MacKenzie-Childs Magical Headquarters

April 13, 2017

The last week of March may go down as one of my favorite times as a blogger. That Tuesday-Friday I was invited to travel to Aurora, New York to experience an up-close-and-personal view into a brand I've known and loved for years and years: MacKenzie-Childs. This visit (#CampCourtlyCheck) was unforgettable and completely magical for several reasons...

First of all, the town of Aurora is set on Cayuga Lake, it's both historical and quaint, and their Inns are beyond beautiful and comfortable (we stayed at the E.B. Morgan House and it's incredible). The trip was made up of fellow bloggers Lynsey (also based in Dallas!) and Katie of Tomboy KC, Kathleen of Carrie Bradshaw Lied, Marissa of Style Cusp, and Amanda of The Fashionable Hostess. I've been on blogger trips before but I have to say there was something really special about this particular group of women. We all became very fast friends and had some of the most real, honest, and creative conversations I've had in a long time. Being able to experience this trip with them made it even more meaningful. And of course, the behind the curtain look at MacKenzie-Childs was like being in Wonderland. We got to tour their barn studio (where all the ceramics and furniture is created from start to finish), wander through and lunch at the Farmhouse (decorated tip-to-toe in MacKenzie Childs), experience the storybook like grounds (complete with sheep, geese, and sprawling lawns overlooking the lake), and gawk at the brand mecca that is their Shop. I have so much to share it's slightly overwhelming. But I hope you all enjoy getting a glimpse of my trip!

 

The words I can use to describe MacKenzie-Childs: whimsical, fun, quality, innovative, loyal, community. I could go on, but those do a good job of summing things up. Whether you already know and love the products or have never seen them before today, it’s immediately apparent that they stand out with a look that’s both whimsical and fun. Bold checks, butterflies, colorful patterns, bright florals, playful shapes and forms – I can say without a doubt that within the vast collection, there’s something for everyone. The brand has always been build on a foundation of quality (whether handmade craftsmanship or impeccable factory conditions) and innovation. The founders – Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs – humbly introduced their handmade ceramic creations in 1983 and slowly but surely made their dream-like visions become reality as they introduced furniture and lighting, enamelware, etc. Now, 34 years later, the band continues to create new categories that showcase the timeless “fun!” that makes MacKenzie-Childs so beloved. Speaking of love…it can be easily be seen, felt and realized by the loyal customers and community of employees that support the company. From the fanatic collectors (I’m looking at you, Kris Jenner!) to the artists who have worked at the company for decades – this deep loyalty and sense of community is unlike any brand I’ve experienced.

If I had to pick a favorite part of the trip (at least one that didn’t include food or talking with the wonderful people that work for MacKenzie-Childs) it would be touring in the barn studio and getting to see the artists as they work. It’s easy to walk into a store or set the table with my mom’s collection of MacKenzie-Childs and forget that every single ceramic item is handmade. Learning about the various steps in this craft and watching the artisans as they worked made me have an even deeper appreciation for both the MacKenzie-Childs brand and the pieces they make. In an attempt to explain how the ceramics are made, I’ve tried to arrange my photos in order of the steps below:

