When C.J. and Janessa Ormsby watch “Fixer Uppers,” the home-flipping show on HGTV, the scenes look very much like their life in Bettendorf.

Almost exactly like their life.

Like the show’s starring couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Ormsbys own their own construction and design company, called Shabby to Chic.

The Ormsbys follow a similar strategy of renovating the worst, often run-down, house in a neighborhood and making it shine. Just as the roles shake out on TV, C.J., who owns a masonry company, leads the construction efforts and Janessa adds interior design touches. Plus, the couples' first names even have a similar sound. 

“We get it all the time,” Janessa Ormsby, 33, said. “A lot of friends say, ‘You remind me so much of Chip and Jo.”

It’s a compliment for Ormsby, who has seen nearly episode of “Fixer Upper,” including the makeovers, demolition days, references to shiplap and the occasional marital spats. She's currently reading “The Magnolia Story,” a book by the celebrity couple, and, for a recent birthday, her husband arranged a surprise trip to Waco, Texas, where the couple lives and films the show. 

“People love Chip and Jo, including us,” she said. “They’re kind to one another and show love; they have great personalities and good character and have faith. I think’s why people connect with them and like watching them so much."

The first flip

Fans also admire Joanna Gaines’ simplistic style, which Janessa Ormsby counts as inspiration for her own home, a space accented with light colors, large windows, vintage furniture found at “podunk antique stores on the side of the road,” hand-crafted stonework and repurposed wood.

In fact, the Ormsbys' Bettendorf home, their first property flip, sparked their interest in the renovation industry.

Back in 2012, a month after they got married, they bought a 1960s former Baptist Church because it was cheaper than buying a brand new house, and started a six-month renovation.

“I thought he was crazy,” she said. “I just wanted to buy a pretty house and move in. But my husband really has amazing vision.”

Together, they gutted the church — including the classrooms, baptistry and pews — transformed the floor plans, added a garage and upgraded the exterior.

“There was a lot of compromising between our styles; he’s more industrial and I’m a bit more warm,” she said. “And it really strengthened our marriage.”

When they think back to their house’s history — and imagine the weddings, sermons and baptisms held there — they say the “sweat equity” was worth it.”

“Some mornings, I’ll come out to the kitchen and be amazed,” she said. “It was so much work and lots of late nights. Nothing makes you feel better than a finished product and knowing you did it together.”

Seeing potential

They didn’t plan to flip more homes, but one day Janessa Ormsby's husband came home with some unexpected news.

“He told me he bought a run-down house for us to fix,” she said. “And I said, ‘Um, what?’”

After flipping that house on Central Avenue in Bettendorf  — and making a profit equal to what her yearly salary was in just three months — they decided to establish Shabby to Chic, which Ormsby now considers a happy accident.

“It’s really a blessing,” she said. “We get to combine our skills and do something we can get our whole family involved in. And we get to improve a neighborhood.”

With impressive "before and after" photos, and quickly-sold houses to show for it, the pair is currently on their fifth renovation project, which happens to be the property next door to their house. The 700-square-foot house was in such rough shape that the Ormsbys decided to tear it down and start anew.

They often search real estate websites for “dumpy houses,” including foreclosed properties, and have horror stories about surprise infestations, molds, plumbing issues, etc.

“They’re not the prime real estate most people look for,” C.J. Ormsby, 40, who has worked in the industry since he was 20, said. “Nobody likes that in their neighborhood. It’s what we call a declining neighborhood.”

But he doesn’t see the bad.

“I see potential,” he said. “I look right past the crappy sidewalks, the paint job, the floors, the cracks, the terrible light fixtures. The way I think about it is if we don’t fix it up, other investors will come and just do the minimum. We don’t do the minimum.”

A good team 

It's easy to see why their friends, including Janessa’s mother, Janice Willis, draw comparisons between the Ormsbys and “Fixer Uppers,” currently in its fourth season.

“I watch the show and I just think of my daughter and son-in-law,” Willis, who lives about a mile from her daughter, said. “I think it’s because they have mutual respect and a lot of love.”

C.J. and Janessa Ormsby share other traits with the small-screen stars. They value their Christian faith, family time and often let their kids — 12-year-old Gavin and 2-year-old Levi — test out power tools.

Plus, every now and then, there are some TV-worthy moments of drama. 

“We don’t worry about getting it done and looking high-quality,” C.J. Ormsby said. “But we worry, ‘Are we doing all of this work and not going to make any money?”

“Nothing ever goes quite as planned with construction,” his wife added. “Sometimes, I’m just not sure what it’s going to look like and sometimes I’m not sure what he’s getting us into.”

The doubts, usually temporary, go both ways.

“She’ll show me something for a house and I might kind of grumble about it not really fitting in,” he said. “But I’ll be darned if by the end of the project, I end up loving it, even if I don’t like admitting it to her in the moment.”

What ultimately makes them a good team, they agree, is trust.

While giving a tour of her home, Janessa Ormsby, who is pregnant and wearing a “too blessed to be stressed” T-shirt, said it always seems to work out.

“We pray about things about a lot,” she said. “It keeps us going.”

That’s something her mother has noticed, too.

“Even when they do snap a little bit at each other, they come back and make it better before the sun goes down,” Willis said. “They view it as a part of life and not a catastrophe.”

Although the couple’s traits may be a good formula for binge-watching, C.J. Ormsby isn’t so sure.

“I’m not a flashy guy or a guy that likes the spotlight,” he said. “We both come from pretty darn humble beginnings. We grew up without any extra money and I think that’s helped us to stay humble.”

Those beginnings have also made their success with Shabby to Chic more sweet.

“It takes away some of those burdens and pressure of having a growing family,” he said. “God steered us this way and we’re thankful.”

They’re not exactly ruling out a shot at TV, though. Janessa Ormsby knows exactly what she’d do if HGTV came knocking.

“I’m not sure it would happen,” she said. “But it’s something we would pray about.”


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).