Behind the Brand with Rebecca Proctor of MacKenzie Childs
Since 1983 MacKenzie-Childs have designed one-of-a-kind ceramics & furniture in Aurora, New York. Located on a small rural farm their headquarters overlooks the Cayuga Lake in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. Inspired by the beauty of the flowering hills, rolling meadows & the crisp clear air that surrounds them they create designs that are alive with individuality. Skilled & talented artisans are involved in each stage of the production process. From shaping the clay to adding the finishing touch to a hand-painted side table; layer upon layer of hand-applied artistry is what makes each piece so wonderfully unique.
The MacKenzie-Childs collection spans detailed dinnerware and timeless home accessories, to their famed Holiday Christmas collection. We caught up with long-time Creative Director and Chief Brand Officer Rebecca Proctor to find out more about the latter and what makes MacKenzie-Childs’ designs continue to stand the test of time....
Where does the inspiration for MacKenzie-Childs Holiday collections come from, and do you have a favourite piece from this year’s selection?
Inspiration for our designs comes from absolutely everywhere. The obvious places to draw from are design books, museums, fashion and home magazines, art films…things that visually make your heart sing. But taking walks in nature, conversations with friends, travel, preparing a meal for the family, gardening, music, that particular shade of lipstick, admiring the way someone ties their scarf or folds their napkin or signs their letters….everything can be inspiring in its own way. I think inspiration and imagination are always moving and never sit still. This year’s holiday collections were inspired by family traditions and the idea of nesting at home where we’re all spending so much time these days. We also created a collection inspired by that moment in the day called the Golden Hour, when the sun rests on the horizon for a brief moment and the whole world turns to a brilliant shade of shimmering gold.
It’s so hard to choose favourites - if you were to ask me again in five minutes, I’m sure I would give you an entirely new list. Our Golden Hour Tartan Sitting and Standing Deer are rather magnificent statement pieces that can anchor a room or nestle into a front door arrangement. I’m also completely crazy for several of our decor pieces and handmade glass ornaments from Poland that are made by a very small atelier that we’ve worked with for decades. I adore the Christmas season and I savour every moment of it, so I have lots and lots of favourites.
Can you tell us about the Patience Brewster collaboration, how did it come about and what are the stand-out designs for you?
Patience and I became fast friends about four years ago. We had a lot in common and we’d never met before so we decided to get together for lunch one afternoon. The rest is history. We thought MacKenzie-Childs would make the perfect home for her incredible designs which fit into our holiday collection instantaneously. Her brilliant combinations of patterns and colours mixed with her generous use of black and white checks and stripes are delightful. We’ve dovetailed her beautiful designs into our framework and they fit together, hand in glove. Patience is a gorgeous person through and through, generous in spirit, kind, funny, and just so incredibly lovely. All of these qualities come shining through in each of her wonderful designs. The Dash Away collection is inspired by the classic Christmas poem “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and it features Santa’s eight reindeer ready to take flight around the world, assisted by their delightfully dedicated elves, Santa, and Mrs Claus. This collection is definitely a fan favourite, and we have so much fun adding new pieces to the group. This year, we’ve introduced an entirely new collection of Paradise Angels and they are completely fantastic. Each angel has a tiny pair of golden wings and she holds something precious like a fashionable shoe, a puppy, an infant, a delicious looking piece of cake, or a Christmas tree….there seems to be a perfect angel for everyone.
What do you think keeps MacKenzie-Childs at the forefront of home furnishing designs?
Everyone on our design and development teams is a design fanatic. We also work very hard to create pieces that are infused with a great big dose of happiness and we honestly try and to add that to everything we do. I think this is what sets us apart and this is what speaks to our wonderful customers. With each new design, we ask ourselves “does this make me happy?” If the answer is a resounding YES, then we know we are right on track.
Your headquarters are based on a Victorian farm overlooking Cayuga Lake, do you think the setting is an important factor in the design aesthetic and craftsmanship of your pieces?
