Posted on

Last Stop: Italian Ceramics and the Amalfi Coast

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 6.43.17 AM
Since my last post I’ve spent some quality time on the Amalfi Coast, seen even more stunning ceramics, flown back to San Francisco, and started packing for my big move to Boulder, CO. It’s been a busy week to say the least.

This trip to Italy has been unlike previous ones since I got to explore new parts of Italy and meet lots of potential new artists to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. Just like their French counterparts, Italian ceramic artists are deeply saturated in tradition yet also find new ways to use elements of their craft to create stunning, contemporary-feeling pieces. My last stop was in Vietri Sul Mare (not to be confused with Vietri ceramic), home to Ceramica Solimene. Solimene ceramics are bright and colorful, with an almost childlike appeal. I toured the factory and was amazed by the diversity of Italian style dinnerware and decorative pieces that Vietri Sul Mare is famous for. And it wasn’t just Ceramica Solimene that was busting with beautiful ceramics… the entire town of Vietri Sul Mare is full of ceramic shops, many with beautifully-painted tiles announcing their names out front. I must admit that after all the Italian ceramics I had seen in Florence, Orvieto, and Deruta, I was beginning to feel a touch of exhaustion.

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 6.41.03 AM

IMG_3246

Thankfully, the gorgeous beaches of the Amalfi Coast were perfect for my over-saturated senses. A few days of rest and relaxation (including beach time and as many cappuccinos as I could handle) and I was ready to head back to San Francisco. With all these amazing new potential Italian ceramic artists, I’ll be taking some time figuring out what fits best with the current collection and the further logistics of orders in the coming months. Hopefully I’ll have new French and Italian pieces this fall… it seems a long ways away right now, but I know it’ll be here before I know it.

Now that I’m back stateside, it’s time for another round of packing my bags. I’m moving to Boulder and excited about the new Emilia Ceramics Showroom on Pearl Street. Once I get things unpacked I’ll share some photos of the new space. If you have any advice on what to do or where to go in Boulder, please leave a comment below. I’ll keep you posted on how the unpacking progresses.

Posted on

Majolica Madness in Deruta!!

drive_to_derutaAfter a few days in Florence, I was excited to get back to the country. It has been 5 years since I was in Italy last and I had forgotten just how beautiful Tuscany truly is! Especially this time of year — rolling green hills, red poppies everywhere, and little hill towns around every bend in the road. I spent 2 nights in beautiful Montepulciano and then headed even farther south, to the equally beautiful region of Umbria. orvieto_2The most visible difference between Umbria and Tuscany seems to be slightly steeper hills in Umbria… and a different name for the delicious local wine served at restaurants. I was staying in Orvieto, a town known best for its cathedral, its ceramics, and its Classico wine. I was of course there for the ceramics, but I also enjoyed time spent gazing at the cathedral and drinking the Classico.

But back to the real reason I was in Umbria: a visit to Deruta, a small town with a big ceramics industry. There are actually two parts of Deruta: the small old town up on the hill, which is quaint and full of ceramic stores, and the larger “new” area down below, which is a little faster-paced, but also full of ceramic stores (as well as workshops and showrooms). I started my day in the old section, enjoyed a cappuccino on the main square and then strolled around, doing a little window shopping to whet my appetite. Then I ventured down into the more modern town, where I went looking for old acquaintances and new ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection.majoliche

My first stop was visiting my uncle’s good friends Silvana and Marcello who have a small ceramics business at the outskirts of town. I interrupted Silvana in the midst of her work and explained in my best Italian: il zio mio e Gifford (my uncle is Gifford), which was all the introduction I needed. We had a fun catch-up session (which was repeated when Marcello arrived a few minutes later) in which I spoke my few words of Italian mixed with much more Spanish and they spoke Italian quickly with lots of hand gesturing to try to make me understand. In the end, Silvana suggested that I go visit a ceramics shop in town that I hadn’t heard of before. She offered to take me and introduce me to the nice people who worked there.

gialleti            sale_pepe
And that’s how I ended up at Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, a beautiful shop packed with vases, lamps, plates, clocks, and lots of fun smaller pieces like salt & pepper grinders and oil & vinegar dispensers. I got the royal treatment from Michele—including a tour and explanation of the process (all in amazing English)—and found some great pieces. I am most excited about the colorful, yet sophisticated table settings I am hoping to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection!

