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French Ceramics from Kiln to Table

Provence countryside France

Farm to table dining showcases the best tastes of the season, whether vine-ripe tomatoes or hearty greens. But in Provence, farm to table doesn’t just apply to food – just look at French ceramics! Rustic plates and dishware perfectly match local flavors, combining effortless French chic with a homegrown vibe.

Take Richard Esteban‘s tableware sets. His plates and bowls are a playful mix of motifs and patterns. Stripes, polka dots, animals, even race cars! I fell in love with these plates and bowls when dining with Richard and his family in France. Their outdoor table is typical; al fresco dining is de rigueur for the area when the weather is warm enough. I particularly loved the roaring outdoor fire and the sprawling tree that kept the table shady and cool on even the hottest days.

Outdoor dining at Aigues-Vives Provence

Richard Esteban plates and bowls

   Richard Esteban pottery

Like his farmer neighbors, Richard works with the land – though in his case, he harvests clay, not vegetables. This rich red clay body only shows on the bottom of his plates and bowls, though it’s the shining star of his new wine bottle holder. The vibrant mineral glazes also embody Richard and his team’s “kiln to table” philosophy, resulting in natural tones that are the perfect compliment to Provence’s rich, green countryside. The butter yellow base color for most of his plates makes these French ceramics easy to mix and match. Stack stripes with polka dots or mottos like vive le bon vin (long live good wine); the results are just as relaxed as Richard’s home and studio.

Richard Esteban pottery

Arnaud makes French ceramics

The rustic elegance of Richard Esteban’s French ceramics holds a certain je ne sais quoi that I think is uniquely French. Mix and match some decorative dinner plates, pour a bottle of wine in to a pitcher, slice up a baguette – see, you’re almost there yourself! Now enjoy a delicious meal, lingering to chat long after the food is finished for your very own Provence-inspired moment. Bon appétit!

French ceramic bowl

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French Ceramics: Patrice Voelkel vs Richard Esteban Pottery

The ceramics of Provence are just as varied as the people who make them. Take Patrice Voelkel and Richard Esteban. Both make incredible French pottery with rustic charm, yet they have very different aesthetics which results in extremely different ceramics. For all the fans of French pottery out there, here’s a quick overview of how these two talented artists measure up and what sets them apart from the rest.

richard esteban potteryPatrice Voelkel

Clay types: Patrice Voelkel uses local black clay for the majority of his pieces, resulting in ceramics that have a bit more heft. The dark clay body also makes for colors that are more deep and rich than bright. Richard Esteban pottery uses the rich red clay of Provence, which causes his glazes to pop, particularly the yellows.

blue mix and pour bowlyellow French vase

Color palette: Speaking of color, these French artists both rely on a consistent set of colors. Richard favors a wider range, with ceramics in rich reds, yellows, greens, and blues. He loves polka dots and textured patterns. Patrice, on the other hand, loves indigo and all its many variations. Every time I visit his studio Patrice is wearing blue, leading me to think that he just loves the color. His chalk white dishes and deep cranberry pieces are notable exceptions. All of his glazes have a remarkable liquid quality to them.

pitchers by Richard EstebanProduction volume: Perhaps the biggest difference between Patrice and Richard’s pottery is the number of pieces they produce. Most of Patrice’s ceramics are one of a kind, making them unique works of art. Every time I visit I’m always surprised by something new, though he does make multiples of some favorites like his indigo pitcher and mix and pour bowl. The majority of Richard’s ceramics are replicated, which means that I have plenty of polka dot bowls and platters for all his fans. He also has some one of a kind pieces, notably his green fish canister and most of his lamps.

indigo pitchergreen fish canister

Studio size and creative team: Both work in gorgeous surroundings; I don’t think it gets much more picturesque than the French countryside. Patrice works with his wife Sylviane at Poterie Herbes Folles, accompanied by their faithful dog named Tina Turner. Richard opened Poterie d’Aigues-Vives after working with a few different traditional studios. His studio is also part of his home, though he has the talented Arnaud and Katia as part of his team. I’m constantly amazed at how many gorgeous ceramics both these studios produce, particularly since every step is done by hand.

Patrice and Sylviana Voelkel potteryWhat do you love about French ceramics? Are there pieces you’d like to see more of? Do you have a preference for Patrice Voelkel or Richard Esteban pottery? Let us know with a comment below.

