Joanna Gaines Is Fixer Upper’s Queen Of Interiors, And Fans Should Know Her Decor Dos And Don’ts

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Joanna Gaines is an extremely successful interior designer. She and her husband Chip were the stars of HGTV’s home design reality show Fixer Upper. Although the show is now finished, she’s still very much a voice worth listening to if you’re planning to renovate your property. Over the years she’s compiled various dos and don’ts regarding how to make a house into a real home.

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DON’T: Have boring accent walls

Joanna doesn’t use accent walls very often, because they have to be done right. Done wrong, the wall can easily drag the whole room down. In March 2018 the HGTV star did a workshop with the paint company KILZ and shared some tips about the issue with Country Living journalist Jessica Leigh Mattern.

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At the workshop Joanna said, “If the room is shaped right and all the focus is on the backspace, then you can do that wall. If they’re done right, you don’t think of it as an accent wall.” To those who wanted to try it, she recommended that they “go all out and let it have some dimension.” She herself is keen on shiplap wooden panelling or striking wallpaper.

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DO: Cover up what can’t be taken down

In 2019 Joanna wrote a detailed blog post about fixing up a friend’s bathroom. She said, “Since a complete renovation wasn’t an option, we pulled out a few simple tricks to refresh the space and make it feel more like her unique and personal style.” One of these was — don’t forget you can just cover things up.

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Joanna said, “There are two towel bars in the space, both in locations that don’t really make sense — one in the bathtub and one above the toilet. They are grouted into the tile, so there was no easy way to remove them without damaging the walls. To fix the problem, we came up with the idea of covering them with custom-made, hollow, wooden open shelving units.” It worked.

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DON’T: Have a boring front door

In her 2018 book Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave, Joanna noted that the front entryway of a house can be very important. Joanna writes, “a bit of intention and effort can make this relatively small space the kind of warm welcome you want to share with your family and friends.”

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And of course the biggest element of an entryway is the entry itself, the door. Joanna wrote, “An old front door can really date a house.” Her advice was to, “Update your entry with a new door or paint your existing door a color that better suits your style. Adding sidelights or a new door with a window can help transform a dark entry into a light-filled space.”

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DO: Keep electronics out of the bedroom

Gaines doesn’t think that electronics belong in a bedroom. In Homebody Joanna wrote, “Chip and I try to leave our cell phones charging in the den when we go to bed at night so that we can start each day on our own terms.” She wanted their bedroom to be, “a sort of sanctuary, an escape from the busyness of life.” Obviously, this applies to larger screens as well — so keep the TV out of the boudoir too.

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This isn’t simply a home decor choice though, there’s science behind it. According to an article published on sleepfoundation.org in 2014, “Careful studies have shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. As adults we are subject to these influences and our children are particularly susceptible.”

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DON’T: Use too much purple

Joanna has a curious pet hate — the color purple. In December 2017 she and her husband teamed up with paint company KILZ to give a presentation about color. At the time, a purple had been named as Pantone’s Color of the Year, but Joanna admitted to her audience she found the shade “hard.”

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Why didn’t Joanna like it? Because, she said, it reminded her of Disney princesses. And she slammed the color again at a design workshop in March 2018, saying she thought purple was too “theme-y” for her and she only really liked the richer shades. But of course, as with all colors, it’s really a matter of taste.

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DO: Add plants everywhere

Joanna is a massive fan of house plants. In Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave she wrote, “There are few spaces that wouldn’t benefit from adding a couple of potted plants. They instantly bring warmth, life, and movement to a room. To me, plants are the easiest and happiest quick fix for any spot.”

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They don’t even have to be real plants. In 2018 Joanna told Country Living magazine, “I’m all about plants and pots, but you take that to another level with fresh florals everywhere, it just feels like a lot that you’ve got to maintain.” Her online Magnolia Market sells the same false flowers the couple use in their own house.

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DON’T: Copy someone else’s home

One thing Joanna is passionate about: a person’s home should always be, well, theirs. In a November 2018 interview with Parade magazine she said, “There’s nothing I want less than for people to look wistfully at other people’s ‘perfect’ homes and feel defeated or wish that they were theirs.”

