When it comes to styling your home, knowing where to begin can be the hardest part. That’s why we brought in Hilary Walker, our Creative Director of Photography, Staging and Styling, to walk us through the five fundamentals she uses when designing and styling a room. Hilary also teaches these fundamentals in her workshops so that you can apply these ideas to your own space.

Let’s get started!


Scale refers to the size of an object and how it compares to other objects in a room or to the room itself. Playing with scale can help create visual impact and interest whether you’re using same-size objects or juxtaposing sizes. An oversize arrangement of branches, for example, will complement a large headboard while offsetting a small work of art. Scale also comes into play with rugs. A rug that’s aptly scaled to a room should fill the majority of the floor, accommodating most of the room’s furniture on top, but with enough “breathing room” around the perimeter to keep it from hugging the wall. Finding the right scale often takes literal trial and error, but the room will feel at ease when you get there.

TRY IT: Choose a room with one large element but nothing else that echoes its size. Bring in something large, even if it’s temporary, and see what happens.


Balance happens when there’s an even distribution of objects or colors across a space. When things are off balance, one side feels “heavy” or more crowded than the other—like furniture that’s weighing down half the room while the other half is sparse. Equalizing color distribution is another balancing tool. For instance, if you have black near the floor, pull that color higher with a black-framed mirror, dark photo mat, or a deep-tone branch. This creates a pleasing visual balance with minimal effort.

TRY IT: Take something out of a room to create better balance whether it’s a color that’s throwing things off or an overstuffed chair that’s crowding a corner.


While balance is spreading things equally across a space, contrast is creating an intentional juxtaposition: using dark to offset light, polished to contrast weathered, linear to counter a room filled with curves. Contrast creates dimension and disrupts that matchy-matchy effect. It could look like a collection of light ceramics inside a dark bookshelf, ivory bedding with bright bohemian pillows, or a light blue floor under olive green chairs. Contrasts create mood, depth, and visual delight.

TRY IT: Rearrange objects in your room solely to create contrast. Let the room sit for a few days as you adjust to the change, and see if you end up loving it.


Flow refers to how elements in a room—or in a certain vignette you’re creating—connect to each other across a space. Good flow happens when a material, finish, or color (even if it’s a different shade) repeats itself within the same scene. This repetition could look like a plant on a shelf that ties to another plant in the same space—creating a connection between organic elements. With good flow, instead of a seemingly random effect, the room or vignette feels held together.

TRY IT: Sit in the middle of your room and do a quick assessment. An unexpected element here or there can add great visual interest—but it’s helpful to keep an eye on how things connect to ensure a good flow.


Focus is where the eye lands—the first spot in a room that claims your visual attention. It could be a light fixture that stands out from everything around it because of its size and color. It could look like a gallery wall of art and photographs, spanning floor to ceiling, that grabs the eye as soon as you walk into that space. Too many focal points mean there are actually none; one or two will anchor the room and create clarity.

TRY IT: Try naming the focal point in your room, then ask someone else to do the same. If you’re all over the map, eliminate or add until you make the focus clear.

Pieces of this story have been adapted for digital from the fall issue of Magnolia Journal.

Ready to take on a space of your own?

Hilary offers three Magnolia Workshops where she applies these five fundamentals to the living room, dining room, and bedroom. You’ll learn how to gather design inspiration, make a floor plan, and ultimately bring your space to life through a step-by-step transformation of rooms within Hilary’s own home.

All Magnolia workshops are available with your Max subscription.

Choosing the right neutral paint color can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are hundreds of whites, creams, and grays to choose from; yet the more you hunt, search, and sample, oftentimes they all start to look the same—and you’re left just hoping you make the right call.

Because we know how daunting this search can be, we asked Jo to put together a guide of her go-to neutral paint colors—including what makes each shade one she returns to again and again.

Choosing the Right Shade of White

Like a blank canvas, white walls make for a great foundation that can be added to with patterns, colors, and textures.

Shiplap by 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. In bright, natural light, you can really notice the cream undertones. If you’re looking for a stark white, we recommend True White.

Walls—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

One Horn White by Magnolia Home

One Horn White is a warm, crisp white. It has a light beige tint, which really brings out its warm undertones.

Walls—One Horn White in Matte Sheen
Trim—One Horn White in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—One Horn White in Matte Sheen

Locally Sown by Magnolia Home

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.

Walls—Locally Sown in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

Blanched by Magnolia Home

Blanched is best summed up as a traditional white with creamy beige undertones. Together, Blanched and Shiplap help create a timeless look throughout Hillcrest Estate, one of our vacation rentals here in Waco.

