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.

Kitchen & Bath: Should the Hardware Match?

Matching finishes or mixing finishes–this is a question that drives a lot of traffic to our blog. Ultimately, mixing or matching is a matter of personal taste. We do know, however, that when executed purposefully, mixing finishes on hardware, lighting, faucets and appliances can add interest to a simple design, create a focal point, or define work spaces. 

For homes with a strong unified design style, matching is the way to go. Be it the pared down look of a modern dwelling or the decorative flourishes of Victorian steampunk, there is a strong argument for matching. But is it ever too much? Do you feel there are certain rooms that should and shouldn’t match?

The bathroom and kitchen share similarities. Cabinets, faucets, tile, counter tops. In shops and online, kitchens and bathrooms go hand in hand. But what about in your own house? Did you repeat the same cabinets and tile in your bathroom that you used in your kitchen?

Now, some people find a product and love it so much they want to use it in as many places as they can. They buy their faucets all from one line, use the same hardware in the same finish and even request that the powder room vanity top be cut from the same slab adorning the kitchen island. And then there are people who want to keep the two rooms as separate as can be, drawing as little association between the kitchen and bathroom as possible. Because they don’t want to be reminded of what they do in the bathroom while in the kitchen. To them, there is an ick factor.

But is there a middle ground?

Both the kitchen and bath in the above pictures feature a traditional look, using a 5-piece raised panel cherry door topped with giallo ornamental granite. Sinks, faucets and counter edges differ. Are these looks too similar for your taste or not similar enough?

There are homeowners who find great solace in using a single finish throughout their house. If everything is, say, satin nickel, then it is a real no-brainer when shopping for door knobs, bookends, salad tongs, faucets, lamps, etc. Satin nickel it is. This approach streamlines the decision process but still allows for variety. The kitchen cabinets may display satin nickel bin pulls while the bathroom cabinets only use satin nickel knobs. There is unity in design, but the actual hardware shape does not repeat. As a result, no direct association is made between the bathroom and the kitchen but the elements still flow.

Another option is to use the same exact hardware but in a different finish. For example, polished nickel pulls mounted on white painted cabinets in the kitchen will take on a completely different look when the same style pull appears in an antique finish on a quarter sawn oak bathroom vanity. 

Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference. So, what do you prefer? Do you match your finishes throughout your house or do you like to mix it up? Are your bathrooms and kitchen coordinated or did you purposefully design them to look unrelated? Leave a comment letting us know.

Mixing Finishes in Beantown

Today we’re looking at the amazing kitchen remodel of Horton Brasses customer Gena Hooper, aka A Bluebonnet in Beantown. Gena Bluebonnet outfitted her Boston kitchen with an imported British Aga range, custom cabinets by Country Craftsman painted in gourmet Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green paint, locally sourced Danby marble and soapstone countertops and, in a nod to modern times, a custom Trikeenan glass mosaic backsplash.

Gena and her DIY-er husband labored over every detail, creating a space of mixed finishes, high function and measured serenity. Understanding cabinet hardware’s small but significant impact on the final aesthetic of her space, Gena chose a mixture of authentic vintage pieces and quality reproduction hardware. The finished result looks timelessly classic.


Glass knobs from Anthropologie, patinated vintage library pulls from eBay,  cabinet handles in antique finish from Horton Brasses


Gena pairs the vintage pulls on the same run as the new Horton Brasses handles. A risky move not everyone has the courage to take but the payoff is a beautiful harmony.


Regarding her choice, Gena states:

I’ve had a heck of a time with hardware. This is what happens when you get all cutesy and buy vintage library pulls. Next to all that authentic, patinated goodness, most modern hardware looked too glossy, too perfect. Plus, I was trying my darndest to keep to a restrained budget. This is where Horton Brasses came in. 

Online, their Antique finish looked like a match for my pulls. The pull shape was simple, and the finish looked muted. Perfect. The hardware arrived yesterday. When they said it would come quickly, they weren’t kidding.

In person, their hardware was even better. The metal was ever-so-slightly distressed. Nothing gaudy, but a lovely, barely discernible texture to the metal. The shape and heft were perfect. Comfortable in the hand.


Additionally, Gena mixed in painted wooden knobs, a traditional choice that has really lost its way to the popularity of nickel. Love it! Despite multiple hardware styles, the crystal, wood, vintage and new brass pieces look well put together in a singular space, complimenting–not competing–with one another.

Inspired by Gena’s period-style New England kitchen? Check out the Horton Brasses cabinet handles Gena used, as well as the vast assortment of wooden knobs available.

While I don’t have the cabinet handle Gena has in my own kitchen, Orion recently sent me a sample piece from that collection (linked below). I was actually overwhelmed –in a good way–by the weight of that thing and loved the organic shape and ergonomic feel of the handle. If I had held it in my hand before I remodeled, I surely would have included those handles into my mixed lot of hardware. 


Gena used the 4-7/8″ cabinet handle on her large drawers. Check out the 8″ appliance handle for putting a singular pull on large drawers. There is also a 14″ appliance handle in a matching design.

