“Worlds are colliding, in the best way,” says Leanne Ford, an interior designer based between her homes in Pittsburgh (where she was born and raised) and Los Angeles, of the way cultures, eras, and regions are merging more than ever before. Southern is no longer confined to the South, nor is a nautical aesthetic reserved for homes that reside on the coast. “I’m just thankful that genres can mix, and thanks to the internet and affordable means of travel, people can see more of the world and bring everything they love together into their homes,” Ford adds.
Known for her collected, effortlessly chic interiors, and for being a powerful force in the movement of strong female leadership, Ford has built a design aesthetic all her own, growing from a base that has a distinctly Southern feel. “My style is a mix of old and new, shiny and rusty, found and saved for,” she says. “It is a curation of all styles together, which of course always has a touch of Southern in there. To me, that means it’s cozy, warm, and welcoming, with just the slightest touch of fancy.” We couldn’t agree more.
Here, get to know the person behind the designs, an artistic soul, she says, which is always creating. “A house, a room, a poem, a song, a photoshoot, art…just something.”
Alyssa Rosenheck: What are some of your favorite boutiques in Pittsburgh?
Leanne Ford: Weisshouse on Highland Avenue has the best new treasures, and go to Garden Style Living for the best beautifully shabby chic type of vintage. Tristate Antiques is my midcentury secret weapon.
AR: What’s the perfect shade of black and white?
LF: I am a white paint addict! My go-to for a pure white is Behr Ultra White. My favorite black is a warmer black, Tricorn Black by Sherwin Williams.
AR: What’s your life motto?
LF: If you’re not making anyone nervous, you’re not doing anything special. During the design process, I even make myself nervous half the time. But those questionable creative decisions are always the ones that turn out to be my favorite parts of the design. Which reminds me of my other life motto: “the fear of failure kills creativity.” Albert Einstein said this and I couldn’t agree more. Don’t be afraid to blow it. If you are afraid to mess up then you aren’t pushing yourself or the boundaries. Failing at creative projects really isn’t failing at all. It’s just something you need to adjust to make work.
AR: What’s the one shade that changes everything?
LF: White is everything. It’s bright and cheery, it's warm and inviting, it’s the silence between the chords, it’s the poetry of the room. Can you tell that it’s my favorite?
AR: Where do you go to get inspired?
LF: Everywhere always. Just look up, it’s all inspiring—the way the light hits a room, the font painted on the window, grandma’s wallpaper. If you really stop and think about it, it all inspires your brain to think. Some of my favorite words or phrases that I write down as poetry are things that I misheard someone say. Design is the same way. You may pull out something entirely different from a space than it really is. Fine! That’s amazing. So, that, and Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve been visiting it since I was a kid, and I swear, that place influences everything I do.
AR: How do you turn a house into a home?
LF: Personalize it. My number one rule about decorating for others is this: the client is first. Ignore the trends—what’s in, what’s out, what’s on the way in, what’s on the way out. It’s all irrelevant. What matters first and foremost is what the client wants, needs, have, loves, feels good in, feels attached to. Work with that first and then the actual space is second. Listen to your client, then listen to your house, it will tell you what it needs to feel good. And it’s usually texture, white paint, some personal treasures and incredible lighting.
AR: Advice you’ve received that made all the difference?
LF: My dad would always tell me, “don’t major in the minors.” It means, don’t worry about the little things, don’t stress about what’s not important, and don’t waste your time on something that isn’t part of your grand plan for life.
I was a smart kid growing up and got all As. It was easy for me in grade school and middle school, so when I got to high school I was planning on continuing to get all As. My mom saw how much kids struggled and missed out on enjoying their high school experience in pursuit of that perfect report card, and she said, “Leanne! Get a B early. That way you can relax and enjoy yourself in school.” I love her for that advice.
When I was 20 I graduated college early and moved to New York to get into fashion. When I was totally over hitting the streets, looking for a position in fashion, I told this older man at the restaurant I was working at about it, and I told him I was going to go into pharmaceutical sales instead. He looked at me and said, “Just remember, when you start climbing in your career and you get to the top of the corporate ladder, you better make sure you climbed the right one.”
AR: Any rules for mixing old with new?
LR: There are no rules in creativity, but an easy no-fail tactic is to keep them all in the same color story. This way the eye feels relaxed, no matter how much or what it is.
AR: Fill the blank, “my momma always said…”
LF: Put some lipstick on, Leanne! (I have yet to listen.)
AR: What’s currently on your nightstand?
LF: A big stack of worn, loved, and written-all-over books. And the prettiest light.
AR: Any advice for young entrepreneurs just starting out in a creative field?
LF: Just do it. If you have it in you to go at it on your own, then you have no choice and you’ll not rest until you do it. Do it now and enjoy the benefits of your youth and your freedom. Live poor if you have to, but live happy! I have noticed that once you set your mind, intentions, time, and brain to one thing, that very thing will become your source of success and happiness.