Bountiful beds full of flowers and lots of veggies—spring, summer and fall on the farm are a thing of beauty. Responsible for all of this goodness, is Corinne Bowman the estate manager at MacKenzie-Childs. Approachable and equal parts knowledgeable and self-deprecating, no one can make you feel like you can garden more than Corinne.

Her best advice? “You’ve just got to jump in and do it. This wasn’t my college major, but it was my summer job when I was sixteen, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Corinne. “Each year you learn new things and trust me, there will be trial and error, but you’ve got to celebrate the wins too!” Here are her low-key and smart tips to set you up for success this planting season.

Pay attention to your packets. Your seed packet that is. They will tell you so much about what you’re getting ready to plant. Some terms to be on the lookout for?
Direct sow: you’re going to plant your seeds right into the ground.
Transplant: you’ll start seedlings indoors first and then transplant them into the ground, place two seeds in each cell.
Zones: Check what zone you live in, even if you’re an experienced gardener. They could have changed over the years because of the climate variations we’re seeing now.

More isn’t always better. For direct seeds or even seedlings, you’re going to have to choose the strongest plant and get rid of the weaklings. We know, not easy, since you may just be happy to see growth. If you don’t thin out the seedlings though, you run the risk of losing them all!

1, 2, or 3 seeds? How do you know? You’re typically going to want to go with two or three but always check your seed packet because it varies plant to plant.

Prep work makes it happen. By starting with prepped soil you’re setting yourself up for gardening success. Just don’t skip weeding! At Mackenzie-Childs we don’t fertilize our gardens, but we do mix in a mushroom compost at the beginning before planting.

Watch those weeds. Stay on top of your weeds and don’t ever let them go to seed; they’ll multiple quicker than you can say veggies.

Earthworms are a good omen. Know your soil. Is there clay in it? You can tell because it will stick together. Or is your soil a darker, richer color? Earthworms are a great way to tell if the soil is nutrient dense and if it will be ideal for your plants. We bet you’ve never been this excited to see bugs.

Get your hands dirty! Yikes! Who knew too much of a good thing would be bad, in this case too much water. Many times you can’t bring a plant back from overwatering. So instead of just sticking to schedule, check your soil by sticking your finger into it. If it feels moist down deep near the roots, then there is no need to water.

Clever container tips. Don’t forget to provide drainage in your potted plants. Either check that they have a hole in the bottom for water to escape or place small rocks in the bottom of the container to keep the roots from being soaked in water. And while you might love the look of oversized containers, here’s a trick to make them lighter. Place a smaller pot upside down inside of your planter to take up space, then put dirt and your plants on top. That way it doesn’t need to be completely filled with dirt, which can take some muscle to move around.

We hope you’re feeling a little more knowledgeable now. Get out there and get your hands dirty!

Shop the Post: Courtly Check Herb Pots / Courtly Check Enamel Pot / Flower Market Flower Pot-Large /  Flower Market Pot-White / Morning Glory Gardening Tool Set

Do you feel that warmth in the air? Spring is here and with it comes the possibility and renewal that always accompanies a brand new season. In that spirit of change, we’d like to introduce you to our blog: From the Farm.

It’s a peek behind the scenes of our beautiful Aurora campus as well as what’s going on in our kitchens, homes, minds, and hearts each week. We’re excited to talk about food and recipes, different ways to use your favorite MacKenzie-Childs products, entertaining, home decor, gift giving, and gardening. We can’t wait to offer you smart tips along with gorgeous images that you can’t wait to look at too. Then it’s up to you to try them out, and don’t forget to share! Pin, tweet, Facebook or Instagram your favorites.

But really this is all about you! Yes, you! We want to hear your feedback and make sure we’re giving you everything (and more) that you’re looking for. So if you have questions you’d like for us to address, topics you want to see covered, or any suggestions at all, please reach out to us at blog@mackenzie-childs.com and let us know. We can’t wait to hear from you. Check back in next week for our first post. Spoiler alert: It will set you up for gardening success this summer!

