As a child, Leanne Ford rearranged her bedroom furniture at least once a week. “In sixth grade, I convinced my parents to paint their dark wooden cabinets and avocado refrigerator high-gloss white,” she recalls. “In college, I decorated my dorms,” and in her 20s, she always made sure her living space was tastefully put together.
But despite her obvious penchant for design, “I never even thought of going into interiors,” she confesses. “It wasn’t until I actually purchased a home that it became a career option.” Nestled on three acres in a little town outside of Pittsburgh, the fixer-upper—which Ford found on Craigslist—was an old 1907 schoolhouse that had been converted into a home in the ‘60s and had since fallen into disrepair.
“We took out ‘character’ in some spots, and put it back in other places,” Ford says, noting that the renovation involved ripping out drywall to expose the original beadboard that lay beneath, and lining the walls with pine two-by-fours. “I also added a wood-burning stove, because what’s a cabin in the woods without fire?” Country Living magazine saw photos of the project, and ended up shooting it for an eight-page spread. “It was a dream come true!” Ford says. After that, “people started calling and asking me to help design their homes.”
Ford had been a freelancer working in fashion at the time and soon, she found herself juggling not one, but two careers: one in couture, the other in decor. And after five years of managing both, “it was time to pick one,” she says. “I had done everything I had wanted to do in fashion, and was ready to use all of my creative energy for interiors.”
So she began to focus on growing her interior design business, splitting her time between Los Angeles and Pittsburgh and taking jobs along both coasts. And occasionally, she and her brother, Steve—who owns his own construction business—would collaborate on projects.
Then one day, a friend of a friend who worked at HGTV reached out to the duo asking whether or not they would be interested in starring in their own series. “My whole career has been based on ‘say yes, and I’ll figure it out as I go along,’” Ford says, “so the entire time I was like, ‘sure—I’d love to talk!’”
A few emails and a Skype interview later, they landed their own series. Called Restored by the Fords, it follows the pair as they renovate old, unconventional homes in rural Pennsylvania. “The reality of something like this happening is so small—we didn’t expect it to pan out this way,” she admits. “But we certainly weren’t saying no on the way to get there.”
Here, the brother and sister reveal the best part about working with one another, offer a few home design and construction tips, and grant a behind-the-scenes look at their show (which was recently renewed for a second season, set to premiere next year).
As kids, what did you two aspire to be when you grew up?
Leanne: I wanted to be a teacher. Still might, actually! I liked chalkboards and books—both of which I work with in interiors anyway! (So maybe I’m good??)
Steve: Honestly I didn’t really have any aspirations like that as a kid—my career goals were probably to have a job where I worked outside!
Briefly describe your educational background/professional training.
Leanne: I went to Ohio University where I created my own major in order to take all of the classes I thought I would learn from. I was going into fashion at that point so I took all of the fashion classes, all of the art classes, design, advertising and PR. It was incredible!
Steve: I studied parks and recreation and tourism management at West Virginia University. All through college and after college, I did construction to pay my bills.
Leanne, why you decided to switch career paths and transition from fashion stylist to interior designer?
There was really is a major overlap between fashion and interiors. It’s about playing with proportions and lines and colors and how you put pieces together. A creative soul will always be doing that in everything, whatever their chosen medium is.
Steve, how did you get into construction?
I’ve always been a hands-on person—it just sort of came naturally.
What’s it like working so closely with a sibling?
Leanne: It’s actually really amazing. It makes our mom very happy! Steve and I definitely get into it once in a while. But the good thing about family is you have no choice but to forgive each other and move on. Plus, he eventually realizes my ideas actually are good!
Steve: I think it’s great. Leanne has a lot of challenging ideas, and that’s what I thrive on. But sometimes it takes me a minute to get on board with her ideas. Before I say yes, I just need to sleep on them.
Leanne: He always disagrees with me! That’s when I know I’m onto something new and interesting—when he says he can’t do it. But his problem is he’s really good at his job and he can always do it. So I just wait for him to figure it out in his head. Then when the project is over he always says that “impossible” idea is his favorite part of the project. It’s like clockwork!
Leanne, what inspired your signature “white on white” aesthetic? Is your interior design aesthetic reminiscent at all of your sartorial style?
I just think white is such a nice, beautiful blank slate. It’s like a big light box that makes all beautiful things glow. It also let’s the furniture and art and lighting and trinkets shine. I always say “white is the silence between the chords.”
When it comes to fashion, I like clean, simple, black, white, creme, denim…sometimes something wild, but always very comfortable.
What’s the key to successfully mixing textures and patterns?