My next stop was right nearby — I was meeting with Gerardo Ribigini whose shop Geribi (which I just realized is a combination of his first and last name : ) I visited 5 years ago. I spent quite a while walking around, looking at his beautifully painted pieces and asking about different patterns, styles, shapes, and designs. I’m definitely looking forward to adding some of his skilled work to the collection as well.

geribi_red_square

jewelry_boxes

womenThe final place I went in Deruta was another special visit suggested by my uncle Gifford. Over the years that he’s been visiting Deruta, he has befriended Carmen Monotti, an exceptional artist who creates various types of ceramic artwork. My favorites are her recreations of Klimt paintings (on vases, wall-hangings and necklace pendants — photo on the right)… And the tiles she paints, upon request, for the nearby church, La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni (photo below). When “miracles” happen in peoples’ lives miracles_1(anything from surviving a car crash to having a healthy baby), those touched by the event commission Carmen to make a tile (in Italian called an ex voto) depicting the scene. The ex voto is hung in the church. I LOVE these tiles — there’s something about their soft colors and simplicity that is so charming.

I had a great time hanging out with Carmen, joking about my uncle, discussing my business, and looking at her artwork. On the way out of town I stopped at La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni. It is a small church, with simple white walls that make the perfect backdrop for the tiles covering every wall. I would have taken more pictures, but my camera had run out of batteries after the long day filled with so many photogenic subjects! Below you’ll see one of Carmen’s most recent tiles that is hung in the church, followed by an older one done by another artist.

I’m off to the Amalfi Coast now for the final leg of my Italian adventure. I’m going to visit Vietri Sul Mare, another ceramic-centric town, where the well-known Ceramica Solimene is located. I’ll keep you posted!

miracles_3

miracles_4

 

Posted on

La Dolce Vita

florence1After a long day of train rides, I made it from Nice (where I dropped off my rental car) to Florence. It was actually a longer journey than I had envisioned (in the past, I’ve always stopped along the way) and I arrived starving. About halfway to Florence, I had decided I was going to wait to eat until I could eat real Italian food… so I checked into my hotel, splashed some water on my face, and headed to the nearest trattoria. It was worth it! The fresh tagliatelle al funghi was delicious and the “house red” tasted as good as any wine I’ve had in a long time.

The next day I woke up early and headed back to the train station for the 20 minute ride to Montelupo Fiorentino. Montelupo is famous for its majolica because of the town’s location on the old Roman road that brought Moorish traders (and their ceramic wares) from Spain to Florence. During the Renaissance, artisans in Montelupo began elaborating on the ceramic designs, adding realistic imagery and brighter colors, transforming them into the high art form we know today.

me

painting

While there are many ceramic artists in Montelupo, I am pretty confident Emilia Ceramics buys from the two best! My first visit was to Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia. Co-owner (and grandson of Tuscia’s founder) David met me at the small train station and we drove to Tuscia. new_piecesWe found Gabriele (the head-painter and other co-owner) working and telling jokes to three other painters. They greeted me — most remembering my first visit 5 years ago — and were very nice when I wanted to take lots of photos while they worked.

As I’ve described before, Tuscia is located in a 2 story brick building, filled with ceramic artwork. Each shelf in each room is stacked with plates, bowls, canisters, and pitchers that look like they belong in a museum.

