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Floating Ideas

Victoria MacKenzie-Childs has
made a name in interior design

The Madison, Ind., native lives aboard
the 'Yankee' ferry in Brooklyn, N.Y.

(April 2015) – What is your definition of home? According to the old saying, home is where the heart is. To most of us this means a place where we can be ourselves with those we love. Our homes offer us shelter and a place to relax. To the vast majority, the physical idea of home is a structure with a foundation, walls and a roof.
Madison, Ind., native Victoria MacKenzie-Childs has never functioned as member of the vast majority, so it is only natural that her home would not present itself in the traditional form.
MacKenzie-Childs, her husband, Richard, and their many pets reside in New York aboard the last of the Ellis Island ferry boats, the “Yankee.”

Photo provided

Victoria MacKenzie-Childs poses on her bicycle in front of the ferry boat on which she and her husband, Richard, live in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Described as an artist even as a little girl, MacKenzie-Childs has always shown a knack for creating art from found objects. As an art student at Indiana University, she was able to experiment with many different forms of art. Beginning with theater, working through painting, she finally settled on pottery as her main focus of study.
“I was drawn to the functionality of the art,” she recalls. During her study of studio pottery, she met her husband, Richard Childs, also a potter, and together they have embarked on a series of artistic journeys. The couple in 1983 founded the nationally recognized MacKenzie-Childs decor company from their restored estate in the Finger Lakes region of New York. While the company has been sold, it still bears the name of its creators, and their unique style is still recognizable in its products.
The estate was also traded for smaller digs in the city. However, the couple knew they needed space – studio space in which to create and a living environment that would allow them to express themselves and make it their own. What followed was a long search that involved many closed doors, red tape to cut through, and learning that sometimes life has a plan and will get you to your destination somehow.
It is well known that space is a hot commodity in New York City. MacKenzie-Childs adds that she and her husband were not afraid of making needed improvements to a structure, however, even searching for a fixer upper yielded no results. It was at that time that the pair decided to “redefine and listen for what home is.”

Photo provided

Perhaps not surprisingly, the rooms inside the "Yankee" ferry, including this living room, are colorfully decorated.

An in depth discussion of the important qualities of home led the couple to consider living aboard a ferry boat. After all, a ferry would offer the required space for any creative ventures while providing a location for the couple to exercise their hospitality.
More than a year would pass before the Yankee would present herself and become the new platform for the MacKenzie-Childs’ lifestyle. They took possession of the historical vessel in 2001 and eventually moved aboard the vessel, now moored on Gowanus Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y. Considered a work in progress, the 150 -foot-long, triple-decker Yankee is now equipped with 16 bunks, five bedrooms, a lavish dining room and an office at the helm. The entire craft is decorated in the signature MacKenzie-Childs decor and is furnished with interesting and unique antiques.
This is not the first time the ship has undergone a re-model. Constructed by Neafie, Levy & Co. in 1907 at a Philadelphia shipyard, the boat was first called the Machigonne. It was built as transport for wealthy vacationers traveling to the Calendar Islands of Maine. Six years later, the Machigonne was added to the fleet of Boston’s Nahant Steamship Line and used for the passage between Boston and Pines Island.
World Wars I and II saw the boat deprived of its ornamental crystal and mahogany during its service as a patrol boat for the U.S. Navy. Equipped with two one-pounder guns, the boat was used as a lookout as well as transportation for soldiers and supplies. 
Now painted Navy gray from its previous job, the Machigonne was obtained by John E. Moore and used to convey immigrants from Manhattan to Ellis Island. The ferry would experience two more name changes as “Hook Mountain” and “Block Island” before finally being christened the Yankee in 1948.
A registered historical vessel with the National Register of Historical Places, the Yankee seems to have a kinship with her current owners. “At first I thought that she was there to help us,” recalls MacKenzie-Childs, “but now I know we were meant to help her.”

Photo provided

This dining room setting is an example of what guests can expect when they hold their meetings or events on board the "Yankee."

With the help of MacKenzie-Childs and her husband, the ferry is used for private events, photos shoots and a place where members of the corporate world can come and brainstorm.
No stranger to changes, MacKenzie-Childs said she feels that her past experiences have been preparing her for her stewardship of this iconic ferry.
Spending her young childhood in an orchard in California, she moved to Madison with her family at age 12. The family immediately became very involved in 4-H. MacKenzie-Childs remembers raising pigs while her brother would work with short-horned steers. The family also had chickens. The artist also recalls that her mother would teach her, as well as fellow 4-H members, to sew. MacKenzie-Childs recalls practicing for months to perfect her Angel Food Cake for the annual baking competition. “All credit of my domestic life goes to Madison and the 4-H program,” she says.
Another great influence on her life was local artist Lou Knoble, who was her art teacher. She says that Knoble helped her to change her entire approach to school. He inspired her to try harder in all subjects, and as a result, she excelled. “He gave me the courage and the confidence I needed to be more open minded,” she says.
Knoble recalls Mackenzie-Childs with fondness. “She was very talented and creative,” he said.
Knoble said her art was very advanced for her age and that she had the ability to work through artistic obstacles without becoming discouraged.

Photo provided

Victoria MacKenzie-Childs always had an artsy flair, say her high school friends and art teacher Lou Knoble of Madison, Ind.

“She was always smiling and was such a happy person,” recalls school friend, Darleen Connolly. She describes Mackenzie-Childs as being very active in many school activities and clubs, such as serving as the Historian for the Thespian Club and the treasurer for the Pep Club. Connolly recalls how proud she was of her friend when she opened a Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog in 1996 and saw that they were offering an Airstream trailer that had been decorated entirely with items designed by MacKenzie-Childs and her husband. The selling price for the trailer was $195,000.
While the original MacKenzie-Childs company is currently operating under different ownership, fans and collectors of the duo’s art can take heart. MacKenzie-Childs and Richard have embarked on a new business venture called Victoria & Richard Emprise. A visit to the company’s website reveals the current items being offered by the creative couple. All items are collaborative, according to MacKenzie-Childs. The website offers ceramic items that fans of the brand will find familiar, as well as jewelry that comes in specially designed boxes, foot stools, and garden items.

Photo provided

The Yankee Ferry living area is decorated with Victoria MacKenzie-Childs' creations.

All profits from Victoria & Richard Emprise go directly to the Yankee ferry, according to the website. After all, MacKenzie-Childs hails the ferry as her and her husband’s greatest accomplishment. Not only have they given the Yankee a new lease on life, they are preserving an important piece of history.
“I was always being led to this place in my life,” muses MacKenzie-Childs.

• For more photos and information about visiting or working aboard the Yankee ferry, visit: www.yankeeferry.nyc.

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