This summer, while driving around Upstate New York to visit a few colleges with our youngest daughter, we had the […]
This summer, while driving around Upstate New York to visit a few colleges with our youngest daughter, we had the privilege of a personal tour of MacKenzie-Childs Headquarters in Aurora, New York. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. We have a MacKenzie-Childs Courtly Check Tea Kettle in our kitchen. It was extraordinary to see the 6 or so steps that my tea kettle endured to look the way it looks. We also met with Rebecca Proctor, the Creative Director. Rebecca is engaging, compelling, warm and altogether irresistible. I am certain she is one of the reasons the merchandise is so fabulous. Rebecca agreed to an interview! How lucky am I? The interview is below. Rebecca took great care and time answering each question in-depth. Please don’t let the length scare you, she is fascinating!
Please tell us a little bit about you, your history at MacKenzie-Childs and how you came to be the Creative Director?
I began with MacKenzie-Childs in 1991 and I had the unique privilege of working closely with the founders, doing so for a decade. We got along very well, and after first working in sales, I became their personal assistant. While traveling the world with them looking for design inspiration, my job changed again, and I began to focus on product development. Product Development is the process, by which you take a design concept from an idea through the prototyping stage where you work out any bugs, and then to the production floor where it is actually made, all the while maintaining its initial artistic integrity and sense of one-of-a-kindness.
Manufacturing by hand is something common to every area in the world and it’s in the ways that objects are made by a person’s hand that we find our true connection. Before the movement towards globalization, people learned the materials and processes native to their regions. Why is Ireland famous for its wool?… they have sheep! Why did potteries grow up in Tennessee and the Carolinas?… that’s where the clay is! Why does linen come from Belgium?…flax likes to grow where it’s wet! It’s one thing to learn this kind of fact in an academic way, but to be out in the world seeing it, knocking around it and interacting with it, it really becomes personal. And for me, this understanding of people and their skills has come to inform my entire approach to design.
You can find people using different materials and different manufacturing techniques in every pocket of the world; rattan furniture builders in Indonesia, carpet makers in Rajasthan India, tartan weavers in Scotland, glass artisans in the Czech Republic, wood carvers in Bali… my job became seeking out people using these special, and in many cases, age-old techniques, that we could weave into our own story and introduce into our unique point of view. I am always struck by the many marvelous ways in which the preparation and presentation of food, and the sense of a personal space; the Home, is at the core of every culture. I love observing the way this unfolds in the context of daily life, from the smallest intimate family gathering to the most lavish formal occasion; the way layers of culture and tradition eventually find their way into the lives of everyone enthusiastic about home making. This is something that really resonates with us as a company because at our core, we are all about Home.
Today as MacKenzie-Childs Creative Director, I am responsible for setting and leading the design direction of the company. I am not a traditionally trained designer – I didn’t go to FIT or Pratt. But I rely heavily on my incredible design team and they bring a vast well of the technical knowledge of design and their own enthusiasms to our design process. I view design as a collaborative effort, not something which takes place in a vacuum. MacKenzie-Childs is in many ways a sort of a grown-up’s playground for us, and our new design initiatives reflect this playfulness, and in my opinion are some of the most exciting in the company’s history. My approach to design has really grown out of my passion for the poetry of everyday life; the juxtaposition of the quotidian and the marvelous. I love unique things, and most importantly I think good design should always have a point of view.
More of the interview after the pictures.
What inspires your creativity?
In my work I travel a great deal, and find inspiration in the many similarities in which people everywhere appreciate the idea of “home”– this impulse is the same all over the world. I’m inspired by the way people can immerse themselves in preparing a special meal for family and friends. Design books fascinate me in the way they provide insight into the way great minds work. And I am very sentimental about the smallest of things that I find in markets and antique stores – little finds which can really spark the imagination. So I guess you can say that inspiration is absolutely everywhere. All you need to do is pay attention to what’s around you.
What are your favorite top 3 pieces of all time in Kitchenware? In Furniture? Favorites?
Oh dear! Any of my friends will tell you that I get very enthusiastic over things I’m
crazy about. I use the word “favorite” very loosely because it’s always very hard for me to pick favorites when there are always so many exciting things coming out of our design studio. I love so much of what we produce so choosing is beyond difficult. I suppose if I really needed to narrow it down I would gush over these: For Kitchenware, our 3 Qt. Courtly Check Tea Kettle, The White Flower Market Serving Bowl for its practicality and beauty, and our ceramic canisters which are like interesting sculptures that look great as a trio. For Furniture, I adore our Forest Fish Chair, The new Yoyo Accent Table, and the original Kitchen in a Cupboard Armoire.
What pieces do you have in your home?
I have mostly odd pieces that I have pulled together in a very eclectic way; most of the Highland furniture collection, my favorite retired Tip Toe Table, a scandalous number of dinner plates and dinnerware and the list goes on. More after pictures.
What is the best design advice you could give someone when mixing in MacKenzie-Childs pieces?
Our designs are meant to make you feel good, so the point is to enjoy them and not take your environment too seriously. Our pieces are like characters in a theater piece that wink at you when you walk into the room. They are playful and interesting and should be mixed in whatever way works for your personal design aesthetic. I’m often asked for design advice and my approach is this: Surround yourself with the things that you love. Allow your space to be guided by your interests. Be your own design authority.
Please tell us a little about the Farmhouse.
It was originally the homestead of a large dairy farm. Today you can take daily guided tours through the fifteen rooms on three floors, each one a design inspiration. It’s exquisitely restored and showcases MacKenzie-Childs designs in a variety of traditional interiors.
How do you make all your patterns work together to compose a cohesive room such as in the Farmhouse?
In the very early days of MacKenzie-Childs designs, we created individual pieces that were each special in their own right. Our design approach today has changed a bit. We design collections of pieces that work well together and always relate back to our legacy.
In the many years you’ve been at MacKenzie-Childs, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Mackenzie-Childs is constantly evolving and we thrive on that. Change to me means progress. We now employ over 300 people in Aurora who are committed to continuing our legacy of handcrafted, and hand-painted. What was once just pottery and furniture is now a growing home furnishings collection that includes garden designs, outdoor furniture, holiday decor, children’s furniture, personal accessories, designs for your pet, glassware, enamelware, and so much more. Oh! And we are constantly expanding the gardens which have become truly glorious.
One important thing through the years has always remained the same though. We do our best to continue to provide our passionate collectors with a handmade and happy point of view on home. We’ve worked hard to preserve the purpose of MacKenzie-Childs and how it fits into the world of home furnishings. I wrote a piece called the Home Manifesto that I sometimes share at events. Basically it’s about celebrating and loving your home, and trying to keep a sunny point of view on things.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Taking long walks with Flanna (our Irish Wolfhound), cooking, entertaining, spending time with my precious husband and son, gardening in the warm months, working on house projects…we are a very busy household!
Please tell us a random fact about yourself that we would be surprised to know!
I’m a devoted bread baker, a former figure skater, and I adore seriously good dark chocolate. Well, maybe that last one isn’t such a big surprise.
Thank you so much for your time, Rebecca!
Images courtesy of MacKenzie-Childs