Symphony in Neutrals

Designer Leanne Ford revamps a home in Ohio with a strict color story that leaves plenty of room for possessions to shine

A medley of earth tones against white walls, with well-chosen black accents, creates a harmonious mood in the piano room.
A medley of earth tones against white walls, with well-chosen black accents, creates a harmonious mood in the piano room.
The exterior of the family's Stick Style home.
The exterior of the family's Stick Style home.

Serendipitous might be the best word to describe the career path of Leanne Ford. The Pennsylvania-born aesthete got her start in New York City’s fashion world before making her way to Los Angeles, where she worked as a stylist, creative director, clothing designer, and tambourine player. It wasn’t until she transformed a century-old schoolhouse outside Pittsburgh into a photo-ready country getaway that Ford garnered attention for interior design, nonchalantly adding yet another notch to her belt.

“Interiors have become my favorite outlet; the work lasts longer than fashion and more people can enjoy it,” says Ford. This fortuitous discovery eventually led her to the charming German Village neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, where Erin Crotty and Craig Kent had caught wind of her decorating talents. “They’d heard about me through a previous client. When Erin sent me pictures of her house and vibe, I knew I had to do it—the project was right up my alley,” says Ford. The homeowners had just finished a thorough remodel of their late-1800s home. With only a few key pieces to speak of and little in the way of demands from the homeowners, the house was open for a decor reinvention.

The family's piano, which was coated in a milky-white hue by homeowner Erin Crotty, gets added punch from a trio of black-and-white art prints. 
The family's piano, which was coated in a milky-white hue by homeowner Erin Crotty, gets added punch from a trio of black-and-white art prints. 
A wooden bowl and terra-cotta planter bring warmth to a side table in the living room.
A wooden bowl and terra-cotta planter bring warmth to a side table in the living room.
Symphony in Neutrals

Right away, Ford designated a strict color story of creams, blacks, whites, and metallics. “Given as many styles as I like, one way to keep things grounded is to use neutral hues,” says Ford. With this concise palette in mind, she sought to incorporate an array of materials to warm the entire home. A tufted black-leather chesterfield sofa anchors the white-walled, sunlit living room. A speckled cowhide rug simultaneously contrasts with and softens the gray cement floor of the piano room. A well-worn farm table adds character to a modern kitchen. Every design decision was made to create textural interest.

Various antiques and vintage-collectibles stores proved to be the ideal sources for small tabletop accents. 
Various antiques and vintage-collectibles stores proved to be the ideal sources for small tabletop accents. 

Maintaining the couple’s self-described minimalist aesthetic proved to be the project’s most rewarding challenge. Ford found it pleasantly ironic that the less-is-more couple opted for floor-to-ceiling shelves in the main living space. Rather than going for a stark, showroom-like effect, Ford did the exact opposite of what was expected, filling every single nook to the brim. Collections of vintage typewriters, weathered glass bottles, and patinated silver platters mix playfully with old books and chunky knit throws, grouped by color in their designated cubbies—ensuring that the wall of shelving remains clean and uncluttered.

Lessons from this Home Tour

Love Leanne Ford’s disciplined approach to the modern-vintage aesthetic? Read on for ways to get the look

  • PRACTICE THE ART OF OMISSION

    “Don’t be afraid of a lack of color,” says Ford. “Neutral spaces allow beautiful, thoughtful objects to be appreciated and displayed.”

  • GET THE RIGHT WHITE

    “The sheen of your paint is everything. If you have simple, nondescript walls, try the highest ultra-gloss you can get your hands on. I love using matte white on textured, older surfaces or walls with interesting trim.”

  • DON'T HESITATE TO GO DARK

    “Black can be a neutral—after all, it’s the absence of color. A black room can feel just as open as a white one.”

  • STICK TO YOUR COLOR STORY

    Keep your collections cohesive and clustered. “The closer your artworks are to each other on the wall, the closer the treasures on your shelf, the cleaner and more ‘done’ the room will feel.”

With a focused neutral color palette at play, Ford consciously introduced various textures for visual interest. 
With a focused neutral color palette at play, Ford consciously introduced various textures for visual interest. 
Symphony in Neutrals
A masculine leather chair keeps company with a floating shelf of vintage treasures. 
A masculine leather chair keeps company with a floating shelf of vintage treasures. 
A collection of leather-bound books provides the perfect backdrop for a miniature marble bust.
A collection of leather-bound books provides the perfect backdrop for a miniature marble bust.

Furthering their dream-client status, Crotty and Kent were eager to get their own hands dirty. “I always give the homeowners a little project—some homework to really feel part of the process,” says Ford. She assigned Crotty the task of painting the family piano, covering the dated stained wood with a milky-white coat to make it feel less hand-me-down and more hip heirloom. (The couple’s two young sons still boast about how they helped arrange throw pillows.) And for those exhibiting the slightest sense of surprise at seeing such urbane interiors in the middle of the country? “There’s freedom in design outside of Los Angeles and New York City,” Ford says. “I’ve noticed a huge movement of design-forward people leaving the big cities for small towns where they can own more land and have more time and space to create. All of that feels good to a designer.” With projects like this, we’re more than likely to follow suit.

Striped linens are a crisp counterpoint to the upholstered headboard in the master bedroom. 
Striped linens are a crisp counterpoint to the upholstered headboard in the master bedroom. 
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