4-7/8″ Cabinet Handle $10

8-3/4″ Appliance Handle $34

14″ Appliance Handle $150


*all photos courtesy of Gena Hooper @ A Bluebonnet in Beantown

Mixing Finishes


Whether decorating a new home or snazzying up an older model, the question often arises as to whether or not it is okay to mix finishes. Maybe all the doorknobs in your house are a shiny brass but you had your heart set on satin nickel in the kitchen and oil rubbed bronze in the loo. Or maybe you just can’t decide between polished nickel and polished brass. And satin nickel. And milk glass. And want them all in one space–the super expensive kitchen you are remodeling. You want it to look finished and pulled together and are afraid mixing finishes will give you a final product more akin to a Home Depot kitchen showroom than the Crown Point Cabinetry website.

Well, rest your pretty little head. While it is true that most of the pics of kitchens you find online will make you believe matchy match match is gospel, some Google Image searching will turn up quite a few well executed examples of mixing finishes in the kitchen without looking like you outfitted your cabinets in salvage off of eBay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Here are some real life worries regarding mixed finishes: 

I am planning on stainless cabinet hardware but want to get an ORB faucet….will this look okay?  

Can I mix matte bronze light fixture with satin nickel cabinet hardware?

Brushed nickel cabinet hardware, stainless steel sink and faucet…can I go dark bronze on the lighting?


These kinds of threads always pop up on the GardenWeb Kitchen Forum,  possibly the most useful reference and interactive website when it comes to remodeling a kitchen. As you can see from visiting the linked threads, there are some traditionalists out there who probably go so far as to match their faucet to their saucepan. That definitely is playing it safe.

But mixing finishes is not a strenuous task best undertaken by design mavens only. Even us commoners can use our good sense to pull off a fabulous mixed finish space without looking mis-matched. Let’s call in some visuals!


This shaker-style kitchen from the Crown Point Cabinetry website shows stained wooden knobs, stainless steel hood/range/sink/faucet and a wrought iron chandelier. The result is positively un-quirky.


Another example from the esteemed custom cabinet maker Crown Point, painted wooden knobs, copper sink and wrought iron pendants. Three different finishes, one unique charm!


GardenWebber Cotehele’s gorgeous kitchen remodel, complete with Horton Brasses dark antique cabinet hardware, stainless steel faucet and white fireclay sink.


From Southern Living, this kitchen shows the eclectic pairing of antique brass pendants, stainless steel appliances and oil-rubbed bronze cabinet hardware.


Bronze, stainless steel and brass finishes adorn this Nantucket kitchen featured in House Beautiful.


Above is a glimpse how mixing finishes can give a high end effect on a budget. This Ikea kitchen remodel, by DIY Gardenwebber Brickmanhouse, was done for under $20k. Finshes include glass as well as chrome bin pulls, fireclay sinks and a black chandelier. This kitchen definitely is an inspiration on many levels! For more pics and info, click here.

Below is my own personal favorite, which not so coincidentally happens to be my personal kitchen. I could bore you with the details: white enamel light fixtures, satin nickel and polished nickel hardware. And milk glass and crystal and antique brass. Satin nickel faucets as well as chrome w/brass. I could go on and on about the four different tiles, two different grout colors etc., but instead, you can look for yourself.

So, while I don’t want to squelch your creativity, let me share some guidelines (I use that word loosely) to help you ease your fear over mixing and matching your finishes.

1) Know your style. Defining your decorating style will give you a design neighborhood to work in and help you achieve a cohesive end product. Are you going for a cottage look? Is a vintage or period feel where you are headed? Or are you trying to create a sleek, modern space? Asking these questions early on will allow you to narrow down your style choices (bin pulls vs. bar pulls) and may also steer you towards certain finishes or away from certain finishes.

2) Look for natural divisions of space. Good design organic and not over thought. Examine your space and determine where there are natural divisions or breaks. You may want to offset a work island from the perimeter cabinets with different hardware. Or maybe bring in a finish on a hutch or pantry cabinetry. Another way to visually divide up your space is to think in terms of horizontal layers. Ceiling fixtures, then sink/faucets then cabinet hardware. There are many ways to break up the space, adding reason and order to your varying elements.

3) Be practical! Don’t forget to find out what kind of care goes into the finishes you’ve selected. Most lacquered hardware won’t require much upkeep at all, but do your homework. And don’t rule out chrome faucets just because the rest of your kitchen is chromeless. I promise you, the shine of chrome, while being bluer than the pink tones of polished nickel, will not clash. There will be no pictures turning up in the press with your kitchen listed as a “Fashion Don’t.” I promise.

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff. This goes along with “be practical” but I feel it is de rigueur for any list of guidelines to include this cliche’. What I am thinking about here is your sink drain. Get chrome. Trust me. I don’t care if your sink is black or white or stainless or pink. Chrome is the most durable finish and perfect for water applications. I had a Brasstech satin nickel basket for my drain and within a month or so I had myself a two toned satin nickel/brass basket where the finish rubbed off. Of course, if that is your idea of mixing finishes, than go for it.

5) Fill your kitchen with what you love! Another cliche’? Oh, totally! This is actually one of the most over-simplified decorating advice I’ve come across, but still, on one level it works. Of course, if you are like me and find yourself completely adulterous to any one style, you’re on your own. Perfecting that bohemian, time traveler look is probably one of the most complicated styles to execute. But if you’ve made it this far down my list of guidelines and have honed in on a specific style, divided your space up visually and have some practical ideas for your choices, then I say you have enough parameters to pick out your faves and deck your kitchen out in those things. That’s what I did.