Leanne: Stay in a color story! Then the world is your oyster. I try to keep to maybe two or three colors—four tops. And I always add vintage elements for warmth, spirit and character, as well as elements of wood and nature. It just feels good.
Name a few of your go-to places to shop for furnishings and décor.
What’s the riskiest or boldest interior design decision you’ve ever made?
Leanne: I love this question, but I can’t say I have an answer for it! it’s all risky and bold, but it’s all also easy and livable and comfortable—though I do like oversized lighting. The bigger it is, the more special it is going to feel in the room.
In approaching every project, what’s the first step?
Leanne: Talking to the clients about what they want and need. Always.
When it comes to old and dilapidated buildings, is there such thing as a lost cause?
Leanne: Yes—sadly, there comes a time when it’s unsafe to keep that structure up, though in that case you can still use the remnants! But honestly, stylistically, you can make anything beautiful and interesting. You just need time and will power—oh yeah, and money.
Do you have any tips for home improvement DIYers?
Steve: Buy the larger paint rollers—you’ll paint a lot faster. Also, it’s important to hire a professional when you’re out of your element. You can really do something wrong and it can turn bad fast. We’re in this age where you can just go online and think you know it all, but that’s not necessarily true. If I second guess myself, I always look to somebody who is more educated than I do. There’s no shame in looking to someone who has more experience than yourself.
Leanne: Don’t worry about rules! I really believe in ignoring any rules you’ve heard about design, and doing what you love and what you’re drawn to. Trends are going to come and go, but it’s all about where you feel at home and how you feel comfortable. If that’s what translates, you’re going to love your house and everyone else is going to love your house. I can give you all sorts of ideas of how to do your home, and I’m happy to do that, but my biggest aim is to make sure you love your home. If everything is covered in Hawaiian wallpaper and that’s what you love, then do it!
Let’s talk about the series. How long did it take to produce the first season?
Leanne: It was about five or six months of filming a total of eight houses. It was pretty much all day, every day we were either building or designing or filming. It was a big job.
How do you pick the projects featured on the show?
Steve: Clients go through the casting agency—they narrow it down, basically—then they pass it to us, and we visit the home and meet the homeowner.
Leanne: We pick the houses based on what the project is, what the house vibe is—if it’s a natural connection, and what the budget is. There have been some amazing houses, but there’s not enough budget to do as much work that needs to be done, so we’ve had to pass on some.
Do you have any favorites?
Steve: When you’re done with a project, it’s like Christmas morning—it’s an awesome feeling. You start a job and you’re super nervous, and by the time you’re done, you walk out of there and you feel good. That’s my favorite part about it: leaving after knowing that everyone’s happy with the final product.
Leanne: We really like whatever project we’re working on. Your favorite’s whichever one you’re in. I get attached to all of them.
Steve: But if we were to purchase something we’re both really excited about, we wouldn’t be afraid to sell it and get something different.
Which Restored by the Fords project to date proved to be the most challenging?
Leanne: I have to say every project, on and off screen, has its shares of difficulties. So just like how every project I am working on is my favorite at that time, every project we are working on is difficult at that time. It’s just the nature of the career we chose. I always joke and say, “why didn’t I get into making jewelry instead of making homes?” It would be a lot less furniture moving, I’ll tell you that!
What’s it like being on camera?
Steve: To me it feels like they’re just documenting what we do. They follow us around and do the interviews, and yeah.
Leanne: We were strangely naturals. It was much easier than we expected it to be. We’re not actors—we weren’t aiming to have a TV show. We’re in the design and construction business. So it’s such an honor and such a joy to have a network like HGTV following what we do. We grew up together—we did home videos, like “Rocky XIII.” As kids you make up home videos! I was laughing one time because I swear it was like we were doing the same thing for HGTV that we had done as kids. We had Dad’s VHS that we were carrying around, making home videos. That’s why it’s easy—we’ve been doing it our whole lives!
Is your dynamic the same in real life as it is on set?
Leanne: I have to say that’s the biggest compliment our friends and fans have given us: “You guys are exactly who you are on and off TV.” We have an amazing producer and DP—they’ve made us feel really comfortable.
Steve: That’s all we have to offer—we’re not very good actors.
Is it odd, watching yourself on TV?
Steve: I’ve watched every one so far—I get terribly embarrassed, and then I don’t watch it again.
What’s next for the Fords?
Leanne: For me it’s just more work—I’ve been working on my own projects. It’s been really exciting for the show to come out, because we get to reveal all these things that we’ve had to keep under wraps for a while. But this is more than a TV show. We are building a brand here, which is beyond exciting!
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