clients in a way that is different than it actually is.
The homeowners act
We’ve mentioned that in many cases , the homeowners had already picked out their homes. In one specific case, Chip and Joanna took a client on a tour of a home that happened to be the client’s grandmother’s house.
In the show it was a surprise, but the client already knew that this was the house before Chip and Joanna brought her and her husband on the tour. For the purpose of the show, a surprise was more dramatic and emotional.
Reveal days are focus time
Reveal days are perhaps the most important day of the show and perhaps the most genuine. According to Rachel, a coworker of the Gaines, Joanna is extremely zoned in on reveal days. She spends tons of time making sure everything is in place in the house.
Chip brings her coffee and food to make sure she has energy for the days. Reveal days are an actual surprise for the clients so it is an exciting day for everyone involved.
The show follows a strict schedule
Almost every episode of Fixer Upper follows the exact same format. There’s real estate day, design day with Joanna, demo day, renovations, and then the big reveal.
To stay in line with this schedule home owners usually have their homes picked out before the show has even begun. Design ideas have already been shared. Clients have been prepped on the structure and rules of the show.
Customers can buy furniture
While the homes are staged and they don’t get to keep all the furniture, clients can purchase the furniture if they choose. Rachel, a former client explains, “They give you an itemized list of how much everything costs at the end to see if you want to purchase things at a discounted price”.
This is an option for a lot of clients who love the staging of their homes. Also, they are allowed to keep any custom pieces that the team made especially for the home.
Chip and Joanna have made their contracts more strict
The Gaines have said on multiple occasions that they don’t mind their clients renting out their homes and making their own businesses out of their appearances on the show.
However, they have decided to become more strict with their client contracts since 2016 to “honor [their] national viewing audience”. One client even mentioned that they thought Joanna and Chip made changes to their home to ensure that they wouldn’t be doing the show only for the purpose of putting the house on Airbnb.
The Gaines didn’t know if they were going to “make it”
Before the show, when the Gaines were flipping homes, they both questioned if they were going to be able to make a career out of this thing they were doing. Joanna explained in an interview that the years leading up to the show were very hard for the couple.
The housing crisis hit in the 4 years before the show started and Joanna wondered if they were even going to make it. Fortunately, they believed in each other and themselves and now they’re the stars we know today!
The show Fixer Upper was an instant hit
The Gaines were instantly loved and audiences were captured by the adoring couple. The show brought in 2 million views each episode to the network. The money they gained for the show allowed them to start their other businesses.
Now, there are many other shows that follow a very similar format, but Fixer Upper really set the stage for their success. The show likely would not have gained the instant success it did without the likeness of Chip and Joanna.
Chip and Joanna are now multi-millionaires
The show ended in 2017, but the Gaines had only just begun their journey. In addition to the other business they’ve created, they have welcomed a fifth child into the fold.
They started a baking company as well as a coffee company. The Magnolia brand has grown and sells decorations and furniture in stores like Target. The couple thinks of their time on the show fondly because it not only kickstarted their careers, but gave them invaluable time together which made their relationship very strong.
Other shows have copy-catted Fixer Upper
There are now many home shows that have a similar format to Fixer Upper. Flip or Flop, Property Brothers, Rehab Addict, Love it or List it, and Design on a Dime. Most of these follow charismatic designers and real estate creatives.
HGTV has capitalized on this idea and made it a hugely popular type of entertainment. Fixer Upper really set the stage and will always be known for that big reveal poster that fans know so well!