How to Follow Your Passion: Kristen Hard & Cacao

Following your dreams and making your passion your profession. It’s something we strive for throughout our lives. For some people, following their passion comes effortlessly and early on. Others may not realize what their passion even is until later in life, and then they work for it tirelessly.

Kristen Hard

For Kristen Hard, the founder of and artisan behind Cacao, she knew early on her passion was in the confectionery arts – specifically chocolate. But, following her passion came as no easy task.

Kristen learned to cook early on, as a little girl, her mom allowed her to get very creative and almost everything she made involved sugar. Because Kristen’s mom didn’t allow sweets in the house – there were eight children total – she had to make her own.


Her dream was always to open a cafe, but as she honed her skills and refined her passion, her dream of becoming a chocolatier blossomed. Kristen quickly learned there was much more to the world of crafting fine chocolates than pouring molten cocoa into molds. There was a whole world of cacao plant genetics and technology to learn about, and she knew if she wanted to become one of the world’s finest chocolatiers, she had to know her raw product inside and out.


To create the world’s best chocolates, Kristen knew you had to have the best possible quality cacao bean, which comes from the perfect plant, grown in an ideal setting over time. Because cacao is considered a high-end, luxury commodity, sourcing the best product can be extremely difficult – Kristen likens it to diamonds. And, based on her somewhat scary and extreme, off-the-grid travel challenges she’s faced sourcing and now growing the ideal cacao plant, we have no room to argue. Kristen navigates the globe working with scientists, geneticists and farmers who all share her goal of creating the finest chocolate possible.


For Kristen, her chocolate is her art and she believes in working with the best possible medium to create a successful end product. And she’s creating quite a name for herself – she’s the first female chocolatier in the US to work from the cacao bean to produce her goods. And she’s proud of her grass-roots beginnings, she’s a self-taught strong female, who’s also a single mother to a four year old daughter. And Kristen says she’s never going to stop perusing her passion and working tirelessly to shape and improve the industry she’s chosen to work in.


Kristen’s hands on approach to the art of chocolate has garnered her many accolades thus far and she’s looking at greater success in the near future. Cacao currently boasts four brick and mortar boutique locations in the Atlanta area, as well as international sales that are showing exponential growth, especially in Japan where Kristen says the people have a true appreciation for her purpose – they understand perfection and want only the best.


In addition, Kristen will be publishing a cookbook this spring, which will be the first book that follows chocolate from it’s original, cacao seed form to finished product and showing home chefs that creating the highest quality chocolate is possible, right under their own roofs.


Kristen has created a triptych of chocolate levels under the Cacao umbrella – these include Twigg & Co., probably the closest to what we know of fine chocolate, Cacao Platinum and then Black Label, the finest quality chocolate Kristen can create. By offering chocolate in this way, Kristen feels she can best showcase the journey of fine chocolates and work to redefine what we think of as quality chocolate – her line is a prototype of what she believes the cacao industry should offer… Systematized, verified, certified, while being in control of the technology and science behind growing a top quality raw product.


Thank you to our new friend Kristen, and artisan chocolatier, for inviting us to her cafe in Atlanta’s Highland neighborhood and for sharing her passion – and even a few chocolates! – with us. She’s a truly inspiring artist and we believe there are a few key takeaways here for any of us who are ever evolving and working to follow our passion:

  • It’s never to late (or early) to pursue your passion!
  • Educate yourself and learn your chosen industry/medium from the ground up, inside and out.img_8014
  • Experiment and make mistakes… Kristen holds vanilla tastings, dessert trials, and more with her staff (you could put your friends and family to the test if you don’t yet have your own professional crew) to ensure they’re using the best possible ingredients and crafting her chocolates and other sweet offerings to the best of their ability. They even dye their own sprinkles, which comes with plenty of trial and error!
  • Never stop. Kristen’s fighting personality and passion for bettering her industry as a whole is what most stood out to us during our visit. Become your own industry champion and support will follow.


If you’re local here to the Atlanta area, find a Cacao location and stop by – you’ll be in heaven if you appreciate any type of sweet. And if you’re not local, check out Kristen’s online Cacao offerings. We can’t wait to hear what you think.

And remember to always follow your passion!!

