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A Note from Jo on Freedom


The summer issue of Magnolia Journal hits newsstands tomorrow! This year, the overarching focus for all four issues is Identity, and following the spring’s theme of Authenticity, the theme of this issue is Freedom. Here you can read Jo’s thoughts on breaking free from “safety nets” and choosing to evolve. You can also find it in the Journal on page 49.

FREE TO EVOLVE

For some it may be a piece of clothing, for others a book or a chair or a haircut. For me, safety looked like a very specific shade of green paint. Interior, semigloss—better just go ahead and buy it in 5-gallon jugs. Yes, many of the first designs of my career will forever be memorialized by a single color swatch.

When Chip and I started taking on projects around Waco, I was new to the world of interior design. At the time, choosing the right paint colors seemed to be the scariest decision of an entire renovation. So, of course, I wanted to play it safe. I had tried this particular shade of green in my own home and loved it, so it felt like a choice I could confidently make on behalf of someone else—which I did. Without hesitation, I made that same decision on house after house after house. Chip started to joke that people around town would be able to recognize a Magnolia Homes project solely by that particular hue.

While he was only messing around, Chip’s words prompted me to question how I was approaching each new project. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had been letting my own insecurity as a new designer pigeonhole what I was creatively capable of. Because I was so afraid of messing up, I wasn’t willing to take a chance on myself. I feared failure in general, but this hit on something deeper and more personal. There was this continual, underlying dread that any one of these decisions that I was trying to pull out of thin air could be the one that proved once and for all that I was no good at this work. Self-doubt loomed so much bigger than the desire to actually grow in my capabilities.

Around this same time, Chip and I were also flipping the homes that we actually lived in. We were constantly moving into new neighborhoods with their own unique mix of architectural styles. Without fail the new vantage point would bring with it some fresh perspective. Even if I didn’t want to be curious about other styles and approaches, I couldn’t help it. Each new house spoke to me through its distinct craftsmanship and quirky details. I started to feel as though within our own walls, where I had time to really sit and dream, risk didn’t seem like such a scary thing. Knowing our family intimately and how we would inhabit the space made it easier for me to broaden my ideas. Each home began to feel like a blank canvas where I wanted to create something specific to that place and time. Within the safety of those walls, I felt free to try different design elements to see what was a good fit for our family. It was an education by trial and error, and it was during this time that I really fell in love with the process of design. It suddenly became fun, freeing even, when the goal wasn’t perfection but rather creating a place that represented everyone under our roof. When I wasn’t trying to force a certain style, trend, or shade of green into the equation, I gained a whole lot of grace to stretch myself toward something entirely new.

By the time filming began for season one of Fixer Upper, we had purchased and started work on our farmhouse. I had been a designer now for some time and was excited to sink my teeth into this particular project as it felt like we were going to finally put down some roots here and make this home ours. It was also a style of home that I have always loved, which made the whole thing that much more enjoyable. It was during the first few days of demo that we discovered shiplap in nearly every space of this house. I had spotted this material before in other projects and was immediately drawn to its timeless style and organic texture. I was also happy that it presented an opportunity to highlight the history of the house and its original construction. The more shiplap we found around the farmhouse, the more I knew that I wanted to expose it throughout our home.

It was during and through this remodel that America was introduced to our family, so it makes sense why one might sum up our design style in this very singular way, especially when it seemed as though client after client began to request a farmhouse look. This has never bothered me much. I genuinely enjoy the opportunity to highlight this very cool kind of history in someone else’s home. There came a point when I had to decide whether this was going to be my new safety net. Was I going to allow this style and its sudden rise in popularity to limit my growth as a designer? Ultimately, I chose to continue evolving. At times, this has required that I risk losing the interest of those who like one particular style and who may not continue to be inspired by what I was creating next. But I’d already let fear of that kind creep into my life before, and it really wasn’t a road I was willing to travel again.

I will always love a timeless design style, and without fail, there will be classic elements that make their way into nearly any project that I undertake. Yet still, nearly every day something new and unexpected catches my eye, something I had never considered before. More than keeping to any specific aesthetic, our homes should evolve—just as our families do. As long as I’m on this earth, I want to continue to grow and risk both personally and creatively. But growth by its very nature requires change; I don’t get to have one without the other. These two things are wisely and intricately woven together.

I am not perfect in this pursuit. To be fully transparent here, I say all of these things as someone who prefers sure and steady, who still routinely chooses safety as my default setting. So I get the logic of not fixing something that technically isn’t broken. Yet, while I may naturally be a creature of habit, I believe there is always something valuable and worth unearthing within all of us. I’m not going to pretend it’s not scary to dig in, to fight for something within yourself that you may not even be able to name. But that’s nothing compared to the aftermath should we choose to pretend that it’s safer to stay the same. Every day, every hour—we get to decide who we are meant to be. The breath in our lungs is the official declaration that we’ve got more growing to do.

I believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential buried within me, hoping that I’ll be brave enough to unearth it. I also believe there’s a whole world of untapped potential within you. And it’s hoping, waiting to see if you’re willing to set it free.