I selected a number of new pieces to add to the order I had already placed with Tuscia and had an espresso with David — who was expecting a new baby girl at any moment! Then David drove me to Ceramiche Bartoloni, which is in a more industrial part of town. We were greeted by Patrizio and Lucia Bartoloni. Lucia is Patrizio’s wife and helps run the business along with Patrizio’s brother Stefano and his wife. The four of them do almost everything themselves, only hiring extra painters when needed. Lucia speaks some English, so she talked with me about the recent order I had placed and showed me all the new designs and patterns.

tile

blogOf course, the limoni and rooster patterns are my Bartoloni faves… but there were a few new patterns that jumped out at me. So I added some new styles as well as some more sizes of bowls to my order (expect some great new salad and pasta bowls from Ceramiche Bartoloni). Patrizio was very busy and had to leave soon to pick his son up at school, but he gave me a double-cheek kiss and posed for a picture before he ran out the door. Then Lucia drove me back to the train station and I spent the 20 minute ride back to Florence trying to digest all the beautiful artwork I had just seen.

The next day, after another awesome pasta dinner and a few gelatos, I went to visit Daniela’s ceramic shop in downtown Florence: La Botteghina del Ceramista. Daniella is a good friend of my uncle Gifford (who is also responsible for introducing me to the ceramics from Tuscia and Bartoloni). I visited Daniella’s shop on my first trip to Florence, before I even knew I was going to start a ceramics-importing business. I fell in love with her collection though, which includes ceramics from the Bartoloni brothers, among other great Italian artists. On my first visit I bought the Square Blu Limoni Platter from Daniella and gave it to my brother as a wedding gift.

I’ve been back a few times since and been able to share with Daniella the progress of my growing business. As always, she was very helpful in pointing out new pieces and best sellers, telling me where they were from, and giving me contact names and numbers. It was great to visit with Daniella and watch her in her element, surrounded by the beautiful Italian majolica, sharing it with tourists and local Italians alike. It reminded me what a great job I have!

daniella

Posted on

French Finale: Colorful Ceramics at Poterie Ravel

outsideFrom Sylvie’s workshop in Pertuis it is about a 45 minute drive south to Aubagne, where Poterie Ravel is located. Once again I was helped in my navigation by friendly little Poterie Ravel signs located at almost every turn throughout the city.

As you may remember from my previous visits, Poterie Ravel is most well-known for its large terracotta pots, which it sells to premier hotels and shopping centers around France. When you arrive at Poterie Ravel, you are greeted by lots of these sophisticated pots, displayed perfectly amidst colorful patio furniture. The old stone building covered with ivy is where this family run business has been making ceramics since 1837.

Of course they also make smaller items – like the pitchers, platters, bowls, and vases we sell at Emilia Ceramics. It is inside the old stone building that you encounter room after room of inviting and perfectly displayed ceramics in bright, festive, stylish colors. There is a warm hum from the kilns (running almost all the time) and lots of friendly workers greeting you and wanting to help. Similarly to Richard Esteban’s showroom, this is a place I could call home! On this particular visit, I spent about an hour wandering from room to room, enjoying the displays and taking lots of pictures. Finally, I picked out a number of my favorite pitchers and planting pots in bright yellow and teal green (apparently, the colors of the season).

yellow_tealbowlspitchersdude

I was helped by this super friendly young man (above) – I can’t remember his name, sadly. He spoke some English and seemed impressed that I was from California and that I knew to come to Poterie Ravel. He said he had only been working there for a few weeks (during his school break) and that I was the first American he had met. He said it like I was a movie star, which of course made my day!

With Poterie Ravel checked off my list, I’ve completed my French shopping list… so it’s time to head to Italy! Next stop Montelupo Fiorentino, where I’ll visit Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni. I’m really looking forward to both… not to mention all the pasta, cappuccinos, and gelato I’ll be enjoying!

Posted on

Update on Sylvie Duriez

IMG_2233I spoke with Sylvie about a week ago, before I left home. She had never responded to my email letting her know when I’d be in France, so I was a little concerned she’d be out of town. However, she assured me over the phone that she would be there and would be expecting me. In her quiet, tentative English she added, “but I do not have much.”