And if you want to be the first to know when we publish new posts? Sign up for email updates!

 

Our inspiration for the new Honeycomb Tables came directly from the amazing honeybees at our farm in Aurora. Each table is completely made by hand in the Philippines and then further embellished in our New York studios with three-dimensional brass bees and handmade ceramic feet.

My trip to the Philippines really brought this product to life, especially after seeing the beautiful tabletops being made for us by a small group of artisans in Cebu. The honeycomb pattern on each top is a hand-applied marquetry made from maple, khaya, and black-dyed poplar veneers. And don’t forget the bee! Each top is jeweled with one beautiful bee made from tiny pieces of capiz shell, which is indigenous to this area of the world.

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Honeycomb veneer in maple with marquetry tools.

I watched one of the artisans carefully select a piece of shell no bigger than a ladybug and painstakingly place it into the veneer bee framework, as though putting together an incredibly intricate jigsaw puzzle. The inlay for each bee takes at least an hour to create, as each tiny piece is carefully placed into the pattern.

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Delicate, tiny shell pieces for the bee inlay.

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Upholstered capiz bee sample that production follows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the bee is completed, it’s then carefully laid into the top, and gently polished by hand to reveal the luminescence and soft colors that are natural to the capiz shells.

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Capiz bee inlay before final polishing.

It’s difficult to explain just how much care goes into each and every table. But what strikes me most is all of the wonderful friendships we’ve made here on the other side of the world. I want to celebrate these partnerships, which feel like natural extensions of our own studio in Aurora. The skill and artistry we have discovered here and in other small pockets around the globe have allowed us to do things far beyond our capabilities in Aurora, bringing to life our vision for many new designs. It’s simply amazing to me.

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Artisan applying capiz bee inlay, one tiny piece at a time.

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This process takes such concentration and patience!

 

 

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Our Honeycomb Round Coffee Table with all its embellishments!

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“Paris is always a good idea.” I’ve referenced this quote before but don’t think I’ve ever expressed why I adore this line so much. Oh Sabrina, you took your girlish heartbreak and disappointments and laid them at the feet of the great City of Lights; the charm, the elegance, and the passion for style transformed you. Audrey Hepburn’s brilliant ingenue Sabrina absorbs the essence of this great city and emerges from her chrysalis bright, elegant and so very perfectly stylish. Every time I get to go there, I always hope a little of that magic comes home with me.

 

Good morning Paris!

Good morning Paris!

vintage bead shop in Marche aux puces

Vintage bead shop in Marché aux Puces

antique bookstore in the 1st Arrondissement

Antique bookstore in the 1st Arrondissement

incredible table lamps made from found tabletop and kitchen pieces

Incredible table lamps made from found tabletop and kitchen pieces

Vive la France!

Vive la France!

place de la Madeleine agaisnt a blue sky

Place de la Madeleine against a blue sky

 

Best tea in th world- Mariage Freres

Best tea in the world- Mariage Frères

street sweets!

Street Sweets!

 

antique store in Marche aux puces

Antique store in Marché aux Puces

Place Vendome

Place Vendôme

 adorable shop owner!

Window Shopping

Very favorite restaurant in Paris near 'La Tour Eiffel

Very favorite restaurant in Paris near ‘La Tour Eiffel

Ladurée Macarons- too good to be true!

Ladurée Macarons- too good to be true!

 

 

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A few weeks ago, I was honored to be featured on WGN TV Chicago’s “Lunchbreak” segment! I was in town visiting our new shop inside Bloomingdale’s Medinah Home Store, and was asked to share some of my favorite holiday recipes.

Palmiers with Parsley Pepita Pesto

These light puff-pastry appetizers couldn’t be simpler! They are inspired by a recipe from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Feel free to substitute ingredients for the filling! Prosciutto, honey mustard, and Parmesan are perfect too!

