Transforming the room with her eccentric personality, Rebecca Proctor excitedly chats away to the small audience about her evident passion for both her career and life. A hive of energy and knowledge, the Creative Director of iconic interior brand MacKenzie-Childs is presenting at a London based Masterclass, and the reason for our presence, to showcase the intricate craftsmanship behind a selection of top luxury brands. Surrounded by the recognisable pieces from MacKenzie-Childs, Arabella Gilby was lucky enough to sit down with the infectiously vivacious Rebecca to discuss inspiration, her introduction to MacKenzie-Childs and the meaning of design…
How did you come to join the MacKenzie-Childs team, what inspired you to work with the brand?
It was 1991 and I had a background in a slightly strange combination of apparel, a student of art history and acting. I owned a clothing store with my very best friend and we were having a ball! Then she decided she wanted to go to law school and so we closed the store, we were very young.
It was then I discovered this interesting business just along the lake, I was living in Ithaca New York and we had a magazine in the US, very important at the time, called ‘House and Garden’. There was an article about this couple living 40 miles up the lake, and I remember turning the pages, page after page and looking at this unbelievable experience that I could not possibly describe in words, it looked like Goldilocks had met Fifth Avenue, or it looked like something from the Black Forest. It had this sense of history and purpose, it was layered with textiles and patterns and it just reached out through the magazine and grabbed me and I said to myself, I need to go and see what these people are doing.
So I drove up the lake, along the long redbrick driveway and I knocked on the door. There was no job opening, there was nothing. I said ‘Hi, you don’t know me but I’m really fascinated by what’s going on here and who owns this place?’ It was one of those things where I just felt compelled to do it and so I met the owners, we had a chat and we got along really well and they said ‘well you know, it feels like you should be here.’ That’s how it started and those early years working with the founders Victoria and Richard Mackenzie-Childs, they were the most amazing opportunity that I’ve had in my life. Seeing the world through their eyes was highly unique, and their point of view on everything just changed my life. And so that was the beginning – that was how it started.
Is there anything that stands out to you as a particular career highlight?
Being a mother! That’s a career highlight for you! I would call that a highlight of my life, I have an extraordinary 17 year old boy with my incredible husband and we have an Irish Wolfhound and so it’s the four of us. My family is my highlight and it gives me a really strong foundation to do what I do.
Do you have a favourite season in the interiors world?
I live on the East Coast of America, so to live where I live you’ve got to love all four seasons, I would have to say that I love all four seasons equally!
What inspires you and how do you still find inspiration after so long in the industry?
Inspiration really comes from everywhere, you get inspiration from walking the dog in the morning and conversation with your family at breakfast, to some incredible book you read or exhibit you saw at the museum or a great film. I personally draw inspiration from everywhere and at MacKenzie-Childs we get so much inspiration from where we are because it is so extraordinary there. It’s like the English Lake District, it’s positioned on Cayuga Lake, a long beautiful glacial lake and every view out of every window of the design studio will take your breath away. Fields of flowers and highland cows, bees are making honey, we have a lot going on there and so nature is a great source of inspiration!
Across all of your time at MacKenzie-Childs, what has been the most fun you’ve had with a project?
That’s really hard! I have to say I feel that way about every new thing that we do, I get so emotionally invested in every new project. Certain things do definitely come to mind like this new dinnerware collection we’re launching this spring called Thistle and Bee, I really adore that, but it’s a little bit of everything, I love it all!
You must have met a lot of different people but is there a particular designer that you would love to meet?
There are many! I’m really fascinated with Designers Guild, so Tricia Guild – she’s incredible. I love her textiles so much and I love her sense of colour, it’s just amazing, I really do admire her work. I have just had the pleasure of meeting Iris Apfel and she is an extraordinary American, she is 94 years old and just such an inspiration, a rock, she’s amazing, this list could go on forever!
You must have seen a lot having worked at MacKenzie-Childs for so long, has much has changed within the brand?
I would say yes. Since I started in 1991 and when Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs left the company 17 years ago, a lot has changed. I think we have taken a very ambitious approach to homeware because we want to do everything. We work at a feverish pitch, in America we have a brand of cereal called Wheaties and I always say that you’ve got to eat your Wheaties to work at MacKenzie-Childs because it takes a lot of energy and we never stop. I don’t have an off button because we are just always so busy and I think that since I’ve been there working, running, reading design, we just have this very hungry desire to do it all and that’s really fun and it’s been working!
We’ve touched on how busy design can be, how do you escape the world of work?
That’s a really good question, I know that some people go to work and then they go home from work and they’re done. I’ve never in my life had those kind of boundaries. I think even when I was very little I’ve always had to love what I do and I really love what I do, so I don’t really stop I just kind of keep going. My amazing family, my husband and my son, are very supportive. The whole family is into arts in a very serious way and so we have this mutual understanding that we support each other in that way – so it’s cool, we just keep doing our thing. My son has these great ideas for new designs and I’m like ‘Ok well we’ll try that’, it’s all one big conversation that doesn’t stop and start, that’s what life is about – design.
Do you have a favourite room of your home to escape to?
We live in a really quirky place that was built by this stonemason who carved all of these odd things into the house. The whole house is like this tiny little jewel, we just redid my son’s music studio with a beautiful piano and that room just takes my breath away. We covered the walls in trees, so it’s like sitting in this beautiful forest of golden pears – it’s so special. And then upstairs we have this tiny seating area where we watch movies, and so for some reason I’ve chosen that spot and it’s layered in textiles which is really fun
Do you think events such as the Masterclass we are at today are important for the industry?
I think they are hugely important and I do think that Martyn Lewis is an extraordinary person for leading this ambitious project today. What is unique about this event and the reason we [MacKenzie-Childs] came is because this event is not about the transaction. It’s interesting that this particular event is about telling your story and romance and helping people to understand why you do what you do, how you do what you do and leaving the whole discussion of finance at the door. This is about really creating a sense of romance about what we each do and the people that we’re keeping company with today, my goodness, we’re in this gorgeous neighbourhood of incredible brands that I feel so honoured to be in the same conversation with.
Some of the finest brands in the world are here and although our design specs are incredibly different we all share this one common thing which is appreciation of evidence of hand. Everybody here is making something by hand and I don’t want to say that it’s a lost art, but I want to say that it is an art we want to return to. That is what sets us apart, not the mechanical noise of things being pressed out by machines but the evidence of somebody touching something and thinking about something and where their inspiration comes from and what their story might be, which is what this event is all about. So this is highly unique – I think it’s the coolest thing we’ve ever done.
What exciting things are coming up in the rest of the year?
I do think it’s the Thistle and Bee dinnerware, we created all of the paintings for this porcelain collection which is inspired by the thistle. MacKenzie, the first part of our name is obviously from Scottish heritage so we love the thistle, because this thistle is a symbol of fortitude. Here’s this gorgeous flower that grows in the wilderness and craggy soil and yet it is this strong, beautiful thing, so the artwork is all about that entwined with bees. On our farm we have bees that are making honey, so it was funny to do this thistle and bee thing. It was also the first time that we have used porcelain from Portugal and we are partnering with this amazing manufacturer there who understand our level of detail and our high quality standards and they’ve done a great job for us. I think it’s also the first time that we’ve designed something specifically for the bridal market, with the bride or gift registry in mind, so that’s really new.
Discover the exciting world of MacKenzie-Childs available at Amara.