Interview With a Designer: Monica Mackenzie

When reviewing the portfolios of designers who’ve used Horton Brasses hardware, I was floored when I set my eyes upon Monica Mackenzie’s kitchen designs. Her use of painted and distressed cabinetry defines the look that many customers are striving to achieve with their remodel. I definitely wanted to interview her for the HB blog. Here we  talk a lot about finishes—both cabinet and hardware. Also, I want to note that this is the second interview I’ve done in a week where the designer commented on the importance of lighting. Jot that down!

You’ve been designing interiors since 1999. What’s your background and how did you get your start?

I have been designing both interiors and remodeling since I started a business in interior design in 1999.  I started by working on friends homes when my children were small. I have always loved design and color and my business has expanded to include both interior design as well as new builds and remodeling. I now have a general contracting license and home improvement license. I have a great team of subcontractors. I often go to the Boston Design Center  for inspiration and read everything on the subject.

The homes you work on are largely old houses with historical architectural elements and new builds emulating that feel. How do you manage to negotiate retaining the old charm while ramping up the function?

I work on a lot of older homes. I love the details. They often have little things that make them so special. The problem is that they are often not what people are looking for for the way they live now. I try to open the house up. The kitchens and baths usually require a redo. I usually get requests for mudrooms and pantries. I also do a lot of master bedrooms and baths.

White or wood? Do you think the white kitchen craze is a trend or will it be around for a while?

I like both the wood and the pained finishes. The white is classic but does require a bit of maintance over the years. I like to mix the cabinet finishes then everyone is happy. You can always repaint!

Your portfolio shows a mix of wood stained, white and cream painted and distressed—or maybe “weathered” would be more accurate–kitchen cabinetry. Do you feel certain hardware finishes pair better with specific paints and stains?

I think that the painted cabinets are really in style now. I like to work with unusual colors of finishes. In the older homes the oiled rubbed brass looks authentic. Other times a modern stainless or chrome pull gives the look the client is after. It really depends on the age of the home and the look we are trying to achieve.

monica’s free street kitchen illustrates the popular style of mixing wood stain and white paint.

Mixing finishes has been a hot topic on kitchen forums and our blog. Do you prefer to keep the hardware, faucet and lighting finishes uniform or do you sometimes mix it up?

I like to keep the finishes the same in kitchens I think it makes the space consistent, especially if the cabinets and counters are mixed.

How long have you been using Horton Brasses hardware? What are your go-to pieces?

I have been using Horton Brass for years, probably 10? I love the square cabinet latches, the cabinet pulls and the simple knobs.

What is it you look for when choosing cabinet hardware?

I love that with Horton Brass the cabinet hardware can be different sizes or styles but the finish will match. I look for a good size, matching hardware pieces and the shipping and availability is terrific.

If someone’s remodeling a kitchen on a budget, what would you recommend they make a priority and splurge on?

I think that the overall design is the splurge. If a client wants a high end appliance that’s always a splurge.

What are some of the often overlooked details in kitchen design?

I like to have a second prep sink. I like to have pull outs near the stove for utensils and oils etc. I think that there needs to be a place to relax when someone is cooking. I like a TV in my kitchen but I want it built in. Lighting is also important.

Your kitchen designs are full of texture–from the backsplash to the cabinet finish. Your School Street kitchen really showcases this. How do you create layers of tactile finishes without overwhelming the space?

The school street kitchen is great. Its an old cape but the kitchen is in a totally new space. We used old materials salvaged and custom cabinets designed for the owners who loved the distressed look. They loved to cook. The Aga is great and the teak distressed top to the island gets better with time. They are great clients who encouraged the creativity. Loved that job.

Kitchens in portfolios and magazines are staged to look picture perfect. Right now if we were to visit your own kitchen, what would it look like? Is it spic and span or do you have your morning cup of coffee sitting in the sink?

My kitchen looks clean and organized.  That’s because I spent a good amount of time planning it out–what I need to store as well as what my family needed the way we are now. Its on my website under affiliates if you want to take a peak.