  • Solid clay is either molded by hand, pressed (ex: plates, platters), or liquid clay is poured into plaster molds used for slipcasting (ex: mugs, cow creamers!).
  • Once the clay forms are “leather hard” and able to be gentle handled without losing their shape, they are fettled (all the edges are smoothed, any imperfections from the molding is removed), pieces with handles get them added at this stage.
  • These pieces go through a first kiln firing.
  • After the first firing, the bottom (or “foot”) of each ceramic piece is hand painted or dipped into a wax coating, then the whole piece is dunked into a base glaze. The glaze covers the item but doesn’t adhere to the part coated in wax – this is so the piece can be placed in the kiln and the bottom part won’t stick. This hand-done process results in a “snake bite” marking on every piece – showing the spot of the tongs used to hold the item when it’s dipped in the glaze (just one of many nods to the hand-done process MacKenzie-Childs celebrates!).
  • Once coated in a first layer of raw glaze, the pottery pieces will go straight to being decorated (with a technique called “dipping”) or they fired again then decorated (with China paints).
  • The dipping process is done by artisans who hand mix glaze mineral stains and paint directly onto the initial glaze. Each time an artist dips their brushes in the stains they swirl the pigment to keep the powered stain from settling on the bottom. Even more impressive than the constant swirling, dipping and brushing of pigment is the fact that the artist that paint the various designs don’t use a template but free-hand paint each pattern. They do have color guides and finished examples to go off of to insure consistency but no two pieces are identical and small variations can be seen based on the handcrafted nature. (Examples of pieces painted with mineral stains: the Taylor and Piccadilly collections)
  • The other painting technique that’s done on top of the the first base of fired glaze is done using China paint. Unlike painting done with stains, this paint process allows artists to wipe off the paint if they’ve made a mistake (the smooth, shiny, white glaze base kind of acts as a dry erase board of sorts). This paint technique is what’s used for the famous Courtly Check. Though it might seem easier for the artists that do this check pattern vs. those that freehand the designs onto raw glaze and can’t really mess up, it’s actually quite complex because each check made involved dragging the brush through several accent colors – resulting in a one-of-a-kind checkerboard that’s anything but boring or flat. (Examples of pieces painted with China paint: the Courtly Check and Parchment Check ceramic collections)
  • The Courtley Check ceramics and several others receive another painted treatment of gold lustre embellishment. This application is added after any previous painting done is fired again. The gold lustre (re: it’s 24 karat gold in a liquid form!) looks like a red tint and is brushed or dotted on by hand. To help mask the fumes, the tint has a special lavender scent added.
  • Some items – like this heart bowl – get all three decorative techniques! Once fired and glazed, the middle part is painted with mineral glaze on top of the raw glaze, then it’s fired again, and the outside gets painted with the checkered pattern in China paint, fired a third time, then gold lustre is applied, and the piece gets a fourth and final firing. (P.S. watch a Parchment Check teapot go from start to finish via this great video!)
  • The amount of artisanal hands that touch one piece as it goes from unformed clay to a completed piece is amazing! To acknowledge the talent and craftsmanship that goes into the process, artists stamp the bottom of each piece with their initials once completed with their process (this teapot has four stamps: 1) for the person who did the felting, 2) for artist who did the mineral glaze, 3) for the artist that painted the check, and 4) the artist who painted the gold lustre.

Aside from the ceramics department, the barn houses also houses a furniture studio. If you’ve ever seen MacKenzie-Childs furniture pieces, you know they’re completely fantastical and range in scale from grand (example: the Ridiculous Bench) to petite (like this petite side table) but none are lacking in character or detail. Each piece – no matter how big or small – is decorated with Mackenzie-Childs signature designs and painted start-to-finish by a single artist. One piece and can employ many different techniques (marbling, appliqué, gold-leafing, etc) and the many hours dedicated to brining each to life. Seeing artist work on various furniture pieces was a very Alice In Wonderland experience…so much fun and fantasticalness in one place.

A quick walk from the barn studio leads to the MacKenzie-Childs Farmhouse. As I mentioned earlier, the Farmhouse is decorated tip-to-toe in MacKenzie Childs. Rather than looking like an overwhelming explosion of the brand, it’s designed to highlight the famed designs, pieces and products (some of which are now discontinued) in a way that’s both thoughtful and fun. Rooms are centered around various collections and themes – expertly executed with everything MacKenzie Childs in the from of furniture and lighting, dishes and tiles, drawerpulls and knobs, rugs, fabrics and wall treatments. I couldn’t get over the level of detail…it was almost impossible to pick a favorite room but the one-of-a-kind finial wall sconce and custom art (Papa Parchment!) were definitely the things I most wanted to steal.

