The Thrive Questionnaire//

HGTV’s Design Duo Leanne and Steve Ford Embrace the Beauty of Being a Work in Progress

The siblings share why they, much like the home renovations they undertake, are constantly evolving and growing.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Courtesy of Getty Images

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

If done right, a well-designed space can be a deeply relaxing sanctuary. Leanne and Steve Ford of HGTV’s Restored by the Fords know this all too well. The creative duo have found tremendous success in transforming some of Pittsburgh’s dated buildings into dream homes. And the two design gurus aren’t just successful coworkers, but they’re also siblings. If the title of their new book, Work In Progress, is any indication, Leanne and Steve truly enjoy the magical (and messy) process of working together.

In their Thrive Questionnaire, the Fords share their secrets on building a happy home. It involves kindness, a dedication to decluttering, and a bucket of paint. 

TG: What gives you energy?

Leanne Ford: My family. A bathtub. Reading a good book. Thinking creatively. 

Steve Ford: I’m in my element any time I’m building or creating something.  It can be furniture, a motor, or a renovation project. I love my toys, too, so I get a lot of energy when I’m wakesurfing or riding my motorcycle.  

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

LF: Keep it loose. Relax and don’t try to control life. 

SF: I always stock my refrigerator with plenty of beer. It helps when you need to keep friends around to finish a big job.  

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

LF: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, My years in France By Julia Child, The Bible, and Originals

SF: Work in Progress. I never thought that I’d be the kind of guy to write a book.  But I’m proud of it and honored that we had the opportunity to tell our story.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

LF: My husband and I have a “no phones in the bedroom” rule… which we stick to pretty closely to most of the time. He’s better at it than I am!

SF: Well, I tend to drop my phone a lot, so that comes to mind.  I’m on my phone a lot, but I really don’t want to be. So it’s a love/hate relationship.   

TG: How do you deal with email?

LF: Ignore it?!  Just kidding. But I don’t have notifications on my phone. So I don’t get alerts for emails, texts, or social media. I have to consciously look at them, which I like. And my phone always stays on silent. 

SF: I’m not overly concerned about staying connected via phone, email, or social media.  I’d rather be living life in the moment.     

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

LF: As long as I get my eight hours of sleep, I’m great! Everything is doable. But if I’m tired, man, everything feels worse than it really is. 

SF: After Season two of “Restored by the Fords,” I was just exhausted.  We restored 15 homes over the course of eight months, and it was a lot of pressure, timelines, and budgets.  You want everyone involved to be happy at the end of the day, and that can be a tremendous amount of pressure.  

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

LF: Every day! I think life is a ton of little failures and some great big ones. And once you accept that and accept your imperfections, things get much more enjoyable. 

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

LF: “The fear of failure kills creativity” – Einstein

“Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” – Marcus Aurelius

“When the time is right, I the Lord will make it happen.” Isaiah 60:22

SF: “That’s a wrap!” 

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

LF: Family first. Then sleep. Then the fun stuff that I love about my career. Then I get on with the overwhelming part once I feel rested and fulfilled. I also say no to what I can!

SF: I’m still figuring that out, but I make a lot of lists.  I have a great team of friends and colleagues who I can call on to help me out.  That’s invaluable.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

LF: I would give the advice that my dad used to tell us, which is, “Don’t major in the Minors.” Don’t worry about the small stuff. 

SF: Don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. 

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?

LF: When I realize that I am crying for no reason!

SF: I shut down when I’m feeling depleted. I can get into hermit mode really easily when I’m feeling that way.  That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people who build you up, support you, and accept you for you.  

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course-correct?

LF: Sleep more, and say no to what I can. 

SF: Wakesurfing has been a major stress reliever for me.  I love the freedom that I feel on my boat and being on the river.  I try to get on my boat to wakesurf as much as possible, especially when I’m stressed.  It’s a great outlet. 

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

LF: I try to think from a cosmic level, which really puts things into perspective. 

SF: That’s hard for me.  It’s so easy to get negative and critical and that’s a part of the human condition. But a good night’s sleep always helps.  

TG: What brings you optimism?

LF: Hugs, kisses, dancing, and singing along in the car.

SF:  Nature… being on a river or in the woods.

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

LF: I take a hot bath every night! It’s where I love to read.

SF: I put a steam room into my bathroom and I do some of my best unwinding in there.  It’s a game changer for me, both mentally and physically.

TG: How has your spirituality helped you in your career endeavors?