Our gorgeous 65-acre farm which we call home is situated in the middle of New York State’s countryside and it’s the centrepiece of the company. Every view out of every single window takes your breath away. We have magnificent gardens, Highland Cattle grazing in our fields, and the largest of the Finger Lakes sits at our front doorstep. The farm and our experiences there shape much of our design inspiration and visual sensibility. While we now produce in fourteen countries around the world, we still have a pottery and a furniture painting studio in Aurora. We refer to all the designs produced there specifically as Aurora Artisanal. Each creation is high-touch, incredibly detailed and very much a part of our design ethos. One of these special pieces is called the Diorama table, inspired by the diorama boxes I made in art class as a child. This table seats eight and guests are treated to a handmade three-dimensional bird’s eye view of Cayuga Lake and the farmlands that surround our studio. The “diorama” is hand-painted by our artisans on three wood layers that are protected by a clear glass top and framed in hand-finished cherry wood. The table rests on hand-glazed, hand-painted ceramic legs, also made here on the farm. Our Royal Check enamelware is also inspired by our surroundings, the blue skies and the variety of the deep blues of Cayuga Lake. Design definitely takes many of its cues from our immediate environment.
If you were hosting a dinner party what would be the tops picks from MacKenzie-Childs range that you would have to include in your setting?
It depends on where I’m hosting the party! If entertaining in the kitchen, then I’m probably throwing a very casual family-style gathering at a lovely long, narrow table made by my husband. We sit on playfully paint-covered chairs from the art room of a local grade school that closed a few years ago. Kitchen dining for us is typically oven-to-table. Our patterned enamelware serving pieces do this job effortlessly as it’s functional and incredibly fun, transforming mealtime from everyday to extraordinary! Our 7 quart stockpot is amazing for bubbling soups and stews, while our enamel dinnerware can be stacked in a variety of playful combinations of patterns at each place setting. We refer to several of our kitchen enamelware pieces as Naccessories, meaning they are necessary accessories simply turning functional pieces into fun. If we’re in the dining room, then each guest sits around our table on our Forest Fish Chairs. The walls are covered with family portraits and it’s a rather intimate experience as the room is very small. We use old school MacKenzie-Childs ceramic dinnerware and stemware that we love to mix with old china from both sides of our families.
Can you talk us through what a typical working day looks like for you?
Honestly, no two days are ever quite alike! Pre-Covid I spent about 60% of my time travelling for design, development and television which took me to very interesting places around the world. Today with my time spent between home and our studio in Aurora, there is a little more regularity. I try and get on my Peloton every morning before the sun rises, then I drink more coffee than is humanly possible and that sets the pace for the day. I’m involved in a lot of areas of our business, so seriously, no two days are ever alike.
What is your favourite part of the holiday season, and how do you and your family like to celebrate?
We are a small family of three with loads of relatives in the area nearby. Holidays are always focused around a gathering at a beautifully set table over a meal we have all prepared together. My husband and I both love to cook and great food is at the centre of every season. For Christmas we always stay close to home; we savour every moment stretching out the day with a great big breakfast in the morning, opening presents, a very long walk together in the arboretum across the street, and then a lovely long meal at the end of the day. And somehow, magical old holiday movies manage to cap off the night before we tuck in. Practically every member of our family is a musician, so this adds a lot of colour to every get-together as well.
How do you style your home for Christmas, are you a traditionalist or do you mix it up each year?
I have a very eclectic sensibility and I am definitely a traditionalist at heart. Every year we trim the house and decorate three trees in different themes using all the ornaments we have collected since we moved into our home twenty-six years ago. Of the three, my very favourite is the bird-themed tree that is filled with bird ornaments (some homemade and others found), beautiful nests, white fairy lights, and a little sparkle and shimmer. We also use old fashioned wooden clothespins to attach all of the Christmas cards we receive from friends and the overall effect is very sentimental and lovely.
What are your three top tips for decorating for the holidays?
I have lots of tips that I’ve gathered through years of decorating and they all revolve around organization. I think the key is to make decorating as stress-free as possible so that you really enjoy the process each year. If you are like me and most MacKenzie-Childs fans, decorating is quite an event and preparing your house for the holidays takes a practised eye. Organize your collections of trim and ornaments in groups, keeping like things together. Make absolutely sure to label your boxes. Store your boxes in order of how you will pull them out the following year, with the first box you need being the easiest one to access.
What would be the perfect Christmas gift someone could buy you?
I adore collecting Christmas ornaments and I’m totally a sentimentalist at heart. I cherish the ornaments I’ve received from friends and family, many that are simply beautiful and some that tickle my funny bone. Each ornament is a reminder of the dear person that gave the gift and these are truly treasures to me.