This made me a little nervous. You see, among Emilia Ceramics customers there are a lot of Sylvie Duriez fans. People email and call me asking when I’m getting more of Sylvie’s ceramics. Plus, I’m a Sylvie Duriez fan and I suddenly realized I haven’t kept any of her work for myself! All of a sudden I was really worried… What if there’s nothing to buy? None of the favorite subjects we’ve all come to cherish: Whimsical women sitting under trees or staring thoughtfully out windows; Plump pink birds frolicking in fruit trees; Cats and dogs lazily laying on sofas; Bright bouquets of iris and red poppies. What will I do then?!street_corner

Well, you can all relax… After all, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if I didn’t have good news to share about Sylvie and her beautiful ceramics!

After my stay in St. Rémy-de-Provence (and my visit with Richard Esteban), I moved on to Aix-en-Provence. Aix is a bustling university town, which actually reminds me a lot of Sevilla, Spain (where I lived a while back). Both cities seem to be in constant party-mode. The shopping streets in Aix are always teaming with beautiful, well-dressed people, and the cafés and bars are full morning, noon, and night with friends catching up over espresso, rosé or campari. Fresh fruit, vegetable, and flower markets also seem to be everywhere… everyday of the week. Needless to say, Aix is always a fun place to “have” to go : ).

market_3

market_1

market_2

As much as I’ve come to love it, one of my favorite things about Aix is leaving it to drive the 20 minutes to Pertuis, the little town where Sylvie lives and works. It’s always a bit stressful getting out of Aix (small, one-way streets and lots of roundabouts), but then you’re suddenly out in the country, passing through grassy fields with rolling hills in the distance. This time, it was even more green and beautiful than I remembered. I’ve been to visit Sylvie at her home 3 times now, so it was easy to find. I love her house/studio… so picturesque: 48 Rue du Moulin à Huile!

IMG_2245

Sylvie was the same as I remember her from my previous visits — quiet and soft-spoken, yet very warm. She is much more comfortable speaking English in person than on the phone (which is totally understandable) and quickly opened up about her new plans to move her studio away from her home and experiment with new techniques. She is especially excited about the idea of working with porcelain, which will require a new kiln and different supplies.

To my relief, Sylvie had a lot of beautiful work for me to choose from. Her hesitation on the phone was mostly because she’s not sure if she’s going to continue to make the type of decorative bowls, plates, and pitchers we all know and love. As I’ve explained before, Sylvie Duriez is a true artist, striving to create original artwork. She isn’t concerned with what will sell — she wants to follow her passion. As sad as it makes me that she may not always produce the pieces I have grown so fond of, I do understand. She is so talented and it wouldn’t be the same if she was producing on command.

IMG_2228I assured Sylvie of my support for her artistic decisions and told her I’d be excited to see whatever projects she comes up with next.  Then I went to work picking out all my favorites from her current collection. As usual she acted amazed by the number of pitchers, bowls, and plates I was selecting —  but this time she didn’t complain that she’d “have so much work to do when I left” as she has said in the past. I think she was genuinely relieved to make space in her life (and on her shelves) for what’s to come. And I was more than happy to help!

I’m thrilled with the assortment of Sylvie Duriez pieces I selected to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection — as always each is completely one-of-a-kind and packed full of personality. I feel confident that none of the Sylvie fans out there will be disappointed!

IMG_2229 IMG_2231

Posted on

7 Top Tips: Buying Ceramics Online for the Holidays

It’s almost Halloween and once that’s over, the holiday shopping season seems to officially begin. I’ll be opening the Emilia Ceramics pop-up shop soon (stay tuned to the blog and Facebook for more details) and am always amazed at how early people start to buy ceramics for their holiday gifting. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or another special celebration for family and friends, this is definitely the season of giving.

IMG_4678

Looking to buy ceramics & pottery as gifts this year? Here are my top tips to ensure the best experience possible.

