In detail: at home with Interior designer Bryce McKenzie

Interior designer Bryce McKenzie was surprised to discover that doing up his own place was more challenging than decorating any of his clients’ homes. Pretty soon, though, he got into the swing of it…

Once upon a time, in another life, Bryce McKenzie was a microbiologist. It’s hard, seeing him at home amid the feathers and flamboyant wallpaper, to picture him in a lab coat. His every last cushion is curated, arranged and configured with an eye for detail that may have been honed looking down a microscope but has now moved on. There is not a petri dish in sight.
Science’s loss is soft furnishing’s gain: Bryce, now an interior designer, has just launched his own range of bespoke sofas and chairs. Yet doing up his own place, a Victorian flat on the eastern edge of Edinburgh’s New Town, has been a labour of love. “It’s much easier to do someone else’s house. You can be more objective. This took me so long, with endless agonising decisions.
“Good design,” he continues, “is good design when it feels right. But if you can easily see why, it’s not looking effortless.” And that is the effect he strives for. “I want people to think, this looks good but I can’t quite put my finger on why.” He laughs. “Of course, I can explain why.”
The two-bedroom flat is home to Bryce and his fiancé Paul. It is not enormous, yet with a few clever nips and tucks he has squeezed a dining area out of two hall cupboards, added a utility room and created a storage area above the bathroom’s false ceiling. These alterations were driven by the way the couple live. So the kitchen is small – “we eat out a lot” – while the living room is a seriously sociable space, and a guest bedroom is available for those stragglers who just can’t bear to leave.
Clearly it is not in Bryce’s nature to sit on his own, in pristine Victorian splendour, stroking Bronwen Sleigh etchings that no one else gets to enjoy. “I don’t want to be living in a museum,” he says. “There are a lot of artefacts and things I’ve collected over the years, but I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t pick them up.”
Even when there’s a wild house party, the fragile Francis Priest ceramics and African tribal masks remain on display. Bryce shrugs. “I take the risk. What’s the point of having things if they’re going to get put away and not seen?”
“I like to do unexpected things. I hate decorating by numbers, everything matchy-matchy. The bold choice, if it works, can be amazing”When he’s reworking a client’s house, Bryce is careful to avoid having anything as obvious as a ‘signature style’. In his own home, however, he has allowed his personal taste to run free. A dark, masculine colour palette; a mix of periods that starts at the middle of the last century and carries on to the present day; a love of birds, ethnic patterns and horizontal stripes: all of these, and more, are present and correct.
And if this makes the flat sound like a gloomy, patchouli-scented junk shop, nothing could be further from the truth. The only way to make etchings work with lush Larsen fabrics and Granny’s table is to impose order on the potential chaos. “I can’t have things going wild,” he says firmly. “One of my design mantras is: the stronger the character, the smaller the role. If I have a very strong colour coming into play, purple or acid yellow, say, it will be a very small shot of it.”

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 164-172, issue 89.

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What A Victorian two-bedroom maindoor flat
Where Central Edinburgh
Biggest challenge Pulling the living room together with the bay window at one end and kitchen at the other
Interior design Bryce McKenzie Interior Design, 0131 556 2185
Words Anna Burnside
Photography Neale Smith