Malcolm Gladwell once said that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness," in his book Outliers—that to truly be a master of your craft, you need to put in the time and effort to get there. By this definition, we are all only tapping the surface of how to renovate and decorate a home to its full potential—that is, unless we are established interior designers like Leanne Ford, who honed her craft in Pittsburgh before gaining national attention for an all-white 1907 schoolhouse project. She's since been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, The New York Times, and more—and recently, she got her own HGTV show, Restored by the Fords, where she stars alongside her brother, Steve.
Known for her signature layered white-on-white style, Ford constantly knows to push the boundaries of design, whether with impressive scale or unexpected statements. And now that she's renovating a slew of older homes in Pennsylvania, to the delight of her HGTV viewers, she's honing her craft quicker than ever. We chatted with the interior designer about everything she's learned through years of renovating. From how to create coherent spaces to where to spend money (and how to save it), she gave us her best recipe for a successful home. Don't tackle an interior project—big or small—without taking in these expert tips.
Stick to a Color Story
"I always stick to a color story in order to keep a space coherent and feeling clean to the eye," says Ford. "I tend to stay in the neutrals, creams, whites, and natural light tones with hints of black. By sticking to just a few colors or colorways, it allows me to play with prints, textures, styles, eras, all of it! You can have shelffulls of stuff, but if you keep it all within a consistent color story, it still feels easy on the eyes, so it doesn't feel like clutter."
Express Yourself Through Art
The trends that Ford is foreshadowing for 2018 are curved sofas, statement lighting, and abstract art. "I read in an art history book that art trends directly correlate with what's going on in the world around the artist, so it makes sense that a lot of abstract art has been done in these recent years. I also think of it as a type of backlash to our parents' generation where everything was perfect and in its place. The 20- and 30-somethings are rebelling into a more casual lifestyle. All in all, I think of trends as just ways for people to see and think of new ideas. Don't follow trends if you don't love them, and don't stop doing something just because it's out of style. Remember, beauty is subjective."
Make Yourself Nervous
"I tend to make myself nervous a few times each project," jokes Ford. "Once I get over the 'oh no, what in the world am I doing?' phase, it usually turns into my favorite part of the entire design project. I'd say the simplest concept for this in design is statement lighting. I tend to find large and oversize chandeliers and light fixtures to use in projects. More than once I have hung a 60-inch light over a 60-inch table. And every time, as four men are hanging it, I think, What did I do? Then they step away, and it's magical. On the show, I've also started to notice a trend. If my idea makes my brother nervous, and he doesn't want to do it, then we have to do it because it's going to be the best part of the design. Sorry, Stevey!"
Listen to Your Own Voice
"The number one mistake people make when renovating their homes is not listening to their own voice," warns Ford. "It doesn't matter what your friends say, what your mother says, what the magazines tell you to do—you live there, so you have to love it—point-blank. We as designers and decorators and editors can give you beautiful imagery, ideas, concepts all day every day, but if you are not naturally and fully drawn to it, then you shouldn't do it. Remember beauty is subjective. And only you know what you love. Don't second-guess it. And take risks! Play a little bit! Design is fun."
Save Budget for Furniture
"When redoing your home, make sure you save some money to decorate," says the designer. "There's not much worse in our industry than a beautiful, finished house with temporary or leftover furniture sitting in there because the homeowners blew through their budget. So make a realistic budget of what you think the home construction will take, and double it. Then you'll know how much you are going to spend. And then save some money for furniture."
Spend Money Where it Matters
"The room that deserves the most time, attention, and money is the room or rooms you spend the most time in," believes Ford. "They say you get the most bang for your buck in real estate resale when you do up the kitchen and the bathrooms. So yes, that's true. But be honest with yourself and show extra love to where you spend your time in. I am a big proponent of making sure your master bedroom is serene and beautiful in any way. That needs to be your oasis. When you wake up and when you go to sleep, you should feel happy in your space."
Embrace the Power of Paint
Renovating (or even decorating) can easily make us blow through our budget quickly. Ford's best trick for stretching a dollar when decorating deals with the power of paint. "Paint can give new life to anything," she says. "A room, a wall, a piece of furniture, a blank canvas that now becomes a work of art. It's our best tool for simple and inexpensive improvements."
Splurge on Something You Love
The designer has no rules when it comes to where to splurge or where to save. "Splurge on whatever calls to you," she advises. "A beautiful vintage leather chair or sofa, or a special light in a space does wonders. If there is something that you are drawn to that is expensive, then get it! And save money on something else in the room. The power of high and low prices in design is what makes a room feel curated and alive."