How ‘Residence Work’ fiasco threatens Magnolia Community model

How ‘Residence Work’ fiasco threatens Magnolia Community model

4 years in the past, Aubry Bennion purchased a Fifties home on half an acre simply north of Salt Lake Metropolis. It was small, however she was smitten with the purple brick facade with its scalloped trim.

“It’s, like, my little child. I adore it a lot,” stated Bennion, who shares footage of house DIY initiatives on her relentlessly cheerful Instagram account, alongside footage of popsicle-color manicures and vibrant bouquets. She even gave the home a hashtag, #thewallsthatballsbuilt, a nod to the felt ball enterprise she runs along with her day job in public relations.

Bennion, 40, hoped to repair up the generic kitchen, with its laminate counter tops and vinyl flooring, however figured she’d want to save lots of at the least $40,000 to do the job proper.

Then, in August 2019 got here an thrilling alternative: Andy and Candis Meredith, a neighborhood couple identified for renovating and flipping older properties, had been on the lookout for purchasers for a brand new TV present they had been making for Magnolia Community, the cable enterprise being launched by Chip and Joanna Gaines. The present, known as “Residence Work,” would doc the couple as they juggled work for purchasers with the renovation of a 20,000-square foot, century-old faculty constructing right into a household house for his or her seven youngsters.

Did she wish to be part of it?

The Merediths promised they may full the job in three weeks on a finances of simply $20,000. Bennion thought this determine appeared unrealistically low, however she had been immediately charmed when she’d met the couple a couple of years earlier at an occasion for his or her one-season HGTV collection, “Outdated Residence Love.” “I keep in mind joking with folks like, ‘They’re my greatest associates. They’re not your greatest associates,’” she stated. “That’s nonetheless haunting.”

Much more compelling to Bennion was the imprimatur of the Gaineses, the telegenic couple that had leveraged their common HGTV present “Fixer Higher” into a way of life empire, together with a profitable house items line at Goal and a collection of bestselling books. Within the course of, they remodeled Waco, Texas, as soon as synonymous with the fiery demise of a messianic cult chief, right into a theme park of farmhouse stylish. In April 2019, Discovery Networks formally introduced that the Gaineses would undertake their largest renovation up to now by overhauling HGTV’s uncared for sister community, DIY, and relaunching it as Magnolia.

A man and a woman sit on stools in front of a completed renovation

Magnolia Community co-owners Chip and Joanna Gaines on the again porch of one of many renovated properties from their present “Fixer Higher.”

(Jennifer Boomer/Verbatim Photograph Company)

Bennion implicitly trusted Magnolia; she had a relationship with the model relationship again a number of years. She had been invited to occasions at Waco’s the Silos, the cotton mill-turned-shopping complicated owned by the Gaineses, and had began promoting her felt balls at their retailer there, Magnolia Market.

“For lots of causes, I felt like I used to be a part of the Magnolia household,” she stated lately by cellphone. “Most likely not anymore.”

Days earlier than Magnolia Community formally launched in January, Bennion set off a frenzy when, in a prolonged collection of Instagram posts, she shared the fiasco she’d skilled behind the scenes on “Residence Work.” That “three-week” job in the end took 5 months, throughout which she cooked on a sizzling plate in her visitor room. Weeks glided by with no contact from the Merediths, besides once they requested her to wire cash whereas they had been on trip in Europe.

The Merediths ultimately accomplished sufficient work to make the kitchen camera-ready, and Bennion feigned pleasure as they filmed a reveal for the TV present. (She in the end paid the Merediths $13,000, and her renovation was not featured in “Residence Work.”) Inside days, paint on the laminate cupboards had begun to chip. Bennion stated she later found {that a} deck the Merediths had persuaded her so as to add had been improperly put in over sprinklers, resulting in drainage points she says she has spent $18,000 to restore.

Bennion coordinated her posts with these of two different girls whose renovations had been supposed to look on “Residence Work,” Teisha Hawley and Vienna Goates, who got here ahead on Instagram shortly after Bennion did and whose ordeals adopted an analogous sample. (Neither Hawley’s nor Goates’ renovations aired, both.)

Hawley stated the Merediths promised to renovate her household’s kitchen and residing space for $45,000. She didn’t thoughts the inconvenience of residing within the basement together with her husband and children, “as a result of we had been advised we had been hand-picked by Joanna Gaines,” she stated on Instagram.

The job was marked by lengthy delays and mishaps, together with a employee who fell via a gap within the ground and flooring that visibly bubbled when anybody stepped on it. To finish the job correctly, the Merediths stated they would wish a further $35,000 to $40,000. The Hawleys walked away from the present and completed the renovation on their very own.

Goates, a mother of 5, had probably the most harrowing story of all. She and her husband paid the Merediths a $50,000 deposit — half their $100,000 finances — to construct a much-needed addition to their small house, however work by no means began. When Goates’ husband misplaced his job in Might 2020, they tried to again out of the present and get their a reimbursement so they may repay a mortgage. They are saying they’re nonetheless ready.

Just a few days later, the Merediths tearfully responded to the ladies’s horror tales on their shared Instagram account. They claimed that an unwarranted web pile-on had led to dying threats and bullying. They admitted making errors however denied being consciously deceitful or utilizing their purchasers’ cash to foot a lavish way of life. Additionally they shared a supposedly exculpatory video of Bennion squealing in delight on the sight of her completed kitchen.

The back-and-forth rapidly consumed a sure nook of the web, like “Unhealthy Artwork Pal” recast with Utah influencers.

