Here's How You Modernize a Family Home—Without Sacrificing its Soul

Designer Leanne Ford reveals her tricks for making an inherited space your own.

Leanne Ford Kardell Project
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One of the most satisfying shots of any home renovation show is the moment people start taking sledgehammers to the walls. It signals that a huge transformation’s coming—they’re not merely rearranging the furniture. Restored By The Fords features plenty of that, but in the latest episode of the HGTV show (which airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST, FYI), there was a little less demo, a little more deliberation.

“We didn’t rip any walls out, which—I have to say—my brother appreciated,” designer Leanne Ford laughed.

Often, when modernizing a home, the first thing people do is opt for an open floor plan. But Leanne and her brother, Steve Ford, saw potential in the cozy, individual spaces each room presented.

“It would’ve been pointless to get rid of the walls in that house—they were good,” Leanne said.

Instead, they got to work finding out the homeowners' tastes—and figuring out how they could reimagine the house to fit their lifestyle.

Leanne Ford Kardell Project
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“The husband grew up in this home—he acquired it and moved in, and he didn’t do much to it, so he was essentially just living in his parents’ house,” she explained.

The couple wasn’t sure what to do with the craftsman-style house: It was very traditional, while their tastes were rustic…and mid-century modern. It made for strange bedfellows, but they worked to find a middle ground.

“Rustic was easier to incorporate,” Leanne admitted. “The home definitely won the battle of ‘we’re not going to try to make this all mid-century.’ It’d be wrong to do that.”

Instead, they tried to lighten the uber-traditional style of the house with a few contemporary touches, starting with the lighting and paint. “They’re easy ways to upgrade,” she said. The couple didn’t love the wallpaper and curtains in the living room, so off they went, and the Fords freshened things up with a creamy white paint on the walls and a glossy, crisp white trim.

Tour the rest of the home:

“They have these incredible windows in the living room, but they were getting lost with the curtains,” Leanne explained. Sconces on the walls provided nighttime light, since the ceilings were a little too low for an overhead fixture.

Leanne also moved all the furniture toward the center of the room to make the space seem larger, even if it wasn’t an open floor plan. “That’s the college dorm mentality, like ‘oh, we need more floor space,’ but pushing everything against the walls actually makes a space seem smaller,” she said.

Instead of a white mantel, she chose a glossy black—another modern flourish—to make it the focal point of the room. To connect the new and old, she chose more traditional lanterns (which happen to be outdoor lanterns from Restoration Hardware, actually), and installed them on either side of the fireplace. Leanne liked the vibe of the lanterns so much that she used the same lights in the front hallway.

Leanne Ford Kardell Project
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With every facet of the house, the Fords wanted to honor the architecture of the space while making sure it reflected the homeowners’ tastes. A built-in near the breakfast nook felt really dated at first, but with a fresh coat of paint and a collection of similarly hued plates and glassware on display, it started to feel like a work of art.

“They were considering tearing it out, but it just needed to be looked at and listened to,” Leanne said.

Listen they did, and the end result is worth admiring. We see you, Kardell house. We see you.

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