It brings me little to no pleasure to have to publicly disagree with a colleague, but I feel it is imperative that we set the record straight. Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent are not the best couple of all the couples on HGTV’s various offerings. That honor belongs to Steve and Leanne Ford, of Restored by the Fords, who are superior simply because they are not married, but because they are siblings.
The other pair of siblings in the HGTV-sphere, the Property Brothers, is the one exception to this rule because their current level of fame has erased any actual personality they may have had to begin with. They are self-aware to the point of self-parody, and it’s painful to watch. Also, their interiors are hideous, and I’m sure they’re nice, but please, no thank you. The Ford siblings, on the other hand, have yet to be touched by fame’s hand, and still seem refreshingly normal. Currently, there are no new episodes of Restored by the Fords, but blessings will come to those who peruse the depths of HGTV’s streaming app or their local cable provider’s on-demand library, as the two seasons that have aired are available to watch there. I discovered this trove recently and enjoyed a rewatch of the first season and the entirety of the second over one lazy weekend and was thrilled to see siblings working together in harmony.
The premise of Restored by the Fords is the same as any of the channel’s other offerings. Leanne, the designer, and her brother Steve, an affable and relatable hot contractor with a very attractive dirtbag stoner vibe, renovate houses in the Pittsburgh area over the course of a half-hour. Leanne’s interior design style is not everyone’s cup of tea—she favors blinding white interiors over everything, and is not afraid to paint a foyer or a swimming pool black—but the results are always somehow livable, cozy, and work well with the space provided. For me, watching HGTV isn’t about the end results necessarily, because that’s a matter of taste. The interpersonal dynamic between the hosts is much more interesting to watch, and with that in mind, Steve and Leanne deliver every time.
What’s stressful to me about watching Fixer Upper, Home Town, or any of the various Flip or Flop spinoffs is wondering just how close these couples are to divorce. I can’t imagine that it’s very easy working with your partner on a reality TV show intended to sell not only the work that you do but also yourself. Sure, the couples on House Hunters almost always seem to be teetering on the edge of a legal separation, but the beauty of that show is that you can dip into their lives and then exit immediately after the show has ended, relieving yourself of any unneeded anxiety.
A couple like Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have become a franchise and a lifestyle brand, sometimes seem to be holding onto the illusion of a happy marriage by the skin of their teeth. That dynamic is not soothing television! If I’ve settled into the me-shaped hole in my sofa to watch five episodes of shiplap and the undulating fields of Waco, Texas, I don’t want my leisure time interrupted with intrusive thoughts about whether or not Joanna has divorce papers on deck and is just waiting for the right moment. But Steve and Leeanne Ford’s rapport lacks this tension because they’re siblings, and their interactions are more comforting, and therefore more enjoyable, to watch. No longer do I have to worry about whether or not their tenuous marriage will crumble, because they’re not married, and will probably, in one form or another, be in each other’s lives forever whether they want it or not.
The second season finale featured a very special client: Steve himself, who purchased an 1800-square-foot warehouse on the occasion of turning 40 and wanting a real home of his own. Generally, warehouse living is not my bag, but Leeanne’s design for her older brother was lovely, as was the moment when she revealed the design to her mother, their older sister Michelle, and Steve himself. Families other than my own are generally of no interest to me, but I have found myself wanting very much to be a part of someone else’s.