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Known for their dizzying display of colors and hand-painted patterns, MacKenzie-Childs’ products are more like design fantasies than traditional home décor goods. Here, we go inside the fantastical world of MC to reveal the creative process behind the New York brand.
MacKenzie-Childs, in many ways, is pretty out of this world. Its handmade, storybook creations come directly from the imagination of their in-house design studio that overlooks the Cayuga Lake in the upstate town of Aurora, New York. The aesthetic can only be described with a touch of hyperbole: it’s Alice in Wonderland meets Coco Chanel, it’s Alessandro Michele meets your quirky flora-obsessed neighbor who never leaves her backyard pottery studio. It’s painterly landscapes and surprising textile juxtapositions—all of which come together to form an elegantly outlandish final product. It’s lush, it’s layered, it’s a bit experimental, and yet somehow remains timeless.
Creative director and chief brand officer for MacKenzie-Childs, Rebecca Proctor, says that the company’s design inspirations come from surprising places. “[Inspiration] can come from conversations with friends, trips to museums, coffee table books, dinner parties with family, and especially traveling,” she tells me.
“When it comes to MacKenzie-Childs, there are no rules and a lot of times for me, seeing one piece of MacKenzie-Childs in a contemporary New York environment is more fun than anything else because it adds a surprising, unfamiliar addition to the space,” says Proctor. Although the aesthetic is a departure from the greige palette found in so many NYC apartments, these bursts of color offset the occasional monotony of the city’s concrete backdrop.
Inspiration for the Florabundance collection, which debuted for spring/summer 2018, came from listening to what the customers wanted: “Our customers were saying they wanted something practical for poolside, picnics, and al fresco dining. Our kids melamine was so successful we thought it would be fun to create a more sophisticated pattern for adults,” says Proctor. “I am especially crazy about the palette because it mixes different colors together, and layers pattern on pattern to come up with the final pattern….it’s really a celebration of the summer months and the outdoor entertaining that comes with those months.”
The new Courtyard Outdoor collection, which mixes geometric patterns within the wicker and juxtaposes colorful, striped cushions, is something that Proctor says is “quintessentially MacKenzie-Childs,” but also didn’t already exist in the marketplace before.
“We essentially treated [the resin] as if it were rattan due to the history of rattan having really complex patterns woven by hand,” she says of the outdoor furniture line, specifically made to endure various weather conditions. “We had so much fun mixing the different weaves we designed together, and then to finish it off we threw some crazy cushions on top to give it its charm.”
Perhaps MC’s most extravagant creations are the furniture items, which take anywhere from one to three weeks to craft from start to finish, depending on the complexity of the design. The boldest object of them all—the Ridiculous Bench—dates back to the mid ‘90s, and contains a quirky hodgepodge of elements, including a ceramic seat, Scottish tartan, gold leaf, hand-tufted upholstery, and hand-painted faux marbling. While the bench isn’t new to the marketplace by any means, it’s a perfect example of what MC does best: extravagant, bold, timeless design.
“It is also one of my favorite designs because it is something that really combines everything we do into one piece,” says Proctor. “I was a part of naming the bench along with the founders, and we honestly just thought that everything about the bench was ridiculous and that is how the name came about.”
The bee motif, featured prominently in the new Queen Bee summer collection, was inspired by the bees they’ve kept on the studio’s property for many years: “We have a couple hives where [the bees] make honey on the farm, and while [they’re] not new to us, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate them by immortalizing them into the product,” says Proctor. The Honeycomb Footstool, and other smaller furniture items, were designed to be “tucked into special little places in rooms,” she continues. “Think of them as jewelry for the room—while they don’t have to match the interior, they really are like irresistible jewels.”
“What I love is the burst of yellow, which is always a hot color, and how well it looks with bold black and white. The Honeycomb Footstool looks really fun in a super traditional environment, and also in modern environments because the yellow color is so pronounced.” It’s exactly this unexpected burst of color and texture that make these items so unexpectedly exciting, so surprising in their boldness.
And finally, you have the Courtly Check design element that, since first launching in the ‘80s, has since become a signature of the brand. You can find it hand-painted on vases, cups, tabletops, and even furniture fabric, and over the years it has taken on a range of limited edition variations.
“The reason it is so special is because it has been loved by the world for centuries. You can go anywhere and find the black and white check incorporated [in] historical buildings and marble floors in palaces…everyone can relate to black and white,” Proctor says. “It has become a graphic foundation for anything. We call it underpinnings for a reason—it will always be a terrific base to layer on.”
For those looking to incorporate MacKenzie-Childs’ elements and style into their existing décor, rather than splurging on entire collections, Proctor recommends starting with the Courtly Check Enamelware Chargers and using them as a layering piece, mixing them with what you already own. “They create symmetry on your table and provide a foundation to layer anything on top of. Plus, it is dramatic, but can also feel either really modern or traditional,” says Proctor.