A passion for art leads to stylish design
It's no surprise that Steve McKenzie has a bit of an obsession with art. As CEO and chief designer for the custom framing company Larson-Juhl, he's in the business. A business he loves. "I have a deep passion for art," Steve explains. "I'm an artist, and I've been a collector my whole life. Art, flea market finds, pottery--each piece is personal to us and has a story behind it."
The well-edited, impeccably curated home outside Atlanta that he shares with wife Jill and children Carter, 18, and Mimi, 14 (plus English springer spaniels Biscotti and Duke) is a stylish testament to this couple's ardor for collecting.
When it came time to refresh the interiors, however, the couple decided to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Their first call was to Atlanta-based designer and Top Design alum Kerry Howard. "Kerry was the curator this time around," says Steve. "We needed a fresh pair of eyes, and he really pulled it all together for us. He took the time to find out how we lived and designed for that."
"The house has great traditional bones, and the art collection is amazing," notes Howard. "It was such a great canvas, but it just needed a bit of a refresh." Starting with a fresh coat of paint--a no-nonsense yet warm gray hue runs throughout the first floor--Howard created a neutral base for the kaleidoscopic art collection while sidestepping the stark gallery experience. Exhibit A: the inviting living room with its goldenrod trifecta--a Jonathan Adler rug and paintings by T.L. Lange and Deanna Sirlin--which simultaneously draws the eye and soothes the soul.
Carefully walking the tightrope between midcentury modern and classically traditional, Steve and Howard filled the space with an enterprising combination of pieces. An Eames chair and wooden stool accompany an Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen, while just beyond the sofa, a custom-made Mexican table holds its own.
"I'm in love with midcentury modern, but it can become sterile if you don't mix it with softer lines and more traditional furnishings," notes Steve. "Too much of any one look gets boring."
While starkly different in terms of furnishings, the dining room flows flawlessly with the more modern tendencies of the living room. Architectural details--the traditional ingredients that bring a cohesiveness to the rooms--remain uniform. There's also a consistency in the art: bold, contemporary, and colorful. Though furnishings range from Gothic to midcentury, there's a subtle agreement--an eclectic mix of pieces collected from different centuries and countries, yet somehow unified in their diversity.
Steve explains it plainly, "If you went from a modernist room to a room filled with Louis XV pieces, it would be jarring. We combine both styles within one space. That mix is comforting."
With its quiet palette and overscale farmhouse table, the dining room is meant for lingering dinners with friends and family. Shoes off, appetites sated, sharing stories of travels and the day's events.
Wrapped cocoon-like with custom-built bookshelves full of well-worn tomes and a cherished collection of pottery, the library is admittedly Steve's favorite space. "I'm obsessed with art books," he notes. "The library was designed specifically to house my books and our collection of Jonathan Adler pottery."
Family time is generally spent in the cozy, light-filled keeping room just off the kitchen. Opening onto a stone patio and furnished with pieces as hard-wearing as they are sculptural, the neutral palette--interrupted briefly with the staccato burst of an orange-and-yellow rug--beckons family and friends.
Ideal for entertaining or family dining, the adjoining kitchen was left mostly untouched in the "refresh." One change? Here, as in the rest of the house, lighting plays a key role--never an afterthought but an integral part of the scheme--so beams were installed to accommodate more task lighting.
"Lighting is the finishing touch in a room," notes Howard. "As a man, I can buy a new tie and completely update a suit. Lighting is the same thing for the home. It's the jewelry that finishes the room and shouldn't be overlooked. Of course, it has to be functional as well."
Upstairs, the master bedroom proved challenging for Jill and Steve. While they knew they wanted the personal space to flow with the rest of the house, they also craved a serene retreat.
"We took the gray palette from downstairs and cooled it down a bit," explains Howard. "It's really quite amazing what a simple coat of paint can do to improve a room."
Of course, there's also the obligatory sculptural light fixture and art to complete the well-edited mix.
"We don't worry about things going together," notes Steve. "If you collect pieces you love, there's a common story that allows you to mix those pieces together. They express your passions and desires."
Photography: Sarah Dorio
Produced by Eleanor Roper
Interior design: Kerry Howard, KMH Interiors, 415 Armour Dr., Suite 8106, Atlanta, GA 30324; 404/234-5902, kmhinteriors.net.
Landscape architect: Bruce Wells, Hastings Nature & Garden Center, 3920 Peachtree Rd. N.E., Atlanta, GA 30319; 404/869-7447, hastingsgardencenter.com.
A custom-made table that was once used for dining was repurposed as a sofa table in the living room. Lamps are from Arteriors Home.
In the dining room, a Gothic altar table from the south of France mingles happily with modern art and a traditional farmhouse table designed by Steve McKenzie.
Steve opted for two chandeliers by Anthologie Quartett to illuminate the farmhouse table while providing breathing space for an altar table and artwork in the dining room niche. "I love that the fixtures tip their hats to old-world chandeliers but have modernist edge," says Steve.
Steve designed the daybed in the front hall and had it upholstered with a kilim rug. "We call it the barge," he laughs. "It's big enough for two people to nap together."
Designer Kerry Howard selected wing chairs from Stanton Home Furnishings to add height--and a "cityscape" feel--to the keeping room. The rug is from Jonathan Adler.
Two of Steve's paintings hang above a figurative piece by Moshe Rosenthalis in the keeping room. All are custom-framed in Larson-Juhl frames. Curtains are from Peachtree Fabrics.
A flea market club chair creates a cozy reading nook with a view of the kitchen below. The rug is from Alhambra de Taos in New Mexico.
Steve's studio opens to the back terrace. Many of his own pieces--primarily in mixed media--are shown on walls with other artwork.
Steve and Howard used sculptural light fixtures throughout the house. The silver-leaf pendant light in the master bedroom is from World's Away.
Biscotti, one of the family's English springer spaniels, enjoys a little pool-side time near a wisteria-covered pergola. Teak furniture is from Smith & Hawken. A bronze sculpture by Leon Bronstein overlooks the pool.
The lush back gardens designed by Atlanta-based landscape architect Bruce Wells include a waterfall cascading into a koi pond.
Homeowner and Larson-Juhl CEO Steve McKenzie.