Ellen’s Design Challenge: Meet McKenzie

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy McKenzie Gibson)

Name: McKenzie Gibson
City: Providence, RI

Style: My style is signified by both process and product.

(Image credit: Courtesy McKenzie Gibson)

Carpenter paired with: Brooks Utley

When did you realize you had potential in furniture design?

While completing my BA in Drawing, I grew into sculpture as a medium. I found it to be a much more effective representation of my ideas. After about two years’ worth of work, I realized that I was blending genres – between fine art and design, specifically furniture. I’d always been interested in furniture, architecture, and design, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I realized my own potential as a furniture designer through this process. Once I realized this, it was as if the blinders had been put on; I have focused on furniture design almost exclusively since then. However, I do retain the goal of blending design and contemporary art; I don’t accept the notion that the two should be mutually exclusive.

What are your design strengths?

I’ve yet to limit myself to traditional aesthetics or standards. Most of my work emerges from experimentation with different materials. I used 300 meters of sisal rope to build a lounge chair installation. I pioneered a metal braiding technique and incorporated the result to be the load-bearing center of a coffee table. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with melting acrylic at different temperatures. My own curiosity to reimagine material otherwise not used in furniture design is, I believe, a strength that comes from not being bound to tradition.

(Image credit: Courtesy McKenzie Gibson)

What are your design weaknesses?

The experimentation process itself – while noted as a strength – has a dark side to it as well. From time to time, I may spend a disproportionately longer time experimenting than making. I have a tendency to fall down rabbit holes of testing and logging results, rinse, repeat. One piece could represent fifty hours of craftsmanship but over one hundred of experimentation.

How did you end up auditioning for Ellen’s Design Challenge?

I had watched every episode of Season One and thoroughly enjoyed it. The show has a great heart and really showcases the work more than some false conflict. My husband and I joked that maybe one day I could audition for the show, yet neither of us had expected me to do so. However, late last spring, I thought to check online to see what the status was for applicants for Season Two. Serendipitously, it was the final day to apply. I emailed the generic email address and included a link to my website just hoping I would get a reply. I figured it was worth a shot, right?

Well, about an hour later, I received a call from one of the producers, asking me to put together a more comprehensive portfolio and send it over by the next day. It was a whirlwind of emotion; I didn’t expect to get a call at all – much less so quickly. Needless to say, I put everything else on the backburner and focused on that portfolio for the rest of the day.

(Image credit: Courtesy McKenzie Gibson)

Which challenge from last season would you have loved to compete in? Which one would you pass on?

The salvage yard challenge would have been my favorite. I get inspiration from playing with materials and I would have rocked that challenge!

The one challenge I would pass on? Definitely the sofa challenge — upholstery is never a fun one for me.

On a scale of 1 to 5 sweater vests, how amazing is Ellen in person?


Eliminated? Episode 1. Read our exit interview with McKenzie!

Thanks, McKenzie! Watch her compete on Ellen’s Design Challenge, Mondays at 9|8c on HGTV!