Thursday, April 12, 2018

Who is Mackenzie-Childs?.....

Who is MacKenzie-Childs?

Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs 

I have often heard people refer to the company as "she"...."She" is so creative, "her" work is so whimsical, I wonder if "she" lives in Aurora.....and so on.....well....

It's not precisely who IS Mackenzie-Childs, but rather who ARE MacKenzie-Childs?

Victoria MacKenzie and Richard Childs created the company MacKenzie-Childs, a combination of their last names. They are known for their eccentric, crazy, and creative style that just makes people say “Wow!"

"I was sitting in my little studio and was making what you call a chowder bowl. I had never made one, or seen that shape before. A whole rush of ideas burst forth out of control. All kinds of patterns and decorations just kept building and falling completely, almost like jazz."

- Victoria MacKenzie

Victoria was born in San Francisco and Richard was born in Massachusetts, but their life mainly began in college, where they met. They both attended Alfred University in the mid-1970s, where they became disillusioned with the fine-arts world. They were both working on their graduate degrees in ceramic sculpture. Victoria said, “It was not quite as altruistic as we’d imagined in our idealistic world. It was much more politically oriented than artistically oriented.”

Once they graduated, the couple moved to United Kingdom, where they worked at pottery for a couple of years until moving back to New York. Richard took a part-time teaching job at Wells College in Aurora. In 1980, Wells College offered artist Richard MacKenzie-Childs a job teaching sculpture. He accepted, and returned to the U.S. from southern England.
After arriving in Aurora, Richard searched for housing for himself, Victoria and their 9-year-old daughter, Heather. The only property that interested him was an abandoned colonial at 1671 State Route 90 in King Ferry.
Unable to find out who owned the property, he gave up, and when Victoria arrived from England three months later he broke the news that he hadn't found a house.
She described an intriguing home she had passed in King Ferry. The couple realized they were both enchanted by the same raggedy house.
Victoria tracked down Willard and Betty Brown, the home's elusive owners, who hadn't lived in the house for several decades. They declined to sell, but offered to let the family tour the home.
To say it was a wreck would be generous. The home's only bathroom didn't work, the outside walls were pocked with holes and the windows had all been smashed, allowing all manner of wildlife to set up housekeeping indoors.
As they picked their way through the second floor, Heather stopped short and called to Victoria. Wide-eyed, Heather pointed to a large spider web, complete with attached mummified flies. A shaft of sunlight poking through the wall illuminated the web in the dark hallway. "Look, mummy," Heather said. "Lace!"

Heather's description was an epiphany of sorts for Victoria - one that opened her eyes to the house's potential and to the boundaries informing and defining her artwork.
Two days later, the Browns acquiesced, selling the property to Victoria and Richard, and holding the mortgage for the cash-strapped couple.
The family moved in, making do with an outhouse and no heat. The first winter, they had to shovel snow out of the living room and Victoria's parents called daily to be sure they hadn't frozen to death overnight. (At the time, Heather was keeping warm in a boarding school in England.)
Victoria and Richard survived and prospered, eventually starting a home decor company that still carries their last name.  The MacKenzie-Childs company was born thanks to their daughter, Heather Chaplet. She wanted to go to ballet school overseas, but Victoria and Richard could not financially accommodate her. Heather said she sold raspberries until she raised enough money for the trip to England. But she only raised enough money for the trip there, not the trip back. Determined to bring Heather home, Victoria and Richard decided to sell their pottery and other artwork.

The couple used recycled and repurposed items to rebuild the house.
They found thousands of rectangular ballast stones from a ship that sailed to the U.S. from India, and used them to pave the long, tree-shaded driveway and the parking area between the house, the studio and the carriage house.
They fashioned thresholds from boulders found in their fields.They paved the library with slate found in the basement, and the solarium and terrace with brick from two fireplaces that collapsed in a storm. The dining room fireplace front was a gift from a neighbor. The kitchen began as a remnant of a condemned house, transported to the site and attached to their home.

Victoria's mother, also an artist, painted a mural on the living room and solarium walls that depicts Victoria and Richard as well as Cayuga Lake -- visible from the home -- and other highlights of the surrounding countryside.
The couple decorated the home with colorful patterns, designs and accents that later became popular with their customers. They designed and built their own furniture and made their own pottery and tiles, precursors of designs and pieces that would ultimately attract followers such as Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor and former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush.

They embellished the home with fun but functional details such as a small greenhouse installed above steps that lead to the basement. Richard and a friend, both handy with a chainsaw, cut locust branches and built an arbor off the back terrace, now draped with grapevine and wisteria.

A secret passageway links a downstairs bedroom to what was once the sunny master bedroom, which has a fireplace and a clawfoot tub and sink tucked in the corner. At one time, the whimsically painted armoire doubled as a water closet. The new master bedroom on the third floor, which evokes visions of a ship's stateroom, hides another secret passageway. Open the mirrored door of a massive armoire and literally step through the looking glass to discover a full bath and a combination walk-in closet and dressing room.(source)

This was one of my favorite parts of their home!  Such a fun surprise, so
 whimsical, secretive and remarkable - who wouldn't love a secret passageway in their home?

Not only was their initial company inspired by Heather, but the works Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs produced was also inspired by their daughter. Heather helped inspire Victoria’s day-to-day outlook. Victoria says, “When she was a little girl, it didn’t matter what Heather was doing or what day of the week it was. She wasn’t conscious of any kind of formula, yet she was very organized in her progression forward,” Victoria said. “I started thinking like her. I didn’t care if I was plaiting her hair, baking a cake, making a pot or hoeing the garden; I’m going to be playing as my work and my work will be my play. It changed my consciousness, my whole way of being.” 

