EXCLUSIVE: 'You can't compete with nature' – Joanna Gaines reveals her go-to source for design inspiration

In an exclusive interview with H&G, Joanna Gaines explains why 'nature is our greatest teacher' when it comes to interior design. This is how she brings the outside in

(Image credit: Magnolia / KILZ)

Often, when we're low on design inspiration, our first instinct is to turn to other people's homes. Whether you prefer browsing Pinterest, flipping through design books, or perusing magazines, chances are you've taken a cue or two from beautiful spaces that aren't your own. And while there's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from the vast array of lovely homes online and on the glossy pages for your home decor ideas, interior designer and Fixer Upper star Joanna Gaines takes a different approach – she steps outside.

'I always tell my team when I get stuck from an inspiration standpoint, or I can't figure out what the next step is, I always go outside. I don't go online, I don't look at books – I have to step outside. Nature is our greatest teacher with design because it does it so perfectly,' Joanna tells H&G.

The celebrated designer, bestselling author, and Magnolia Network lead just wrapped up work on Fixer Upper: The Lakehouse, The six-part show is a 10-years-later revival of the HGTV show that first launched her and husband Chip into the spotlight. And while renovating the Lake Waco, Texas property, the design team was faced with nature like never before.

With stunning outdoor views from every angle, the home inspired Joanna to create a brand-new color palette with KILZ: The Lakehouse Collection. Ahead of the launch, Joanna sat down with H&G to share how she brings the outdoors in, and what she learned while taking on the lake house remodel.

How to blend the indoors and outdoors, according to Joanna Gaines

A light gray-green sunroom with a white sofa and expansive windows

(Image credit: Magnolia / KILZ)

'Nature has a way of just teaching us – it's such a gift, because it's free,' says Joanna.

Whether you're lucky enough to enjoy a lake house view, have access to a public park, or simply have a tree-lined street somewhere nearby, nature is always at our fingertips. It's the most accessible source of inspiration, and its beauty cannot be overstated. Joanna shares that the colors and textures of the great outdoors naturally find their way into her design schemes.

'To take and draw from the color palette that you see in nature and bring that inside, it's the best translation of that feeling, of "What do I feel in nature?" I feel grounded, I feel this sense of calm, like this is where I belong. If you can somehow bring that into the story of your home – that's what you hope your family feels. That's what you hope your guests feel. And so to take those cues from nature, I think that's always where I would want to start first. It's rarely let me down,' she shares.

When crafting the Lakehouse Collection, Joanna kept this in mind – though she had plenty of design ideas for the home, she wanted to keep the natural environment front and center. She sought to translate the lessons nature has taught her over the years into a cohesive, stylish design scheme.

'How do you bring the outdoors in? How do you merge those two worlds? And especially with this lake house, when you have that gorgeous view, how do you bring that beauty inside? To me, color is the best way to do that,' she says.

Although color can be truly transformative, it's not the only way to channel the best nature has to offer in your design scheme. Joanna says that the 'textural shifts' and combinations found outdoors inform many of her aesthetic and stylistic choices. If you're looking for a very quick and easy way to bring the outdoors in though, she adds that bringing small pieces of the natural environment into your home can go quite a long way.

'Go cut a branch in your yard, go cut stems... That's the easiest, simplest way to bring that life inside. Again, the gift that it gives us – whether it be your garden ideas or in your front yard landscape – when you can bring that in, there is that sense of calm, that sense of grounding that you can bring into your space... And I always love to do that with branches and flowers. That to me is the final touch to any space that really makes it come alive,' she says.

A kitchen with marble backsplash, deep green cabinets and a wood-paneled full-length cabinet

(Image credit: Magnolia / KILZ)

Designing the lake house was no easy feat, and even Joanna came across some obstacles along the way. Upon reflection, the biggest lesson she took away from the project was to take a step back and let nature take center stage. 'I learned that you can't compete with nature,' she says.

While arranging the living room ideas and kitchen ideas in the lake house, Joanna says she couldn't quite figure out what the missing design element was – she knew the rooms needed something extra, but nothing seemed to fit. 'We kept putting sofas in, and we kept thinking of design elements, and every time I stepped into the room, I was like, "Something doesn't feel right."' Soon, she put two and two together.

'I finally figured out what didn't feel right – I was taking away from the view. I had to pull back from a design standpoint a lot that I wanted to implement. I let nature win. The goal was for the future homeowner, when they walk in, that their eyes be drawn first to the outside, and then everything on the inside kind of just feels calm around that,' she tells H&G.

'At first, I was very excited about putting a lot into the room and overdoing it here and there, and then I just realized, "I can't compete with that view,"' she continues. 'It was a little simpler, it was a little easier to design once I kind of let the view be the winner, and not the sofa, and not the rug or the light fixture, or even the paint color. At the end of the day, you can't compete with nature.'

Fixer Upper: The Lakehouse's final reveal aired on June 16, and the completed project is truly gorgeous. Each room is carefully curated yet warm and welcoming, and it's clear the attention to nature's beauty paid off. Joanna shares that 'in every room, there's a huge branch' thanks to the abundance of trees surrounding the property – many of which were past their prime. She says this resource was a 'gift.' One trunk in particular made its way into the home in a unique way, she adds.

'Chip just said, "I want you to take this trunk and make whatever you want of it, but bring it back inside so we can at least honor the tree that was there." And so I had Marvin, this amazing millworker in town that did all of the custom work for that project, he made me this beautiful cutting board and even this little peace sign... That was a specific little small thing of how do I bring the story of that tree now into the story of this home? So that was a nod back to that,' says Joanna.

Joanna Gaines' laundry room

(Image credit: Joanna Gaines)

The lake house's exterior color scheme posed its own set of challenges, and Joanna once again found herself tuning into nature for design inspiration. She says she didn't want to paint the home's natural brick finish (which remains in the final product), but still wanted to give the façade a spruce. The trim needed to be painted, and she ran through several paint colors before landing on Wooded Acres, a shade from her latest KILZ collection. She says it felt harmonious with the rest of the scenery, unlike the charcoal and deep blue options she was considering before making the final choice.

'It just feels like it's tucked away, and there's nothing competing with all the amazing trees that are hovering over this house. And the irony of that is, when we were pulling off the original sconces, we saw beyond the layers of paint that the house had been painted, that ended up being so close to the original green that they painted it in the '60s. That was a confirmation. This was right, this is what it was supposed to be all along. It just took me a couple weeks to get there, because I was really adamant about charcoal and blue, and finally when I just let nature be the teacher, I realized it needs to be green,' says Joanna.


Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave | $25.21 on Amazon

Joanna Gaines walks you through creating a home that reflects the personalities and stories of the people who live there. Using examples from her family farmhouse and a range of other homes, this comprehensive guide will help you embrace your authentic design style.

If Joanna and Chip's lake house is any indication, nature is the best design teacher of all. With a deep, earthy color palette and inviting lake house decor, the property is a true celebration of the great outdoors.

By channeling nature's beauty, through color, texture, and more, you can transform any home into a similarly serene escape for the whole family to enjoy.

Abby Wilson
Interior Design News Editor

I am an Interior Design News Editor at Homes & Gardens. Most recently, I worked with Better Homes & Gardens, where I wrote and edited content about home decor, gardening tips, food news, and more. Before that, I studied Journalism and English Literature at New York University. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, most recently making the trip to London, and love transforming each new space into a comfortable retreat that feels like home. When it comes to decor, I’m most drawn to unique vintage finds and calming colors.