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!

7 things Joanna Gaines never passes up at estate sales
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7 things Joanna Gaines never passes up at estate sales

Architectural pieces

If you've watched an episode of "Fixer Upper," you know that Joanna loves adding unique touches to her clients' homes in the form of architectural pieces like old doors, windows or corbels. 

"Anything that came out of an old house or building that's kind of its own story. That's the kind of stuff I'm always looking for," Joanna told Country Living.


Ornate frames

One of the easiest ways to add that special touch to any room is by using picture frames. Joanna loves using antique frames to display her children's' artwork. 

"It's a fun play when you have your kids' artwork paired with an antique frame," she said.


Unusual storage

Not only are Joanna's design pretty, they're also functional as well. 

"I'm always looking for storage, so anything that I can put in the living room that we can hide something under that's also a unique piece—[like] old storage boxes and bins," Joanna told Country Living. "And I'm always looking for something you can store toys in but that's kind of cool and unique." 


Vintage books

A home designed by Joanna is never without a stack of vintage books on a table or carefully placed on a shelf.

"I love antique books," Joanna said. "They're quirky and make [a space] feel not so expected."

Old light fixtures

We think nothing makes a bigger statement than a unique light fixture -- and Joanna agrees!

"Old light fixtures to incorporate in newer renovations. When we're doing these renovations I always want it to feel like there's history there, and one way to incorporate that is using antique light fixtures that you [can] have rewired."



Joanna's go-to when it comes to making a home feel "homey" are knickknacks throughout the living space that are special to the owners.

"I love knickknack-type stuff for the bookshelves. I feel like bookshelves and open built-ins can feel a little stale, so for me it's finding these random little things that speak to you. I have this brass mouse that's so random, but to me it's just the cutest thing. It's those things that help tell your story."


Channel letters

Joanna isn't the only one who's a fan of this decoration. Her husband, Chip, is also a huge fan. The other half of the "Fixer Upper" duo has said he "loves" these letters while antique shopping with JoJo.



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.

10 facts you didn't know about 'Fixer Upper' stars Chip and Joanna Gaines
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10 facts you didn't know about 'Fixer Upper' stars Chip and Joanna Gaines

They both attended Baylor University, but the two actually didn't meet in school! 

Jo's father owned tire shop and he saw a picture of her hanging behind the store counter. He convinced himself he was gonna marry Jo even before they had actually met.

(Photo: Getty)

Jo was a communications major at Baylor University and she had dreams of becoming a broadcast journalist. 

Before getting her big break on "Fixer Upper," she actually appeared in commercials for her father's tire shop. Chip eventually used the commercial in a pick-up line when they first met ... and the rest is history!

As for Chip, he had other aspirations, like being a baseball player or politician. 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Chip stays loyal to his favorite clothing brands. In fact, he's worn the same style of jeans and boots since they got married in 2003 -- Gap 1969 standard-fit jeans and Ariat boots.

His ladylove, on the other hand, prefers Citizen low-rise skinny jeans and Frye boots. 

As you can probably tell from all their renovations on "Fixer Upper," Jo loves to decorate with pretty blooms and greenery. Her favorite flower? Pink antique roses.
Chip and Jo's Pinterest-perfect farmhouse sits on 40 acres of land, which is just big enough for their 60 animals to roam around in.
Jo knew the value of hard work even when she was very young. Her first job? At an all-you-can-eat buffet. To this day, she says still appreciates buffet lines, but her husband has different thoughts on the matter.

The couple's first fixer-upper home? Their very own abode that they started working on soon after their honeymoon. The 1,700-square-foot Victorian home they currently live in is the ninth home they've lived in and renovated together.

The name "Magnolia," which they named all their businesses after (Magnolia Homes, Magnolia Market, Magnolia Farms) holds a special meaning. When they first started dating, Chip would bring blooms from Magnolia trees to Jo.

The Gaines family doesn't own a television! They go over to a friend's house every week to watch their own "Fixer Upper" episodes or in their hotel room during trips.


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. 

Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines on Instagram
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Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines on Instagram
This is 40. And I like it... #pregnantandforty #anddoughnuts
I can't believe tonight marks our very last episode of Fixer Upper. This picture is of us filming our pilot in 2012 and then our last scene of fixer in 2017. What a journey this has been! Check out my blog to read an update from us and to see what's on the horizon for our family and Magnolia as we move forward. The end is bittersweet, but we are excited for what's to come. Tune in tonight for the series finale on HGTV @ 9/8c! #fixerupper (link in profile)
We can’t believe tonight’s the series finale of #FixerUpper. What a ride it’s been! I'll be sharing some blasts from the past today leading up to the final episode at 9/8c on HGTV.
I can't believe there are only TWO fixer uppers left?! I love tonight's episode!! See Chip's dream of owning a breakfast joint turn into a reality with this giant renovation. Watch tonight at 9/8c @hgtv #magnoliatable #fixerupper
What an amaizng weekend with the @timtebowfoundation ✨ Thank you for giving hope and love to so many #ttfgolf2018
Tonight's episode is another favorite of mine because it's a personal project here at the farm. I can't wait for you to see this beautiful reveal! #fixerupper 9/8c @hgtv ❤️
Tonight’s going to be a very special episode! We partnered with @timtebow and the @timtebowfoundation to help an amazing family here in Waco. You won’t want to miss it!! @hgtv 9/8 CT. #fixerupper | Photo courtesy of @HGTV
The restaurant is getting so close. Magnolia Table will be open soon and we can’t believe it?!? Chip + Jo=❤️
Gaines party of 7.. (If you’re still confused.. WE ARE PREGNANT) @joannagaines
This guy right here... I get to live life with him. I get to hear his thoughts and benefit from his wisdom and encouragement on a daily basis. The reason I am who I am today is because Chip pushed me to go for it. People think of him as a jokester, and he is. It’s a huge part of why I fell in love with him in the first place. But he is so much more than that. He is the ultimate cheerleader, coach and dream maker. I am so thrilled that his book releases today mostly because I believe it holds truth that the world is in desperate need of. I am always proud to be Chip’s wife but today more than ever. I know this book was a true labor of love. Well done, Chip Carter Gaines! #CapitalGaines @chipgaines
What a day!! #CapitalGaines #booktournyc @chipgaines
What a night ✨✨ #silobration
Today we got to take a walk down memory lane with the crew... remember this house?! This was the first home we shot for our #fixerupper pilot episode five years ago! My how time flies 📺
Thank you all for watching, caring and cheering us on these past few years. We are overwhelmed by your support and your kindness. You have become a part of our story forever. Season 5 of Fixer Upper is scheduled to start airing in November and we really have saved the best for last! (To see the full announcement about our finale season, visit
Congratulations to my Chipstarter winners! Some may say 6 out of 2,700 is lucky.. around here we call that a miracle and I’m honored to be a small part of your story moving forward. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share your dream with me. Capital Gaines is officially out tomorrow, so go pick up a copy and keep working towards that dream of yours. #CapitalGaines (link to winning videos in my profile)
Jo has poured her heart and soul into this new line, Hearth & Hand with Magnolia available at Target November 5th. We're here with Bullseye at Target HQ today announcing it to all of their team members! I wrote down all my thoughts about this project on the blog—go check it out. #HearthAndHand (Link in profile)
@U2 tonight - I have a feeling this is going to be a good one. #U2TheJoshuaTree2017
Another #fixerupper reveal down today for Season five! @hgtv #season5iscoming
Was trying to make a video for a friend this morning with @chippergaines .... his tutorial was 👍🏽 #🤡
Once a design assistant, always a design assistant. I've got the best job in the world! #fixerupper #season5iscoming
I've got you babe! #season5iscoming #fixerupper 📹: @huntybuns
WHAT!?! 📸@brockwayne
Out on a hot date last night! @joannagaines loves to drive, so I usually let her.. but road trips, those are mine!
"We were together. I forget the rest." - Walt Whitman & @jimmydon522 Happy Valentine's Day @joannagaines
He competes with the view. Man bun, tube socks, adult onesie and all... He still looks mighty fine to me❤️#workcation #bookcamp
That was a fun date night ❤️@chippergaines @u2
Today started off with me holding one of our new baby goats and counting chickens... I knew it was going to be a good one. THANK YOU for all the kind words and birthday wishes ❤❤❤
Watch an all new #fixerupper tonight!! 9/8c @hgtv
Happpppy New Year!!! 2017!! #adultonesies @chippergaines
Tonight is an all new special episode! It's the season four Clip show- full of out takes, bloopers and behind the scenes footage. You won't want to miss! 9/8c @hgtv

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

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