Joanna Gaines' Favorite Design Elements For A Farmhouse Fixer Upper Look

Since Joanna Gaines came on the scene in 2013 with the pilot of "Fixer Upper," the design world has been obsessed with the modern farmhouse aesthetic. She took her Texan roots and combined the traditional country design with contemporary accents. Because of these modern touches, it became more attractive for a wider audience. Gaines' look is a little more minimalist and contemporary, rather than purely traditional. Therefore, it helps to know which design elements she reaches for most often, so you can recreate her iconic style. There are certain features Gaines utilizes time and time again, and incorporating them in your own home can give your space the Gaines treatment. 

Some elements are easy to spot as Gaines-approved, such as shiplap and subway tiles, which she helped popularize over the last decade. But others are a little more under the radar, but still help flesh out that traditional farmhouse look, such as antique doors and wainscoting. These are features she has used repeatedly in "Fixer Upper" and its multiple spin-offs, and by using several of them at once, you can piece together a room that will look like Gaines designed it herself. Here are some of her favorite farmhouse design elements. 


Joanna Gaines helped put shiplap on the map by making it an integral part of her modern farmhouse aesthetic. It brings historic charm to a space, making a room feel quintessentially "country," thanks to its connotation with old farmhouses. But, funny enough, when Gaines first used it in 2013 when renovating a farmhouse, she had no idea it would become a cult-favorite design. "I had never done shiplap before — I've seen it in a lot of these older houses that we were renovating — but I never fully highlighted it until I saw it in the farm," Gaines explained to Apartment Therapy. "It was authentic to the farm, [and we] painted it white. Once you put that coat of white paint, there is this fresh kind of take on something that's old and rustic." It was the perfect combination of old and new, which became her signature look. 

If you have grown tired of the traditional boarded look, Gaines has a fresh spin you can adopt. Gaines' shiplap alternative has been dubbed "skinnylap," and it utilizes thinner boards to create a more contemporary design. Unlike shiplap boards, which are typically 5 to 8 inches wide, skinnylap boards are a mere 1 to 2 inches wide. This is because skinnylap is actually lath, another feature commonly found in historic homes. "'Lath' is a thin flat strip of wood where they use a series of pieces to form a foundation for the plaster of a wall," she explained on Instagram. Incorporating skinnylap into your space will give you the same rustic look as shiplap, but with a fresher twist.

Subway tiles

Another staple in modern farmhouse design is subway tiles. Joanna Gaines has included them everywhere, from kitchens to bathrooms to laundry rooms. They fit her antique-inspired farmhouse aesthetic, because they're another vintage trend. While subway tiles seem like a relatively new fad, they have actually been around since the Victorian era. "When it's a material you can find from the 1800s, that's an authentic material that can stand the test of time, just like subway tile, it's something you've seen for years," Gaines told Apartment Therapy, explaining their long-lasting popularity. Since they're so timeless, people who want to avoid dating their spaces use them in their designs.

While white subway tiles are classic, there are still plenty of different ways to style them to make it your own. For instance, pairing them with white grout creates an airy look that forms an unobtrusive backdrop for the rest of the room's design. For a more graphic look, you can instead use black grout, which will take up more visual space in the room. Or, if you want to meet somewhere in the middle, you can play around with light gray or brown grout, which makes more of a statement than pure white grout, but isn't as in-your-face as black grout. These colors can add depth and interest to the design without overpowering the room.

White paint

Joanna Gaines' farmhouse aesthetic heavily relies on a neutral color palette to create a cozy and inviting home. While she is known to use bold pops of accent color, such as black, navy, or dark green, the base of her designs relies on different shades of white. "Like a blank canvas, white walls make for a great foundation that can be added to with patterns, colors, and textures," she explained on Magnolia. This creates an airy backdrop that allows her to add heavier farmhouse-inspired pieces on top, such as wrought iron chandeliers or chunky wooden dining tables or fireplace mantels. 

To implement this in your own home, consider using some of Gaines' favorite paint shades. To start, you can't go wrong with Shiplap from Magnolia Home. "Shiplap is a go-to white — it's creamier and feels more comfortable in a space than a harsh, sterile white. It's such a versatile shade that works well on walls, trim and cabinets," she explained. Another option is Locally Sown from Magnolia Home, which works especially well in spaces that utilize more color. "Locally Sown is a warm white that's a little bit darker than a classic white. It can sometimes read as beige depending on what kind of light it's in. This shade is well-suited in a space with rich colors and textures," she noted.

