Joanna Gaines knows how to stay busy. The HGTV superstar first took the world by storm with her hit series, Fixer Upper, as she and her husband Chip helped hundreds of Texas families transform their somewhat decrepit yet potential-rich houses into breathtaking homes that told a story. The all-American duo helped design aficionados and complete amateurs alike uncover the life-changing power of a home flip, while their palpable charisma stole our hearts and made shiplap sexy.
With the cult-like following that the Gaines' have attracted, their series finale begged the question: Now what? Most were elated–but not surprised– to discover that Joanna, who is the mother of five including a five-month-old baby boy, had no plans of slowing down. Just about a year ago, Gaines announced that she was writing a book, which, after much anticipation, was just released. , is something that Joanna says she's been “unknowingly writing in the back of my mind,” for twenty- years. The 350-page volume is a practical (and extremely detailed) guide to crafting a home that is beautiful and meaningful; a space that you never want to leave. It presents six foundational home styles and features 22 homes–including her own Waco, Texas farmhouse–all of which represent a wide range of styles and possibilities. “I want this book to be a guide to the authentic story that readers want to tell,” Joanna tells ED. Her unpretentious approach abandons the arbitrary guidelines of traditional design advice, and is meant to empower and motivate anyone and everyone to craft a home they'll love.
We sat down with the designer to learn more about her inspiration, process, and the journey of writing a book.
ELLE DECOR: Your book talks a lot about crafting a home that tells a story. How do you do that in a way that doesn't feel cluttered or confused?
JOANNA GAINES: In the beginning stages of designing a home, the fundamentals should be your timeless elements. Everything else that you layer in are the pieces that tell your story, are what will make your home feel personal. It's always good to find a balance, letting some rooms "breath," so that it never feels too crowded. It also depends on your personality. Some people feel most comfortable in a minimalist space, while others are inspired by having many things around them. That's what the whole book is about–understanding that there aren't really any rules–it simply depends on what works best for you.
ED: How do you insure a home doesn't feel overly-curated or staged?
JG: I think people are finally starting to understand the idea that a home will evolve over time...the pieces that you wait for are what make the process so fun. Its never a good idea to buy everything from a catalog and be done. Obviously you need the basics, like a sofa or dining room table, but after that, it's good to look at a blank wall and say "I'm going to leave that wall blank until I find 'that very thing' that makes it meaningful to who I am. That's how you insure that a space feels authentic to the story you want to tell. It evolves.
ED: What are the spaces that you recommend going crazy with, whether that's over-the-top accents or an abundance of personal touches?
JG: It can be fun to go over the top in spaces that you don't use a ton, like a formal dining room or library, because you're not constantly in that space. I always say that bathrooms and entryways are a great place to go crazy, because they are smaller, high traffic areas, but not as much time is spent in them. Still, there are also ways to do this in more used areas, like a living room. I always recommend hanging a bunch of photos on a wall, but opting for matching frames or a black and white filter to create a thread of commonality.
ED: What is the secret to creating a space that you never want to leave, regardless of your design aesthetic? What types of decor should you buy to keep forever, and which are the pieces that can be easily switched out?
JG: I always say that the accent pieces–rugs, throws, pillows–are the items you can buy and replace easily, whether it's because you get tired of or a color, or a pattern no longer works, or you're just over it in general. It's always fun to refresh a space, and these pieces make it easy to do that. The basics, however, like sofas and chairs and coffee tables, are investments. It's important to really think through and do your research before purchasing those pieces. Ask yourself, "will I love this in five years?" It's also great to incorporate those one-of-a-kind finds or antique pieces that are added details, but live on with you forever. When all of those things come together, your home starts to feel right.
ED: In your book, everything is beautiful. And that can make it hard for people to decide on which design style to choose. What is some advice you would give clients to help them pinpoint a style and make sure it's reflected throughout their home?
JG: That's actually one of the main goals of this book. In the beginning of each chapter, whether we're talking bathrooms or dining rooms of living rooms, the first thing we talk about is what to consider. It's important to critically think about each room you are designing. When you skim through the different rooms in the book, think: What do you love about this room? What do you hate? What's speaking to you? What's not? If you write that down, and continue that through the whole book, you can truly identify what style you like the most. I don't want people to go through the book and think "oh I want this home," or "oh I want this room." Instead, I want people to take inspiration from these rooms and be able to better articulate their own style.
ED: What is the #1 piece of advice you'd give to someone who's about to begin renovating their home?
JG: First, take the words design and style out of your vocabulary. It's most important to think, "what is the story I'm trying to tell?" Once you do that, a lot of the weight falls off and the rules go away. You abandon the process of trying to choose right from wrong, and embrace the idea that what matters most is creating a home that is meaningful. Don't be intimidated, because the process at it's core isn't actually intimidating. That's when the everything becomes really fun.