Walls—Blanched in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

Choosing the Right Shade of Gray

Gray is a slightly bolder foundational color, and the right shade can help add depth to any space. It also makes for a great neutral color for trim and cabinets.

Yarn by Magnolia Home

Yarn is a blend of beige and gray—a staple “greige” that’s ideal for bedrooms because it creates a light, yet cozy color in both natural light and artificial light.

Walls—Yarn in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen

Sunday Stroll by Magnolia Home

Sunday Stroll is a true gray with a hint of beige, and just one shade darker than Yarn. This color really stands out in a room with lots of natural light.

Cabinet—Sunday Stroll in Eggshell Sheen
Walls—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

Gatherings by Magnolia Home

Gatherings, a medium-toned gray brings a warm, mature color to walls. It’s a lighter blend of gray and beige (another “greige” shade). Here, it’s paired with Shiplap for the ceiling and trim, which really brings out its warmer undertones.

Walls—Gathering in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Ceiling—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

Quaint Cottage by Magnolia Home

On the cabinets in this laundry room is the shade Quaint Cottage—a cloudy hazel mixed with oatmeal beige. This color tends to read a little warmer due to its green undertones.

Cabinet—Quaint Cottage in Eggshell Sheen
Walls—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Quaint Cottage in Eggshell Sheen

Garden Trowel by Magnolia Home

Garden Trowel is an earth-toned gray accented with olive green and cocoa. Since this is a deep charcoal gray, it’s great for when you want to make a statement, such as on an exterior trim or a bathroom vanity. This shade is dark enough to add definition, and provides a nice contrast to nearly any shade of white.

Left photo:
Trim—Garden Trowel in Matte Sheen
Brick—Sherwin Williams Dover White in Eggshell Sheen
Similar Magnolia Home Exterior Color—Pearly Cotton in Matte Sheen

Right photo:
Vanity—Garden Trowel in Eggshell Sheen
Walls—Shiplap in Eggshell Sheen
Trim—Shiplap in Matte Sheen

We hope this guide helps you navigate your next paint project with colors you feel good about. Be on the lookout for a guide to non-neutral colors coming soon!

Kitchen islands offer us a place to prep, serve, and gather, and perhaps most loved of all, a place to linger long after the meal is over.

Story by Joanna Gaines
Photography by Lisa Petrole

My first kitchen island wasn’t an island at all. It was a wooden cart that I’d wheel into the tiny kitchen of our first home whenever Chip and I had people over. I remember that cart served a few purposes around our home, and on nights when we hosted, I’d clear it of the picture frames and books that normally sat on top and roll it from its place in the living room to the center of the kitchen. It then became the place for prep— keeping all of my ingredients in sight and within reach.

When our guests would arrive, I was always amazed by how quickly that little cart would draw everyone into the kitchen, somehow making that tiny space feel larger than life. The cart itself wasn’t much to lean against, but no one seemed to mind once I swapped all evidence of prep with an appetizer or two and drinks for the taking. I started to see how that little cart became the anchor to those evenings—giving us a place to begin and then return to after dinner as we washed dishes and stretched the night as long as we could.

It’s now many years later, and even though a real island anchors my kitchen these days, I have carried with me the lessons that makeshift cart taught me. That beyond the extra function an island (or cart, or whatever) brings to a kitchen, it’s always the life that resounds around it that makes it the heart of the home. And that’s why, when I’m designing a kitchen for a client, I often begin with the island, thinking through size, function, and form. Even if I plan for an island to be a standout piece that has a slightly different style than the rest of the room, knowing how it needs to serve the client sets the tone.

If you happen to be starting a kitchen from scratch or simply looking to make a few updates, or maybe you have no space for an island today but are open to a creative substitute, I’ve learned that spending time thinking through how you want your kitchen to function and serve your lifestyle is how you begin to add thought and intention to this well-loved space. And whether it ends up that you have a great big island or a sturdy makeshift cart, how you choose to embrace this space is what makes it one that you can turn to all day long and for as long as the night might last. Here, I’ve pulled together a few islands I’ve designed to showcase the different ways they bring life to the kitchen.

Plan Your Island


When thinking about how you will use the island day-to-day, keep the triangle rule in mind. Kitchen workflow is maximized when the sink, refrigerator, and range are three points on a triangle. Many times, putting a sink in the island makes this possible.

The range is the showstopper in this kitchen, and splitting the island allowed it to be the star. If space permits, a double island offers double the function. It can create a space for prep work where the sink is located, and additional space for serving. Even more, breaking up one long island helps people move around the kitchen more easily.


