How ‘Sweet Magnolias’ Star JoAnna Garcia Swisher Tells Her Home’s Story

A Q&A With the Actress and Creator of ‘The Happy Place’

JoAnna Garcia Swisher images with blue overlay

The Spruce / Photo Illustration by Amelia Manley / Photos: Sara Magnolia (Left) / Danette Anderson (Right)

When it comes to creating a happy home, actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher has it all figured out. Along with playing Maddie Townsend on Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias, Swisher is also the creator of The Happy Place, a home and lifestyle site that documents her DIY projects, home renovations, and all the little life moments that contribute to Swisher’s bright, contagious attitude.

We recently chatted with Swisher about her own tips for DIY projects around the house, and how it always comes back to finding the story we want our homes to tell.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

JoAnna Garcia Swisher: I really don’t have one design aesthetic that I don’t appreciate. I’m really eclectic. Right now, I’m really inspired by Scandinavian and Swedish antiques. Those are really interesting to me, but I just walked through a very famous antique shop here in Atlanta and it's very European. [Except] we’re here at our lake house in Georgia, and it’s got this rustic vibe to it. So I lean into the feeling [of a space]. I’m very practical, but I also really like design so much! I love, love, love all of the elements. I really try to let the space tell the story.

Have you always been passionate about DIY?

JGS: I’ve become much more confident in it. It’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed. I love to reinvent things, so it’s always nice to have a story for each different little project and piece, especially with the furniture pieces that I’ve been working on. [I love] reinventing them in a new way … so yeah, I feel like it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed, and something that I’m feeling more confident in.

Do you have a favorite recent project?

JGS: Well, we’re refinishing the first nightstands that I ever had in my first big girl home when I moved out, and they are now living in the little lounge that we’ve created for the girls. So that’s been really fun—stripping them down and making them work for that space. And, I mean, it’s a wonderful piece of furniture! It’s lasted this long, so it’s incredibly durable, and it’s nice to have found them a new home. It’s been really fun. So I would say that my work in progress is my current favorite, but they’re not complete yet.

JoAnna Garcia Swisher refinishing nightstand

Danette Anderson

Do your daughters take part in the process with you, or do they love that you do it for them?

JGS: Oh, they’ve been popping in! [During] the sanding process, they were really excited about it, but then it kind of full-on … It’s been sweet, but yeah, usually I’m left in the end doing the grunt work!

What’s your favorite step in the whole DIY process?

JGS: Obviously, the outcome is really fun. It’s just nice to be able to enjoy it and see it. But also, [I love] inventing what it’s going to be and how it’s going to work.

Can you tell us about the antique dining table that you recently refurbished?

JS: You know, it’s funny, it’s still kind of a work in progress … I [want] to put a sealant on, to kind of shine it up a little bit more than I originally thought, but it’s such a beautiful table. And it’s really remarkable. I think just to see how things were made back in the day—and how well-made. The craftsmanship is so so special. [I worked] with this incredible woodworker in Florida that I was so lucky to find from one of my friends, and he said to me, “Thank you for letting me do this, to really feel the history.” He was so passionate about it, too, and then we had our first holiday around it. It really was special.

What draws you to antiques, and how do you incorporate them into your home?

JGS: I’m actually in Atlanta [right now], doing a little antiquities shopping, and I really love something that has a story behind it … and I think it’s so special [to have] one item that has a story in every room. It grounds the space and it really makes it something to talk about. It’s always been my main focus with The Happy Place and when I help people bring their rooms together and design their spaces. We always talk about, “what’s the story? what grabs you? what excites you?”... and sometimes you need the workhorse! [You need] the brand new thing that’s shiny and fun. But having that one piece that has history and a story behind it is always special.

JoAnna Garcia Swisher with home improvement project and ladders

Sara Magnolia

If someone is eager to upcycle an antique piece, what are some things that you think people should keep in mind?

JGS: I think they all have their own little enigma that’s attached to them—especially when you’re refinishing something. I think of it as peeling back the layers over the years. Especially with my table, it had six different layers of paint over the years! So … now it’s back to the original wood, and it isn’t even a wood that’s used [today]. So I think understanding a little bit more of the piece … get an idea of what you're working with. Do a little bit of research before you tear into it. It’s about reinventing it and giving it a new life, [and] infusing your own personality and making it work for your needs. I think it’s a part of the journey, too.

But getting to know what you have is always the first step. And then from there, you can build upon that. Do you want to paint it? Do you want to strip it and stain it? My table’s over two hundred years old, it’s lived a long life. And now it’s mine!

If you were going to offer one piece of advice for someone tackling a DIY project, what would it be?

JGS: Give yourself a little grace. I feel like this with almost everything I do. It’s not enough to be perfect. And so the biggest part of DIY is believing that you can actually do it—especially with all the resources we have, like YouTube and the internet. I think every woman should have some tools and know how to use them. [Because] having the confidence of being able to say okay, we’re gonna just start this and see where it goes. Know that it may not be perfect, and you’re going to learn along the way, but it’s really rewarding when you can look back and say this is something that I’ve created.

The set design on Sweet Magnolias is beautiful. Has being on the show given you inspiration when designing your own home?

JGS: I’m inspired by design everywhere I go. It’s my passion outside of what I do for a living. [Our set] really is beautiful—there’s such warmth, and there are so many different textures. But with set design, it could be a really well-designed room, but not function at all … so when you are able to achieve incredible design and make it a functional workspace for a working television show or movie? It’s a harder job than just creating a great room! I'm always impressed by how things lend themselves to storytelling.

And I mean, Sullivan’s [the restaurant featured in the show] is so beautiful and so interesting. When I walk onto our set, I’m humbled … and I am the nerd that’s like, “Oh my gosh, we have clay tile! These are brands that I know are incredible investments!” There’s no cutting any corners on our show. And I love it.

You can see JoAnna Garcia Swisher in season two of Sweet Magnolias, available on Netflix starting February 4, 2022.