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Poterie Aigues-Vives: Another Great Visit with Richard Esteban

Well, I made it to Provence! It was a long trip, but well worth it… I checked into my new favorite hotel in St. Rémy-de-Provence and took an immediate dip in the refreshing (by which I mean freezing) swimming pool. I had the rest of the day for some much needed r and r, which helped prepare me for the long day to come, full of driving (and getting lost), shopping (mostly for ceramics), and continuously failing to be understood in French! (It doesn’t matter how much I study the “pronounced as” portion of my French translation book, I seem incapable of saying words correctly! I do have merci and parfait down pretty well though, which goes a long way in relaxed Provence.)

poterieThe plan for the day was to head to Aigues-Vives, a little town in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France where I have now visited Richard Esteban four times! After all those visits, I now know that as long as I can get near the town, I can find Richard. That’s because there are “poterie” signs helpfully displayed throughout town directing you to his home/workshop (like in the photo here). You see, Aigues-Vives is mostly on the map because of Richard Esteban’s ceramic work. It is a lovely little town, but I’m not sure anyone would visit unless they had heard of the polka-dot, stripe, and songbird designs painted there… or the charismatic artist himself.IMG_2146

When I arrived yesterday it was quieter than in the past, with just Richard and his right-hand-woman Katia manning the shop. They greeted me enthusiastically, asked about my business and my friend Jessica, who came with me last time I visited. I recently placed a big order with Richard, complete with all the polka-dot mugs, pitchers, and plates that have recently sold out at Emilia Ceramics. I knew immediately though that I’d be adding to that order while visiting the shop in person. That’ll give Richard some more euros to put in his custom-made piggy bank, as he is demonstrating in the funny photo on the right (with Katia)!

I’ve described before how Richard’s shop is like my personal heaven on earth. So many beautiful works of art — from giant statues of birds and soldiers, to small plates proclaiming Vive l’Amour. Each piece is original, whether in the shade of its rustic glaze or in its hand-molded design and shape. There is so much to see and be amazed by. Add to that the ambiance created by open doors and windows to let the warm breeze through, songbirds chirping in their cages, and pet dogs lazily strolling around or sleeping in the shade.

platespitchers
Richard was the same outgoing character as in the past — At the end of the afternoon he mustered up his best English and asked “You want drink wine?” Of course I did… but I passed as I was already feeling my jet-lag kick in and needed to drive another couple of hours. It’s a good thing I said no, as the signs leading away from his “poterie” are not quite as clear as those getting there. My early success had given me too much confidence in my directional skills and I proceeded to get very lost on my way back to St. Rémy.  Luckily, that’s what I’ve come to expect on these trips. What’s an adventure in Provence without a little time spent circling roundabouts until you feel dizzy?! I had a great first day in France and I can’t wait for all that’s to come. Tomorrow I go see Sylvie and Poterie Ravel. And next week, andiamo a Italia! I can’t wait — I have high hopes that my Italian pronunciations will be much better! Honestly, they couldn’t get any worse : ).

 

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How to Set Your Table the French Way (Hint: Use French Ceramics)

French dinner tableAs I prepare for my upcoming trip to France and Italy, I find myself thinking about all the French ceramics I’ll be seeing shortly. It can be quite overwhelming when having to choose from all the wonderful pieces that my French artists create. But it’s not all work, of course. Take my visits to Poterie d’Aigues-Vives. After the hard work of choosing is over, I love sitting around the table with Richard Esteban and his family, feasting on a delicious meal presented on his signature dishware.

 

Even if a trip to Provence is not in your future, it’s easy to bring France to your home this summer. After you find some crusty bread, tangy cheese, and open that bottle of wine, you’re well on your way. Ready to complete the vibe? Here are my tips for setting your table like Richard does:

 

 

Patterns should mix.

plates and bowls

Plates and bowls don’t need to match; stack striped plates and polka dot bowls together for flair and fun. Keep colors complementary and let your imagination run wild. If you’re feeling bold, get other patterns and textures into the mix with your plates and bowls. Dishware sets never looked so unique!

Platters should be heaped.

French ceramic serving platter The French like to enjoy a leisurely meal, particularly when enjoying dinner outside after the day’s work is done. Fill French ceramic serving platters with fresh vegetables, crisp salads, perfectly done fish, or other bounties of the season, then enjoy time around the table (no need to run back to the kitchen). Strangely, I find that even though the mealtimes are longer in France, I always eat less since there’s time to truly savor every bite.

Pitchers should be filled.

French pitcher - teal

A meal isn’t complete without the proper drinks. At Richard’s that means a pitcher filled with red wine, another filled with water, and sometimes a third with fresh lemonade. Decanting allows your wine to breathe and the spout makes for easy pouring, no matter the beverage. I find that having all the drinks on the table also helps people stay there longer, chatting once the food is gone.

Color is essential.tableware sets

Accessorize your French ceramics to truly bring Provence home. Flowers are an ideal addition to the table; use a small rustic vase for more country charm. Colorful napkins, placemats, or tablecloths are also great for pulling a table together. Don’t try too hard to match, but do keep your colors in a similar tonal range for best results.

