Leanne Ford was 30 when her fashion design career hit a sharp, interior design-focused pivot. Her time restoring a 1907 one-room schoolhouse in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania attracted rave reviews and, before she knew it, she fielding requests for more restoration projects and, eventually, calls from HGTV.
That was the genesis of her red hot career. Leanne and her brother Steve launched Restored by the Fords, which became one of HGTV’s breakout hits. In spring of 2021, the show was repackaged as Home Again, where Ford’s sparse but playful aesthetic has attained a new stratosphere of rabid fans drawn not just to her unique style but also her reasons behind it.
You know how some celebrity designers know how to design a space that looks almost too good? Like you shouldn’t be allowed to live in it? When Ford works on a home, you can tell she’s creating a place for people to be themselves in — a place for people to entertain guests, read books, cry, pray, dance, fall in love, nurse a broken a heart — all the things we do in our homes. It sounds like a no-brainer but if anybody could do it, Ford wouldn’t be in the demand that she is.
In a conversation with RELEVANT, Ford opened up about finding her footing in the design space, the surprisingly in-depth benefits of taking care of the space you live in and a few tips on things we could all do to make the places we live just a little more livable.
As I understand it, you never really planned on a career in renovation and home design. Do you mind recapping how you found yourself in this space?
I have always decorated my spaces. Down to my dorm rooms and my childhood bedrooms, you name it. So it’s funny that I never thought to do design for a living! But once I finally owned my own house and was able to rip out walls and play… it was ON! People started calling and asking me to help them with their spaces. And I always say yes to new and exciting opportunities.
Can you remember an early project that really confirmed you were moving in the right direction?
Our first project ever—a one room schoolhouse was in Country Living Magazine. Eight glorious pages of it!! I still remember that team in my house moving cameras and tables around and thinking, “WOW. This is big!”
Once you started doing this, how did you know this was an area you really wanted to commit to? Were other people giving you positive feedback, or did you feel a sense of inner fulfillment?
I was working in fashion before I was in design. So really there was about a five-year overlap of doing both. Just doing whatever could pay the bills so I could do more design and “hone in” on my craft. I knew it was time to pick one career when everything got too busy. And design totally filled me up! I love creating spaces for families and people to enjoy.
What do you think is unique about how you design spaces? What sets your vision apart?
You know, there’s nothing new under the sun. So once you realize what you’re doing is lovely but not totally new — you can relax and just enjoy the process. I think, if anything, what sets me and my designs apart is the casual joy of it. Design isn’t precious. It’s art. It’s meant to be fun and joyful. It’s the joy of creation!
Obviously, you get a lot of creative fulfillment out of doing this. But how do you feel like the work you do impacts the people who live in these spaces? How does having a well designed home shape the mood, outlook or headspace of the people who live in it?
When you love your home it helps your mood, and when you’re happier you’re kinder to those around you. It’s a pretty simple formula. The more people that love and are proud of their space the better. And it can be as easy as making your bed, or maybe some paint, or maybe some thrifting! It doesn’t have to involve money, just an open mind and some care.
In your opinion, what are some simple, inexpensive things most people can do to make their living spaces more beautiful without calling in an expert?
Ha! See above. Play with your furniture placement! Move things around the room to see how they feel! Paint, paint, paint! I love using white paint to make a room feel fresh. And purge! Get rid of anything you don’t love. It’s just taking up space.
Beyond just seeing your awesome work and your art, what do you hope your fans take away from following your career? What do you hope your impact is?
I love that question — I hope people know to follow their North Star — that you’re never too old, or too uneducated, or too anything to NOT follow your dreams. God puts something on your heart for a reason. Listen and pursue it joyfully and wholeheartedly! Don’t be afraid to fail. You will! Who cares? Get up and go again. You got this.
You’re doing some great work with World Vision. Can you tell us a little about your involvement with them and why it matters to you?
I love World Vision! My family sponsored kids growing up and I have sponsored kids there since I got my very first paycheck. I’m thankful to be able to help in some way. And I’m thankful there are people like the team at World Vision that I trust to use our money wisely and for the better good of the planet and its people.