How the Stars of HGTV’s ‘Restored by the Fords’ Got Their Start in Home Restoration

It's all thanks to a few strategically placed holes in the walls of Leanne Ford’s vintage schoolhouse.

By: Jessica Galliart

Siblings Leanne and Steve Ford have made restoring off-the-beaten-path Pittsburgh homes their specialty, as seen on their new HGTV series Restored by the Fords, premiering Jan. 2. But it’s quite possible none of it would have happened if not for some guerilla demolition and an older brother beer bribe. 

“It’s very handy to have a handy brother, I’ll tell you that,” Leanne Ford said. 

After purchasing her first home, a historic schoolhouse that hadn’t been touched since the 1960s, Leanne had grand plans for modernizing it while maintaining its original charm: open rafters, a totally wet master bathroom, slat ceilings with twinkle lights. But when the contractors she interviewed to carry out her vision all said no, she took matters into her own hands and, by default, her older brother’s. 

“She had this vision, and she would instantly go into a room and just start wrecking stuff,” Steve said. “Then it had to be fixed to her taste and liking. She knew I could do it, so I got the phone call. I think she knew she had, like, a safety net. She could knock out walls and then her brother would come fix them.”

While Steve wasn’t contracting full-time at that point, he was far from inexperienced. In between pursuing interests like skiing, snowboarding and rafting, he had relied on seasonal construction gigs to pay the bills since high school. His sporting pursuits aren't ancient history — he's still showing East Coasters the ways of wakesurfing with his Surf Pittsburgh initiative — but working as an unofficial executor of dreams is his full-time gig. 

“My favorite part about working with Steve is that he can make anything happen,” Leanne said. “Any crazy idea I dream of, any idea I dream up, he can make happen. That’s very nice in a contractor.” 

Once the schoolhouse was finished, Leanne and Steve started getting requests from friends and friends of friends to work on their houses. One house led to another, and not long after, the Fords made home design their primary gigs. 

“We search out Pittsburgh for the coolest homes, the stranger, the weirder, the more unique, the better,” Steve said. “And then Leanne comes in and puts her spin on it, and I go to work.” 

A creative at heart, this isn’t Leanne’s first go-round in such a field. She spent nearly 15 years in the fashion industry as a stylist and a creative director in New York City and Los Angeles. Interior design is her focus now, but, as we’ll hear often in Restored by the Fords when she’s describing her visions for a space — “Lighting is like jewelry for a dress” — Leanne’s two main career interests are more intertwined than they may seem. 

“Honestly, the same thing in fashion is what I love about interiors, which is just new ways to connect things; new ways to put things together; mixing old and new, shiny and rusty,” Leanne said. “And all of those things together are what makes a home interesting.” 

Restored by the Fords premieres Jan. 2 on HGTV. 

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