Steve and Jill McKenzie are best known for celebrating the modern Southern lifestyle. Hailed as “must-see” Atlanta destination by House Beautiful, their showroom is located in an old Army railroad freight depot in the Westside Design District. I had the delightful pleasure of meeting Jill at the Southern C Summit in Nashville last fall and Steve on a design shopping spree in Atlanta.  I was fortunate to get a tour by Steve himself hearing about his career path, artistic inspiration and even how he makes his walnut ink for his incredible abstract paintings. 
Steve had served as Chief Designer for Larson-Juhl for the last 20 years and as the CEO for the past decade. Jill’s background in design and retail stems from growing up in a family that owned a Scandinavian modern furniture store. Their showroom features an assortment of Southern artisans that are doing a fresh interpretation of regional styles such as R. Wood Studio Pottery from Athens, GA, Blenko Glass from West Virginia and North Carolina furniture makers Old Wood Company and Second Story Wood Company. In addition to these talents, the McKenzies also sell an upholstery line based on their favorite mid century modern designs and fabrics based on Steve’s paintings. Many of his original works are displayed in the showroom. Enjoy getting to know these two creative minds in their interview below!

When did you know you wanted to pursue design as a career and how did you get started?

Throughout my entire career, I have been directly involved in product design – from paint color palettes and holiday products to custom frames, when, two years ago, the entire design world opened itself up when we launched our fabric line and showroom.  Interior design was a natural progression as clients inquired about my design services for their homes. In college, I worked in Sherwin Williams’ research labs on color palettes for the Caribbean market.  Instantly, I was hooked on the power of color and its impact on design.

What is your creative process?

My creative process for design is similar to the creative process for my art…  I don’t start with a preconceived notion; I pursue an exploration of one brush stroke to another.  Intuitively, the laws of balance, art, line, color are there, but I don’t focus on those.  Same goes for my Interior design process, an image or color in nature can become just the spark I need for a space’s color palette.

What is your latest creative breakthrough?

My most recent creative breakthrough would be the chandelier I just designed for a client’s home.  The chandelier combines the talents of several artists, and in my mind, it will reflect the look and feel of one of my paintings.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your career?

Starting this new business with Jill in Jan. 2012 and realizing all the potential for creative outlets to merge my artistic side with my design side.

Tell us about your current work.

The art series I’m currently working on is an exploration of the combination of color and pattern.  It’s much bolder than prior work. To me it evokes a feeling of freedom and flight.

Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect from the McKenzies in the future?

A sneak peek of something we’re working on that’s been under wraps until now is an outdoor fabric collection in our classic patterns!

What do you want to be remembered for?

JILL: Our family and the way we do business (we’re here to make the designer/client happy and look good while providing extraordinary service).
STEVE-Creating spaces and products that allow friends and family to create beautiful memories together.

Do you have any advice for budding designers?

Find a fabulous mentor who is willing to invest in you; network to meet great designers & resources; and most importantly – LISTEN.  Listen to your clients, the way they live and want to live.  Listen to your mentor and your peers. We learn so much more when we listen.

Whose work do you admire?

From an artist perspective, Anselm Kiefer and Antoni Tapies for their bold, fearless creations. From a design point of view, Axel Vervoordt, for his keen understanding of the role of art in the home.

Who would be your dream client and why?

POTUS – As a kid, my family and I saw an exhibit of Presidential china.  Ever since, I’ve always wanted to design the White House china, and maybe even, the entire White House.

What is your dream vacation?

STEVE & JILL:  An isolated beach with my family all together – relaxing, enjoying good food and playing games.

What is your secret vice?

STEVE – Sneaking a spoonful of canned vanilla whipped icing. Yum!

What is your idea of bliss?

STEVE – For me, bliss is an afternoon of no demands on my time and being outdoors.  JILL – An uninterrupted nap on the screened porch or playing a great game of tennis.

If you had a theme song, what would it be?

STEVE- Let It Whip by The Dazz Band; I love what I’m doing at this stage in life, and as a college student of the 80’s, this song embodies a great beat and keeps me going.  JILL – Don’t Cha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?


What do you collect?

Oh boy – so many items have stolen my heart and shelf space! Among my favorite collections are vintage ceramic turkeys, reamers, floral frogs, and religious artifacts. Jill says Steve has a problem 🙂

What is your favorite color?

STEVE– Paprika; like a good chili, most interiors benefit from a dash of paprika
JILL – Periwinkle, my favorite crayon.What s your favorite design trick?

What is your favorite design trick?

Orchids go a long way in any space.

What are your favorite local haunts?

Atlanta favorites include Anne Flaire Antiques, Scott’s Market, the print floor of the High Museum of Art, and The Lawrence restaurant.


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