Sneak Peek of the steve mckenzie’s Space at the Magnolia Designer Showhome…

As you may have noticed, we’ve been up to our elbows in designer showhomes – and loving it! They’re such fun ways for our team to flex those designer muscles, work with some of our favorite brands and taking an opportunity to enjoy our industry friends while designing in the same home.


The Magnolia Designer Showhome, located in lovely Cartersville, GA, is a really special project because it benefits Advocates for Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. Advocates for Children strives to create a world where all children are respected, loved, happy, and thriving. Their goal is to bring hope and comfort to over 3,000 children and families every year in Bartow County and the surrounding North Georgia areas.


Now, the showhome doesn’t open until October 19th, but we’ve been working for some time to create an amazing space on the private terrace, off of the master bedroom. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to design an outdoor space since our showroom has been able to carry some truly fabulous outdoor furnishing brands – including Selamat and Kannoa, both of which are put to use on this terrace! Here are a few sneak peeks into our design of our Magnolia Showhome space…


Delivery day! Here, you can get an idea of our blank canvas. It’s really quite large, and one of our biggest challenges is creating a space that feels both intimate – after all, it is located right off the master suite – while providing a great use of space.


Our goal on the terrace is to create an intimate entertaining space with multiple seating areas. A cozy corner will be the ideal space for a couple to curl up, but it will easily transition to a place to host a generously sized soiree. Outdoor area rugs from Jaipur and a custom rug by Delos, based off one of Steve’s paintings, help to achieve this goal.


The overall feel for our Magnolia Showhome terrace is to offer an updated traditional style for this historic home, which will be warm and welcoming, and will allow the homeowners to use it in many different ways.


Our design will be on showcase with a slew of other amazing interior designers, including our friends Beverly Baribault Group, Peace Design, Michel Smith Boyd, Joann Kandrac and Kelly Kole of Kandrac and Kole InteriorsYvonne McFadden and so many more!

Magnolia Showhome - Cartersville, GA
Magnolia Showhome – Cartersville, GA

We hope you’ll plan a trip to visit this beautiful home and support such a worthy cause – plus, we can’t wait for you to experience the Master Terrace of the Magnolia Showhome by the McKenzie Design team!!

5 Tips on Becoming the Perfect Photoshoot Team Player…

You may recall how McKenzie Design was recently featured on the cover of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME… But, what you may not know is all of the work behind the scenes to make the photoshoot of this design such a success.


It takes a team of people planning, prepping and executing the plan for a fantastic photoshoot – and, in turn, a wonderful feature – and we were so lucky to have been on a team with photographers, Anthony-Masterson, and Editor-in-Chief, Betsy Riley.

Working as a team on a photoshoot is a necessity – it’s a collaborative project and everyone involved needs to come together to create a unified vision and provide the best editorial possible for the reader. To do this, the editor will keep their reader in mind and work to craft the message they want to share, specifically for them. The photographer knows what will translate well from a photography standpoint. And, finally, the designer knows what they worked to achieve for their client. It’s all about trusting the other parties and bringing these three visions together.

On shoot with Anthony Masterson and Atlanta Magazine's HOME.
On shoot with Anthony Masterson and Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

Thanks to Steve’s many years working as Creative Director and then CEO of Berkshire Hathaway company, Larson-Juhl, he’s got a great deal of experience under his belt, both in working on various photoshoots and directly with the media. Needless to say, he was a wealth of expertise when it came to prepping for our big photoshoot for Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.

Because of Steve’s and Anthony-Masterson’s shared histories shooting spaces for publication, we thought we could share some top tips, with our design industry friends, on being an awesome player on any photoshoot team – all in hopes your project makes it to print! Here’s what we have to offer…


