She was living in a house she had designed for her family, a house she loved. But it seemed that there was one thing that could make Ford Boyd Bailey consider relocating, and it was not the fact that her two children had grown up and moved out.
“I said that I’m not downsizing,” the interior designer recalls telling her architect. “I don’t want to live with anything less than what I have.”
What she did want was the chance to take advantage of a rare opportunity — to buy a lot and build a custom home in one of Columbia’s oldest and most beloved neighborhoods. “Everybody was going to assume we were downsizing. But we have a lot of friends in this neighborhood,” she says. “It was an in-town lot that we weren’t going to pass up.”
Another force might also have been at work. Ford’s husband, George Bailey, told Ford she had another house in her. And she agreed. Their new home not only demonstrates the timeless style for which Ford is known, it also gave her a chance to make some different design moves she had had in mind for a while.
Because Ford liked the house she was living in so much, she used it to guide the blueprint for her new one. She also wanted to build her new home to accommodate specific antiques and pieces of art she and George have collected over the decades. So she and architect Robert Kennedy talked briefly about the exterior. Then they proceeded to map out the inside.
“I showed him one photograph of an exterior of a house and said this is the mood I want. He took our existing house plans, which he had drawn some 20 years earlier, and using those for reference, he got to work on the new floor plans.” Meanwhile, Ford and George’s daughter, Mary Bond Bailey, also an interior designer, had her own ideas. “She drew out a floor plan in magic marker and brought it home. It was literally almost the mirror image of what Robert drew,” Ford says with a smile.
When the family gathered on the empty lot with layouts in hand, Ford had still not seen a design for the exterior. But she knew the floor plan would have to flip once she saw how their house would fit between two existing homes. “So we actually ended up going back to Mary Bond’s first drawing,” she says.
Working on the floor plan first, says Ford, is her preference. “I like to see the plans on paper. It’s important to see where windows and doors are going to be placed before the house comes out of the ground,” she says. “After we got the floor plan right, Robert pulled out a drawing of the outside of the house, and it was absolutely perfect. I had no idea, but it was exactly what I wanted. I almost cried when I saw it, it was so good.”
One of the ideas Ford was eager to implement in her new home was something she had not done before. She wanted to put the dining room at the center of the house.
“I felt like we never used our dining room. It was a room that you went into at Christmas and Thanksgiving, maybe some other time of the year, but you didn’t really use it,” she says.
In her new house, everyone enters the foyer through tall front doors, and the dining room is straight ahead. “That was a big thing for me. I wanted the dining room in the middle, so you had to go through it to get anywhere.”
The dining room opens to the kitchen on the left and the living room on the right. Glass doors at the back lead to a loggia and pool. Ford hung interior draperies that can be used to screen off the dining room from the kitchen or living room.
“I’ve had a couple of catered events where we closed the draperies so you’re not looking at the kitchen but you get the illusion of something back there,” she says. “I’ve had dinner parties where we’ve closed both sets of draperies, and you’re just in the dining room, and it feels intimate.”
The dining room’s flexibility along with its location make it a much-used room now. A refectory table custom-crafted in France is the right size for hosting casual, intimate dinners yet extends to make room for many more. The natural woven hemp rug is subtly luxurious, and, Ford says, proving to be durable. She compares the dining room to a little black dress: “You can dress it up or dress it down, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
But is it her favorite area in the house? “I think about that a lot,” Ford says. Turns out asking a designer to choose her favorite area is a bit like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.
“This weekend, it’ll be the evening room because I’ll have a fire in there. In the summer, we open the doors from the living room and kitchen to the loggia and we’re outside and in the pool, so I love that. And then, the kitchen — I love standing in the kitchen and looking through to see the fireplace in the living room. I love my bathroom. I love that I have no crown moulding. The list goes on … I love everything about this house.”
While the house does not have crown moulding or trimwork around doors and windows, it is not lacking in detail, and Ford’s eye for it can be seen in every direction, including overhead.
Interesting ceilings are one of her trademarks as a designer, and she includes them in her own home. The foyer sets the tone, with an exaggerated lattice created by the architect. “Robert wanted the ceiling here to be taller than the rest of the house, and he came up with that design. It’s simple, but it sure does look good,” Ford says. The ceiling in the evening room, just to the right of the foyer, is paneled in pecky cypress, the kitchen ceiling is paneled in tongue and groove, while the ones in the dining room and living room are beamed. Even the laundry room ceiling gets the Ford touch, with a neutral patterned wallpaper.
Another detail that gives the house character is the thickness of interior walls. Most of the walls in this house are 6 inches thick, 2 inches more than a standard wall. In the rooms opening off the foyer, walls are a full 12 inches deep. “For the big room transitions, Robert and I both felt the walls needed to be 12 inches thick. Robert describes the house as gutsy, and I think the thickness gives the house more substance.”
One way to see how Ford follows her own vision is her approach to the kitchen. A 13-foot island is topped with quartzite, a stone that she says presents more options than in years past. “I love the new quartzites that are available now. They’ve got a beautiful depth of color and pattern. I left it shiny instead of honing it because I wanted to see the depth.”
The material for the rest of the kitchen counters may surprise some people — those are done in Corian. “I knew the color of my Corian counters was not going to be wear-worthy because it would show scratches, but I really wanted the black, and I didn’t want it to be a stone. I wanted it to feel soft when you touched it,” Ford says, running her hand over the countertop.
Ford, after some debate, chose not to design the island with the typical overhang counter. “I don’t mind going out to eat and sitting at the bar, but I don’t want my house to be the bar. I have stools, so you can perch,” she says. She and George eat in the kitchen at a banquette tucked into the corner with a table that has a walnut top that her husband made.
With a house designed to hold their treasured finds, Ford says her decision not to downsize seemed even smarter once the pandemic set in.
She and George had been in the new house only a few weeks when the world shut down and her two adult children came home for lengthy stays. Daughter Mary Bond, who was working in New York City, flew home for what she thought would be two weeks, but ended up relocating to Columbia, and after a few months joined Ford at her design firm, Verve Interiors. The Baileys’ son, Darnall, and now his wife, Savannah, also arrived from Atlanta with their dog and stayed for a couple of months.
Those first months in the new house, Ford says, were spent just as she had envisioned when she put the dining room in the middle of things. “We all sat around the table every night and had dinner and took turns cooking. It worked out perfectly.”