Like any devout Fixer Upper follower, I rushed out on Tuesday to buy the debut issue of The Magnolia Journal, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ quarterly lifestyle magazine.
The magazine, the next project to come from the Waco-based HGTV superstars, dropped 400,000 issues at major retailers nationwide. At SuperTarget, they arestocked at the checkout stands and in the magazine section between Southern Living and Southern Lady Holidays.
After I stopped obsessing over Joanna’s Anthropologie maxi dress on the cover, I began to page through it. It was not quite 100 pages, making the $7.99 cover price seem a little steep. But for readers, fewer pages can sometimes be a good thing because it can mean there’s more content to read and fewer ads to pass by.
Joanna’s listed as the magazine’s editor in chief, and Chip, as editor at large. But my fellow working journalists shouldn’t worry: The Gaineses’ path to world domination has not, apparently, usurped all our jobs. There’s an actual staff of non-famous writers, editors and designers listed, too.
But it means Joanna gets the task of writing the Letter from the Editor. In it, she explains their first issue will focus on hospitality because “it’s the theme that weaves through nearly everything I’m passionate about.” She signs off sweetly with, “Bless your home, Joanna.”
Eighteen pages later, in what looks like another letter from Jo but is actually an essay by Jo called “Cup O’ Jo,” she rhapsodizes about the fall and winter seasons and reminds us, “’Tis the season of opening our homes, sharing meals, and taking a few extra moments to appreciate where we are, just as we are.”
The Magnolia Journal’s tagline is “Inspiration for life and home.” In this premiere issue, there are plenty of ways to feel inspired. And, hungry. Especially for sweet potatoes. Here are some sweet highlights.
In a feature called “Sweet & Delicious,” Joanna admits she has quite the sweet tooth (and just opened a bakery to feed the habit, she reminds us). She shares some favorite pie recipes, and they look heaven-sent. Here are those recipes and pags, courtesy of the magazine publisher.
Pear-Cranberry Deep-Dish Pie:
Pecan Pie and Mallow-Praline Sweet Potato Pie:
And ... Apple-Cherry Slab Pie and Apple Pie:
2. Their kids!
Fixer Upper fans know the four Gaines children make appearances in most episodes. Chip and Jo’s family-focused lifestyle is part of their appeal. We’ll probably never see a story about their favorite TV shows because they don’t have a TV in their house.
Instead, they give us “Campfire Story,” about ways to bring the family together around a fall campfire. The photos, captured at sunset, are gorgeous. And sweet-toothed JoJo suggests that we use peanut butter, chocolate-covered mint or Nutella in our s’mores, which is just another reason we heart her.
Friendsgiving — a potluck meal with friends in place of, or in addition to, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner — is a thing now. The Gaineses tell us how to do it Magnolia-style, giving us tips for tablescapes (go with greenery!), place cards (get to know your local metalsmith!), take-home gifts (flower bulbs are lovely!) and more. Here’s a tip we love: when setting up your drink center (you know, where guests will fetch their drinks), “Different types of drinkware — copper mugs, glass teacups, white ironstone — distinguish the drink choices.”
Then we get Thanksgiving recipes, including a Sweet Potato Casserole, which distinguishes itself from the previously seen Mallow-Praline Sweet Potato Pie, in part, with the addition of a sleeve of graham crackers crumbled on top. (Sweet, Jo!)
And, hey! More sweet potatoes! In a story called “Fall Harvest” about the bounty of the garden this season, we also get a recipe for Gingered Sweet Potato-Carrot Soup. (No graham crackers involved.)
JoJo loves reclaimed wood as much as she, apparently, loves sweet potatoes. “The fact is,” she tells us in the intro to the story called “Reclaimed,” “reclaimed wood adds texture and warmth to any space and stands the test of time.” Then we get 10 examples of reclaimed wood used to great acclaim — from vintage planks covering an oft-ignored kitchen ceiling to salvaged barn boards arranged in a cool, diagonal-grid pattern on a wall. (These are other people’s designs, she indicates, but we’re not sure whom to pat on the back because credits aren’t given. Oh well, pat on the back anyway.)
