Steve McKenzie and his wife, Jill, closed the doors to his eponymous Westside furnishings shop in April. Now, he can focus on what he loves best: creating. A fine artist and interior designer, Steve dove headfirst into his painting and growing design business, while Jill simultaneously stepped into the role of design liaison at Verde Home. Both welcome the flexibility to travel—for family and for inspiration.
“When I’m creating, that’s truly my happy place,” says Steve, who spent 20 years as a designer and then CEO for custom framing manufacturer Larson-Juhl before opening his retail store. “And it’s probably what I’m best at.”
No space proved a better canvas than their own apartment at the top of the late-’60s, Brutalist-chic Plaza Towers, which are celebrating their 50th anniversary. The couple, who sold their big family home in Suwanee after the youngest of their three children left for college, bought the two-bedroom, 25th-floor unit in 2014. The apartment boasted vintage parquet floors and an astounding view of the skyline but was in need of a serious overhaul—and Steve left virtually no surface untouched. Twelve doors were removed, opening the space up to swaths of natural light. To create an efficient but luxe kitchen in the small space, Steve brought in Design Galleria’s Debbie Blumencranz, who specified clever pullouts and hidden storage. “Everything is right at my fingertips and takes up virtually no space,” says Steve.
The pair is known for their love of mixing Southern artisanship, French antiques, midcentury finds, and a diverse array of art, much of which is Steve’s own. His signature looping brushstrokes appear in his walnut ink paintings and on his textiles that appear on pillows, draperies, and more.
“I feel you need a dialogue in a home between old and new,” says Steve. Selections range from whimsical (Gothic windows Steve designed in the kitchen) to pragmatic (a sleeper sofa by American Leather), and pops of tangerine tie it all together. “The juxtaposition of modern with classic is what creates a tension in a room that makes it visually interesting.”
Collecting art is a soulful pursuit for Steve and Jill; the first piece they bought together as a young couple, an antique rose painting, hangs in their closet. Most of their collection is by artists they know personally. “We like to think when we were collecting really avidly that we were making differences in their careers,” says Steve.
The couple loves to host, whether for an intimate dinner party or an impromptu drink. Gatherings here, perched high above Buckhead, have an air of cosmopolitan conviviality with more than a hint of old Atlanta glamour.
The landmark Plaza Towers have attracted designers and design lovers for 50 years
When the Plaza Towers were built on Peachtree Road in the late 1960s, Atlanta had never seen anything like it—certainly not in Buckhead. The hulking gray concrete boxes rose up in striking contrast to the surrounding neighborhood of Neel Reid manor homes and stately Georgians. But design lovers knew right away they were special, and the city got its first taste of luxury high-rise living.
The buildings, which initially opened as an apartment complex, were designed by Ted Levy, the architect behind the luxurious polygonal Park Place across the street. Sophisticated, well-heeled empty nesters found the low-maintenance glamour appealing. Early marketing brochures note the “solid bronze hardware on every door,” the “private service entries,” and “authentic European oversized bathtubs.” The lobby boasted “high-speed computerized elevators” that “arrive in seconds,” “rich hand-rubbed walnut paneling,” and “plush wine velvet wall coverings.” A club area, bedecked in fashionable tulip tables, included billiards, a redwood sauna, and private liquor lockers.
This was the era when Mrs. Robert R. Snodgrass resided on the 25th floor, in the unit that now belongs to Steve and Jill McKenzie. For the decorating, she enlisted renowned designer David Byers III, who consulted on the interiors of the White House and the Georgia Governor’s Mansion. Together, he and Snodgrass covered the apartment in tobacco leaf chintz, and featured, in the room that’s now the McKenzies’ second bedroom, an insistently cheerful paint both Snodgrass and the designer referred to as “headache yellow.” In 1979, Plaza Towers converted to condos, and units nearly sold out in two months. The swanky international restaurant in the lobby, Tango, was a veritable hotspot.