Think through how you would like to use an island. If you entertain, making space for seating will be important. Also consider how you prep food and, based on the shape of your space, if you could use this real estate as a serving area. If so, you may want to invest in an oversized countertop.

A waterfall edge extends the countertop material from the top of the island to the floor for a striking visual effect. It’s a design choice I made in order to emphasize the material and also create a dramatic impact, turning the island into a true focal point of the kitchen.


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.

I chose this antique island to be the centerpiece of the kitchen. Because of that, it made sense to add a marble countertop so that it could function as an island. The wood of the perimeter cabinets and shelving is a tie to the antique base. Other design elements like the exposed stone and brass light fixtures work together for a very organic, rustic feel in the space.


The island can be a place to bring in character. Because it’s a focal point that’s balanced by the rest of the kitchen, it can be bolder than the rest of the room.

Bold color makes this island the focal point of the room, and rounded corners enhance the soft bungalow feeling of the house. I love how well the small island works in this space, offering storage in addition to seating.


Consider how much traffic your island will receive. If you will be cooking and serving, a durable and scratch-resistant material such as quartz might be the right choice. Deciding whether you want the island to be emphasized or blend in can help you focus on the right base material. Small flourishes will make the island unique and can also tie to other elements in the kitchen.

This island’s oak base with corbels is a special detail that sets it apart from the other materials in this kitchen. The brass fixtures used throughout are mirrored by the brass barstools to create a cohesive look.

Make The Island Your Own

To play up the modern elements of the kitchen, I designed this island to be asymmetrical. Open shelving gives it the necessary balance.

Once you have gone through the fundamentals of design, it’s time to think through details that help your island multitask for all your needs.

Cabinets: Using the same cabinet hardware and cabinet pulls on every cabinet in the kitchen—whether in the island or on the perimeter—creates consistency. If you lean more toward an eclectic style, perimeter cabinets can have a different color and finish than the island. Choosing open shelving or closed cabinets to hide appliances will also have an impact on the overall look of the room.

In-Island Appliances: Often putting the sink in the island opens up necessary space in perimeter cabinets for a range or other storage needs. An island sink can facilitate an easy prep station and can be especially convenient if the dishwasher is hidden in the island within easy reach. When lots of appliances are tucked into the island it makes for a more minimal style.

Comfortable Seating: Though chairs are usually chosen after the island is designed, finding the right seats should be much more than an afterthought. Comfortable seating makes the island all the more inviting, turning it into a gathering space. If your kitchen also holds a dining table with chairs, think through how the chairs will play off each other. Making sure you have enough seating, but keeping it from looking crowded in the space, will lend itself to a relaxed and welcoming feel.

Many of the islands featured were designed in Fixer Upper: Welcome Home. More of the story on each kitchen can be seen in their respective episodes on Magnolia Network.

This story was adapted for digital from the spring issue of Magnolia Journal.

Founded by Chip and Joanna Gaines in 2007, Magnolia Realty was born out of the belief that home isn’t just a handful of walls, but the very place where you become who you were made to be. For us, home is the most important place on Earth. As a full-service brokerage, our team is ready and equipped to assist you in your selling journey from start to finish.

Here are a few reasons why you can feel confident in listing with Magnolia Realty:

Trusted Agents to Guide You

Given 4.98 out of 5 stars on our client experience surveys, our team of REALTORS® leads with kindness and generosity, acting as a guide so you can begin this process with ease. Each of our agents is experienced, invested in their community, and ready to go the extra mile in guiding you from contract to close.

Take our clients’ word for it:

“Our agent was excellent and far exceeded all of our expectations. She was professional, courteous, knowledgeable, respectful of our needs as well as respectful of the profession, including being well acquainted and informed about other realtors and their clients. I would highly recommend her to anyone needing realtor services, whether buying or selling.” — Robin T.

“The best way to describe our agent and Magnolia Realty is that it is truly a concierge-level experience from day one. The Magnolia team is committed to making the process smooth for the client and they repeatedly display the highest level of knowledge, professionalism, friendliness, and support.” — Jake D.

“Our agent worked relentlessly, following up with interested buyers, and making sure we were represented well and ethically. She functioned as a trusted advisor, but trusted us to make the right decisions. Meanwhile, she made it seem so easy and that we were her number one priority. Absolutely the best agent I have worked with!” — Kevin S.

Strategies to Make Your Home Stand Out

Being part of the Magnolia brand gives Magnolia Realty the opportunity to extend its reach to a national and international audience. We uniquely offer a high level of exposure to the number of people who visit our site in hopes of finding a place to call home. One of the key resources we’ll use in the marketing of your home is our social media presence. See below:

This is where your journey in finding home begins, and we can’t wait to embark on this new adventure with you.