We do know to pat on the back Jennifer Palumbo, a designer Joanna interviews for “Perfect Fit,” a Q&A about a home in Massachusetts that is rustic and contemporary. Hey, look! Reclaimed wood! (And other cool design elements, like a hanging chair in the living room!)
5. Farmer John
The “meatiest” feature is a story about a man named John Coykendall, aka Farmer John, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and has a collection of heirloom seeds that numbers about 500 varieties. He’s also a storyteller who passes along tales of food grown. In her intro, Joanna says Farmer John helped her develop her own love of gardening. (Gardening, no doubt, of sweet potatoes!)
Room for fixing up
There’s more good content — I’ll stop here and let you get your $7.99 worth. But in the spirit of Fixer Upper, a few enhancements would make The Magnolia Journal even better.
For one thing, there’s almost no connection between the Gainses and their show, which reportedly is the most successful show in HGTV history. In fact, if you’ve never heard of Chip and Joanna Gaines and you pick up the magazine in a car dealership waiting room, you may not know why these people have a magazine. (Missed opportunity to run an excerpt from their forthcoming book, The Magnolia Story, as a way of introducing themselves?)
As a fan of the show, I’m dying for them to take us behind the scenes, give us outtakes, share some updates on past clients, or preview the next season. In their “Magnolia Report” at the front of the magazine, they break the news that season 4 will premiere Nov. 29. But that’s all that’s said about it. Give us fans a taste of what’s to come — pretty please, with sweet potatoes on top!
Which leads me to ....
Personality. The magazine is thoughtful — very, very thoughtful. It has Joanna’s distinctive voice — that thoughtful voice she uses when she reveals features of her clients’ fixed-up homes on TV. A final essay called “Magnolia Manifesto” touts doing work you love and breaking out of comfort zones. An essay by Chip is about helping a stranger who becomes a friend. It’s all very thoughtful. But it’s a little straightforward.
The magazine is missing the Gaineses’ personality as a couple that viewers know and love — that quirkiness, that humility, that self-deprecating humor. In the magazine, they’re the experts talking to us, and what they’re saying is nice and helpful and often inspirational.
But in the highly competitive world of lifestyle magazines, this one doesn’t feel uniquely them. It could use more of their on-camera zip. Reveal to us your own biggest nightmares as a hostess and how you’ve overcome them — don’t just tell us the components of a lovely charcuterie platter like everyone else does.
It also could use more voices from contributing columnists — how about a carpentry how-to from the guy who does all their woodworking on the show, or shopping advice from antiques specialist, or Texas-themed holiday recipes from a fave Waco-area chef? How about a Q&A with a financial planner on how to afford fixer upper projects before the holidays?
Speaking of holidays, there’s a lot of fall and Thanksgiving in the magazine, but not much on December holidays. We’re left craving more insight on how the Gaines family does the big event of the season, Christmas. The next issue won’t hit stands until Valentine’s Day and promises to tell us how to “simplify your space and get inspired for the new year.” OK, sure, but we also want to see what Chip and Jo get each other for Valentine’s Day!
Speaking of gifts ... since we’re really nit-picking this 100-page, $7.99-magazine ...
In “The Only Gift Guide You Need this Holiday Season,” six out of 20 picks are found at the Gaineses’ own Magnolia Market. (One item is a Magnolia Farms ballcap; another is a line of aprons Joanna has just designed.) This story happens to face an ad for — guess what? — Magnolia Market! There’s a lot of promotion of their Magnolia empire between the covers, and it feels slightly self-indulgent. And from everything I’ve read about the humble, generous Gaineses, the last thing they’re aiming for is self-indulgent.
But one ad did catch my eye and make me laugh — an ad for Alexia Sweet Potato fries.
Goshdarnit, these people like sweet potatoes!
Tagline: “Sweet potatoes lightly seasoned with sea salt. Because Mother Nature knows that a little sweetness goes a long way.”
And so does Joanna Gaines.
Stephanie Allmon Merry is the Star-Telegram Assistant Managing Editor/Features and Editorial Director of Indulge luxury magazine.