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Behind the scenes: Furniture Decoration

Behind the scenes: Furniture Decoration

At MacKenzie-Childs, we delight in the details, and if there’s one place in our company where all the details come together, it’s in our Furniture Decoration department.

This is the spot where the beauty of our Finger Lakes location comes to life, painted as landscapes on tables and chairs. It’s the place where polka dots, stripes, and florals all play nicely, painted in intricate combinations on cabinets and chests. And, of course, it’s where checks become courtly.

Our furniture decorators have a unique combination of creativity and precision. There are a dozen decorators with an average of 10 years of experience with the company. Some have a fine arts degree; others just possess a natural painter’s touch.

Fred Bertram, who trains new painters and has been with MacKenzie-Childs for nearly 22 years, says it takes about six to eight weeks to learn the basic decorating techniques. After that, time and repetition are the keys to perfecting the techniques. “Nothing can train you better than being on the floor and doing this,” Fred says.

There isn’t an assembly line in Furniture Decoration. Unfinished pieces, which are usually wood but can be ceramic, arrive primed, ready to be decorated in water-based paints. Almost every piece is painted one at a time, usually freehand, by a single artist. Each painter is trained in every technique, and there can be several techniques on a single piece. Take our Ridiculous Bench, for example. As its name implies, it’s a bit over the top. Its techniques include hand-painted faux marbling, checks, dots, and application of gold leaf, traditional Scottish tartan and Florentine papers, and floral transfers.

Each piece that Furniture Decoration produces originates as a single prototype from our Design Department. Then, using the designers’ detailed drawings and production notes, a decorator recreates  that piece, making a few tweaks here and there to produce it efficiently and repetitively. When a new piece of furniture is introduced, eight to 10 initial copies are created. After that, production is determined by demand.

Painting times vary by the complexity and size of the piece. Our Courtly Check Moose Head takes the most time, almost two weeks. Made of hard foam and measuring more than five feet wide, it’s covered in our signature color-dragged Courtly Checks and has gold-leafed antlers. The finishing touch is long, lush eyelashes created from feathers. Much quicker to turn around are the wooden feet for an ottoman. Fred says those can be painted in just a few hours.

But whether the job is complex or quick, it always begins as a blank canvas, and that means it’s an opportunity to add layer upon layer of artistry and create the unique works of art that are the hallmark of MacKenzie-Childs.


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