Now that your tableware set is ready and your decorative dinner plates filled, it’s time to enjoy the best part of any French-inspired meal: the company around you. Bon appétit!

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Enjoying Your Coffee Like the French with Coffee Bowls

French coffee bowl

french coffee bowlA few weeks ago I wrote about Italian mugs and now I can’t stop thinking about coffee (it doesn’t help that I’m a total coffee addict). While Italians invented espresso, there’s something incredibly French about sitting in a café, newspaper in hand and coffee at the ready. I think people love having this experience at home, which explains the popularity of my French drinkware collection. The cheerful French coffee bowls and coffee mugs by Richard Esteban capture the whimsy of Provence while remaining the perfect vessel for a serious cup of coffee.

French coffee bowls are mostly used in the home as part of the morning ritual. Every family member has a preferred bowl for their coffee, hot chocolate, tea, or even chocolate milk for the kids. Unlike mugs and cups, French coffee bowls are the perfect pairing with a traditional tartine (toast with butter and/or jam) or a croissant. Instead of struggling to get the perfect angle, you can easily dip your breakfast into your drink without worrying about if it will fit. The large surface area also lets your hot morning beverage cool to a drinkable temperature quickly, ensuring full caffeination before heading out for the day.

French coffee bowl

Another wonderful aspect of French coffee bowls is that they require both hands to drink, unlike a handled mug. This makes them perfect for a quiet way to wake up in the morning or calm down with a bowl of tea in the afternoon. The width of most French coffee bowls prevent seeing much around the sides, ensuring total enjoyment. It’s almost Zen. Try it.

French coffee bowl

However much I love French coffee bowls, I do recognize that they have their limitations. Espresso needs a compact espresso cup for maximum flavor and enjoyment. Sometimes you need a handle and the smaller profile of a French coffee mug, whether it’s reading in a favorite chair or working furiously at your desk. And for you cappuccino lovers, the rounded cup with saucer is a definite must for all that foam.

capuccino cups and saucers

What are your favorite ways of drinking coffee? Are you a fan of mugs and cups? Do you love French coffee bowls for other uses besides drinks?

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Behind the Scenes: Richard Esteban’s French Ceramics

One of my favorite parts about my four years with Emilia Ceramics has been developing a rapport with ceramic artists all around the world. In this series of posts, I’ll give some insights into what happens behind the scenes to make these beautiful handpainted ceramics come to life.

Unlike the traditional French ceramic atelier in Vallauris where Richard Esteban apprenticed at the age of 16, he now has no need for a cane when inspecting his employees work. The two old women owners at Foucard-Jourdan used their canes to crush ceramic pieces on the potters’ wheel that showed any sign of imperfection. Perhaps that’s where Richard learned his attention to detail and developed his appreciation for the slightly imperfect. I love the friendliness of his Aigues-Vives studio, with a tight team consisting of his two employees Arnaud and Katia, his wife Sylvie, and himself. The Esteban family also has three young children with whom I’ve shared several meals over the years, communicating in a mix of broken French and English.

I last visited Richard in September 2011 with my friend Jess acting as a translator. As has become a tradition, we didn’t just get to pick out beautiful French ceramics, but also enjoyed Richard’s incredible hospitality, staying in his guesthouse for the night. When we arrived, Arnaud (pictured above working at his wheel) asked us with a smile, “Vous voulez du cafe?” (Do you want some coffee?)

“Oui, merci, si ce n’est pas un problem” (Yes, please, if it’s not a problem.)

“Vous avez traverser la monde pour nous voire, je peux faire du cafe.” (You traversed the world to see us, we can at least make you coffee.)

This is definitely a place where humor is appreciated (and the coffee delicious, though we had it in espresso cups instead of the fun polka dot mugs they make).

Not only is Richard a wonderful artist, he’s also a great cook, and our evening spent in the backyard with all the Estebans and Katia was a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Friendly and playful qualities surround Richard, invoked by himself, his employees, and expressed through his work. His stunning ceramic serving platters, lively polka dot mugs and bowls, and unique vases are just a few examples of his creative take on the French ceramic tradition.

Richard’s methods stay true to the old ways of Provencial pottery. He uses the rich red local clay, every piece is hand-thrown, and he even uses an antique kiln for firing. His love of tradition can also be seen in the museum he opened in 2000 to display his massive collection of glazed French pottery from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. This is definitely an artist devoted to his craft.

Whether it’s a large ceramic serving platter or one of a kind pitcher, Richard’s pieces are an ideal example of French ceramics with timeless appeal. I can’t wait to see what amazing examples of French ceramics he’s created the next time I visit — and then get to share them all with you.