  1. Avoid the possibility of duplicates. No one likes to give or get a repeat gift. One easy solution is to buy ceramics online that are handmade or one of a kind. Because no two pieces are exactly the same (unlike mass-produced ceramics), you guarantee originality.
  2. Check out sizes. Photos are great, but double check the dimensions when you buy ceramics online. That vase might be 6 inches or 18 inches tall, making for a very different type of gift! When in doubt, pull out a ruler and double check that the ceramics & pottery you’re buying are actually the size you think they are.
  3. Remember that good things come in small packages. Unsure about what to get someone? Stick to practical pieces that can be used often. Coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, spoon rests, and multipurpose wine bottle holders are all popular ceramics to buy as gifts for this reason. I have many customers that buy these ceramics for neighbors, coworkers, and relatives on their lists. With the wide range of colors and designs, you’re sure to find appealing ceramics for any personality.
  4. Investigate shipping before you buy. When you buy ceramics online, make sure to look at the shipping policy as you shop around. What’s the policy on breakage? Is there a cut off time date for guaranteed holiday delivery? If you buy ceramics early enough you should be able to save on shipping costs and avoid express fees.
  5. Know the gift policy. Many places will gift wrap and send your gifts directly when you buy ceramics online, which can be a big time saver come the shopping crunch of November. Find out too about how returns are handled (refund, store credit, or exchange?) before placing your order to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  6. Find out how durable the piece is. Fine china teacups looks gorgeous, but seem like they will chip if you breathe too hard on them. Thicker, more sturdy ceramics & pottery are better for everyday use, especially if children or pets are anywhere in the picture. When you buy ceramics, think about who will use them and let that help your decision-making process.
  7. Think about collections. If you are figuring out the ceramics to buy for a collector, find out the focus of their collection. Do they collect by type (plates, pitchers), motif (roosters, polka dots), or color (blue and white, yellow)? Knowing where to start will ensure you select the best ceramics & pottery possible.

I hope these tips for buying ceramics online have been helpful! Please share your favorites on our Facebook page.

Posted on

The Best Ceramics to Buy for Your Collection

I’ve been thinking more about the variety of people who collect ceramics since my last post on Design Miami/Basel 2012. While acclaimed new artists or valuable antique pieces might be ceramics to buy for an established collection, what ceramics should you buy if you’re just starting out?

The first question to ask yourself is simply what do you like? Do you have a favorite color, animal, shape, or country? Many people who buy ceramics online are looking specifically for pieces with Italian roosters, while others have collections that are just blue and white, yellow, or another favored color combination. Maybe you want your collection to reflect your French country décor or make your home feel like a Mexican hacienda. If you’re struggling to find a guiding principal for what ceramics to buy, it’s more important to focus on what you actually like instead of something that’s been designated “valuable” by the dealers.

I don’t think there are any secrets or hard and fast rules about ceramic collecting, but here are my top tips for getting a good start when it comes to buying ceramics, no matter what you like:

Start small.

A great ceramics collection doesn’t happen overnight, even though you can buy ceramics online. Pick a few pieces that appeal to you and that you’ll use. Coffee mugs are ceramics many buy to start off a collection – with all the personalization it’s easy to find a few that you like (and find the space to keep them).

Reward your rituals.

Mugs are also popular ceramics because people tend to use them every day. Think about your daily rituals and what ceramics to buy that you can easily incorporate into these rituals. Morning toast is more special on a handmade ceramic plate; cereal tastes better in unique small bowls. When you buy ceramics that you actually use, your collection will grow organically and you’ll be able to enjoy it everyday.

Have pieces to share.

There’s nothing better than having friends or family sharing a meal together. When thinking of ceramics to buy, a few great serving dishes are simply a must. Large serving platters handle entrees or lots of little appetizers.

Serving bowls are ideal for salads or pasta dishes. And then there are cheese platters and footed platters (perfect for displaying fruits on the table).

Think about display.

