Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, William McKinnon Massie, Jr., and Anne Harris Massie were immersed in classical beauty. Their parents nurtured family gardens and shepherded Will and Anne to more than 100 nurseries and botanical gardens by the time the siblings were in their early twenties. Indoors, recalls Will, “Our home was filled with family heirlooms—beautiful pieces collected over time.”
Decades later, echoes from this painterly past somehow swayed sister and brother from their designated career paths. Anne was finishing a master’s degree in fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), but didn’t fancy herself a full-time artist. And Will was less than thrilled with his job in banking. So the duo decided to team up and dive head-first into the outdoor-furniture business. “Our parents loved the concept of creating a lasting garden and were also ardent antiques collectors,” explains Anne. “Will and I put those two great loves together to make something beautiful and lasting.”
They founded McKinnon and Harris in 1991, working out of their apartments in Richmond’s Fan District and building, painting and packing every piece themselves. To counter the throwaway mentality associated with low-end lawn furniture, they set out to produce pieces that were handcrafted, timeless and enduring. Early products were inspired by English archetypes, family antiques, museums and books. “Our first bench was Gothic in style; we were also enamored by the American Federal period,” Will recalls. “Anne and I were driven by our vision of making pieces that we ourselves wanted, and that is what we’re still doing. Our design philosophy is guided by classicism.”
Though they initially worked in steel, the founders soon turned to aluminum for its longevity and corrosion resistance. Thanks to Reynolds Aluminum, an industry giant founded in Richmond, they drew from a community of suppliers and skilled metalworkers.
Though the siblings admit to starting out young and naïve, their venture flourished. Today, they oversee their Richmond base with a staff of 70, plus McKinnon and Harris showrooms in New York, Los Angeles and London.
The company moved into its current, 65,000-square-foot flagship in Richmond’s historic Scott’s Addition district after outgrowing a previous location nearby. Will and Anne saw potential in what was an abandoned 1940s warehouse covered in graffiti, its roof partially caved in. They tapped local architecture firm 3North to transform it into offices, showroom space and a manufacturing facility. During the extensive renovation, the architects added roof monitors and skylights to dapple the interiors with natural light, and created contemplative, gallery-like spaces for product display.
Anne and Will still design each new bench, chair, sectional, table and chaise themselves, starting with hand-drawn sketches. “Everything we make has to ascribe to what we jokingly call ‘our ruthless aesthetic,’ meaning highly edited,” says Anne. “We’re interested in clean lines and don’t like ornamentation.”
In the workshop, artisans create furniture that can withstand the elements using methods akin to fine woodworking. Starting with aluminum components, metalworkers cut, bend and weld pieces by hand. Welds are beveled and joined for extra strength and integrity. “There is a phenomenal amount of unseen complexity in our construction,” Anne reveals. “A piece may appear utterly simple, but so much has gone into it to make it seamless.”
After welding, every surface is sanded and polished to create a smooth silhouette. Products are then treated to a high-performance, marine-grade coating that renders them resistant to salt spray. Finally, each is powder-coated in one of McKinnon and Harris’ 21 signature colors inspired by nature, from Severn River Stone to Wicomico White. The company also produces its own upholstery, using outdoor fabrics and reticulated foam cushions that allow water to flow in and out and dry quickly.
Still innovating almost 30 years after hanging their shingle, Anne and Will recently introduced stone tabletops and the Virginia Bench. Like heirlooms in their childhood home, most McKinnon and Harris pieces have a story behind them—from the Beaufort line named for a beloved dog to the Otey collection honoring a favorite aunt.
Though their products are sold globally, the founders have never strayed from their Richmond base. “We are so lucky that a lot of folks join McKinnon and Harris after graduating from VCU, which has one of the best art and sculpture programs in the country,” reflects Will. “Our people are part of the maker’s culture in Richmond—and the city is part of the soul of our brand.” mckinnonandharris.com