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The interior designer went on, “More than anything, I hope people will learn that good design isn’t achieved by following arbitrary guidelines or emulating a look they see in someone else’s home. It’s also not about sticking to a specific, prescribed style. What it comes down to is telling your story and incorporating the things you love into your home.”

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DO: Include your children

Joanna and Chip have five children and it wasn’t easy to create the house around them. In her book Homebody she said, “The kids’ bathroom is one of the most hardworking spaces in the home. Whether you have one child or five utilizing it, the biggest challenge is making each kid feel like it’s theirs, in both function and personality.”

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Joanna went on, “I’ve found that labeled drawers and assigned towel hooks help keep this space tidy…When I first incorporated these simple design safeguards into my kids’ bathroom, they reacted as though I’d just unloaded a bag of new, shiny toys — and almost immediately they showed a sense of ownership over their small portion of this shared room.”

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DON’T: Make your television a focal point

The Gaines family don’t really like television, despite appearing on it so frequently. In fact, Joanna and Chip don’t even have a TV set in their house. They believe that their kids are better off without one. Though the family has iPads, the parents set some strict rules about using them. All in all, it’s a pretty screenless household.

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And this dislike of screens extends to Joanna’s home decor as well. In her Homebody book she wrote, “If your television is mounted above the fireplace, a custom mirror or large piece of artwork with a piano hinge will conceal it well. You can also hide it in a piece of furniture like an armoire if you don’t want to install anything permanent.”

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DO: Remember the importance of paint

In 2018 Joanna told Country Living magazine, “Paint is one of the biggest tools we use in our renovations. We really believe in the power of paint. For me personally, when I’m meeting with clients, the first thing I always ask is, what do you want your space to feel like?” Paint, she said, was “the biggest tool I can use to get the look they’re wanting.”

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Why was paint so vital? Joanna explained to the magazine, “I think your eye will gravitate towards the colors that are right for you — you don’t have to be a design expert. We love that paint is emotional. You can go with your gut and your eye will go with the thing that feels right for you. And that’s what’s fun about paint — it’s personal.”

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DON’T: Have uncomfortable seating

Perhaps it should go without saying that a room should be comfortable to sit in, but a lot of people tend to prioritize aesthetics over everything else. Joanna is keen to stop that being a trend. In Homebody she writes about the importance of making a dining room relaxing as well as practical.

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In her book Joanna tells readers, “If you want people to linger around your table and stay awhile, choose comfortable seating that will make your dining room more inviting. There are so many options out there that are both beautiful and comfortable. Don’t be afraid to mix and match styles for a gathered or eclectic look.”

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DO: Start off with a neutral color

After the season five premiere episode of Fixer Upper aired, Joanna used her blog to take viewers through the details of the house they’d renovated. Of the house’s living room color she wrote, “Sometimes, the idea of painting the walls of your home a shade of white could seem cold or stripped of character.” Yet there was a “but” coming.

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Joanna explained that white walls, “can actually provide a neutral and clean foundation to design around that other colors can’t, giving you more freedom to get creative with decor.” In that particular house she’d renovated, the white shade allowed for the wooden features of the room to pop out at the viewer.

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DON’T: Use the wrong sized rugs

In 2018 Joanna published a blog post titled “Choosing the Best Rug for Your Space” She remembered, “When I was first starting out as a designer, it was typical that I had a tight budget to work with. Often times, that meant when it came time to add texture to a space, I would go looking for any 4×6 or 5×7 rug that I could get for under 150 bucks.”

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Though this saved money, Joanna wrote, “Many times this choice would end up making the room feel much smaller than it actually was, because I wasn’t incorporating the correct size rug and not at all considering the floor plan I was trying to create.” Now she believes it’s vital to measure a rug before buying it.

