Joanna and Chip Gaines Just Opened Their First Hotel — I Visited the Luxury Stay in Waco, Texas, to Find Incredible Design and a Rooftop Bar

Inside Joanna and Chip Gaines's new Hotel 1928 in Waco, Texas.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

“Look up and look close,” Joanna Gaines, the celebrity designer who hosts the hit home-makeover show Fixer Upper with her husband, Chip, told me when I visited the Hotel 1928. Chip and Joanna's first hotel opened last fall in Waco, Texas.

Even with her designer’s eye, she’d initially missed the intricacy on the Moorish Revival facade of the nearly century-old Grand Karem Shrine building. “We’d been cleaning the exterior brick for a few days when I looked up and noticed these really incredible detailed carvings in the stone,” she said. Whirls and swirls, florals and chevrons, Middle Eastern lamps, and the Shriners’ symbol’s scimitar and crescent: “All these amazing carved details and motifs felt representative of the whole project. The hotel had so much beauty hidden beneath decades of neglect," she added.

Beginning with their TV show, which premiered in 2014, Joanna and Chip have built their Magnolia multimedia empire on making the old new again. Thanks to the couple, “shiplap” went from arcane construction jargon to middle-American household vocabulary. Then, they took an abandoned cotton mill in downtown Waco and transformed it into the Silos, a Magnolia-branded retail mecca that draws nearly 2 million visitors to the central Texas city every year. But they’d never done a hotel.

Chip was the one who found the shrine, which had sat largely empty since the Shriners moved out in the 1990s. “Chip gets an idea and lets me in, and I say no, and then he says, ‘We’re under contract,’” Joanna told me. “That’s the story of our relationship.”

Hotel 1928

  • The Hotel 1928 boasts so many exquisite details, including original ones like the transoms and the refurbished terrazzo and wood floors, as well as new features, such as the homey library and Bertie’s, the beautiful rooftop bar with expansive terraces.

  • The guest rooms graciously blend the building’s historic elements with all the creature comforts you’d expect of a luxury hotel, including lightweight Turkish-made robes and custom Sferra linens on the beds.

  • The brasserie downstairs embodies Magnolia on a well-crafted plate, with elevated homage paid to central Texas cuisine (chicken-fried steak, buttermilk biscuits) as well as Joanna’s Korean heritage (the wings are superb).

  • The hotel is walking distance from the Silos, making it especially convenient for Magnolia fans, and it’s just a short drive from the campus of Baylor University.

Joanna originally thought that the shrine would house Magnolia’s company headquarters and the midcentury Waco Tribune-Herald building, also downtown, would become the hotel. Then, they flipped the plan. According to Joanna, the shrine’s character “just felt more layered. We really love that process of highlighting the history of a space and the best parts of its past to give it new life, and the same was true for this hotel. It was a breathtaking canvas.”

Uncovering those layers took nearly five years. On Fixer Upper, Joanna and Chip have specialized in buffing, polishing, and augmenting what’s already there, which turned out to be a particularly valuable skill set for a landmarked building. With the Hotel 1928 — a joint venture between the Gaines's Magnolia Realty and AJ Capital Partners, which owns the soon to be Hilton–operated Graduate Hotels — that included cleaning up the intricate exterior as well as salvaging and refurbishing as many interior details as possible. I noticed some of those restored details as soon as I walked into the lobby: the original terrazzo floors, the painted wooden ceiling beams, the plasterwork moldings. Here and there, throughout the hotel, I saw even more features from the late 1920s — the hotel's name is taken from the year of the building's construction — including transoms and chicken-wire-glass windows.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

I was tempted to while away an afternoon in the cozy cafe, an inviting space a few steps from the lobby with checkerboard-tiled floors and upholstered banquettes. Even the coffee is meant to remind the guest of the Hotel 1928’s distinctiveness: general manager Sandra Hadley, a San Antonio native, went to a renowned roaster in her hometown, Merit Coffee Co., and asked them to create a custom blend of beans that’s only available at the hotel.