Black paint

The farmhouse look wouldn't be complete without a couple of strong pops of black throughout the space. This is what makes the design feel more "modern," rather than just "rustic." For instance, in Season 5, Episode 16 of "Fixer Upper," Joanna Gaines created an impactful guest bedroom by painting a black accent wall and decorating the rest of the space with white decor. "In here, we used a matte black paint on the walls and then lightened it with other design details in the room — like the flooring, rug, and furniture," she explained on Magnolia. "Don't be afraid of dark paint colors! Even bold shades can be balanced out by the other elements in your space." It still feels country thanks to the wooden elements and graphic rugs, but it looks more modern thanks to the strong black hues. 

To use the bold shade in your own home, you can't go wrong with using some black paints from her Magnolia Home collection. Gaines herself created these, so they will give you the perfect farmhouse-approved shades. For instance, Fine Black is a powdery matte black with blue undertones, while Blackboard is a richer color that is meant to mimic an old-fashioned chalkboard. However, if you want something a little softer and gray-leaning, try out Prairie Smoke, a deep gray with green undertones.

Antiques as repurposed furniture

One of the most charming aspects of modern farmhouse design is Joanna Gaines' use of antiques to add character to her spaces. This move does two things: It underlines the historic aspect of farmhouse design, while also adding some individuality, since those items aren't mass-produced and can't be replicated. For instance, when discussing how to bring personality to a kitchen, Gaines shared on Magnolia, "Allow yourself to think outside traditional definitions. If you find a piece of furniture you love, add a countertop material that transforms it into an island. Style and function can work together to create a space that's not only easier to work in, but beautiful too."

To utilize this in your own home, look for rooms that can be infused with a little more personality, and plan what kind of antique pieces would fit best there. For instance, if your dining room feels one-dimensional or needs some more storage space, try adding an antique jewelry dresser for extra storage, as Gaines did in their farmhouse in 2019. "The green, vintage jewelry dresser is a great example of a piece that may not belong in a typical dining room, but helps to finish out this space and give it its own personality," she revealed on Magnolia. Similarly, if your living room needs a special focal point, consider investing in an apothecary unit, as she did in her most recent home.

Open shelving

Joanna Gaines also loves to utilize open shelving as a way not only to add more storage to a room, but also display decor and trinkets. "Open shelving is a functional design element that is easy to love. It brings dimension, gives your space a finishing detail and is also a space saving and organization solution," she shared on Magnolia. She has used it everywhere from kitchens to bathrooms to bedrooms, allowing her to pack the shelving with more farmhouse-inspired accents, such as wooden bowls and pottery. 

To use this in your own home, focus on installing open shelving that comes in farmhouse-inspired materials. "There are also many ways you can create custom shelving by mixing materials — wood with metal, metal with glass, etc.," she explained in a Magnolia post. For instance, you can add this design feature to your living room as mixed-medium shelving, blending black metal and thick slabs of wood to bring warmth to the space. Or, you can add a small black metal shelving unit to a coffee nook in the kitchen as a way to bring texture or visual weight to an unused corner.

Faux greenery

If you're trying to make your house seem more like a cozy farmhouse tucked away somewhere in the Great Plains, try filling your home with lots of greenery. Joanna Gaines knows that greenery is a natural part of farm life, so when she opened her doors to Magnolia Market in 2003, she sold fresh flowers alongside decor. But after a while, customers began to ask if Gaines had any faux-selections that could give their house some permanent charm. That's when she launched her faux plant collection and began to weave it into her modern farmhouse design. "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," she told Country Living.

To incorporate this styling tip into your own home, explore Gaines' greenery collection on Magnolia Market. She offers a wide range, from florals to wreaths to trees. "These florals are the tried and true ones I use in my own home that I suggest other people use because I think at the end of the day, people don't have time to go get fresh cut flowers every day," she told Country Living. For a more authentic look, consider trimming the stems to varying heights in the vase and gently opening a few petals to avoid creating an overly-uniform bouquet. This will help your faux greenery mimic a natural vase of flowers.


Since farmhouse design relies heavily on a neutral color palette, it's easy to miss the mark and create a room that is flat and one-dimensional, rather than cozy and inviting. To avoid that, Joanna Gaines makes sure to add plenty of texture to her designs with the help of wainscoting. "Wainscoting, the white paneling on the bottom 1/3rd of the room, is one of the easiest ways to make a room feel finished and bring texture to a space," she shared on Magnolia. "Typically you see wainscoting in older and more established homes, so adding it to this room adds in that classic timelessness we were going for and helps define the room. I use this material a lot in my designs because it's such a simple feature to install and makes a huge statement in any room." This not only gives your home a historic touch, but adds character to the space, making it feel more designed and thought-out.

