Laura Stafford, designer at Magnolia Homes and on HGTV's Fixer Upper, talks with us about career uncertainty and learning the importance of rest.
4word: Tell us a little about your story and how you came to work at Magnolia Homes.
Laura: I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, and Houston, Texas. I went to Baylor University and wanted to be a vocal performer, but I was unsure about living from audition to audition. One day, I was explaining to a friend what I really loved (technical, scientific, architecture, numbers, creative, artistic, colors, aesthetics), and my friend said I should consider interior design.
After a year, I changed my major to interior design. It was a super demanding major! I pulled so many all-nighters on projects. I enjoyed the program, but I graduated thinking I wouldn't use my degree. As I look back, much of my inspiration for design came from my two grandmas. They focused on their beautiful homes, and we connected around that area.
Next, because God was teaching me I had a choices, I went through training school at Antioch Church and was interested in missions. Those couple of years floating around after graduation were years of character building. God used the training school to teach me how to follow Him, meet with Him, and learn from Him. I would have never discovered the opportunity to use my interior design degree without God. I said, "God, just tell me what to do, and I'll do it."
I went to work for a jewelry store part time while working at the church. It was a time of healing for me in some other areas of my life. This verse really spoke to me then:
“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with lapis lazuli. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones." Isaiah 54:11-12
One day, I delivered some repaired jewelry pieces to Joanna Gaines at Magnolia Homes. When I arrived, Jo wasn't there. Chip invited me to sit in a meeting while I waited for Jo. I overheard their design plans and thought, "I have solutions to everything they're talking about." Then, Chip asked me a question that I actually had the answer for.
The next day, a friend of mine who had worked for Magnolia but had just moved to Houston said, "You should consider going to work for Chip and Jo. They are hiring." She had no idea I was there the day before. I thought, "Was God putting this opportunity in my lap? Why wouldn't I apply?" So I did, and I got the job!
I began working right when Magnolia Homes was just being considered for the Fixer Upper TV show. Chip and Joanna were just doing small renovations at the time. They got the show, and my first project was in Fixer Upper's season one. Our team of seven was small but mighty! I have now been working at Magnolia Homes for three years, and we are on season four of Fixer Upper with over 300 employees at Magnolia Market, Magnolia Homes, and Magnolia Realty.
4word: How do you find purpose in your work?
Laura: The families! With every home we work on, we sow prayer into each home. Jeremiah 30:18 describes the purpose I feel I have in my work.
This is what the Lord says: "I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place.''
Restoration is just a beautiful thing. It's taking old, worn, maybe even destroyed things and putting life and beauty back into them.
Recently, we had a client who had a broken past. We had the chance to give the family a safe place to restart. We are daily touching houses where families will live. We are rebuilding and setting a tone for their future. We can pray that their home will be an oasis for them. We have completed fifteen houses and now we have thirteen more. We have a chance to be used to reestablish what it means to be family. On social media, Chip and Jo are receiving comments from those who don't have a relationship with God. God is using them to touch people all over for His glory.
4word: With Fixer Upper's success, how do you focus on staying humble?
Laura: Like most people, I don't love every aspect of my job. Even in doing something I love, I have to work doubly hard at the project management part. Design comes much easier to me. I really had to learn that I wasn't going to be great at all parts of my job, so some areas you just have to work at it.
Speaking of hard work, right before my job with Magnolia Homes started, I remembered the house that I had always loved. It was a crack house in my church neighborhood and every time I passed it, I dreamed of buying and renovating it. I had no idea at the time what God had in store. I heard God say, “I will give you the house.” My experience at Magnolia trained me in the work that it was going to take to see this promise fulfilled. Over seven months, I worked on this house...my own Fixer Upper!
4word: How does the team at Magnolia Homes practice boundaries around relationships?
Laura: We don't work on houses outside of a 30-mile radius to protect our people from traveling away from their families. Also, if I don't get something done, I'll do it in the next week. There are some weeks that I need to work more hours to meet a deadline, but it's important for me to remain balanced. I make the decision to leave the office and go home.
4word: You have to win people over to your design ideas. How do you do that?
Laura: This comes easy in our world. Our clients sign up for Fixer Upper because they know the work we do. They come with their own unique styles that we take into account. God allows us to "get into their heads," and it is amazing what happens as we design these homes with them in mind. It's important to us that it “fits” the client and, of course, we love bringing in our own ideas, surprises, and the wow factor they might not have been able to think of themselves.
4word: What leadership characteristics have you experienced at Magnolia Homes that have impacted you?
Laura: Chip and Jo are very empowering and releasing. This is key to being able to take risks and just go for it. I love this about them. They are dreamers who really make others' dreams happen too. I learned a ton on my first project on season one of Fixer Upper. We were really small. We didn't have a market. We only had seven on staff. I was a contractor, designer, budget controller, project manager, etc.
Collectively, we have surrounded ourselves with people who first have a relationship with God and bring that into the workplace each day. Magnolia Homes is also committed to relationships with employees who are loyal. Chip and Jo could hire "the best of the best," but they are loyal and committed to those who started with them. Prayer is also key. We can only do so much. Joanna's mom is our official prayer warrior at work!
4word: Do you ever have to talk your inner self into moving forward on something that is risky?
Laura: Due to a combination of things going on with family, adult life pressures, dating, and more responsibility at work as we grew, I was recently getting to a point of burn out. Staying close to God and being in relationship with Him when there wasn't a lot of space and time had become a struggle.
So last month I took four days off work and went on a retreat. I needed these four days, but it was really hard to do. I trusted my team. They blessed me and encouraged me to go. While I was gone, my team really carried my load for me. I had time to rebuild my relationship with God. Now I know that my relationship with God has to be first. The work is going to get done (and probably done better!) when I am rooted in God first.
Isn't amazing how God can orchestrate our lives? Even if you're unsure of where to go, never lose faith that God's plan is the best plan!
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