Back in 2004, we visited the beautiful world of MacKenzie-Childs located along Route 90 overlooking stunning Cayuga Lake. At that time, Pleasant Rowland (founder of American Girl) owned the specialty pottery, furniture and home decor company started by Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs during the early 1980s in the basement of the town's Fargo Bar & Grill. In 2008, she sold it to the current owner, Twin Lakes Capital.
Hearing there was an updated visitors' center and bigger shop, a return visit was in order. I called my cousin Kim and made a date for a new adventure.
Here's what we experienced – with some added stops. Go for a day or a weekend, you'll find plenty to do.
Once a 19th-century dairy farm, the MacKenzie-Childs property materializes dreamlike as you head up its long brick drive. To the right is the Victorian farmhouse. To the left are giant barns where items are created and artisans work. An idyllic setting for sure.
Grand hostas surround the courtyard of the visitors' center. Set thoughtfully around for relaxing are the newest additions to MacKenzie-Childs' line – darling outdoor furniture. It's just a taste of what's to come.
Then you go inside.
The MacKenzie-Childs style is almost indescribable. Whimsical. Colorful. Fun. Sophisticated. Classic. Daring. They all come into play in the pottery, glassware, furniture and home decor produced by the skilled artisans.
Color explodes from each piece. Stripes, squiggles, polka dots, plaids, flowers, animals and the signature MacKenzie-Childs "courtly check" pattern are mixed and matched to create the distinctive style. Even the more subtle pieces maintain the signature combinations. As my cousin said, "It's nothing you would ever do yourself," but somehow it comes together beautifully. (It's also easy to see folks loving it, or not.)
Most pieces are handmade or have a handmade element to them. The pastoral setting of MacKenzie-Childs – grass, hills, trees, water, flower and fauna of the Finger Lakes – provide design inspiration. You truly have to see it for yourself.
The items aren't cheap. Furniture can go into the thousands, but don't let that deter you from visiting. It's fun to look, and perhaps invest in something if it really strikes a chord. Some of the pottery cookware isn't any more expensive than items at nice housewares stores like Williams Sonoma – and it certainly has character!
We ogled everything. Vases, plates, glassware, table décor, furniture, canisters, tiles, bathroom sinks, chandeliers, enamelware, dog dishes … it went on and on.
MacKenzie-Childs has partnered with select companies to include accessories it does not make, like the darling, courtly check-patterned Hunter "wellies" we saw and a stunning dining chandelier made from recycled spoons.
In a side room, we perched upon puffy MacKenzie-Childs bench seats to watch a DVD about how the pottery and furniture are created and decorated.
It's amazing what goes into each piece (which explains the prices). Some pottery has the stamps of the artisans who worked on a single element, for instance one to make it, one to apply the color and another to add a floral design.
Also in the room is a dollhouse decorated with teeny tiny MacKenzie-Childs samples once used for sales. (We were told that didn't last long!)
But how could a person decorate a real house with MacKenzie-Childs? Oh, you'll see on the free farmhouse tour! Fully decorated, it showcases items and is used for catalog photo shoots. For us it was like entering an adult dream house.
A guide takes guests through the home, pointing out distinct items throughout. The legs on a table, the tiles, the lamps, the pottery bouquet of flowers on the back of a chair, all have a story. From living room furniture and kitchen tiles to a manly checked bedroom and armoire turned wet-bar, MacKenzie-Childs style oozes everywhere without being overdone. You'll leave convinced your dining room needs to be done in hot pink and your bathroom a "courtly check" motif.
Be sure to walk the absolutely spectacular gardens and ponds. We fell in love with the green and white shade garden of hostas, white bleeding hearts and ferns cascading below the pond runoff. And there are animals (geese and goats that we saw) living in lovely outbuildings. My cousin noted she would live in the goose house in a heartbeat.
MacKenzie-Childs is open daily during the summer from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free farmhouse tours take place at 10 and 11 a.m., then at 1, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. MacKenzie-Childs is along Route 90 just before the village of Aurora. www.mackenzie-childs.com.
> Village of Aurora
The village itself offers plenty to see, do and eat on your trip to MacKenzie-Childs.
* Aurora Inn, 391 Main St.: The historic Aurora Inn (innsofaurora.com) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and employs a farm-to-table philosophy, using ingredients from nearby farms and serving Finger Lakes wines. On nice days, the veranda is second to none. After touring MacKenzie-Childs, this place completes a lovely day. We are still dreaming about the Pale Ale Fondue (Ithaca Pale Ale and local Schuyler cheese) and homemade pretzel bites.
* Fargo Bar & Grill, 384 Main St., daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Casual dining fare prepared by Aurora Inn's chefs. Visit the Aurora Inn website to see the menu.
* Dorie's Bakehouse & Café, 283 Main St., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday: Soups, sandwiches, salads, baked goods and ice cream from the Aurora Inn's chefs. Items available for take out.
* Village Market, 385 Main St., opens at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends): A funky grocery store with to-go meals prepared by Aurora Inn's chefs, along with other gourmet items.
* MacKenzie-Childs Village Outpost, 380 Main St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday: If you love Christmas and MacKenzie-Childs, this is where you'll find holiday décor.
* Aurora Arts & Design Center, 371 Main St., noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday (auroraartsanddesigncenter.com): Shop for unique items created by Finger Lakes artisans with a few antiques mixed in.
* Bet the Farm Winery, 381 Main St., daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (www.betthefarmny.com): award-winning Finger Lakes wines, artisanal foods and gifts.
* Jane Morgan's Little House, 378 Main St., open daily at 10 a.m., Sundays at noon (janemorganslittlehouse.com). Fine women's clothing that will make you drool.
> Outside of town
* Pumpkin Hill Bistro & Country Store, 2051 State Route 90 (just south of Aurora), 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (www.pumpkinhillbistro.com): This darling bistro in an old farmhouse has a fantastic porch. Calling it gourmet "farm fare," the restaurant focuses on comfort foods made with Finger Lakes ingredients.
* Long Point Winery, Lake Road off Route 90 (follow the wine trail signs), open daily at 10 a.m. (www.longpointwinery.com): Taste wines and enjoy the view of Cayuga Lake. Bring a picnic from one of the inn's restaurants to enjoy under the tent.
* Long Point State Park, Lake Road off Route 90: Another place to picnic either with take-out or bring your own from home. The park has grills and sit right on Cayuga Lake. Snag a bottle of wine from Long Point Winery (or a case of Genesee heritage beers we saw at the Village Market) and you are good to go.
> If you go
Aurora is an easy and scenic ride. It's about 2ř hours from Buffalo. Take the Thruway to Exit 41, Route 414S to Route 318E, then on Route 5/2 0 to Route 90 down the east side of Cayuga Lake.The Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway (which includes Route 90) was just named by Yahoo! Travel as one of the "Top Ten All-American Drives," alongside other more famous highways like U.S. 1 in California.