High Performance

Estate, garden and yacht furniture handcrafted by Richmond-based McKinnon & Harris is designed to go the distance.

Anne Harris Massie and William McKinnon Massie Jr.

Photos courtesy of McKinnon & Harris

Each piece of the outdoor furniture designed by Richmond-based McKinnon & Harris has a story. Most pieces are named for family members or close friends of siblings Anne Harris Massie and William McKinnon Massie Jr., who founded the high-end estate, garden and yacht furniture manufacturing company in 1991.

The stories stem from the antiques passed down from generation to generation that filled their childhood home in Lynchburg. “Each piece had a story and a name,” says Anne. “Our mother carried everyone’s genealogy in her head. There were so many stories about all of this furniture that it sometimes seemed almost to us, especially as children, as if it could come alive being so attached to all of these ancestors.”

Their parents—passionate gardeners—served as inspiration to start the company. “I’m sure their love for a garden that will outlive you influenced us in creating our enduring furniture,” explains Anne. “They were also ardent collectors of antique furniture, so Will and I put together those two great lovesto do something we totally believed in.”

“When McKinnon & Harris first began,Anne and I were driven by our vision of making pieces we wanted to have ourselves, and thatis what we’re still doing,” says Will. “Every single piece in the collection is something we would like in our own gardens, so I think we may be the ultimate audience. Lucky for us,our clients want the same things we want.”

Today a garden is regarded as an extension of the house, and that often blurs the lines between interior and exterior furniture. 

“There is the expectation, a reasonable one, that you should be as comfortable outdoors as you are inside,” says Will.

The company crafts a variety of furniture that includes dining chairs, club chairs, sofas, sectionals, lounge chairs, ottomans, rocking chairs, benches and chaise lounges as well as palm boxes (planters). All of McKinnon & Harris’ furniture is made from high-performance aluminum, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $25,000 (available to the trade). The company’s international client base is composed of some of the top architects, interior designers, landscape architects and designers in the world. High profile clients include entertainers, politicians and even royalty. (But they’re not telling who.) 

The company’s newest collection, Virginia Bench, has the duo returning to their roots. When they first started the business, they designed benches inspired by the Regency style, popular in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s. “We had fallen under the spell of English garden furniture,” Anne explains. “The benches were just as much sculpture in the garden as they were a place to sit and enjoy the view.”

The new line nods to this antique English garden furniture, but with more “sophisticated design elements like the complex curving crest rail and tapered front legs, things made possible by 21st century craftsmanship,” Anne says.

The siblings are personally involved with every aspect of the furniture they craft, says Anne: “It sets us apart.” Anne, 57, has a master’s degree in art history and Will, 56, has a background in finance. 

Company growth over the past 25 years has been measured and steady, but Anne and Will are determined to maintain that small company ambiance they value. “We don’t place value on growth just for the sake of growing bigger, and we’re definitely not focused on being the largest,” Will explains. 

“Our unofficial motto is, ‘We don’t want to be the biggest, we want to be the best.’”

In the past 10 years, the company has opened three showrooms—in New York, London and Los Angeles—in addition to its Richmond headquarters in Scott’s Addition, and today employs 85 people.

“New York has been our biggest market from the beginning,” says Will, adding that it was their first showroom. 

The company’s London showroom opened five years ago, after Anne and Will began working with English designers. “They wanted to see the furniture firsthand,” Anne says of the designers. “It was important to have a place there.”

All of the furniture seen in the showrooms is made in Richmond to ensure it meets the siblings’ expectations. “We control every part of the process,” Will says.

Customers may be unaware of the complexity that goes into the construction of each piece of furniture thanks to hidden joints, sophisticated welding and intricate design elements: “We have a team of remarkably gifted craftspeople who are absolutely the best in the world at what they do,” Anne says. “A piece of our furniture appears utterly simple, but so much has gone into it to make it that perfect.” A larger piece of furniture, for instance, may take more than 100 hours to craft. Each piece is signed and dated by the craftsman that made it. “Often the best way is the hardest way; to make something superior you cannot take shortcuts,” Anne notes. 

Working in a family business can sometimes cause rifts, but not for Anne and Will. “It’s not difficult to know what is the best for the company when it comes to important decisions, so we are always in agreement,” Will explains. 

The only con to working with your sibling is the amount of time you spend talking with each other about work, Anne adds. “My husband, Alex, and Will’s wife, Alice, are very patient and completely understand that it is very much a true family business.” 

This article originally appeared in our June 2018 issue.

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