Have been the Merediths merely working mother and father who took on an excessive amount of by attempting to make a actuality present whereas elevating seven children and renovating a dozen or so properties throughout a pandemic? Or had been they operating “the equal of a development Ponzi scheme,” as Kyle Adams, a lawyer for Bennion and the Hawley household, stated in an interview with The Instances? (The Merediths didn’t reply to a number of interview requests.)

The debacle went viral on the worst potential time for Magnolia, the launch of which had already been delayed by greater than a 12 months due to the pandemic. The community initially pulled “Residence Work” from its lineup, pending a overview, then introduced per week later that it will return to air.

“We don’t consider there was unwell or malicious intent,” community President Allison Web page stated in an announcement. “Our dedication now could be to supply acceptable resolutions for these whose expertise with ‘Residence Work’ fell wanting our community’s requirements.”

The Gaineses have remained silent all through the matter, regardless of a slew of adverse feedback on their private Instagram accounts. The couple weathered an earlier controversy over their affiliation with a church whose pastor opposes same-sex marriage and espouses conversion remedy for LGBTQ folks.

When requested whether or not the “acceptable resolutions” included compensation for the aggrieved events, or if there have been plans to make future episodes of “Residence Work,” a spokesperson for Magnolia declined to remark. The community additionally didn’t reply to questions on when it grew to become conscious of the problems on “Residence Work.”

Adams, the lawyer, says he despatched a letter on behalf of the Hawleys to the Merediths’ lawyer, copying Magnolia Community, in June 2020. In her Instagram posts, Goates stated she heard from a lawyer representing Discovery after she submitted a grievance on-line in a determined try for assist. Bennion additionally says she was involved with Magnolia’s in-house counsel in November 2021 to debate the phrases of her nondisclosure settlement with Magnolia Market.

Bennion says that she, Hawley and Goates heard about each other’s troubles via the grapevine and began to hatch a plan final 12 months over dinner at a Salt Lake Metropolis sushi bar. They determined to take their complaints to social media solely after exhausting different channels, together with opening a declare with the Utah Division of Commerce.

“I needed the Merediths to be held accountable for what they did to folks,” Bennion stated. “And I don’t need them to be given extra rope by which to hold, not themselves, however different folks.” In October, she drove to Waco and cleaned out her storage unit there, figuring her relationship with Magnolia was achieved. With assist from her dad, she sanded and repainted her cupboards, from a womb-like pink to “the sweetest, creamiest white,” she stated. “I needed to, for my well-being, not be in Candis’ kitchen.”

It’s straightforward to see why Bennion and others felt duped, particularly in the event that they caught any of “Residence Work,” which adopted the Merediths as they renovated a cavernous schoolhouse in rural Utah utilizing a studiously high-low method.

The Merediths utilized ingenious methods to comprehend their luxurious old-world model on a finances — as an example, making a Renaissance-style wall tapestry out of a reasonable photograph blanket.

However in addition they splurged on lavish antiques, hand-painted wallpaper and Dutch Masters-style oil portraits of their complete household wearing interval costume. The couple traveled to Europe for design inspiration, in the end portray their household room in a dusty pink impressed by Queen Victoria’s ballroom at Kensington Palace in London. (“Victoria’s our homegirl,” says Candis.) Budgets and timelines are stored imprecise. The one time we hear the precise price of an merchandise is to rejoice when Candis has discovered a discount.

A man and woman stand in a construction site

“I felt like I used to be a part of the Magnolia household,” Aubry Bennion says of the life-style model created by Chip and Joanna Gaines, proven at a development web site. “Most likely not anymore.”

(Jeff Jones)

Every episode focuses on a distinct room within the schoolhouse and begins with an earnest voice-over, through which Candis and Andy riff on themes of household and group to a jangly acoustic soundtrack. Their reflections at all times tie into the room they’re engaged on: Within the episode about their main bedroom, Andy likens their blended household to a house enchancment venture.

“Our life collectively is one thing stunning that we’ve renovated and constructed and put collectively,” he says. “We took the antiques of our previous that had been good and added new relations, new expertise, new relationships and simply constructed one thing actually stunning.”

This blurring of the private {and professional} can be a trademark of “Fixer Higher,” which regularly exhibits the Gaines household at house, in addition to its many copycats — a actuality subgenre so prolific it has spawned a “South Park” spoof known as “White Individuals Renovating Homes.” (Exhibits together with “Property Brothers” and “Windy Metropolis Rehab,” each on HGTV, have been slapped with lawsuits from sad householders.)

The Merediths’ relationship has at all times been integral to their healthful but hip model. They every had three boys from a earlier marriage, then married in 2013 and had a lady collectively, bringing the overall variety of children of their blended household to seven. The couple began flipping homes collectively and, by 2015, the 12 months “Outdated Residence Love” launched, owned 16 properties.

HGTV had discovered the couple — the place else? — on Instagram.

“The truth that we now have an enormous household with seven children was interesting,” Andy stated in an interview on the time. “Individuals wish to see {couples} doing this that actually do it — so actuality TV that’s extra actual.”

For the Merediths, the opportunity of turning into the subsequent Chip and Joanna could have been dangerously seductive, stated Adams: “I feel they most likely had greater eyes than brains. They noticed a shot at fame and publicity, and took approach an excessive amount of on.”

Watch L.A. Instances At this time at 7 p.m. on Spectrum Information 1 on Channel 1 or dwell stream on the Spectrum Information App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Methods on channel 99.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *