Steve McKenzie explains how to find the star of your space.
Striking interiors shouldn’t just be the domain of the upper-crust, according to Buckhead-based designer and artist Steve McKenzie. “I firmly believe everyone deserves great interior design, not just the wealthy,” he says. “If you express to me, ‘I don’t think I can afford this,’ I will try to find someone from the [design] community whom you could afford.” That’s the mark of someone who truly loves what they do, and McKenzie exudes passion for his craft.
He’s been in the home industry since college. While at Butler University in Indiana studying chemistry and business, McKenzie worked at Sherwin- Williams’ research labs designing color palettes, eventually worked in product design for Leewards Creative Crafts, the precursor to Michaels, and later became the vice president of marketing for Larson Juhl, an Atlanta-based framing wholesaler. While McKenzie’s namesake design firm is a mere 10 years old, he has an invaluable lifetime of experience.
Below, McKenzie shares his favorite sourcing spots, his predictions for 2022 design trends and his go-to interior tips and tricks.
Given your product design background, what do you advise consumers to look for when selecting a quality piece of furniture?
Construction is everything. Look at the way the drawer box is built. You want to look for a dovetail box. You also want to make sure everything’s not melamine on the inside. It’s a slick, plastic-y finish. Always look at the back of the piece, too, because that’s where you can tell how the construction is. That said, keep in mind that if you’re buying an antique French piece from the 1700s or 1800s, they used an unsightly piece of wood on the back, so make sure you’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They put the beautiful wood on the facade.
As a designer, how do you balance your own aesthetic and the aesthetic of the client?
I love to put old with new, and I feel every room needs a diverse number of elements to make it visually interesting. I like a hero in the room. If I think about my own place. I have a Gothic altar from southern France that sets the tone for the living room. Even if you’re a midcentury lover, and you only want midcentury, I’ll probably push for an antique or two to be thrown in because you need something warm to soften it. But I can make you the midcentury home that you want. A good designer can take the knowledge base and apply the principles that they follow to the exact aesthetic of what you like.
How do I find that special piece if I don’t necessarily have that design eye?
I think studying rooms can give you examples of where a hero is. Is it a light fixture? Is it a piece of art? Is it the rug? Is it a piece of furniture? Is it an antique? Then build around it, whatever that one piece is.
Where are some of your favorite places to source?
I love Huff Harrington and Peachtree Battle Antiques. I also like Interiors Market, especially the new one that’s uber curated on Miami Circle. I love Antiques & Beyond for busts, cocktail glasses and other vintage cocktail wear.
Do you consider glasses and cocktail supplies a part of interior design?
Absolutely. If we’re doing a bar, we’re going to outfit the bar.
What do you think is trending for 2022?
I really think brown furniture is coming back strong. Prints are big for fabric and textiles. I think everybody’s open to some form of print right now.
Wellness columnist at Simply Buckhead and dog columnist at Atlanta Pet Life. Lifestyle writer specializing in women's interests, travel, people and interiors.