Download a printable recipe card

Download a printable recipe card here

Eton Mess

This DELICIOUS and simple recipe is something I learned from Jamie Oliver’s wonderful cookbook, Cooking with Jamie. This one is a tradition–it’s my family’s go-to dessert, and we are NOT allowed to have Christmas Eve without it!

Download a printable recipe card here

Download a printable recipe card here

Buche de Thanksgiving

Bûche is the French word for “log,” and a Bûche de Noël is is a chocolate cake made to look like a tree log and served as a traditional French Christmas dessert. This is a twist on that using the flavors of Thanksgiving, from Cold Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase.

Download a printable recipe card here

Download a printable recipe card here

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So how did our beloved Courtly Check get its name and what is its origin? Who knows where the spark actually ignited—might it have been Italian black and white marble floors from a Venetian Palace that started it, or ancient handwoven textiles from Africa? Was it inspired by a chess tournament, or Jean Cocteau’s socks? The traditional black and white check certainly has its place in history and seems to resonate in some way with everyone. Over the past thirty years or so, our unique spin on this much-loved pattern has been incorporated into designs for everything from dinnerware to eyeglass frames, and everything in between. One thing is for certain—our Courtly Check has withstood the test of time and become a favorite to an incredibly dedicated following.

As far as I can remember, our checks first appeared as a thin border composed of a few rows in varnished oil color on the bonnet and base of our hand-painted armoire. Visually, it seemed the perfect punctuation mark to top this beautiful piece, but it also served to divide two other ornate patterns.

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Then in 1995, MacKenzie-Childs launched a collection of hand-painted enamelware fondly referred to as Roasted Marshmallow, which featured a new twist on the black and white check. The pattern was part of the Camp MacKenzie-Childs collection, designed for casual outdoor use and glamping, but we soon discovered it was also great layered into our unique point of view on formal place settings. The deliberate but spontaneous use of additional colors dragged through each check made it highly unique and no two pieces were ever alike. The caramel-like amber tones pulled through the creamy white and black checks was reminiscent of the look of marshmallows perfectly toasted over an open fire. A few years later, an editor referred to MacKenzie-Childs as “the court jester of tabletop,” and upon that comment, Roasted Marshmallow was renamed more appropriately as Courtly Check.

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The Courtly Check pattern continued to make small, random appearances on a wide variety of designs including hand-painted glassware, but it was nearly a decade later that the pattern began its steady rise to stardom. Alongside the increasingly popular Courtly Check enamelware, the pattern went into use in a full range of artisanal Aurora-made ceramic dinnerware. And then in 2009, after years of development, we were able to successfully print the pattern on linen. Upon doing so, the Underpinnings Upholstered Furniture Collection was born. It was in this moment that Courtly Check began to take center stage not only as a detail pattern, but as a primary foundation on top of which to layer color and other patterns. It’s our version of a neutral surface, if you will. Using our own printed fabrics has launched an entire new wave of ideas, allowing our checks to appear in unexpected places such as accent pillows, outdoor cushions, notebooks, personal accessories, pet accessories, wallpaper, and so much more.

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Today, Courtly Check is undeniably our signature. We’ve had fun hand-painting tea kettles, walls, bowling shoes, soccer balls, and pumpkins with it. We’ve worn it as trousers, aprons, and coats, and we’ve dressed windows and beds with it. My son has hand-painted Courtly Check high-tops, and my husband walks our dog with a Courtly Check lead (and of course Flanna sports a matching collar). It’s weird to say, but is has woven itself into the fiber of our household, sort of knitting things together. And I never tire of it. Never. In fact, I’ve got my eye on an old tuxedo that I think might just look fabulous in Courtly Check.

Cheers!

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We were beyond excited when we learned that London’s renowned merchants Fortnum & Mason had decided to devote considerable space on their first floor to an installation of MacKenzie-Childs. In case you’ve never been there, the store is quite legendary, and the idea of having our designs in the same shop where the Queen gets her tea made us just unbelievably happy.

