And, oh, the shiplap.
"It's Shiplap Disney World," I declared in the midst of white wood slats that covered walls and ceiling near the entry, thinking this had to be the new "happiest place on earth."
The heart of the home, the gathering space where we'd spend most of our time together, was the living room. At sunset, prisms of light streamed through the original leaded windows in the front door, making it the prettiest time to photograph this light-filled room. Later, we'd close the shades and gather around the coffee table for hours of girl talk.
To create the spacious living room, Joanna, who, as fans know, has a penchant for knocking down pesky walls, removed one, reconfigured the entry and added a cozy reading nook beneath the staircase, creating one open, seamless space at the front of the house.
Behind a curious-looking door was a smart TV on a cart, ready to be rolled out and plugged in. Upon opening our first bottle of wine, we watched one episode of, surprise! "Fixer Upper," which was queued up and ready on the DVR. Chip and Joanna don't have a TV in their home; none is displayed as furniture in Magnolia House, either. Need more entertainment? Open the cupboard of board games and engage in some friendly Monopoly or Candy Land competition.
The curious-looking space with the TV was not, as we first thought, a closet. It was a working elevator, which is not only an ingenious way to hide the television but makes the two-story house manageable for those with stair-climbing challenges. As tempting as it was to slide the screen door shut and ride up and down, we remembered Chip doing this on the show and pretending to get trapped. It was all a joke on Joanna, but we stuck to the stairs anyway.
Down the hallway in the dining room, an original built-in china cabinet painted matte black contrasted with a rustic, white-distressed table set for eight. Well into our stay, we broke our "don't touch anything" rule and turned over dishes, serving pieces and chargers to read labels. Turns out Joanna likes Target and West Elm as much as the rest of us do.
Magnolia House is equal parts vacation home and idea show house. One idea we obsessed over stood in the dining room: an antique grandfather clock case, not the clock, just the case that the clock would go in if there actually were a clock. It looked like something people (like Chip!) would stick their head through for souvenir pictures.
A full kitchen equipped with stainless steel appliances meant we could have brought groceries and cooked to our hearts' content. But all we really needed was a refrigerator for storing Mexican food leftovers, microwave for heating to-die-for cinnamon rolls from the Gaineses' bakery, and wineglasses kept on floating shelves high above the custom concrete countertops.
Tucked behind the kitchen was the most painstakingly organized laundry room imaginable. Everything got its own bin labeled in a pretty script: phone chargers, laundry detergent, fabric softener, even the iron.
Two of the five bedrooms extend from either side of the living room, and they are two of the prettiest rooms in the house. Near the front door, a bedroom with the other restored fireplace has a queen bed with a custom wooden headboard.
Joanna loves to decorate with words, quotes and signs and favorite phrases. Walls in this bedroom are decorated with famous motivational quotes hung with clothes pins. In the second downstairs bedroom, a sign on the wall says, "Always keep your beautiful imagination and exquisite humor."
This room is modeled after Chip and Joanna's daughters' bedroom. Two side tables descending from the ceiling between two twin beds create a showstopping focal point. This delightful little bedroom was the first one to be claimed by two ladies in our group.
More charming surprises awaited upstairs, where the rest of us slept. A landing area at the top of the wooden staircase was turned into a spacious bedroom suite with a four-poster, queen-size bed. Inside the top drawer of an industrial-style dresser were four sleep machines, should anyone like to fall asleep to the sounds of crashing waves or sprinkling rain instead of the silence of the country. On either side are tiny attic bedrooms, one of which had been used as a closet when the Gaineses bought the house.
My favorite room of all was the upstairs coffee bar. Originally a kitchenette, the room got a new tile floor, shiplap and cupboards painted in a rare burst of color, turquoise. A Keurig machine, a variety of Torani syrups and coffee mugs, and a drawer full of tiny coffee creamers allow guests to customize each cup. From a bistro table and chairs by an upstairs window, we could spy tourists as they slowed, stopped and photographed.
And this happened a lot.
"Your inner princess is coming out," one friend said about the 10th time I waved from a window inside to people on the sidewalk. There were more visitors than usual on this particular late-July weekend.
The Magnolia House, and a park across the street, were PokeStops in the popular Pokemon Go game. Groups of teenagers and kids with parents stopped in front of the home, and the only way to tell the difference between Pokemon-hunters and Magnolia House-hunters was whether they looked up from their phone screens.
One morning, a petite Asian woman lingered on the sidewalk outside. I waved back from inside a front window and took her picture. We wondered where she might be from, a local resident, perhaps, or a visitor from far away? We'd learn later she was actually Joanna's mom. She walks by every Monday morning to say blessings around the property, we were told.
GRATITUDE TO THE GAINESES Chip and Joanna are not regular visitors. But that doesn't stop Magnolia guests from leaving heartfelt messages addressed to the couple in the guest book. Page after page conveyed genuine feelings of gratitude and joy, whether they traveled from Alabama for Mother's Day, Des Moines for a 40th birthday or Omaha for a girlfriends' getaway.
Before our trip, when I emailed Marianne to ask what there was to do at Magnolia House, she told me most people go there to relax. There was no pool, no hot tub. The town of McGregor doesn't exactly buzz with night life. We big-city girls wondered if we might get bored. Not a chance. Not with all there was to discover in each nook and cranny. Not with a long breakfast at the Coffee Shop Cafe down the street (courtesy of Magnolia House). Not with antiques stores to browse and a fantastic cupcake bakery down the street.
And certainly not with the Magnolia at the Silos complex to explore, about 20 minutes away. Hours can be spent shopping for Joanna's favorite decor, gardening items and delectable baked goods (with a 25 percent-off coupon for staying at Magnolia House).
On a VIP tour of the market, we stopped in Chip's office and got to take photos from the market's rooftop. Families with young kids played in the grassy courtyard and ate lunch from the food trucks lining the property. (The gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and mac-and-cheese dishes from The Cheddar Box are worth another trip to Waco.)
Before we headed out of town, one friend and I drove through several Waco neighborhoods to find other homes featured on Fixer Upper. With enough context from the show, they were easy to spot as diamonds in the rough. And there's a lot of rough. As bucolic as Waco looks on the show, it has many more broken-down eyesores that could use the Chip-and-Joanna magic touch.
This surprised my friend. "I didn't think there was much of Waco left to fix up," she said as we drove through an older neighborhood in the heart of the city. With at least three more seasons planned, it's easy to believe this neighborhood could look different in a few years.