One visit to Aurora and MacKenzie-Childs headquarters is just not enough for me…I have big plans to return back with Sally and our mom. Sally and I grew up revering our mama’s collection of Taylor dinnerware – there’s not a spring or summer I can remember not using it for special occasions – and gave us an early introduction into the whimsical world of the MacKenzie-Childs brand. Now that we’re adulting, creating our own homes and entertaining friends and family alike, we’re both slowly but surely incorporating treasured MacKenzie-Childs pieces into our lives. If any of you are fellow fans of the brand, I highly encourage you to visit the headquarters! Seeing the gorgeous gardens, Farmhouse, and Shop is such a special experience.

Just a few current MacKenzie-Childs favorites…

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Traveling With The Lo & Sons Catalina Deluxe

July 14, 2016

The Lo & Sons weekender bag I've been using for three years - The Catalina - just got an amazing upgrade...it now comes in a "Deluxe" version. Available in both large and small, the Catalina Deluxe has all the same features as the original Catalina and includes some really amazing additional details that take it to the next level in terms of awesomeness and functionality. For anyone unfamiliar with the canvas duffle and what makes it so different from other options out there, I'm excited to tell you all about it! I packed my new forest green bag (it's a Large) for the week I was gone over the 4th of July and through last weekend and everything fit perfectly. My favorite thing about the Catalina bag is that it holds a ton but doesn't look huge. You never want to be the person that shows up for a weekend and looks like you packed for a month. I was only slightly surprised that I was able to fit everything I needed for a week inside my Catalina Deluxe Large - even though it's called a "weekender" bag it can really get you so much further than two days if you need it to!

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Catalina (in each of the three variations) it’s the bottom pocket/section that has its own zipper. This area is connected to the top part (it doesn’t completely zip away) and is amazing for holding shoes, toiletries, or other items you want to keep separate. This bottom part of the Catalina Deluxe is different from the original in that it comes with a removable padded insert (!).  In the past I had gotten questions from readers worried about packing delicate shoes, make-up, hair appliances in the bottom for fear that they would get damaged. I have never, ever had that problem with my original (and I put everything from my laptop to fancy stilettos down there) but the padded insert is a great addition for those concerns and it gives the bag extra structure that helps with packing and keeps the canvas from getting lumpy and bumpy. Here’s what I packed in mine:

I like to load up the bottom pocket first then zip it and move on to the top part. Unlike other duffels I’ve used in the past, this one really opens up wide and placing items neatly inside is really easy (and ideal for a type-A, organized packer like me). There’s a small zippered pocket on one size of the interior and two divided pockets on the other – great for holding smaller items like my laptop charger, perfume, and lip stuffs. Here’s what I fit:

Two of the features of the Catalina Deluxe that the original Catalina doesn’t have: a back panel pass-through sleeve and a removable messenger strap. The back panel is similar to those on Lo & Sons infamous O.G.O.M.G. and laptop tote bags – it allows you to slide the Catalina Deluxe over suitcase handles for seamless travel. There are double sided zippers on the top and bottom of the panel that make it adjust to fit different handle widths. I often use the panel as an additional pocket when I’m not using it with a suitcase. The messenger strap easily clips onto both sides of the top of the bag, near the zipper, and it has a removable padded piece that makes it extra comfortable to carry.

My large Deluxe Catalina came with me to Ft. Worth for some pool time, then to Dallas, then on to Kansas City (note: I did bring a small separate bag to hold the few things I needed to wear for my aunt’s wedding last weekend and my camera has its own separate situation) then back to Houston. And while living out of a bag for a week isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, it’s really (really, really) not a chore to do it with this bag. Having all my beauty needs in the bottom of the bag and my clothes in the top really helps me feel organized and the lightweight canvas means that even when it’s full of stuff and I’m swinging it from one place to another, I don’t feel like I’m lugging it around.

You can check out this handy guide to see the differences between the Catalina Deluxe Small ($128), the Catalina Deluxe Large ($148), and the Catalina ($120). If you don’t have a weekender bag you’re in love with or feel like it’s the bag missing in your life, I cannot recommend a Catalina (any version of it!) enough. The price makes it a serious bang for your buck and you’ll never use another duffle type bag again – I seriously haven’t in over three years. Shop them here!

Oh, did I mention it’s machine washable and totally collapses for easy storage? Mic drop.