Then, just past the cafe, I saw the library. Chip and Joanna opened up an old coal chute to create this gorgeous, double-height space, with its abundance of sofas and reading chairs as well as a fireplace. The black-paneled walls lend a moody intimacy to the room, and the built-in shelves are lined with books from Booked Up, writer Larry McMurtry’s Archer City, Texas, shop, which Chip bought in 2022. (“I told Chip we need 8,000 books,” Joanna recalled. “He said, ‘I got you.’ He bought almost 400,000.”) McMurtry’s domino set sits on a coffee table, his typewriter on a desk in the corner.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

Such details speak to the care with which the Hotel 1928 has been imagined. Chicago-based music producer Paul Blair, better known as DJ White Shadow, curated the soundtrack. Framed photographs by James Jasek, who has been capturing images of Waco since he was a child in the 1950s, hang throughout the property. The hotel even has its own signature scent, rich with sandalwood and Texas cedar — “as if Santal 33 and Baccarat Rouge had a baby,” according to Hadley.

“We’re truly honored that people are traveling from all over the country, even the world, to visit us in Waco. We want to make their experience excellent and memorable,” Joanna said. “So, when it came to the hotel, we love that it feels like an extension of that intention — and just one more way to invite people in and make them feel at home.”

Here’s my review of Hotel 1928.

The Rooms

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

Each of the 33 rooms is distinct, from the entry-level rooms to the top-tier accommodations. Some rooms have retained their original concrete floors, while others have plush carpeting throughout.

I stayed in Room 202, on the corner of the building, with large windows offering views of Waco’s skyline. Custom Sferra linens graced the king-size bed. The large bathroom featured an abundance of marble as well as striking green tiles on the walls; Le Labo toiletries; fluffy towels; and a Dyson hairdryer. While there’s no in-room coffee maker, a complimentary carafe of hot, freshly brewed coffee is delivered at the requested time each morning — and, if you haven’t eaten it already, the trail mix left during each evening’s turndown service is the perfect pairing with that a.m. coffee.

Room 205, which used to be a bursar’s office, features Chip Gaines’s favorite detail in the hotel: a giant safe, which has been turned into a working closet.

The largest is Room 206, a suite so sprawling and unusual that, even after the hotel opened, the staff struggled with what to name it: The Bridal Suite? Maybe off-putting to anyone not there for a wedding. The Group Suite? Weird. The Grand Suite? Viable. Ultimately, they called it the Washington Suite, after the street on which the hotel sits. The 2,200-square-foot suite sleeps 10 people and has three-and-a-half bathrooms. Because of historic-preservation rules, the design team couldn’t add new walls. So bookshelves that rise nearly to the ceiling — stocked with books from Larry McMurtry’s bookshop — demarcate three different sleeping areas and a living space that includes a 10-seat dining table. On the far end of the suite, there’s a two-chair pedicure station — an ingenious adaptation of a raised platform that couldn’t be moved.

Food and Drink

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

The only entirely new construction on the property was the rooftop addition that houses an elegant bar called Bertie’s. On a warm evening, the expansive roof terrace, with sweeping views of Waco, is the perfect place to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. Bertie’s and the Brasserie, the much larger, all-day restaurant downstairs, share some menu items, including the richly savory, slightly spicy Korean-style wings, which Joanna told me were approved by her Korean-born mother, Nan; and the outstanding cheeseburger, which is topped with black-pepper bacon and green-tomato jam. But several dishes are only available in the Brasserie, including the signature braised pork for two and a playful, delicious update of a classic wedge salad that accents the iceberg with blistered cherry tomatoes and an array of crispy seeds. Just off the lobby, the Cafe at the Hotel 1928 serves an all-day menu of pastries and sandwiches.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel 1928</p>

Courtesy of Hotel 1928

Amenities and Experiences

Turndown service is provided nightly. There is a Magnolia-curated gift shop next to the lobby. While the hotel has no spa, pool, or fitness center, Cameron Park, which has an abundance of paths for running or walking, is just a mile-and-a-half away. Perhaps the biggest attraction for guests is a visit to the Silos and Magnolia storefront (a 10-minute walk from the hotel). The hotel is also equipped to host events and includes a stunning private gathering space with factory windows and intricate chandeliers.


A handful of the 33 rooms are ADA-compliant. Guests can inquire ahead of their stay about additional accommodations the hotel may be able to provide.


The Hotel 1928 is located in downtown Waco. The hotel is also a five-minute drive to the Baylor University campus. You can fly into the Waco airport, though the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is about 90 miles away and a relatively easy drive for those renting a car.

Rooms at Hotel 1928 start from $375 a night.

For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.