From Farmhouse to Ferryboat: MacKenzie-Childs’ Don’t Settle for Boring
Calling it “rustic” would be too kind. Perhaps dilapidated or tear-down would be a better description for the upstate New York farmhouse artists Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs purchased in 1980 and brought back to life. It is now for sale for $1.1 million.
The circa 1790 Aurora, NY home had been abandoned for 30 years. The only sign of care-taking were the boarded-up broken windows. Undaunted, the struggling ceramic artists who turned their fanciful sensibilities into a multi-million dollar enterprise through their MacKenzie-Childs line knew what they were looking at — even if no one else, including the previous owners, could see it.
How we would describe livable may be different from someone else,” said Richard. “Every window was broken. Electricity was minimal; I think we had a single light bulb.”
Even more rustic was the heating source, or lack of one. For six years, the MacKenzie-Childs’ didn’t have central heating, but instead, used the home’s original fireplace.
“We were busy doing other things,” Richards explained. “We were hardy enough so it didn’t bother us. We thought if people had survived 200 years without heat, we could.”
Being busy doing other things meant restoring the farmhouse and transforming the 42-acre estate into a wondrous, whimsical place. It was also from here when they started their hugely successful MacKenzie-Childs home decor line, which turned into such a success they opened stores on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Madison Avenue in New York.
“We built everything,” said Richard. “That’s what ended up propelling us into our business.”
Even though the couple no longer own MacKenzie-Childs (they faced bankruptcy and sold the company in 2001 for $15.3 million to Pleasant T. Rowland, founder of American Girl), the line of playful wares — ceramics, furniture, art and jewelry — are still hot items in high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Fans include the hard-to-impress set, including Barbra Streisand, Joe Montana, Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, Geena Davis and former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
Secret Passageways, Poems on Hallway Walls
The MacKenzie-Childs’ fanciful and colorful style is reflected throughout their unique farmhouse. From hand-painted tiles throughout several rooms, secret passageways leading to bedrooms, a handwritten poem that wraps around an upper hallway, and a “toilet seat that includes an intricate painting of the reverse of room,” the property is one-of-a-kind, says listing agent Mike Franklin of Sotheby’s.
“The house is a museum of MacKenzie-Childs artifacts,” said Franklin.
In addition to the captivating farmhouse, the MacKenzie-Childs estate includes a carriage house with additional living quarters, an artist’s studio, office and retail gift shop all on 43 acres bordered by the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, all adding up to a total of 7 bedrooms and 4 baths. The surrounding grounds are part of the property’s allure: Recycled ballast stones pave the driveway and courtyards, twisted vine canopies and colorful gardens surround the buildings.
Next Stop: Ferryboat
While the MacKenzie-Childs’ love the farmhouse, they’ve moved downstate and are ready to find a buyer who will “fall in love with the home the way we did,” said Richard.
The pair are currently living in an Ellis Island ferryboat docked in Hoboken, NJ.
Wait, a ferryboat? In Hoboken?
Turns out that the New York City apartment they tried to inhabit after selling their company could not contain them — or their imaginations as they worked on their new line, Victoria and Richard Emprise.
“We weren’t very good at apartment dwelling and needed more space,” Richard said.
Victoria was the first to hear about the historically significant ferryboat and the couple was naturally pulled to the challenge. Previously called the Machigonne, the circa-1907 ferryboat (below) — now called the Yankee — was first used in World War I to carry supplies. In the 1920s, the boat shuttled new immigrants from Ellis Island to Manhattan. In 1990, the once-abandoned boat was purchased by an individual who began the process of converting it into a home. The Mackenzie-Childs purchased the ferry in 2007 and continued the restoration, adding their usual fanciful touches as well.
Turns out the boat is being used as a little bait for prospective buyers of the couple’s farmhouse. Whoever buys the MacKenzie-Childs estate can tour the ferryboat, a home that real estate agent Franklin says is as wild as the farmhouse. And if that’s not enough, the couple is throwing in dinner on the boat with them.