The large, velvet couch in the drawing room, where previous young male residents once received potential suitors, the tour guide tells us, is for sale. As are the linen-scented Magnolia-brand candles, which waft with the strength of 1,000 sprays of Febreze throughout the roughly 6,000-square-foot castle. The guide is unsure if the rugs in an upstairs bedroom are available to purchase, but we’ll all be able to learn for sure at the conclusion of our tour, where a QR code linking to an official castle look book—product links included—is waiting for us.
In fact, the entire Cottonland Castle—a more than 100-year-old estate in Waco, Texas—will soon be on the market. The castle sat empty and in disrepair for decades, until, in 2019, a certain Waco couple known for revitalizing dilapidated homes with potential saw opportunity in the pile of stone and dust. Now, the historic landmark is Chip and Joanna Gaines’s latest fixer-upper—maybe even their biggest yet. The Fixer Upper stars spent years overhauling the castle, and this July opened it up to the public for one-hour guided tours. At the end of October, the tours will cease as the house goes on the market for some undisclosed listing price. The entire renovation will be viewable at home this fall, when a dedicated season of Fixer Upper: The Castle airs on the Gainses’ own Magnolia Network.
It’s only fitting that Chip and Joanna would take on one of Waco’s most iconic homes, situated on Austin Avenue, a wide stretch of main road lined with Texas mansions, both old and new. My family in Houston has a joke that Chip and Jo will eventually need to leave Waco, having fixed up every home in the tiny Texas town. It’s impossible to drive through the area, as I did on a recent Saturday afternoon, without feeling the couple’s impact. Their complex of businesses—including a bakery, furniture store, plant shop, and more—rises like a fortress in the center of town and is more like a small, Magnolia-branded amusement park with half a dozen parking lots, all of which were full. The line to get into the Silos Baking Co. (brought to life by the home renovation TV stars on Fixer Upper’s fourth season) snaked like one for a roller coaster or airport security. Tours for the castle, set miles away from the Magnolia compound, were completely sold out for the day, as a sign near the entrance alerted me. Others in my group had traveled from out of town to see Chip and Joanna’s latest renovation.
The history of the castle was outlined succinctly at the very beginning of our tour. In 1890, local stone contractor John Tennant began construction on a grandiose new home, suddenly flush with cash from a fruitful deal with a Waco banker. When he ran out of funds to complete the property, he sold it to a cotton broker in 1906 under the agreement that he could finish the stonework. After financial difficulties continued, the pair abandoned the project two years later. A war veteran took over construction in 1913, completing the structure that stands today: A three-story castle (modeled after a German fortress along the Rhine River) with a basement, eight fireplaces, and a turret. The castle changed hands a few times since then, once selling, in 1969, for $50,000. The house received its historical marker in 1977, but in the 1990s went through a rapid succession of owners, falling into extreme disrepair. It wasn’t until 2019 that the Gainses, who’d been watching the property change hands for years, finally bought the structure.
Even if you’d only seen one or two episodes of Fixer Upper—which was certainly not true for the fans on my tour—you’d be able to recognize Joanna Gaines’s characteristic farmhouse-inspired touch.
Only a few of the castle’s original features remain—a pair of solid wood doors that we passed through at the entrance, a refinished fireplace, and one of many old light switches. The rest has been reimagined and renovated by America’s most DIY-famous couple. Even if you’d only seen one or two episodes of Fixer Upper—which was certainly not true for the fans on my tour—you’d be able to recognize Joanna Gaines’s characteristic farmhouse-inspired touch throughout the home. There was no shiplap in sight, but there were at least two fiddle-leaf fig trees, standing tall in sun-drenched rooms. The couple converted the turret into an alcove for a soaking tub. Antiques from Texas’s Round Top Antiques Fair (about two hours from Waco), as well as from England (much farther), are situated among furniture from Magnolia Market, all of which tour guests were encouraged to sit on—and buy.
While our tour guide was eager to point out which details in the castle were original to the construction, she also seemed aware that the guests were likely there as Fixer Upper fans, rather than Waco history enthusiasts. Halfway through the tour, one guest finally asked our guide the inevitable question: Had she ever met Joanna herself? The guide, of course, had. We were shown the mirror in which Joanna checked her makeup on days filming Fixer Upper: The Castle and were given spiels about how Joanna envisioned each space. The guide pointed out which plants Joanna harvested from her personal garden. Pausing in front of a big-screen TV, we were told that Joanna doesn’t have one in her own house—but of course, as fans, we already knew that.
That’s to do no disservice to the beauty of the castle, or to the duo’s impressive renovation work. The primary suite, lined with a wall of windows, sits next to a library with newly built dark-wood shelves adorned with old, unreadable books and one of those sliding ladders on a track. The kids’ room is more elegant than my adult bedroom, complete with one of the home’s many stone fireplaces. The matching twin beds were originally purchased for the Gaines’s daughters, Ella Rose and Emmie Kay, but, as our guide told us, the girls turned their noses up at them, so they now sit in the castle. The kitchen, we learned, was moved from the basement level to the main floor, and an old dumbwaiter was removed to make space for a spice cabinet. The basement now contains a guest suite with (of course) a secret room situated off a dark, wood-trimmed area staged for playing cards, hidden behind a trick wall.
To lean all the way into the obvious metaphor, the Cottonland Castle is a bit representative of Waco, which might belong more to Chip and Joanna Gaines than any other of its residents, for better or for worse. The entire town may not also smell like Magnolia linen candles, but upon visiting the castle, you may think you’re getting whiffs for days after too.
Top photo courtesy of Magnolia.
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