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Harrods Meets: MacKenzie-Childs’ Rebecca Proctor

Feature: Long Read
Words by Pip McCormac

On a farm in Aurora, a four-hour drive upstate from Manhattan, MacKenzie-Childs creates almost every kind of interiors accessory and piece of furniture you can think of – and dozens more you can’t. 

There’s the porcelain tissue-box holder with pastel stripes on the side and monochrome checks on the top. Salt and pepper shakers that look like owls, their brass-painted eyes staring, unblinking, from the menagerie that surrounds them. Rococo-inspired armchairs, vibrant hammocks and a Florentine Tuffet (that’s a footstool, to the uninitiated), which is swathed in marbleised swirls of colour. In short, the American homewares brand is something of a bizarre sort of bazaar.

“We don’t do anything halfway,” says Rebecca Proctor, MacKenzie-Childs’ creative director, who has been at the company for almost 30 years. “If you think something needs a button, we’ll always add one more. And, oh boy, we’ll always add a tassel. We gild every lily. It’s so much fun!”

Headshot of Rebecca Proctor of MacKenzie-Childs and a chair of her design

There is an unadulterated glee that runs through the vast collection. It’s not just that it’s kitsch (though, of course, it is... all those flounces!), it’s that, with the brand’s signature dashing prints, loud colours and fripperies, you can’t help but be cheered by the fact that it all exists. “Oh, golly!” Proctor cries. “We’re like someone winking at you in the room; a little bit of humour that really grabs your attention when you walk in.”

Rebecca Proctor says:

“Our look is unpredictable, sure, and if you just see a piece here or there, it may seem haphazard, but once you fall down the rabbit hole, it all makes sense”

MacKenzie-Childs blue courtly checked kitchenware including teapot, salt and pepper mills and sugar bowl

There is an unadulterated glee that runs through the vast collection. It’s not just that it’s kitsch (though, of course, it is... all those flounces!), it’s that, with the brand’s signature dashing prints, loud colours and fripperies, you can’t help but be cheered by the fact that it all exists. “Oh, golly!” Proctor cries. “We’re like someone winking at you in the room; a little bit of humour that really grabs your attention when you walk in.”

Spend an hour in Proctor’s company however, and the brand identity feels a lot more cohesive. A cross between Grace Coddington and Willy Wonka, Proctor is a blaze of bright hair, emitting madcap joy in her own inventiveness and an unwavering understanding of her personal style. Speaking from the brand’s headquarters, she says her design team’s goal for every piece is to make someone smile. “I always say we take happiness very seriously. Even though our designs and patterns and colours might seem random, everything is very deliberate and every choice is carefully made.”

 

The adornments ensure that this is not a collection for the faint-hearted – it’s perhaps no surprise that fans include the famously eccentric Iris Apfel and Helena Bonham Carter. And people who love Proctor’s work really love her work. “I’ve talked to a woman who owns more than 200 pieces, and we organised a think-tank where we found that our average customer has 38 of our designs. That’s a lot! We’re like potato chips – once you have one, you can’t stop.”

 

The most popular of the brand’s lines is the Courtly Check, an almost never-ending roll call of ceramic kitchenware daubed in oversized black or blue and white squares with a hand-painted cartoonish quality. “We have a lot of evidence of handwork in our pieces,” says Proctor. “They’re lumpy and quirky and a little bit off by design; we like to celebrate that things are made by hand.”

Courtly check homeware pieces from MacKenzie-Childs

This is where the wonderland world of MacKenzie-Childs converges with the current status quo for ‘good’ design. Every trend report written about how this decade is going to look and feel has included reference to marks of the maker – something MacKenzie-Childs has been doing since its inception. As Proctor puts it, “We want to get away from that ‘kerplunk, kerplunk’ sound of things being made en masse, and so we use art that was originally hand-painted for our fabrics, or we’ll finish off beaded trims individually.” This means that what customers are buying is not an identikit set, but pieces imbued with even more personality than their bright colours would at first suggest.

 

Most importantly for Proctor, though, is the way that the brand allows for functional pieces to be fun. “We trademarked the term ‘The Entertaining Kitchen’, and it’s what we feel that MacKenzie-Childs really embodies,” she says.

 

“Nowadays, the kitchen is the heartbeat and the pulse of the home. It’s where you do everything – the cooking, the cocktailing with friends, writing grocery lists, homework with the kids. When you’re in it, you’re centre stage, and friends who come over are watching you, getting merrily in the way, offering to stir the sauce. So why shouldn’t everything in it be just absolutely beautiful – and the most amusing it can be?”

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Pens and books on a table

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