Native Trails Talks to HGTV Designer Leanne Ford on her quirky design aesthetic and finding creative inspiration everywhere.
“Design isn’t precious. Try new things.” -Leanne Ford
HGTV’s “Restored by the Fords” follows the Ford siblings as they restore unconventional older homes in their hometown of Pittsburgh. Leanne lends the projects her delightfully quirky design aesthetic and her brother Steve brings his construction expertise to the table. The result is a binge worthy series that brings to life Leanne’s motto “The difference between weird and wonderful is good design.”
Leanne is admired for her out-of-the-box thinking which often includes new ways to enhance old features. She brought a splash of drama into an indoor swimming pool by painting the bottom black, rather than traditional blue.
Leanne also isn’t afraid to bring unorthodox concepts to life. For example, introducing a common kitchen feature – the island – into the bathroom. In another home, she commissioned a bentwood staircase that doubles as a sculpture – functional art at its finest. In the kitchen of that same home, Leanne used our NativeStone® Farmhouse Quartet sink in Pearl. The warm white of the Pearl finish added a slightly earthy, tactile element to her signature white-on-white look.
We were, of course, delighted to hear Leanne loved our sink so we sat down with her to learn more about her design inspirations.
NT: What’s your next passion project?
LF: I’m hoping I can use your dark concrete bathtub in a personal project. I’m currently looking at two personal projects—one we’re going to be building in Los Angeles in the next half a year or year. We just finished this awesome little cabin in Echo Park, and we’re going to build a new space on that property, which that tub would be amazing for.
Or in Pittsburgh, I’m looking for my next fun project there. It’s super personal. So it’s TBD, but I definitely have my eyes on that thing. I’ve kind of been known for my bathrooms because it’s all about the bathtub for me, in life and in work.
NT: What makes your style different from other designers?
LF: I don’t know that it’s necessarily different. I think why people are drawn to it is that it’s comfortable and casual but still elevated. So it’s interesting and it’s different but still super livable and easy. Nothing’s too precious.
NT: Before you pivoted into interior design, you had a different career in design. How did that inform what you’re doing today?
LF: I was a creative director and a stylist. I was in fashion for about 15 years, and actually it overlapped for a while with my interiors. I just recently in the last couple of years stopped doing fashion, but it was such a natural evolution. It’s the same durn thing: how you put things together. [It’s about] putting things together in a different way. Thinking outside the box. Interiors are still the same creative outlet. It’s just a larger space, and it lasts longer, and more people get to enjoy it, so for me the benefit of interiors is much greater than an outfit.
NT: Let’s talk about the NativeStone Quartet sink that you used in the Faraci project on your show. Why was that sink right for that kitchen?
LF: The project was a modern farmhouse, so the main elements were really traditional, but we added modern touches throughout the space. That sink was so perfect. It had a traditional element to it, but it also had a really understated feeling of modernism so it was exactly what we needed.
NT: Who or what is inspiring you right now?
LF: If your eyes are open and you can see or hear anything, it’s all inspiring. The fun thing is to take things out of context. So, for me, I get inspired not necessarily by interiors but by other elements—by music, by art, by architecture and things that just make you think differently.
The biggest takeaway I have is that we were some way or somehow trained that “this is normal” or “this is what you do” for your spaces or in your interiors, and I think [we should] question that. Realize that you can play and that design is not precious. Try new things. Somebody at some point told us that a kitchen island was normal and acceptable, but at one point that was a new thing. So, same thing with bathrooms. We did a bathroom island in a project, and my question was like, “Why not have a bathroom island?” And that’s big: just being inspired by everything around you. It’s kind of natural, too. As a creative soul, you can’t even help that.
NT: What did you learn from season one that you’re going to take with you into season two?
LF: It was such an all-hands-on-deck experience. It’s the first season of a TV show. Everyone’s doing everything. You’re just trying your best to get these things done. Huge projects that would usually take a year, we’re doing in two months. Going into season two, it’s all about communication and organization and having people that are really knowledgeable helping us.
There’s no lack of exciting fun things I want to do or of exciting, beautiful homes [that need to be renovated] in Pittsburgh. It’s just a matter of streamlining it to make it a simple creative process. As creative people, we don’t lack ideas, but we definitely need help with the details and the business and the organization of it.
NT: How has your life changed since you got your own TV show?
LF: I live between Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, so the biggest thing is that I’m in Pittsburgh a lot more than I used to be. Now, for filming season two, we’re going to be there for at least nine months, whereas I usually just go back and forth.
Because of the show I find that people are excited to see more designs and to see people doing a style that they relate to, right? There is a group of us that likes a different aesthetic. We like interesting, fun and even quirky design, so what I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of people who are excited to see that happening on TV. The more things that we can see that make us think creatively and that give us a call to action, the better. Not everyone is going to like everything, but there are always little tidbits that you can carry into your own home.
A Quick Q&A with Leanne Ford
NT: Favorite backsplash material?
LF: Vintage tile.
NT: Do you have a good source for that?
LF: No, you just gotta find it. I go to salvage yards, and if I see it I get it.
NT: What’s your favorite room in your home?
LF: My bathroom. I’m a bathtub girl.
NT: What should every room have?
LF: Amazing lighting. And dimmers.
NT: What interior designers make your jaw drop?
LF: Axel Vervoordt is my No. 1. I like so many other people for different purposes, but he’s the only one that I’m like “holy cow” at everything he does.
Photos: Alexandra Ribar