Don’t keep your ceramics collection hidden deep in closed cupboards! Hanging ceramic platters on the wall when not in use or keeping mugs on a rack or exposed shelf allows the ceramics you buy to become a daily part of your décor. Large collections can take over a china cabinet, kitchen wall, or sideboard, adding some personality to any space in your home.

Do you collect ceramics? What ceramics do you buy? Leave a comment to let us know!

Posted on

French Ceramics at Design Miami/Basel 2012

Did you make it to Design Miami/Basel 2012? This international forum on art took place in Basel, Switzerland June 12-17 with a whole host of furniture and other objects on display from almost 40 galleries, Design Talks, performances, and more. I was curious to note the strong presence of French ceramics in this year’s show and decided it was worth taking a closer look.

One of the things I like about Design Miami/Basel 2012 is that it’s not just about contemporary design, but pieces and movements from the 20th century to today. The strong French design presence with works by Jean Prouvé, Maria Pergay, and Roger Tallon (who designed Air France interiors, the French high-speed train TGV, and the Mexico City subway, among other major public commissions) really dominated this year, according to The New York Times. These iconic designers have an industrial feel that somehow also translates into timeless appeal. Pergay’s work with stainless steel is truly stunning, like her “flying carpet” daybed and other shiny furnishings – if you’re not familiar with her work (as is the case with many Americans), I recommend looking up her unique creations to see more for yourself.

But this design fair isn’t just about furniture. French ceramics were just some of the many smaller pieces on offer, with other ceramic work from places like Korea, Sweden, and Japan. On the last day of the fair there was even a talk called “Collecting 20th and 21st Century Ceramics” which discussed the evolution of the form and international ceramic styles.

As with other discussions around design and French ceramics, function and form come into question. Is this an art, a craft, or a combination of both? Looking at some of the pieces on offer, I am personally drawn to those that can be used. The delicate porcelain bowl, the smooth flowing vases with solid color glazes, and the stacked plates all are true highlights of this design fair in my opinion. They look great on display, but also in use.

Thus, inspired by all the great design of Design Miami/Basel 2012, I present you my own selection of French ceramics that fit into the aesthetics displayed there:

The simplicity of the celadon pitcher and fluted bowl by Poterie Ravel are definitely elegant, while cheerful yellow plates and bowls add unexpected fun to these appealing French ceramics.

Sylvie’s modern, minimalist Sunrise platter is a one of a kind gem that bridges that gap between form and function, looking beautiful on the wall or the table. In keeping with smooth glazes and solid colors, look no further than the burnt honey round vase, petal platter, and cheese plate by Richard Esteban. These French ceramics all have a touchable appeal and exude a real warmth.

With all these accessible, artistic French ceramics, it’s hard to decide on a “best in show” for French ceramics that fits in with the pieces on display at Design Miami/Basel 2012. But I think the winner would be the chalk white shallow dish by Patrice Voelkel (pictured at the top of this post). Stark and minimal, yet also inviting, it’s a piece worth collecting even if not displayed in a design fair tent.

What do you think of the offerings at Design Miami/Basel this year? Leave a comment and let us know!

Posted on

Adding French Country Charm to Your Home

Who can resist the unique combination of elegance and simplicity that is French country charm? It’s not just the French manor house or the French country cottage, but somehow both at once. This irresistible combination of seemingly conflicting style elements manifests in French ceramics as well as décor. Colors, shapes, functionality, and charm all work together to make something truly unique, whether it’s a fun polka dot mug or a striking ceramic serving platter.

Want to inject your home with some French country chic? Give these five tips, many inspired by the French Country Decor Guide, a try.