The official opening of the pop-up shop happened to coincide with my son Alexei’s spring break, so it provided the perfect opportunity to take him with me to London so he could finally see this fabulous place for himself. I was excited about the trip for so many reasons; it was a chance to return to my favorite city, and for me, a dream come true, to see our products displayed in a store I have always revered as the most beautiful in the world. Best of all, it would be Alexei’s first chance to visit there, and absorb firsthand a bit of its incredible history.

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So about Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly…the Queen actually refers to this treasure as her grocery store. I’m sure that conjures up an interesting image, but let me try and paint a more detailed picture for you. The ground floor is filled with handmade confections that turn treats and sweets from your wildest imagination into three dimensional reality. Glass jarred candies are named things like Toodle Pips, Potted Shrimp, Splendid Sweets, Rosey Apples, Licorice Bits & Bobs, Bouncing Babies, and Teddy Tots. Delicious biscuits line the shelves in tins that boast colorful art from a history of nearly 250 years.

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Sales associates have a wealth of knowledge about every product, and their attention to each and every customer makes you feel like royalty. Everything in the store is perfectly curated and so very special; particularly fabulous are a range of bespoke products they will tailor-make just for you. A special restaurant can be found on each floor, as well as fine china, picnic hampers, special apparel, home furnishings and much more. They have their own beehives on the rooftop, and legend has it that the bees collect their pollen from the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace. We bought a jar of the Queen’s favorite honey and it is D I V I N E.

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What I hadn’t expected from this trip really hit me as a pleasant surprise. Although I talk about it often, and we draw connections to it in many of the pieces we write about our company, the realization that so much of our inspiration really does hale from English traditions came full circle for me. Our founders lived in England for a few years while they worked in a pottery, and when they returned to New York, they brought the technique for ceramics which we still use today. But it’s more than all that. We have a serious connection to English culture, and a deep love for all things English. I confess! I’m an Anglophile! I find people from England so special—and this goes far beyond their lovely musical accents, whether it be Cockney or the Queen’s English. They do things with such flourish and they are such an incredibly sentimental bunch. They have a great sense of humor and they don’t take themselves too seriously. And of course their love of tea and all that goes with it is without rival. Since our very beginnings, we at MacKenzie-Childs have always felt so connected to the English, and we still feel the same way today.

My Londoner friend Martyn (from Battersea, on the south side of the River Thames) shared a tip: Did you know that the English pour their cold milk into their teacups before they pour their tea? Make no mistake—Americans do it the other way around.

Cheers!

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P.S. My dear friend and sales director Mark joined us on the trip and shared some of his great photos. Here are a few highlights:

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The London Eye

Alexei scrapbooking every detail of our trip

Alexei scrapbooking every detail of our trip

A visit to the Peter Pan sculpture in Kensington Gardens

A visit to the Peter Pan sculpture in Kensington Gardens

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Taking a boat ride under Tower Bridge, Union Jack flying!

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The Albert Bridge, London’s most celebrated, over the Thames in West London at night

How does an imaginative, super-talented team of photographers, stylists, graphic designers, and set designers make a great catalog spread come to life? I asked members of the team to describe life behind the scenes on one of our most important photo shoots of the season. This spring, we debut the Rosie Sweet Furniture Collection with Posie Pop bedding for little girls. The photo shoot featuring this fantastic collection was a major undertaking; the results look effortless, but actually took days to complete. The shoot consisted of re-outfitting a bedroom (including laying a new floor), creating clouds from cotton batting, directing a dog (a pale pink poodle at that!), designing the illusion of a bright spring afternoon, and trying to stay toasty in a no-heat situation as the brisk fall season in Upstate New York set in.

