Joanna Gaines on creating a home, 'investing' in Waco and the 'core question' she always comes back to


If there's one thing that Joanna Gaines knows for sure, it's how to make a house a home.

The former "Fixer Upper" star's latest project comes in the form of "Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave," a de facto how-to guide to help people cultivate a home perfect for whoever's living in it. The book comes in signature Gaines fashion: Aesthetically pleasing, relatable and effortlessly falling somewhere between refined and casual.

SEE ALSO: "Fixer Upper" stars Chip and Joanna Gaines' next move revealed

While in New York for her book's press tour, Gaines sat down with AOL's Gibson Johns to talk about "Homebody," how her early days as a story owner inspired it, the most important rules she teaches her clients and the "core question" she and husband, Chip, always ask themselves before taking on a new project.

Check out our exclusive conversation with Joanna Gaines below:

How long has writing a book like "Homebody" been an idea that you’ve had?

I would say that when I first opened the shop in 2003, I was learning the idea of design and I had a lot of customers that would come in for, say, a candle, but then they’d say, “Hey, can I show you a picture of something?” And they’d show me a picture of their mantle or something and they’d say, “Can you give me some advice?” And then I’d sit there, go through it and try to figure out how to best help them. Then, when they’d come back a week later and show me what they did, they’d be so excited about it. Early on, I started jotting down these things about how everyone’s different. I can’t just say to everyone, “On your mantle, do this.” It was very different for every client. From the beginning it’s always been a dream in the back of my mind, and then after we finished filming “Fixer Upper,” I finally had time to invest in doing this. I had options to do it before, but I just wasn’t ready. I wanted to give this my undivided attention.

Surely there are things that you were able to get across in "Homebody" that you weren't able to do on the show. What does the medium of a book enable you to do that "Fixer Upper" couldn't?

It’s a deeper dive. Obviously, there are a lot of pretty pictures, but I hoped that the captions would also help with some of the troubleshooting in the beginning. When people see the pictures, they actually can start seeing the "why" and how these room came to be. People didn’t just throw these rooms together; there are reasons behind [everything]. I want people to not only take notes for their own house, but [also understand] the idea that, with all these homes in this book, it’s not that you’ll want something specifically for yourself, but it’s about how do we take this as inspiration -- knowing it’s authentically that person -- and apply it to your own story. Sometimes its hard with the internet and magazines, you find something and you’re just set on wanting that.

Harper Design

Totally, and it's so easy these days on the internet to get overwhelmed with the oversaturation of images and ideas on Pinterest and Instagram. How do you help clients sort through the noise?

It’s more about emotion. Rarely do I tell people to bring me all the pictures of what they want. I sit down with clients and first say, “What do you want your house to feel like? What’s the season of life that you’re in? Who’s sharing this house with you?” And start thinking of it from an emotional sense. It’s about getting away from the stuff and not starting with that. It’s like, “Own what you’re in.” Whether you’re in a huge house or an apartment, own it. Too many times people are like, “When I get into my dream home, I’ll really invest and make things intentional, but until then…” But wherever you are in life, home is the most important place, so invest in it!

Something else you've obviously had to deal with is making spaces that are kid-friendly without sacrificing aesthetic. What are some key points that help you strike that balance?

I was joking earlier that I was celebrating the idea that my kids are getting older now and I can have more breakable stuff, but then I just had a newborn, so… [Laughs] But, yeah, there’s nothing in our living room that’s necessarily for the kids, but it’s just I wanted to make sure whatever was in there was kid friendly. I have to tell myself ahead of time, “If this gets broken, if this gets damaged, who cares!” You have to just get over it, because life really happens in a space, and with life really happening, there’s going to be some stuff that breaks. The balance is figuring out where it’s worth doing the pretty, but making sure that it’s practical, so that your kids don’t feel like they can’t be kids. You go and you just plop yourself onto the couch and feel welcome; that’s what we want people to feel when they come over.

There's space in the back of the book for readers to take notes and sketch. What's the idea behind including that space?

When I’m walking into a space, I always sketch out the layout, and I always like thinking about, “What’s the best frame for this room?” for everyone being in there and feeling comfortable. I wanted people to read this book and have a takeaway -- something practical. So, say there’s something in your kitchen that you’re getting modified, I hope they whip that thing out and use it to problem solve. All the answers aren’t in this book, but my hope is that it’s the thing that moves them into the right direction of just trying. There’s just something about writing something down.

This book is very much a celebration of the home, but I also feel like the idea of "home" extends beyond just the physical structure of where you live. For you and Chip, you've really planted your roots in Waco, especially now with your growing business. Talk to me about how much you consider the city of Waco to be your home, too.

Chip and I are huge into the idea of just investing in your town, investing in your city and, for us, it’s Waco. Waco was bound for this -- it’s not a Chip and Jo thing -- but we’re so happy that we’ve been able to be part of something special. The city needed to catch a break and, knowing that fifteen years ago we said we’d plant our roots there and build stuff there, it’s just fun seeing that. That feels like home, too. Seeing people pour into the city, it’s like they’re coming to our home.

You've literally created tourist attractions in Waco!

We still don’t believe that -- that feels weird! [Laughs] It’s so amazing, and doesn’t seem like real life.

So, "Fixer Upper" is done, but you and Chip obviously continue to do different projects and things. Fans never really know what’s coming from you two, but I think they really yearn for that continued connection that you guys cultivated together on the show. Is that on your mind as you figure out what's next?

We’re in the thick of it trying to figure out what’s next, but also the magazine [Magnolia Journal] is a way that we connect. I love it and the connection to readers. We’re so intentional about every page. For me, that’s my way to stay connected, and that’s been something that I just love to do. We’ll see [what's next].

And, really, it feels as though whatever you do decide, what really matters is that you and Chip continue to be yourselves -- that's truly what people love!

No matter what we’ve done, I think we always have to go back to the core question of, “Is this really who we are?” or “Is this allowing us to do what we love doing the most?” Even for the book, pressing in on that authenticity and telling your story, I think that can resonate in your home, as well. Is it authentic to your story? If you just put a bunch of stuff on the walls just to fill it, it won’t be. Use what you’ve got and celebrate the season of life that you’re in.

"Homebody" by Joanna Gaines is available for purchase now. Order it here.