Willa Ford On Working With Scott Disick, Changing Careers, & The Design Trends She Hates

Photo: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images.
You may know her as the singer of the 2001 pop hit I Wanna Be Bad. Or, perhaps you know her as Scott Disick's interior designer on his new E! home renovation show, Flip It Like Disick. Either way, chances are you're not familiar with how Willa Ford forged her path between those two careers.
We spoke to the singer turned actress turned interior designer about finding her way from one passion to another and how she grew her business, W Ford Interiors, once she discovered the job she was most excited to pursue. Ahead, Ford dishes on all that, as well as what it's like to work with Disick and the design trend she's sick of seeing everywhere.
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Refinery29: How did you decide to leave the music industry and how did you get into interior design?
Willa Ford: Well, I didn't just leave, it was a slower process. I had been doing music my entire life. I then decided to parlay that into acting by moving out to Los Angeles. I started acting and doing less music, but I always just had a passion and a love for [interior design]. I would do it for myself and I would do it for friends, but when I went through my divorce, I came back out to Los Angeles and needed to make my house a home. That's when I took some time and recognized I really enjoyed that process. I thought it was like a real gift during that time. It was a very hard time, and I thought what a gift it would be if I could do it for others that might be going through a transition.
That sort of led me to reach out to friends that needed my help in whatever kind of transition and help them with their housework. Then, it became word of mouth. Suddenly, I was shooting a film. I remember the producers invited me to go to the Polo Lounge for lunch, and I thought it was going to be about a movie, but they said, 'We've actually been following your interior design. We would love for you to do our home." So then I started doing their home, and then, again, it was just word of mouth and a network that kept it going.
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Eventually, I just found that I was so fulfilled in that way. I would go to an audition and there was nothing there anymore. I thought this isn't where I belong. I belong serving others by doing their home. That was in 2012 when I started [W Ford Interiors].
What's your best piece of advice for someone who wants to change careers?
Look, we all need to have a financial living, right? I would say keep your day job... If you want to make that transition, you're going to need to work two jobs until that other job can pay. Know that you need to work just as hard at the new job. It doesn't need to be part-time, it needs to be full-time. Start giving your services away for free because if you don't invest in yourself by giving your time away for free, then you aren't telling other people to believe in you. You definitely need to give away services for free until you have a portfolio and people can actually start hiring you.
What is your relationship to social media and have you used it to help your career?
I did not use social media at all, which was to my fault because we all have learned now how valuable it is. Again, I just took a step out of the spotlight. Even my @iamwillaford account, which is now public, was private. I wasn't sharing because I just got to a point where I didn't want to, and I was working on this company behind the scenes this whole time. So, no, I did not utilize social media as I should have. That being said, I'm obviously in the game now. I'm in the infancy steps of Social Media 101 so we have somebody helping us with that now. I think it's a very, very important component to everybody's job, and if you're not educating yourself, you are not doing your business justice.
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How would you describe your interior design aesthetic?
I like to tell people I do "high-low luxe." I think it's important that we are buying sustainably and we're being green. For me, that means mixing high-end, new stuff and vintage, thrifted goods. I believe for every new sofa that you buy, you should be offsetting those emissions by buying a coffee table locally at a thrift store that you can redo. That's something that I don't find a lot of designers doing. I feel very, very passionate about that, and it's sort of my mission. I'm also proud because by the time one of my rooms is finished, you don't know where the high piece is and you don't know where the low piece is.
What's the one interior design project that you’ve been most proud of?
Oh, man, it constantly changes. Right now, it's between two. There was a French Normandy that I did in South Pasadena with the builders Hartman and Baldwin, who are, like, the number one builders, and that home is insanely gorgeous. It would have to be that or the other one I built with them, which is a zen modern contemporary house. It's smaller, but it's got cool lines, and we did some insane things there.
What's the weirdest design requests you’ve ever gotten from a client?
I'm in the service industry, so anybody in the service industry probably has great stories, but I try never to be like "that's ridiculous" or "that's an insane request." I remember there was like a 10 by 8 room, and I was asked to fit sleeping for 12 bunks in that space and the ceilings were only like seven feet. That one wasn't so much a weird request as much as it was the function wasn't actually something I could do in that space. I ended up giving them sleeping for nine people, and then if two bunked up in three of the beds, they would have 12. So, you know, you just find solutions to things. I will tell you, after that project, my team and I made so many bunk beds that we will probably never have bunk beds in our homes.