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DO: Have a colorful bathroom

A lot of people end up having bathrooms which are just done in plain white, or are otherwise uninspired. But Joanna is determined to change all that. During a March 2018 design workshop she told Country Living’s Jessica Leigh Mattern, “I like to go bold in bathrooms. Bathrooms can have their own personality.”

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Joanna continued on, “They’re smaller spaces, and I know people always say if it’s a smaller space, go lighter, but I always like to defy the rules and go the other way.” To create a truly cool bathroom, she said, decorators could try using wallpaper or painting their vanity unit a different shade.

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DON’T: Hide everything away

Storage can be a very tricky thing to get right in a home. Where to hide all those things which don’t have a place anywhere else? Well, according to Joanna, it might actually be better not to hide them at all. She talked about the matter on a June 2017 HGTV video titled “Stylish Laundry Room Storage Tips.”

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Joanna explained on the video, “I’ve found that when things are out in the open and you have cute containers to contain the mess, it actually makes it clutter-free.” She said that keen decorators should use lots of different storage options — glass jars, baskets, anything attractive – and try and mix them all together.

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DO: Use pillows, throws and rugs

Joanna is very big on rugs – she even has her own line of them, a collection she designed herself. And in a November 2016 blog post she discussed the importance of a room’s “finishing touches.” Her collection of cushions, blankets, rugs and the like was what made her house “feel like home,” and they were “important additions to any room.”

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The interior design expert said, “I’m choosy when it comes to these little things. I’d say just as much as I am with the big things—like furniture or paint colors. Because these are the pieces that bring it all together and make a room feel lived-in and cozy, not just ‘put together’ or ‘staged.’” Plus, she added, they add texture.

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DON’T: Leave appliances exposed

In the “Kitchen” section of her book Homebody, Joanna spoke about the difficulty of balancing the functionality of a kitchen with its aesthetic appeal. She said, “There’s an old adage about how the kitchen is the heart of the home, and as trite as that may sound, there’s obviously a reason it became a cliché in the first place.”

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Joanna believes in hiding the awkward kitchen appliances. She suggested in the book, “Install your microwave into an island, or stash it away in the pantry or a cabinet along with any other small appliances that aren’t used every day. You may need an electrician to install an extra outlet in these spaces. Cabinets can also be customized to hide refrigerators or dishwashers.”

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DO: Mix old and new things

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After designing “the Lunar Lander House” on the first episode of season five of Fixer Upper, Joanna talked about it on her blog. She had mixed old and new furniture pieces in the living room, she said, because it had “always been a design ‘rule’” for her. It had certainly served her well for a long time.

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Joanna wrote, “Because some of the larger pieces in this room were ‘old’ (the sofa and the bold rug), I made sure that most of the accent pieces were ‘new,’ with clean lines — to be sure the room didn’t feel like an antique store. In the end, I incorporated the framed original deeds to the client’s house above the couch to give a thoughtful nod to the home’s history.”

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DON’T: Treat your house like a showroom

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One thing Joanna is adamant about is that her house is a home first. In Homebody she remembered, “I spent many hours a day tidying up couch pillows and immediately picking up any messes my children made, sometimes while they were still making them. And then one day, I looked around our living room that I had so carefully assembled and realized it didn’t look anything like our family.”

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Joanna went on, “Not one of us was represented in this space that was supposed to be central to us living life together. On top of that, I had spent so much of my time cleaning up any trace of my kids that this room had become a place they didn’t even feel comfortable in.” She instantly set about changing that.

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DO: Find new uses for old rooms

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Writing on her blog in March 2020, Joanna offered some room advice. She said, “We all have underused or perhaps even misused spaces at home, and we all have reasons they stay that way. Maybe it’s too much trouble to rethink the laundry room, even though you have square footage to spare — only that square footage has been functioning as storage space lately.”

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The HGTV star suggested, “Consider converting a room that only gets used occasionally, like a guest room or sunroom, into your dream laundry space. Install bookshelves and a desk along an empty wall or build a worktable from sawhorses and a thick piece of plywood. Reimagining a room isn’t about making every square inch of it picture-perfect. It’s about making it support the season you’re in.”

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