Fun stuff: the Catalina now comes in a really adorable color-blocked style (three different color options on the bottom with a natural canvas on top), and the seven fully-colored options are currently on sale ($120 → $84)!

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Austin City Limits 2015

October 13, 2015

Austin City Limits - fondly known as ACL - is a three day music festival in (you guessed it) Austin. Back when I first attended four short years ago it was just one weekend...but with the event drawing people from across the country (and globe?) I'm assuming people started asking for more and the ACL powers that be decided to extend the program to two weekends of fun. The first weekend was October 2-4 and the second weekend was (you guessed it) last weekend, October 9-11. After getting some very amazing VIP tickets offered to me a few weeks ago for weekend two I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the 2015 lineup of performers. So I enlisted my friend and fellow Biscuit babe Avery as my partner in crime and we did our best to treat the three days as a marathon, not a sprint...

 

150 people are moving to Austin each day. If you’ve ever visited the city you probably understand how this is possible…the music scene, eclectic aesthetic, beautiful landscape, shiny skyline, healthy and active lifestyle mentality, and yum culinary offerings are just a few reasons that make Austin a hot bed for tech start-ups and University of Texas fans alike. The 350 acres of Zilker Park sections off part of its space to ACL each October and I think it does a perfect job of showcasing all that’s great about the city. The two largest stages (out of the eight situated in the field) sit on opposite ends – east and west – with the east backing up to the city skyline and the west looking out over lush trees and getting the sunset glory each night. Because great music goes well with good food and drinks, tons of amazing sponsors and local restaurants come in with delicious offerings.

Avery and I did our best to balance our intake of cocktails with lots of Vita Coco Coconut Water and H2O. It might be October but Austin is still hot and trekking from stage to stage and standing among other fans is as invigorating as it is draining. We totally lucked out having the tickets we did because the VIP Grove area offered shade, seating, food + drinks, cool booths (loved the South Congress Hotel pop-up with cool boutique Sunroom), and wicked installation of hanging streamers by The Color Condition (created by my talented friends in Dallas!). We could have just looked at those colorful swags and mobiles of color all day…but we did make it out of the Grove for the main purpose of the festival: the music lineup. And there were several bands and artist that were clear favorites. Below is our list of most loved performances and a few song recommendations:

Far and away, the best performance we experienced was by Florence and the Machine. I’m already a major fan of hers so I was pumped out of my mind that I got to see her close the festival on Sunday night…now I can honestly say that I’m obsessed. Her energy is INSANE – she was literally sprinting across the stage (barefoot) and dancing her face off for a full hour and a half. At one point she ran off stage into the crowd and ended up about five feet from us. I almost passed out/got crushed by other screaming fans. Not sure I’ve ever seen anyone perform and felt such authenticity and soulfulness.

Avery and I left Austin yesterday tired but happy, with a full list of songs to download. So glad we got to experience such an amazing weekend and already hoping I get to return to the fest again next year!

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Napa is Nice

July 15, 2015

There are many times when we first tell people the name of the blog we get asked, "Ohhh, so it's a food blog?" We assure them that no, as much as we love food the blog features an array of lifestyle posts. But if you look at our Instagram account on any given day you might be fooled with all the pics of food and wine...we can't help it. Especially when we are together and being extra gluttonous - like Molly mentioned yesterday, we aren't together as often now that there are so many states and miles separating us, so any time we have feels like it needs to be celebrated. And celebrate we do...with sweet treats, reservations at yum places, delicious wine, and meals so good we'd be fine if they were our last.

Last weekend we drove from San Francisco to Napa Valley with a trio of favorite people and spent Saturday and Sunday exploring, drinking, eating, and drinking. It was the perfect warm escape from SF (not that it needs to be escaped, but summer isn't very summery in the city) and both of us left feeling sleepy after two days of stuffing ourselves with goodness. We thought we had taken a ton of great photos of the beautiful scenery but what you'll see in this post are a few vineyard pics and then lots of food spots along with a list of where we went and what we did. Whoops? Like our mom says, there's always a reason to go back!