  1. Be prepared. For anything. This may sound a bit vague, but anything can happen on a photoshoot. You’ll arrive on site with a plan – or at least an idea – of what will happen throughout the shoot and inevitably things change. Prep your photoshoot site as best you can and ensure it’s in tip top shape for when the editor and photographer arrive. 02-master-amp_0043
  2. Consider your design from all different angles. You may have created a design with a specific functionality in mind. But, when you’re in the midst of a photoshoot, things change. Furnishings may be readjusted so they’re captured in the best lighting. Even if you don’t think a corner of a room will be photographed, be sure it’s designed and photo-ready, just in case. 10-dining-amp_0138
  3. Bring extra accessories. Repeat after us – you can never have too many accessories. We love a great vignette shot. Secret to those amazing shots? Perfectly selected and positioned accessories. Bring additional accessories for each space being photographed. Perhaps the editor will want to try a different selection of pillows on a setee or make it appear as if a cocktail party is in progress on the bar. You’ll need to think ahead and have your stock of accessories to pull out should the need arise.05-living-amp_0090
  4. Stay out of the way. This is a tough one. The spaces being photographed have been your baby and it’ll be difficult to give up control. But, you must trust in the photographer and editor to capture and highlight those
    spaces in the best possible light. That’s their job, and with you supporting from the sidelines, it’ll be a success. 08-dining-amp_0126
  5. Offer advice. This may seem contradictory to tip #4, but when called upon, you’ll need to provide guidance, share inspiration and suggest solutions if any issues arise. It’s a difficult balance, but once you’ve been through a shoot or two, you’ll become a pro!


*Bonus tip from Steve and Jill – Keep your favorite shops and accessory/textile destinations on speed dial during the shoot. You never know when the perfect item may just be down the road! Lucky for Steve, he was on shoot and Jill was back at the showroom… Blue hued pillows for the kitchen banquette were needed. So, she gathered up all they had and they were brought to the home where the photoshoot was in progress. A selection was made and the kitchen shot was a winner!

Steve's bedroom design made the cover!
Steve’s bedroom design made the cover!

So, there you have it. Our advice on becoming a photoshoot savant and a little behind the scenes of our photoshoot with Atlanta Magazine’s HOME. It was such a fun experience and now we’re ready to tackle the next shoot – and whatever it may bring!

Keep an eye out for a feature post here, on the blog for steve mckenzie’s, where Steve will share more about the clients and the space he designed for them.

A Sneak Peek at steve mckenzie’s 2016 Serenbe Showhouse Space

Once again, it’s almost time for the unveiling of the annual Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Serenbe Designer Showhouse – and this time, steve mckenzie’s is showcasing a signature space all our own!

You may remember, we’ve worked with other designers in past Serenbe showhouses, and even designed two Serenbe artist cottages, alongside our friend, Kerry Howard. Suffice it to say, we’re Serenbe fans!


We are thrilled to design the Entrance Hall to the fabulous Penthouse of a one-of-a-kind textile loft, which is this year’s Designer Showhouse! Knowing our space will offer visitors a first glimpse into the amazing designs of fourteen other designers is absolutely wonderful, certainly humbling and slightly scary. But, we’re up for any challenge!


Above is a shot of our blank canvas when installation was first beginning. A stunning light fixture by Currey and Company is hidden beneath a bit of protective wrapping, but will be revealed tomorrow – on opening day!


Another sneak peek into the luxurious life of an interior designer… Packing, securing and transferring furniture, artwork and more to the penthouse for installation.


We cannot wait for the first guests to arrive and be greeted with this brilliant wallpaper design by Mitchell Black. It’s dramatic, luxe and oh so sophisticated.

As we mentioned above, the house officially opens tomorrow, September, 9th and is open through Sunday, October 2nd. All proceeds from the designer showhouse will directly benefit the Art Farm at Serenbe, a cause we believe is so worthy. Buy your tickets here – you won’t be disappointed with a visit to this outstanding showhome!

Check out this link for a rundown of all the 2016 Serenbe Showhome designers. We’re so grateful to be in such brilliant company!

Labor Day Greetings from steve mckenzie’s!

Here’s to Labor Day – a day we hope you’re able to celebrate and relax with family and friends!

labor day

steve mckenzie’s is closed for the holiday, but will reopen with regular hours tomorrow, on Tuesday, September 6th. See you soon; and until then, remember to be safe on this busy holiday!!

WIN $200 to spend at steve mckenzie’s!

Thank you to Kevin O’Gara of Thou Swell for hosting a fantastic giveaway on his blog, where on reader will win a $200 gift card to steve mckenzie’s!!



Local folks can visit our showroom to pick out what to spend their gift card on, or the winner can elect to spend their winnings on anything in our online shop. And there’s so much fun stuff to choose from right now!


So, hop on over to Thou Swell and enter for a chance to win! We can’t wait to learn who the lucky recipient of the $200 gift card is…

And thank you to Kevin and Thou Swell for hosting the giveaway – we appreciate your support!