Design historian and author Jennifer Boles, behind the blog The Peak of Chic, moved into Plaza Towers in 2008. “I remember as a little girl in the ’70s and ’80s, riding in my parents’ car up Peachtree, I was always so fascinated by the buildings,” she says. “They were just so glamorous, so cosmopolitan. It’s like living in a New York apartment but in Buckhead.” She’s not the only one who recognizes the appeal: A-list design pros who have called Plaza Towers home include designers Phoebe and Jim Howard, Dotty Travis of Travis & Co., showroom owners Hal Ainsworth and Winton Noah, rug importers Andrea and Jason Moattar, Douglas Self of AmericasMart’s JDouglas showroom, designer Knox Clayton, and designers John Oetgen and John Lineweaver. It’s no wonder the complex has earned the title “the Decorators’ Dormitory.”
Interior design McKenzie Interior Design, mckenzieinteriordesign.com
Kitchen design Debbie Blumencranz, Design Galleria, designgalleria.net
Builder Bires Remodeling, biresremodeling.com
Entry Tile Moda Floors & Interiors, modafloorsandinteriors.com. 18th century Italian console: 14th Street Antiques, 14thstreetantiques.com. Art (from left to right): Randall LaGro, randalllagrostudio.com. T.L. Lange, grandimage.com.
Living room Sofa: American Leather, verdehomeinc.com. Pillows: Fabric by Steve McKenzie, stevemckenzies.com. Drapery fabric: Stratford Hall, stratford-hall.com. Drapery leading edge: Design by Steve McKenzie on Taffard fabric, grizzelandmann.com. Chandelier: Design by Steve McKenzie, fabricated by Grey Furniture, greyfurniture.com. Le Corbusier lounge chair: Design Within Reach, dwr.com. Noguchi coffee table: Design Within Reach. Throw: MOMA, moma.org. Vintage Swedish side table: Bjork Studio, bjorkstudio.com. Lamp: Anna by RabLabs, annanewyork.com. Votive holders: Harmonious Living by Tish Mills, harmoniousliving.net. Art (on wall, from left to right): Steve McKenzie. Don Sahli, sahlistudio.com. Bruce Gherman, brucegherman.com. Randall LaGro. T.L. Lange. Steve Storz, stevestorz.com. Martin Horowitz, martincaryhorowitz.com. Moshe Rosenthalis, eiselefineart.com. Jon Strieby (sculpture on coffee table), jonstrieby.com. Leon Bronstein (sculpture on side table), leonbronstein.com. Aharon Bezalel (large sculpture), aharonbezalel.com.
Dining room Table: Grange, grange.fr. Rattan wingback chairs: Selamat, verdehomeinc.com. Side chairs: SIKA USA, sikadesignusa.com. Wallpaper: Walter Knabe, walterknabe.com. Chandelier: The Urban Electric Company, urbanelectricco.com. Rug: Laura Walker for Verde Home.
Kitchen Codesigned by Steve McKenzie and Debbie Blumencranz of Design Galleria, designgalleria.net. Cabinets: Downsview, downsviewkitchens.com. Cabinet paint: Benjamin Moore “Iron Mountain,” benjaminmoore.com. Hardware and faucet: Cifial, cifialusa.com. Stool: O&G Studio, oandgstudio.com. Espresso maker: Illy, illy.com. Sconce: The Urban Electric Company. Countertop: Caesarstone in London Grey, caesarstoneus.com.
Master bedroom Wallpaper: Jim Thompson “Arun,” jimthompsonfabrics.com. Chandelier: Grey Furniture. Linens: Bellino Fine Linens, bellinofinelinens.com. Throw: Alicia Adams Alpaca, aliciaadamsalpaca.com. Wall paint: Sherwin-Williams “Dovetail,” sherwin-williams.com. Trim paint: Sherwin-Williams “Gauntlet Gray.”
Master bath Tile: Moda Floors & Interiors. Hardware: Cifial. Sconce: Barbara Cosgrove, barbaracosgrovelamps.com.
Second bedroom Upholstery: Manuel Canovas toile, cowtan.com. Headboard: Design by Steve McKenzie, made by Westside Custom Upholstery, westsidecustomupholstery.com. Bedding: Bellino Fine Linens. George Nelson Coconut chair: Design Within Reach. Rug: Verde Home.
Terrace Stools: Emissary through JDouglas, jdouglas.com. Chairs: Kannoa, kannoa.com. Rug: Bunny Williams for Dash & Albert through Codarus, codarus.com.
This article appears in our Winter 2018 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.