There are several ways you can add wainscoting to your own home. In Season 5, Episode 8 of "Fixer Upper," Gaines not only added wainscoting to the bottom half of the living room, but also extended it up to the ceiling and over the fireplace. This created an accent wall by relying on texture rather than color, which kept the space neutral, but added an extra punch of interest. However, if you want an even more dramatic effect, consider painting the wainscoting an accent color like dark green, as she did in Season 3, Episode 9

Faux beams

Since modern farmhouse relies on natural textures to tie in the earthy elements of farm life, Joanna Gaines relies on faux beams in a lot of her designs. It helps bring a little more authenticity to her country-inspired spaces. For example, in Season 4, Episode 3 of "Fixer Upper," she added beams in the main living areas to create a more provincial aesthetic. "As an added design element, we added freshly cut pine beams to define the space and bring the ranch-style into the home," she shared on Magnolia. Beyond their rustic charm, beams also help highlight the architecture of a space. For instance, in Season 3, Episode 5, Gaines installed faux-beams "to highlight the dramatic vault and make this space feel really grand."

You can create the same look in your own home by buying faux beams from big box stores like Home Depot or specialty stores like SoCal Trim. However, if you're looking for a simpler project, consider adding beam accents to smaller, strategic places in your home. As Gaines advises on Magnolia, "You don't always have to add in full ceiling beams — a simple beam accent is a great way to achieve a cohesive-feeling design throughout the house." For example, you can add a wooden beam to a fireplace mantel.

Word art

Joanna Gaines loves a good sign, whether they're inspirational quotes or repurposed signs from a general store that read "pharmacy" or "market." These not only add a rustic touch to the space, due to the materials used — usually metal, leather, or a rough white canvas — but they also make a house homier. Farmhouse is intended to evoke a cozy, lived-in aesthetic, so the inspirational quotes help reinforce that. For example, in Season 3, Episode 9, of "Fixer Upper," Gaines custom designed a wooden sign that hung in the home's office that paid homage to the couple's wedding. "This wooden sign above the desk is actually a quote from their wedding day. Sara's dad officiated their wedding, and this was the sweet prayer he spoke over them," she explained on Magnolia.

You can get a Gaines-approved metal sign from Magnolia Market, such as one that reads, "And so they built a life they loved," for $98. You can also try framing letters, recipe cards, or sheet music that means something to you. For instance, in Season 5, Episode 8, of "Fixer Upper," Gaines framed sheet music for the family. "When trying to decide what to decorate your home with, remember that your family's story can be told in what you hang on your walls," she wrote on Magnolia. "In this case, the family loves music, so we framed this antique sheet music."

Antique glass panes

Antiques and salvaged pieces are key elements in the modern farmhouse aesthetic, but that doesn't mean you have to fill your home with knick knacks to create the look. You can also bring it out in your cabinets, storage units, and mirrors by utilizing antique glass panes. They're a key staple in Joanna Gaines' design arsenal, and she adds them to select kitchens that could benefit from a boost in country charm. We see this in action in Season 3, Episode 9 of "Fixer Upper," where she used distressed glass on the face of a pantry cupboard. "There wasn't a designated pantry space in the kitchen, so my friends from Anderson Glass made these antiqued glass panes to go on the doors of the cabinets, creating a perfectly unique pantry alternative," she explained on Magnolia. Similarly, she used a distressed mirror as a rustic accent in her own farmhouse bedroom, as seen on Instagram.

You can get a professional to make the glass panes for you, or you can DIY similar results. To create a distressed window, all you need is vinegar and paint. Pour a 1:2 ratio of vinegar to water in a spray bottle and liberally saturate the pane. While wet, use Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect to add a layer of reflective silver to the glass. Dab the pane with a paper towel to remove the excess moisture and create a distressed finish that will mimic aged glass. 

Antique doors

Since authentic farmhouses are usually over a century old, Joanna Gaines brings authenticity to her designs by strategically adding antique doors around the house. This makes it look like the structure has been there for over a hundred years, even if it's a new build house in the suburbs. For instance, in Season 3, Episode 1 of "Fixer Upper," she added two matching wooden doors off the kitchen. "My favorite part of this space are the antique pantry doors I found while antique shopping. When I found them, I knew they'd be perfect for this space, and had them installed to add an extra layer of history and dimension to this home," she wrote on Magnolia.

You can find antique doors to add depth to your own farmhouse designs in multiple ways. If there are flea markets in your area, go to those several weekends in a row to see if a vendor has one that you like. Much like thrifting, you will likely have to go several times before you find what you're looking for. If you don't have any flea markets nearby, you can also search for antique doors on Facebook Marketplace. Utilize keywords such as "antique doors," "vintage door," "farmhouse door," or simply "old door" to find what you're looking for.