 

Yontville: a small town in Napa Valley that’s adorable and notable for it’s food (four Michelin starred restaurants included). It’s where we first started our weekend trip and where we spent a good amount of time eating.

Redd Wood: this was our first stop. Before you start tasting a bunch of wine, it’s not a bad idea to make sure you have a full tummy first. This spot is by Chef Richard Reddington and it has delicious pizza (we suggest the Sausage and Prosciutto Crudo) and other Italian-based options. It was the perfect lunch.

Ma(i)sonry: wine tasting is the main activity of Napa and places like Ma(i)sonry are ideal for doing it. The pretty stone building (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) has a sun-washed patio and garden situation that features a collection of contemporary sculpture pieces…doubling as a tasting spot and art gallery. We had a great guide walk us through the wine flight offerings available before making suggestions on what we might like to try. As girls who enjoy wine but don’t know much about it, it’s always nice to have someone who can explain the grape varieties and wine varietals. Our favorite of the tasting was the Arriviste Rosé from Blackbird Vineyards – one of the vintner and winemakers currently being showcased by the tasting house.

Peju Vineyard: “It’s so good, once it hits your lips, it’s so good.” Old School jokes aside, once our group had finished our wine flights we thought it would be fun to drive past some of the beautiful vineyards on St. Helena Highway. We ended up stopping at Peju because we had heard great things about their wine and figured it would be a good idea to split a bottle of wine while enjoying the surrounding rows of vines (basically, we wanted to keep our wine momentum going – hence the movie quote). We’ll be honest, the estate is beautiful but the atmosphere is very corporate and there were tons of people either doing the tastings, bustling around the area where you can buy wines, or crowding the grasses surrounding the manor with wine and plastic cups in hand. After getting a bottle of rosé we snuck into a secluded picnic spot by the vineyard rows and got to quietly enjoy the setting. We all fell in love with the massive sunflowers and had a great time exploring for a bit.

Westin Verasa: having made our plans to go to Napa in the 11th hour (re: Friday afternoon) we were so happy to have found rooms at the Westin Verasa for a Saturday night stay. Though a bit further from the Yontville area, the hotel is so nice and proved to be the perfect spot for our group. Since we had some time to kill before dinner we got to spend time by the hotel’s pool and in the hot tub…it was the best way to relax after a day of wine sipping. We should also note that the rooms are great and we all slept like babies.

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch: we were all starving for dinner and Farmstead did not disappoint. The restaurant is a full-circle experience of what Long Meadow Ranch has to offer: Estate grown wines, organic produce, grass-fed beef and lamb, extra virgin olive oil, honey and more. The farm-to-table menu offered delicious and thoughtful options and even though we were all stuffed from our entrees (and cheddar biscuits, and mac and cheese) none of us said “no” to splitting chocolate pie and beignets with caramel sauce for dessert. We basically rolled ourselves out of the restaurant at the end of the night.

 

Ad Hoc: because our bodies woke up hungry (doesn’t that always happen after you eat a big meal the night before?) we felt extra lucky that we had reservations for Sunday brunch at Ad Hoc. If you haven’t heard of Thomas Keller, be prepared to hear his name a lot when you are in Napa – he is a Michelin starred chef responsible for some of the best food Napa has to offer. Ad Hoc is just one of four Keller spots in Yontville and our group was very (very, very) excited to taste the family-style comfort food it’s known for. Each day the restaurant changes and sets the menu…our brunch had three glorious courses. It started with a fresh salad, led to chicken-fried steak with a side of chocolate chip pancakes, and ended with mini stone fruit pies. We can’t even really describe how incredible this food was. Our mouths are still watering and we may or many not have Ad Hoc at Home cookbooks in our future.

Bouchon Bakery: another Thomas Keller institution, Bouchon Bakery was opened after its bistro counterpart in the style of classic French boulangeries. It’s a very tiny retail spot but the assortment of breads and pretty sweet treats is worth seeing. And everything that the bakery makes is most definitely worth eating. We left with three of their large macaroons: vanilla, pistachio, and salted carmel. Melt in yo’ mouth good. If you’ve read about our obsession with the gluten-free flour substitute Cup 4 Cup, you’ll be interested to know that it was conceived and produced by Keller and one of his chefs at the French Laundry, Lena Kwak. Would love to try it with some of the recipes in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook!