  1. Get regional with color. French country can mean Provence, with warm, sunny colors, or the paler hues of northern France. These regional differences mean that it’s easy to find French country elements that already fit into your existing design aesthetic (French ceramics are a perfect example). The strong colors of Provence can include terracotta reds, dusky violets, Mediterranean blues and turquoises, and soft butter and creamy saffron yellows. Go north for colors with a touch of grey, including soft sage greens, milky whites, creamy pinks, and pale blues.
  2. Mix old and new. Antiques are a hallmark of French country, whether it’s a chair, bed, or accent piece. With a country estate-inspired bedroom for example, gilded edges on the bed make for a soft glow that contrasts with crisp sheets and textured walls. Or reupholster that great chair you found with a lush fabric and add it to more modern furnishings in the living room or study. Rich patina and distressed finishes make everything seem softer and slightly relaxed.
  3. Repurpose with abandon. If something is beautiful, it’s worth holding onto, even if no longer needed for its original use. Repurposed items can be anything from glass jars as table decorations to metal buckets acting as planters. I see this with French ceramics often – a chipped bowl becomes a place for change or a decorative element on a shelf. A ceramic serving platter holds keys and sunglasses by the door. A polka dot mug turns into a pen and pencil holder on a desk.
  4. Show off what’s in your kitchen. Why hide those gorgeous plates behind closed doors? A French country kitchen will often have open shelves that turn your dishware into decoration, as well as make things easier for the cook to access. Display your collection of French ceramics with pride, making them a part of your daily life.
  5. Let simplicity rule. French country is not about clutter or overwrought design. Smooth curves, clean lines, and subdued accents are all its hallmarks. I see this in some of my favorite French ceramic serving platters, whether the curves of the petal platter by Richard Esteban, the stark chalk white of the serving dish with handles by Patrice Voelkel, or subtle white streak on the lemon yellow round platter by Poterie Ravel.

French country kitchen image courtesy of thekitchendesigner.

Posted on

Top Salt & Pepper Sets, Collections for Any Table

I’ve talked about avid collectors before, but I think that Theresa Giottonini takes the cake when it comes to salt and pepper shakers. Her collection of 1,021 salt & pepper sets is staggering, filling shelves of her living room. She started her collection in the 1980s and it’s been steadily growing ever since, reports The Californian.

Theresa doesn’t just display her salt and pepper shakers, however. They become the stars of the table whenever the family gathers for the holidays or just a meal. Animals are a favorite, from chickens to monkeys, owls to seals, starfish to hippos. Of course, she’s not the only big collector of this table staple. Stephen and Mara Attles in Florida have over 1,200 salt & pepper sets, a collection that embraces much more than just ceramics, says The Tampa Tribune.

There’s even a Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Tennessee with over 20,000 sets. These are some serious collections.

But collectability aside, salt and pepper shakers remain an easy way to add whimsy to a table. Even if you’re not a serious collector, a variety of options means flexibility for indoor and outdoor dining, a family dinner, or a special occasion. So what options besides plain ceramic salt and pepper sets are there?

Animals

A favorite when it comes to salt and pepper shakers. Roosters, chickens, bunnies, and frogs are just some popular ceramic salt and pepper subjects. Several different sets together creates a mini zoo along a big table, amusing for kids and adults alike.

pepper grinder with sea salt

Grinders

There were several grinders on The Independent’s recent salt & pepper set roundup. For those who swear by fresh ground pepper and salt, a wooden mill is a classic tabletop addition. Modern electric mills might be more uniform, but I’m not a fan of the noise.

 Pinch Pots

Have your spices (why stop at just salt and pepper?) in shallow dishes so that everyone can pinch the exact amount required. I’m seeing more and more restaurants using mini salt dishes that have the perfect amount for the table, no more. This can be perfect for meals like pozole or taco night, letting everyone spice their dinner to the correct hotness.

Two in One

Since you’re supposed to pass the salt and pepper together, why not just keep them in one unit? Clever designs involve twisting chambers and grinders with two buttons or two directions. Practical for outdoor dining as it’s one less thing to carry, whether to the patio or on a picnic.

These are just a few ideas; what are your favorite salt and pepper shakers? Post a comment and let us know!

Salt and pepper collection image courtesy of Paper Cat.

Pepper grinder image courtesy of jules:stonesoup.