One of the reasons why Heather inspired Richard and Victoria so much, was that she was raised to express herself without walls. Her parents were amazed at how comfortable Heather was with herself and the people around her. They wanted to find a way to incorporate that into their works. How could their pottery incorporate a sense of comfort, yet still be fun, interesting, and a conversational starter?

As the Mackenzie Childs line grows, those initial ideas continue to be the foundation for their products, and it will continue to be the foundation for years to come.  Source

Probably the most well know pattern is the Courtly Check, Rebecca Proctor, Creative Director, shares the story behind Courtly Check, HERE

The company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2000, and in 2001 Pleasant Rowland, founder of American Girl, purchased the bankrupt MacKenzie-Childs. Rowland, a Wells College alumna, made millions with her company American Girl Dolls. She bought MacKenzie-Childs in 2001 when the company was in bankruptcy. Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs had debt of $15.3 million. Rowland sunk millions of dollars into buildings and grounds and product designs at MacKenzie-Childs. She opened the New York City and Palm Beach, Fla., stores.   

In 2005, the company laid off several workers, including founders, Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs.  After Rowland restructured her management team in 2006 MacKenzie-Childs became profitable. In June 2007, she read a statement to employees noting she was "in the exploratory phases of a sale," confirming something that had been rumored for several years. In 2008 Rowland sold MacKenzie-Childs to Lee Feldman and Howard Cohen, part owners of Twin Lakes Capital.  

When Rowland came to Aurora in 2001 she also bought many commercial buildings in Aurora.  This caused friction with some Aurora and Ledyard residents. To read about Pleasant Rowland and how she built up the company after her purchase, go HERE

Victoria and Richard's home in King Ferry was as interesting as their art.  I was fortunate to have toured their home and grounds and I was in awe of the sunroom, with all different patterned, hand painted tiles on the floor!  I could happily live in this room:

Then in 2003, they purchased the Yankee Ferry, the oldest existing Ellis Island Ferry, built in 1907, selling their estate years later.

To tour the Ferry, go HERE

Their present company, VandR Emprise, has a website and I have seen their products for sale in King Ferry and Aurora.  They continue their work in home decor and more, also calling their new company Victoria & Richard Emprise.
 Victoria's cousin, Taylor,  also has a website where you can purchase some older pieces HERE.

These are just a few tidbits I wanted to share about this creative couple, whose vision, talent and determination started it all!  If you ever get the chance to meet them, you will enjoy their artistic brilliance, extraordinary personalities and whimsical dress! 

I have always enjoyed meeting them:

Hope to see some of you at the Warehouse Sale on Friday!!

Leave me your thoughts in the comment section!!

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Patti @ Pandoras Box
Patti @ Pandoras Box

I live in central NY and I am a retired family and consumer science teacher. I enjoy all types of crafting, decorating and cooking


  1. Very interesting article - such a talented couple. If I could afford it I would have a lot of their beautiful items throughout my home.


  2. Very interesting. It's definitely worth following their art beyond what they left behind in Aurora at their flagship business venture. Thanks for sharing, Patti. Have fun at the sale.

  3. What a wonderful piece to read. WOW! Hugs and blessings, Cindy

  4. I love their design style. Thanks for sharing the story behind the artists. Very interesting.

  5. Hi Patti, I remember when P. Rowland sold American Girl to Mattel. I was so depressed! They have maintained some of the original concepts and changed others. I wonder where the ferry is now? It was back and forth across the Hudson between NY and NJ, and then in Brooklyn for awhile, but I don't know about now. It could be quite the tourist destination! Linda

  6. OH MY GOSH I want to go to the warehouse sale , I am sure I would over spend my allowance LOl
    Can you take pictures and share with us the sale?

  7. That is SOO interesting. I never knew any of that history. Amazing. Thank God someone picked up the ball and the company still remains.
    Have fun at the sale- I know you will! xo Diana

  8. Patti, thank you so much for pulling this all together. I've read most of this through the years, but what fun to have this recap. I have much respect for this creative couple and the company they created, as I do for those who followed and made it a successful company once again. I appreciate the vision of Rebecca and the new owners who are capturing a new market in a younger generation. My wish is for this company to continue to thrive for years to come. Hand made and hand painted ceramics created right here in the US is a rare occurance. I applaud MacKenzie-Childs for continuing this tradition. It is the whimsy of Victoria and Richard's style that drew me to this company. I was immediately smitten and am passionate about this brand all these years later. Excellent post, my friend!

  9. I had no idea about this, Patti. Thank you for sharing. Have fun at the sale. I just recently bought my first piece--the 2 qt tea kettle! She looks adorable on my stove. I must admit she is a little difficult to work with, though. ♥

  10. Love this! Thanks for sharing, Patti!

  11. Thank you Patti, I have been pouring over this fascinating history, I never knew they had such humble beginnings! What a wild and wonderful story, just like their creations! I will be studying all the links and details over the weekend! I am so jealous of you and Debbie attending the sale! I did buy some MKC treats online this week, can't wait for my box to arrive!! Have a ball and spend lots of $$

  12. This is absolutely a most interesting post Pattti. So much I didn’t know about the history of MC. I’m amazed to hear how it began through a need for bringing their daughter home. What a faciniting story of this couple and how the met and started the company. I want to hear all about your finds and trip. Have fun and I wish I were there too..........

  13. We had so much fun at the Warehouse Sale, and are looking forward to meeting up with you and Sarah at the Barn Sale. Always love reading about the history of MCK.

  14. It was so cool to learn more about her! Thanks for this post!

  15. I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited,Thank you for sharing good topic.