Welcome to the Gristmill! The set of Jo’s new cooking show finds its home in a stone house from the late 1800s.
written by Joanna Gaines
When I was a little girl, I loved to pretend that I was the host of my own cooking show. While my sisters would venture outside to ride their bikes around the neighborhood or climb trees in our backyard, I kept to the kitchen, setting up shop on our island, pouring ingredients into small bowls while talking to a camera that didn’t exist.
Yet, years later, when it came time to step into my own kitchen as a new wife, it still felt like I was crossing into a world I barely understood. I was mostly intimidated by the thought of cooking full meals, and I didn’t even know where to start with most of the recipes I’d inherited from Chip’s family—filled with unfamiliar ingredients that required tools I'd never used. But I stayed with it, practicing with the few recipes I’d learned from my mom—messing up plenty and trying again. And in those first few years of marriage, food became a bridge that connected Chip and me. Then, once we had four little kids running around, the kitchen became home base, the space where I spent so many hours of the day nourishing all of their growing bodies. Gradually, I’d start to find myself seeking out this space for myself and the simplicity of digging my hands into fresh flour—the movement of my fingers giving way to my whole body unwinding. I would explore a new dish I was curious about or return to an old family recipe for nostalgia’s sake. The kitchen became a space where my curiosity and imagination reigned.
And so, over the years, whether I’m alone and unhurried, playing around with ingredients, or the island is crowded with people I love, the kitchen is home to me.
These past couple of years, as Chip and I have poured our hearts into content and programming for Magnolia Network, the idea of doing our own kind of cooking show felt like a natural extension of who we are and what we value. Perhaps, in part, because of that dream I’ve carried around since I was a little girl. But also because of the way that food and time spent in the kitchen have become so deeply ingrained in the life of our family.
I was told early on that most cooking shows are filmed in studios where variables like lighting and sound can be controlled, which all makes sense. But I struggled with the idea of it. I’d imagined something different—space that felt authentic, that radiated with the same warmth and familiarity of my own kitchen at home. Not only as a comfort to me, as I stepped into a real-life version of something I’d only ever played pretend, but also for anyone tuning in. I believe our kitchens are sacred spaces. They hold us together: gathering us in the early morning and calling us back for the evening hours. They are the backdrop for a lifetime of nourishing and of being nourished. And the way we feel when we step into our kitchens to create something matters and is every bit as important as the meal we’re making.
kitchen + dining room
The design of the kitchen and main level was all about finding that blend of beauty and functionality. To me, the natural stone that you see throughout the house is a work of art, so I wanted to make sure it would be a primary feature in this space. Here, it is complemented by the warm wood tones of the cabinets and the organic look of the concrete countertops and sink. Keeping to a neutral and timeless palette of colors and textures leaves plenty of room for the food to shine. The island—with its antique base and gorgeous marble countertop—might be my favorite part of the kitchen. A large dining table that sits to the right of the kitchen is often full of people working while we are filming—a view I’ve come to love.
garden + greenhouse
The garden behind the gristmill has been growing alongside the first episodes of the cooking show. Year-round, the greenhouse is a place of nurture and calm.
Around the time that we started looking for places to film the cooking show, Chip and I were about to turn our attention to a new project—an abandoned gristmill that sat on the outskirts of town. It was built in the late 1800s as a flour mill, and we’d fallen in love with the entire property, starting with the old-world charm of the natural stone facade and wood beams that stretched across the high ceilings. It had been converted into a residence and, for the most part, was in good condition. Originally, we had thought it would make a beautiful bed and breakfast. But, as the thought of turning it into the set for my cooking show came to mind, suddenly the whole place was coming to life in a whole new light.
Natural light poured in through the windows on the ground floor, and there was plenty of space to build out a large kitchen and island. The staircase led to an upstairs living space where my kids could hang out while I was filming—yet another detail that would make it feel like home. And while the backyard garden had been neglected for years, I knew that with a little replanting and the addition of a greenhouse, it could become a reliable source for fresh ingredients.
As with any restoration project, our aim was to honor the integrity and history of the original structure while paying special attention to how we could create new layers of beauty and purpose in every corner.
The majority of our focus went to reestablishing the foundational elements that made this place so special, removing drywall to expose the natural stone beneath wherever we could, as well as cosmetic updates to support the needs of a cooking show. From there, it was all about the design.
While I’m more experienced designing spaces meant for everyday living, I kept to my usual philosophy of choosing materials, textures, and colors that are warm and inviting. Mixing antiques with clean and refined pieces gave the entire space a layered look that felt collected and comfortable and also left plenty of room for the food to be center stage.
What you won’t always see on the show is all that we brought into the space behind the cameras, including a large dining table that sits to the right of the kitchen.
And just like at home, whenever I’m cooking, I can look over and see people gathered around the table, working, hanging out, or simply waiting for bites of whatever I'm whipping up.
In so many ways, this show is a dream realized for that little girl who spent afternoons playing pretend in her mom’s kitchen. Yet, what I’ve loved most about this experience are all the stories unfolding on the other side of the camera—people who are stepping into their own kitchens to cook along with me, finding their own place in this space, nourishing the people they love in more ways than one. Every time I set foot in the gristmill I feel the potential and power of food being shared. My hope is that people at home will feel it too.
behind the scenes
When we walked through the gristmill for the first time, I loved that it had a basement. Now that space has been converted into functional space for the show. It serves as a prep kitchen, allowing for plenty of room to test the day’s recipes before we start filming. We also keep an assortment of dishes and extra kitchen tools there. I love to look through what we have gathered as I prepare each episode—it gets me excited for all the meals we are going to cook together.
This story was adapted for digital from the summer 2021 issue of Magnolia Journal.