The French Laundry: before you get excited, we should note early on that we did not eat here…we only walked by it and may or may not have peeked in some of the kitchen windows. The French Laundry is Thomas Keller’s most notable and awarded restaurant – it has received the highest rating of three stars for the sixth year in a row from the Michelin Guide San Francisco and makes Thomas Keller the only American-born chef to have two three-starred Michelin restaurants. Even if you’re not a foodie, you’ve got to bow your head in respect to that kind of culinary accomplishment. Someday we hope to taste the legendary French cuisine of Thomas Keller…till then, we are happy just to stroll by and take in the charming facade of The French Laundry.

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Sunset Crusin’ with Motorboatin’ 30a

June 29, 2015

Friday was our last night in 30A. Usually we spend our final evening at the beach pouting and packing, sometimes strategizing ways to stay longer. But this last night we spent it with Matt and Michaelanne of Motorboatin' 30a - taking in the most amazing sunset on the pontoon boat. We used to think, "If you've seen one sunset, you've seen them all," but now we are completely eating our words. In our defense we will say that sometimes it is hard to realize and appreciate the full beauty of something that occurs everyday...but no sunset is every exactly the same, and the ones along the beach (especially on 30A) are something to marvel at.

Michaelanne and Matt knew from the beginning stages of creating their business that they wanted to offer a sunset cruise trip. Both of them love happy hour (people after our own hearts!) and once they got started the evening trips captained by Matt around Lake Powell were easily the most popular trips on their pontoon. After experiencing it for ourselves it's not hard to understand what makes the golden hours on the boat so special.

 

 

The two of us came prepared – we stopped by Cowgirl Kitchen’s Feed & Supply store in Rosemary Beach to grab local Grayton Beer, wine, and some of our favorite sweet and savory treats (the spinach artichoke dip and cheese salsa are unreal). Matt had a cooler of ice ready for us on the boat so once we met up with him and Michaelanne there was nothing left to do but sit back and relax while enjoying our provisions.

Experiencing Lake Powell in the evening versus when we were first on it for our morning pontoon paddle board trip is totally different. It’s still very quite and secluded but everything is so bright and golden the hour before the sun starts to go down. Matt took us along the surrounding golf courses that hug the lake while we tried to spot alligators (no success) before taking us right up to the sand dunes that separate the lake from the gulf water. Being the best captain that he is, he jumped out of the boat to pull the pontoon the last leg up to the sand (the water gets too shallow for the motor to run).

To say that we nerded out over the sunset is an understatement. Both of us alternated between staring, snapping pictures on the camera and iPhones, whispering “this is so beautiful,” and thanking Matt and Michaelanne for introducing us to the unreal view. This was not our first 30A sunset, but it was the first 30A sunset we really (really, really) took the time to take in. The combination of: watching the orange sun sink into our favorite white sand, jumping out to put our feet in the dunes and wave goodbye to the beach, followed by riding back to the dock with a pink/orange/blue sky with streaks of clouds made for the most perfect way to end our already amazing trip.

Both of us feel like we started a new tradition…we already know that once we set the dates for our next visit to 30A that we’ll be ringing up our friends at Motorboatin’ 30a to book the sunset cruise for the last night of the trip. Of course, we don’t think our experiences on the Coastal Dune Lakes would have been much to speak of had Michaelanne and Matt not been involved. They are truly the most loving and fun couple – the kind of magnetic people that you just want to be around – and we feel so lucky that we can now call them friends.

We are slightly sad that it’s Monday and that we had to leave the bliss of the beach, but we felt like we needed to end this post with Matt’s dad’s toast (the one on the back of all the Motorboatin’ 30a koozies): To good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are relationships forever may they be. Thank you again for the making our trip so memorable, M + M!!!!

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