LF: My connection to God is in everything I do. When you see everything on an eternal scale, you realize that what the world hands out as important just usually isn’t the case. When you don’t feel the pressures of the world, it frees you up to explore, create, and happily fail on the way to wherever you’re meant to be. 

SF: I think my faith has been a foundation for me all along the way.  It’s something that I’ve been more private about, but I am grateful to have the ability to give my worries to a God who is greater than me.  

TG: What are some easy, cost-effective ways we can refresh our living spaces?

LF: Rearrange your furniture! Paint some of your pieces to give them new life. Declutter and get rid of everything that doesn’t bring you joy. 

SF: I always joke about Leanne and her love of white paint.  But honestly, a fresh coat of paint makes a huge difference.  

TG: What are your best tips to declutter and create a more calm, stress-free setting in our homes?

LF: Don’t feel the need to hold on to family heirlooms! Say thank you and bye! Throw out the unnecessary mail as soon as you bring it in the house. 

SF: In my home and workshop, I’m a believer of a place for everything in its place.  Even if you focus on one small section of your home each day to get it organized and decluttered, just start with a kitchen drawer and work your way around the kitchen over the course of a week or so.  It’s worth it, and makes life so much easier.

TG: What is your favorite way to bring a happy aesthetic into your home? 

LF: Music. Great lighting. White paint! Books everywhere. And art by people I love. 

SF: Have great music playing, and lots of houseplants around.  

TG: One of the chapters in your new book is titled Be Excellent to Each Other. What are three ways we can be more excellent to each other today?

LF: Make eye contact with friends and strangers alike. Ask people how they are doing and actually mean it. And listen to the answer. Stop judging each other and ourselves. 

SF: Love this question, and I think there is one way to do that, and it’s to be kind.  I think kindness is key. When you show kindness, it comes right back to you. It’s a win win. 

TG: Your sibling success story shows the true magic of collaboration. How does teamwork affect your day-to-day?

LF: We are only as good as our team. And we are only here because of a ton of people who have helped us get here. It’s what I talk about on the thank you page of our book!

SF: I’ve worked with all types of people and personalities.  Teamwork and keeping people motivated and engaged is an important part of pulling off a show like “Restored by the Fords.” I am the type of guy who likes to do things on my own, and I’m a perfectionist. So it’s been a real growing process for me to get better at working in teams, honestly. But I’m getting better, and I appreciate the talent, collaboration, and trouble-shooting that can come from great people pulling together. 

TG: Your new book is titled Work In Progress. Tell us more about the title. Do you consider yourselves works in progress? 

LF: We are all Works in Progress! Especially me! It’s a reminder that our tangled, messy, beautiful story is never over, it is always to be continued. And when you understand and accept that you can enjoy the ride much more!

SF: I am, and continue to be, a Work in Progress. In many ways, my story is still unfolding, and I have a long way to go.  But Leanne and I liked this title because we’re open about the fact that we are still evolving and figuring it out.  

TG: Are there any simple, creative exercises you use to destress and re energize? 

LF: I love to go to Hot Yoga when possible, I love to take long walks and check out all the houses in my neighborhood, or walk in the woods. 

SF: I have been working out a lot more and it’s been great. I like to run, ride my bike, take Yoko, my dog, for walks, and lift weights at a community center in my neighborhood.

TG: Mixing family with work can be tricky sometimes. Have you faced any challenges working with each other? If so, how did you overcome them? 

LF: Yes, daily! We have different priorities naturally as well, because of our roles in the design process. I think the money should be spent on the visual details of a space, and he thinks the money should be spent on double insulation or something behind the walls. We tend to end up in the middle most of the time. We get over it, no matter what the debate is, because at the end of the day we are siblings and we love each other.

SF: Working with family can be hard.  You can say things to your siblings that you wouldn’t say to a co-worker.  That, and you have so much shared history together. I think it’s important to give each other space. You’re not always going to agree on things, and know when to pick your battles.    

TG: Creative burnout is common. Have you had any experience with it and how did you deal with it? 

LF: I experienced it when I was in fashion, which probably is what led me to do a full switch into interiors, and someday I may experience it in interiors and then start my songwriting career! Who knows! And then, knowing me, I will start back at the top again. This is what I mean by Works In Progress! When I feel burnout coming on, I just give myself a couple of days off and then I am ready to go again. Every new house reignites the flame! 

SF: I like to work on all sorts of different projects, from house renovations to rebuilding motorcycle and car motors. Being my own boss gives me the chance to work on the things that most interest me. Having that creative freedom has been a game-changer for me. I wouldn’t have done well in an office setting, let’s just say that.

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