Farmhouse makeover in Upper St. Clair a labor of love
Growing up in Upper St. Clair, Leanne Ford often would admire the idyllic farmhouse on Johnston Road and wonder what it looked like inside.
Today, the accomplished designer is nearing the end of a yearlong labor of love spent transforming that very house into her personal haven filled with special touches and custom-made pieces.
“When I drive by old houses, I always imagine what I would do, and I used to do that to this house,” Ford says. “I knew I had to figure this one out.”
Ford currently lives in a former schoolhouse she renovated in Aleppo. The home has been featured in publications worldwide and drew attention to Ford's signature aesthetic. Her style is clean, yet lived-in, heavy on neutrals and full of surprising special touches. She's drawn to older homes with quirky layouts, interesting stories and character she can celebrate through her design choices.
“I like to save as many elements from the house as possible,” she says. “It's no fun to just rip everything out and start over. It's fun to play with what's there.”
The Johnston Road farmhouse presented plenty of opportunities to do just that. Ford was first drawn to the black-and-white checkerboard floor in the entryway, but upon discovering it was linoleum, opted to pull it up. Underneath was the original hardwood floor, which she sanded and finished but otherwise left imperfect to add to the rustic charm of the home.
In the living room, Ford ripped out a mantel and drywall to expose the original brick around the fireplace. She wanted to carry the effect throughout the first floor but feared it would let in too much of Pittsburgh's nasty winter weather. Instead, she added a layer of insulation to the wall then covered it with sliced vintage bricks painted white. A small section of exposed brick appears again behind a built-in shelf Ford packed with neutral-hued books, linens, records and knickknacks. The effect allows the shelf as a whole to act as its own piece of artwork.
“There's a ton of stuff, but there's still a color story, so it feels visually clean,” Ford says.
In the kitchen, square handmade tiles from Mexico hang on one section of the wall above a glossy white workbench. Overhead, light seeps through seams between slats of wood arranged in a chevron pattern, an element inspired by something Ford saw at a bar in Paris.
The countertops are concrete, and the cabinets are from Ikea, though Ford swapped the humdrum hardware for thin bronze bars to match the Delta faucet. A long wood table, custom-made by Ford's brother Steve, rests beneath two old warehouse lights she scored at Construction Junction, which are rewired to emit a warm, subtle glow.
The second story is home to three bedrooms, all featuring hardwood floors and clean, white walls. In the guest bathroom, Ford opened the ceiling up to the attic where the chandelier that once hung above her mother's dining room table dangles. Shiplap walls, a vintage porcelain tub and white wood floor add to the country vibe of this cozy space. A set of arched glass doors lead to the bathroom off the master bedroom, which features a small tub, open shower and infinity drain.
The most dramatic transformation happened in the second-floor hallway, where two closets and an attic pulldown previously existed. Ford ripped out the closets, closed up the pulldown and turned it into a winding staircase leading to a reading loft and office area above. Local woodworker Ed Zeiler created the spiral stairs from pieces of wood he banked to curve upward, creating the illusion that the piece was carved from the house's original structure rather than added afterward. At the top of the steps, a railing made from the original front porch still bears the home's address.
Despite pouring so much of herself into the home, Ford is not sure she's staying. She still owns her home in Aleppo, and the idea of parting with either brings an immediate pained expression to her face.
But she knows, either way, she's not done chasing her ideal home.
“The best reason to let it go is so I can do another one,” she says. “I always like the challenge of a new project.”
Rachel Weaver is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.