Designer Spotlight: Steve McKenzie

Designer Spotlight: Steve McKenzie

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Welcome to our first Designer Spotlight, where we shine a little light on the tastemakers and interior designers who inspire us visually and creatively.

Please cue the applause for one of our very favorite clients: local designer, Steve McKenzie.  We adore him for lots of reasons: he has the most optimistic personality and a mega-watt smile, he's an excellent designer and simply oozes good taste and he's really fun to work with. (He's also married to our store manager, Jill, but that's another story.)

Steve McKenzie

Steve's design style can be dramatic, quiet, art-centered, functional and full of surprises.  He's an artist so he sees his projects as blank canvases for color, texture and layers.  He seamlessly mixes antiques with mid-century (or brand-new pieces) for that irresistible melange of old and new.

Steve and Jill's dramatic, dark foyer.

Let's see what makes Steve tick: 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, how long have you been in Atlanta, what neighborhood do you live in?

I was born in Ohio, my wife and I moved to Atlanta in 1991. We really think of Atlanta as home. We live in Plaza Towers; we love the architecture and our views. Our neighborhood is Peachtree Heights East, and we love it, especially the Duck Pond right out our door.

The iconic Duck Pond in Garden Hills.

2. What are three things you love about Atlanta?

I love the food scene in Atlanta, so many choices. At times even though it is a big city, it feels like a little village, you run into people you know every time you are out. The weather has to be the third, it is hot in the summer, but the rest of the year is fantastic.

3. Tell us about your career trajectory and how you came to open your own interior design business.

I have spent my entire career in the home interior sector. Beginning in college, for summer employment I worked in the Sherwin Williams research labs.  I was a chemistry major at the time, and I developed color palettes and worked on new product development. Following college, I went into the Sherwin Williams management training program and then into store management. I then worked at a company in Chicago that sold kitchens and I began designing kitchens. From there, I designed picture frames for a retailer until I joined Larson Juhl where I was in marketing and on the product development team. I designed picture frames all over the world and saw them developed. I always wanted to design a textile collection, so I did that in 2012 and then opened a retail store to sell home decor. We immediately got design requests and I started designing homes. We have had the design firm now for 12 years. (HH: phew, Steve - you've been busy!)

A chic and neutral dining room in a Midtown project. Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

4. How many employees do you have and what are their roles?

There are three of us in the office every day. Myself, another designer, and a design assistant. We do use freelance workers also, for things like photography and other small jobs.

5. What does a regular workday look for you?

I try and walk every morning before getting ready to head into the office. Usually, we try to meet at the office just to give us all direction for the day. With design, especially renovation, you must be pretty fluid and a great deal of time is spent out of the office. We try to end the day around 5 p.m., but as a small business owner, it seems there is always something do in the evening or on weekends. (HH: we hear you!)

A color-drenched built-in bookcase from a recent Midtown project. Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

6. Who’s your dream client and/or project?

We have been very lucky to have some amazing clients. So, I feel like we have been able to work on some dream projects. That said, I would love to design for a client that has a blue-chip art collection.

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

7. Have you ever had something go wrong with a project or installation and if yes, how did you solve it? (I'm thinking window treatments that didn't fit or a painter who painted the wrong color or a custom sofa whose dimensions were backwards...those kinds of things.)

We have been fortunate and not had tragic mistakes. I did have an out-of-town workroom once make drapes that were too long. We are fortunate to work with great suppliers and in this case, the workroom took them back, worked through the night,drove them back to the site and had them installed the next day. In renovation, contractors make lots of mistakes sometimes, but I find with problem solving time, you come up with the right solution.

8. Name three designers whose work you follow or inspires you.

Axel Vervoordt, his love of antiquities and contemporary art creates energy in a space that is magical

David Hicks, looking back at his design I love how he brought modern elements into the classic English home

Jacques Grange, he has the privilege to work on all those beautiful Parisian Apartments, but he infuses such warmth and contemporary flair

That said, there are many Atlanta based designers today, whose work I respect immensely.

9. Do you have a secret skill?

I think working at Sherwin Williams early on gave me an understanding of color that I draw upon daily.  (HH: Steve's also a talented artist.)

A black and white abstract by Steve.
Steve and Jill's living room - look at that view of the Atlanta skyline! Atlanta Magazine, photography by Anthony Masterson.

10. Name three interior design tips that you incorporate in your work.

1. I feel every space needs the energy brought to the room by the incorporation of old and new. I love a great old antique combined with contemporary art, or a modern sofa under a renaissance painting.

2. Every space needs an antique bust.  I think it just creates a conversation piece and adds visual interest. (We love the room you did, pictured below, for the 2023 Serenbe Designer Showhouse - there's the bust!)

Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by Jeff Herr.

3. Focus on the art!  It is very important in every space and sets the tone for the room.

Steve and Jill's living room and their extensive art collection.  Atlanta Magazine, photography by Anthony Masterson.

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

11. Any hobbies? (We hear you’re a good cook!)

I love to cook and try new recipes. Nothing is better than having a weekend day to really dive into a  new recipe and then share it with family and friends. I also love to paint, but to be honest, in recent years I have not had time to do so because of the demands of the design business. I think my greatest most enjoyable hobby right now however is spending time with our grandchildren.

12. Three favorite Instagram accounts you follow.

Right now, I love Jacques Grange (@jacques.grange) as I mentioned above, he gets the design mix right. Collector Walls (@collectorwalls): I like seeing the blue-chip art in a space and reading about the history of the collector and how the art got there. For a laugh, I like Zillow Gone Wild (@zilliowgonewild) - some of the outrageous homes they show entertain me.

13. Where you find everyday inspiration?

I think you always need to have your eyes open. It may be a bloom on my morning walk, or a fabric that takes my breath away when I am sourcing. I also think you need to make time for inspiration, seek a show at a museum, see an art film, travel. But always be open to inspiration.

We couldn't find a better way to say it, Steve and we can't wait to see your next project. We're inspired!

PS: here are some more examples of Steve's work:

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by David Christensen.

 Southern Home, photography by Emily Followill and styling by Eleanor Roper.

Southern Home, photography by Emily Followill and styling by Eleanor Roper.

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles 2023 Serenbe Designer Showhouse, photography by Jeff Herr.

 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles, photography by Emily Followill and styling by Eleanor Roper.


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