Leanne Ford’s book (co-written with her brother Steve Ford) might be called Work In Progress, but the interior designer and HGTV star is anything but. While the book documents their charming tales of growing up together in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this memoir doesn’t shy away from revealing the missteps on the path to getting their own show. While failure is a major theme, learning from failure is the true takeaway.
But, brother and sister make no bones about it. The Fords are probably the last people anyone would expect to be stars of a reality television show. More inspirational than aspirational, Leanne and Steve are far easier to relate to than many of their counterparts. But one thing they never fail to do is emphasize that they both had lives before Restored By The Fords, and their careers will continue long after the show comes to an end at some point.
I recently spoke with Leanne about the process of writing the book with her brother and why she will always consider herself a “work in progress.” She also spoke candidly about reality television versus real life renovations, working on A Very Brady Renovation and how everyone can hone in on their own style.
Why did you decide to write a memoir with your brother?
We wanted to talk about inspiring people to think creatively, differently and to relax. Life is this ever-evolving conversation. Why do we feel like we need to have all the answers when we’re twenty-something years old?
Our story is about how we got to have a show and it is always interesting to find out how people get to where they are in any form.
But, then as we started talking about it, [we realized] we lived with this kind of total freedom from being scared of messing up. We were never afraid to fail. We knew that was part of how you try things. When I asked Steve what kind of failure stories do you want to talk about—he said I never really failed. That just shows how much you are okay with it, that you wouldn’t even coin it that.”
What was it like working with your brother in an entirely different way?
We wrote mainly separately and then we kind of chimed in on each other’s stories. It was so much fun figuring out how our lives intertwined and where. Looking back at our childhood and how we had a similar take on creativity, failure and inspired living. When I was living in California and he was in Pittsburg, we had this kind of little web that kept coming back together.
How did you come up with the title for the book?
The reason it is called Work In Progress is because it is memoir(ish). I’m in my late 30’s and if all goes well this is not the end of our story. Just the beginning. So, we are works in progress.”
A theme in both the book and your designs, in general, is imperfection. Everything is perfectly imperfect. Is that just for the camera?
Being imperfect is literally all I’ve got. Anyone who meets me in person says, “You are just like you are on tv.” That’s the only thing I’ve got going. That is me. I am thankful that I didn’t come into this trying to be anything else, because how hard would it be to keep that up?
Steve and I are exactly the same on camera as we are off camera. My college friends always say they like watching the show because they feel like we are hanging out again.
Imperfection is what creates warmth in a person and a home. We’re all going through our own battles and experiences. Once you realize that, it is easier to connect with your friends and co-workers or neighbors.
If you look at my designs and what Steve and I have done on tv—you don’t always understand why it feels warms and inviting. But, it is the books, the photos, etc. that create a lovely space.
What is the best takeaway from the book?
Ignore everyone, including the Fords. Don’t worry about what other people are saying about you, your life or design. This is you and your choices. Do not bother with anyone else’s opinion on them.
What is the difference between renovating homes on television and in real life?
Everyone knows that things look very different on tv because they’re edited and you have a certain amount of time to tell a story. What usually would take a year takes us two months. We have a massive crew to help us and we have to stop and talk about what we are doing. When you’re not on film, you can spend more time concentrating on and designing the project.
So, when they tell me I have to stop and talk to the camera, I just want to keep designing. The difference is really just stopping and talking about what you’re doing.
Is there pressure to look a certain way for the camera?
I never try to look cute because I’m trying to make the project beautiful. So I forget to put makeup on or change my clothes. At the end of the day, what looks better—the house or me? The house always seems to win.
So, you don’t have hair, makeup, and wardrobe on set?
No. I fully change in the car!
What was it like for you and Steve to work on A Very Brady Renovation?
That was maybe the highlight of our lives. We grew up with the Brady Bunch! It was surreal. We loved them.
It was so much fun and was so well done. [But], “it takes a village” is an understatement of what getting that house done was. The team was incredible. We were all very passionate about getting it done and we tried to get it exactly right. I think we really did a good job on that.
What did Steve think?
He teared up because he was so happy and emotional about it. I told him to get it together.
Your signature decorating style is black and white, working almost entirely with neutrals. Do you have advice for people trying to discover their own style when it comes to decorating?
You kind of have to digest what you are drawn to. My whole life, I read magazines and now you that you can save them on the Internet, you can kind of look at what you are drawn to, what makes you do a double-take and brings joy to you. You have to dissect it a little bit and breakdown what are the common themes.
You always paint everything white. Why are you such a proponent of this classic neutral?
The reason I always preach about white paint is because it’s fail-proof, timeless, and you can’t go wrong. It is automatically beautiful and then you can put all your pretty things inside (the rooms).
Any tips for decorating on a budget?
I think that design does not have to be about budget—high or low. I feel like design for all, is my theme on life. I cannot come to everyone’s house and decorate it but on my website, there is a How To [section]. I put all my sources out there so people can create a home they love.