When you’ve renovated so many homes in a city that its name has become synonymous with your home, it takes a special project to really stand out. For Chip and Joanna Gaines, the true royal family to renovate in Waco, Texas, that property is Cottonland Castle.
The 1913 stone manor house, originally modeled after a small German castle along the Rhine, has a history and foundation dating back to 1890 — not to mention a permanent place in local lore. “It’s right in the middle of a downtown neighborhood, so if you live nearby, you’ve passed it hundreds of times,” Chip explains. “Ownership changes every few years, and I will make an offer each time it is listed.”
In 2019, the couple’s offer was accepted, and the Gaineses embarked on their most challenging renovation yet: restoring the grand property to its former glory. Joe wrote in the winter issue of Magnolia Magazine that year.
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No one was better suited to this project. Gaineses, who shot to stardom with their hit show upper fixer, They went from a charming small-town couple to the leaders of a conglomerate that includes the Magnolia Network and magazine.magnolia magazine), and a destination shopping experience (Magnolia Market at the Silos). They oversee all of this from their once sleepy hometown of Waco, which is now a site of pilgrimage for design aficionados the world over. They are hometown heroes, which made taking over a fabled local property both an appropriate and nerve-wracking effort.
“We were excited to give Castle the opportunity to kind of stand up straight and present itself to the neighborhood the way it’s always been meant to,” says Chip. Jo went so far as to partner with KILZ on a paint line specifically for the project, and the pair dug into local archives to learn about the original design (a process that is meticulously documented on Fixer Upper: The Citadel, a six-episode miniseries that airs on the Magnolia Network this fall). The castle itself, rather than any trends or preconceived notions, led the way. The result is a true departure from the modern farmhouse style that Chip and Joe are known for (not a single wall in sight).
“The best part about restoring a property with this much history is the opportunity to discover the beauty that was always there from the beginning,” says Joe. “When we started removing all the plywood and old debris, we were able to see all the cool details inside.”
What was revealed was something of a renovation treasure hunt: “We’d open cupboards or peek into attics and find incredible things from more than a century ago,” remembers Joe, who has incorporated many—including original light fixtures, baseboards , fireplaces (eight total!), and doors—in their finished outline. “In order to capture the essence of the castle when it was originally built, we used all the original materials that were there.”
Of course, a project of this magnitude involved plenty of hiccups — but nothing that couldn’t be solved with modern ingenuity. Joe was initially determined to keep the original floors, but the date had other plans: Years of sanding had eroded wood too thin to save in many places, so the couple used antique planks reclaimed from the same era instead. A similar problem arose with the worn exterior, where it was impossible to find exact matches for the white sand and limestone, now worn with age. Chip devised a plan to smear the new blocks with a compost mixture that closely mimicked the original’s patina—without a century of aging.
“If we needed a new window or door, it was made by local craftsmen, with the same design and types of wood that were original to the castle,” says Joe. “If an item was missing or we had to get materials, we looked for period-appropriate designs.” This meant doing one of Joe’s favorite things: hunting for artifacts. The couple scoured the Round Top Antiques Fair, bringing home treasures like the dining room table and chairs as well as pieces that would—with the help of the Gaineses’ woodworker—become kitchen islands and a pantry. “I’ve always been drawn to mixing old and new in our projects,” says Joe, “but Castle challenged me to take this design approach a step further.”
For all their romantic attachments, Chip and Joe plan to eventually sell the castle. (It was briefly open for tours after completion). “Our primary goal was to honor the importance of the home to the neighborhood and the city,” says Joe. “This was a good challenge for me and an opportunity to stretch myself in ways I hadn’t done before.”
The pair worked with Marvin Kegerreis, head of Kent Mill & Supply, to retrofit antiques (such as the dining table) into the castle’s furnishings. chairs: Antique, from Marburger Farm at Round Top Antiques Fair. chandelier: Aerin Lighting Circa.
While years of sanding made it impossible to salvage all floors, they restored nearly all of the original milling work. fee: Castle Cream, Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines for KILZ. necklace: Mitzi, Lumens.
The plants in the house came from a reproduction wall that Joe designed for Magnolia Market in Silos. fee: Castle Cream, Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines for KILZ. Director Office: fireclay. Faucet: divol. menorah: Circular lighting.
Although stone from a fireplace could not have been saved once here, the Gaineses restored the lofty upper mantel, then adapted the space below it to store range and platters. ivory tiles From Bottega Design Gallery gives the space an updated look that still feels classic.
Polished black soapstone is a moody juxtaposition to the house’s original millwork, restored to its once sheen. The table and chairs make their debut this winter on the Magnolia Home line. necklace: Pottery store.
The Gaineses kept all eight stoves in the house. tiles: Ann Sachs. fee: Rosy Pink, Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines for KILZ. art: etsy. candelabra: Julie Neal.
Custom artwork and antique furniture match the grand architecture. chandelier: Troy lighting. rug: Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines for Loloi. fee: Estate Interior, Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines for KILZ.
Painted Green, the original Step Stool is part of the Magnolia Home line that Jo developed with KILZ. Mirror: anthropologist. faucetsAnd the Director OfficeAnd the And the Shower: Kohler. ego: Whose.
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Hadley Keeler Beautiful houseDigital manager. Oversees all digital content for the brand as well as working on the print magazine. She has covered design, interiors and culture for 10 years in New York. She has served as associate market editor, design reporter, and news editor for The architectural digest And AD PRO before joining Beautiful house. Hadley is an extreme and vocal opponent of the open floor plan.