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Photographed by Evans Vestal Ward/Courtesy of E!
How did you first start working with Scott? What is it like working with him?
It was how most of my clients come to me — it's word of mouth — we had had a mutual friend. He was looking for somebody to do some interior styling for him in his home so he reached out and said, "Hey, I got your name from so and so. Would you be willing to come to my house and look at this?" I worked with him on that, and he was very, very happy. He was like, "This is awesome. I'll let you know when I need more stuff." Then cut to, he calls me and says, "Hey, I'm doing this show. I've been following everything you're doing, would you consider coming on the show with us?" So that's how the show came about for me.
How we treat our clients is why our business is doing so well. Scott is a client, and I treat him just like any other client. I think the only difference here is Scott, because of what we're doing with the show, has a lot more input than a lot of my clients. A lot of clients have a list of function and things that they need, and then my motto is "Let me do my job. Get out of the way because I'm better at what I do if you do." But with Scott, obviously, that's not the case. I knew going into it that he had a very strong sense of style and that it'd be more like a collaboration with him. At first, I wasn't sure how I would handle that, but it's been a great process.
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Are there any aesthetic things that you and Scott disagree about?
"Yeah, 100%. He is into minimalism. He's into that Wabi-Sabi. I give that to him. I like that. It's not something that I find to be super livable — I have two and a half year old tornado in my house, so I design things to feel like a home. We definitely have gone back and forth on what that is. He'll also send me something that he loves like Ellen's house or something, and her's is definitely not minimalism so we had to kind of go back and forth and meet each other in the middle on those design aesthetics. I think the final house on the show, you see those two styles come together.
Have you worked with anyone else in the Kardashian-Jenner family?
We've done a little bit of stuff, but I have not been the interior designer on any of their homes. They all have fabulous interior designers, older designers that I definitely look up to. We have done some smaller things here and there because now Scott's friends with us, and he'll be like, "Hey, can you help Kourt at her house," but we don't do anything big for them.
What interior design trends are you currently seeing everywhere?
We went through a brass phase, which I do think brass, if it's not the shiny brass, is here to stay. But now we're seeing matte, and in the design world, we're not just seeing matte black. This is where it's going to get funky. I don't know how much this will go into the everyday home, but we're seeing matte royal blue and matte mint green and matte white faucets and fixtures. So it's just a matter of seeing how that catches on, and I'm excited to see that trend. When you've got an all-white bathroom, and suddenly, you see this gorgeous royal blue faucet, I think there's something interesting and cool about that.
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Is there a design trend that you wish would go away?
I love farmhouse, don't get me wrong, but I think that it doesn't belong everywhere. I love me some Joanna Gaines, I think she is fabulous. I think, as a Christian couple, they're the greatest thing on TV, but what happened is everybody everywhere now thinks that barn-style is something that fits their house, their aesthetic. My big pet peeve is probably that. What she's doing is in Waco, Texas. She's taking these gorgeous country homes and turning them into something even more beautiful. People are now requesting that in a Cape Cod or people are requesting that on the beach in a modern. It's like the house doesn't match, and it's just weird. People are designing based on a trend versus what the home speaks. We have a 1922 Spanish bungalow. It was really, really important to me to keep it looking like a Spanish, with Moroccan influence, bungalow.
What are your career aspirations going forward? Do you want to stay in interior design, or do more TV?
My focus is only my company. TV is a side note to my company. I have multiple employees that depend on me so my full focus is W Ford Interiors. I'm taking our design firm globally at some point. One of my mentors is this older woman who was in this game back in the day, and she's finally retired after selling her company to the Chinese government. She opened my eyes as to how large-scale you can create a design firm, so the sky is the limit for my firm, hopefully.
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Can you tell us a little bit more about your mentor and the other women whose careers inspire you and your own aspirations?
Her name is Trisha Wilson. She's from Dallas, Texas. She was a part of all these different organizations when females weren't really there. In fact, she even had to name her company something that didn't have a female name in it because — and this is still an issue when you go overseas — they didn't want a female to be the lead. She is such a mentor, and the fact that she helped to shape and mold the game to be heard, I really, really, really look up to her.
There are a lot of women that are my peers currently that I look up to, too. A dear friend named Ariel Fox here in Los Angeles that does mostly commercial has a team of 15 women. She's just doing amazing things, and she treats her team like family. I've looked at her business model and how she has done that. Every hire that we make needs to feel like family. They are my first priority, my employees.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
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