Here are a few words from each to describe the shoot…
Beth: “Rose-colored glasses aside, this talented team loves a creative challenge.”
Andrea: “The poodle was definitely the best behaved.”
Walter: “Wait…did you just say you need me to ‘build & shoot a bedroom inside of a bedroom’?!?”
Maria: “I had my head in the clouds that day ;)”
Kim: “Clouds came floating into my life…not to carry rain, but to consume me.”

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Beth meticulously styling Daisy the Cow with my new favorite (pink) book, The Luckiest Girl.

Beth meticulously styling Daisy the Cow with my new favorite (pink) book, The Luckiest Girl.

Walter making adjustments.

Walter making adjustments.

Beth, Maria, Walter, and Kim.

Beth, Maria, Walter, and Kim.

Kim contemplating the finishing touches on the dreamiest bed, complete with fresh bouquets in the vases.

Kim contemplating the finishing touches on the dreamiest bed, complete with fresh bouquets in the vases.

How is the light? Hmmmmm…not sure. Could you move that pillow a scooch to the left, please?

How is the light? Hmmmmm…not sure. Could you move that pillow a scooch to the left, please?

The other side of the room.

The other side of the room.

Beth making clouds.

Beth making clouds.

Andrea working on the set.

Andrea working on the set.

The final shot: Dreaming in pink.

The final shot: Dreaming in pink.

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Last week in our New York City store, we had the wonderful opportunity to host our new friend Joy Wilson while she was in town from New Orleans. The party was to help celebrate the launch of her second cookbook, Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats.

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Is your mouth watering yet? If you haven’t seen her books yet or read her blog, then get ready, because she is turning the food world into a party you won’t want to miss. I read about food all the time—it’s one of my passions—and discovering Joy’s blog about two years ago was a watershed moment. She’s adorable, fascinating, and, I might add, a bit sassy…and her take on food fits the MacKenzie-Childs point of view to a “T.”

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It’s sort of a girl thing…I mean the way Joy talks about food. She is witty and fresh, and she is all about quality and the art of oven-to-table; a perfect fit for MacKenzie-Childs. Joy is a big fan of our Flower Market pattern, so we set the table for 25 editors and friends with Flower Market enamelware, Courtly Check ceramics, fresh flowers, and towers of her scrumptious baked goods.

Bon Appétit!
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Paris in September? Perfect—what could be better! Only, on this recent trip I was laser-focused on our exhibition at Maison & Objet, the most intense home furnishings trade show in the world. It is Paris in miniature, a tempest in a teapot, and the eye candy is overwhelming. Just to attend this show once can be life-altering; yet we were there, exhibiting for our second time. So you see, precious little time was spent wandering the streets, chatting with the street crepe vendor, pawing over the latest fabrics from Pierre Frey and others, or walking leisurely around the fabulous antique markets and small shops throughout the most beautiful city in the world.

Window shopping at 6:00 in the morning; trouble with that is that the shops are all closed!

The trip was short and sweet, and filled with the pressures of working abroad, but as always I savored such moments as these:

  • riding through the streets going to and from working at the show, seeing people just living their lives as though unaware they existed in the true epicenter of the civilized world; the traffic wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, their taillights like a necklace of ruby beads
  • the sparkling Eiffel Tower, a beacon for the city twinkling in the night sky
  • waking up in the early morning in the apartment we leased in the 6th arrondissement; the sounds of bicycle bells and street cleaners coming up from the street below our open windows; the lovely cadences of the French language
  • the flavors of the best breads and pastries in the world
  • the latest street fashions; I never fail to marvel at how fabulous everyone always seems to look
  • the barges on the Seine, a city within the city
  • the great iconic cathedral, like a living character out of Victor Hugo

Like countless before me, I’ve forever succumbed to the charms of this incredible city. I always come home with a new appreciation for the piano music by the French modernists my son is constantly playing.

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Let's just say, Flanna didn't want me to go.

Let’s just say, Flanna didn’t want me to go.

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