Posted on

Salt & Pepper Sets Flying off the Shelves

When setting up the pop-up shop in Palo Alto, I always wonder what that year’s best sellers are going to be. Vases? Planters? Mugs? Platters? When giving gifts these are all popular favorites for sure. But this year the best sellers have been small but mighty: salt and pepper shakers lead the way, closely followed by cream and sugar sets.

Why the salt and pepper shaker frenzy? For one, salt & pepper sets are small. It’s obvious, but if you’re shipping presents across the country or just trying to find a great host gift, little things make a big impact without weighing too much. Ceramic salt and pepper sets like these by Gorky Gonzalez are sturdy enough to travel well, but not clunky or bulky. One customer said she was going to use the rooster salt and pepper shakers she bought as a stocking-stuffer for her in-laws. They’re the perfect fit. What a great idea!

But salt and pepper shakers aren’t just small, they’re also practical. The same goes for cream and sugar sets – people can really use these items whether it’s everyday or for special occasions. Functional gifts are always appreciated instead of a knick-knack that just adds to clutter. Multiple salt and pepper shakers mean you can have a set in the dining room, kitchen, and patio table in the summer. Another customer told me when he gave the bunny salt and pepper shakers to some old friends they immediately said they’d use them in their second home on Cape Cod. There’s always room for one more set somewhere.

I think though the reason people gravitate towards ceramic salt and pepper and creamer sugar sets is that they’re just so much fun. The spots on the bunnies, the wide-eyed chickens, the squinting roosters, and the grinning frogs are totally full of personality and charm. Since each set is hand painted, no two are exactly alike. Their originality makes salt and pepper shakers great for any collection as well. From people who collect Italian ceramics to those that love roosters or chickens or bunnies or frogs, these small additions always bring a smile to people’s faces. And best of all, you don’t always have to give them away – the perfect salt and pepper shakers make a fun gift for your home too. Now just to pick out your favorites!

Posted on

5 Tips to Help You Buy Ceramics

There are many reasons to buy ceramics. Perhaps you need some coffee mugs or a stunning vase as a special present. Or maybe it’s not about needing anything at all, but more about falling in love with a certain ceramic design or shape. With the wide variety of ceramics available though, how do you decide what to buy? Here are my tips of what to consider when you’re shopping for ceramics:

  1. How will it be used? Are you looking to buy ceramics for decoration or daily use? Some pieces are versatile when it comes to usage (like ceramic bowls) while others are just as beautiful, but slightly less functional (like ginger jars). When buying a gift, think about how the recipient will use a piece – a wine lover would find a wine bottle holder useful while platters can be used to serve food or hang on a wall to brighten a room.
  2. Handmade ceramics or mass-produced? Mass produced ceramics are ubiquitous and impersonal. Occasionally ceramics that are mass-produced end up becoming collectors’ items, but they still lack originality. As for me, I’ll pick handmade any day of the week. I love knowing that my ceramics come from human hands and it’s important to me to support talented artists themselves instead of big manufacturing plants. That way, you know your ceramic piece is totally unique – a one-of-a-kind work of art that can never be reproduced.
  3. How durable is the piece? My grandmother had teacups that she only used on special occasions – the china was so fine I was afraid that if I breathed too hard I’d chip them. Thicker, more sturdy ceramics are better for everyday use (hence my grandmother’s solid mugs that she used everyday). When you buy ceramics, think about who will use them and let that help your decision-making process. Thin, delicate pieces are better for decoration than function, especially if children or pets are anywhere in the picture.
  4. Are you adding to a collection? Some people buy ceramics as collectibles, which makes discovering a unique piece all the more fun. For instance, I have an ever-growing collection of ceramic mugs, all of which I use! My mix of Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, and French ceramic coffee mugs is a testament to years of experiences, making my morning coffee like a trip down memory lane. If you’re buying for someone else, find out first if there’s a particular focus to their collection; they may have a thing for pitchers or anything decorated with roosters or glazed in blue and white.
  5. Where does it come from? When it comes to craftsmanship and quality, the source is hugely important. I love being able to see the brushstrokes and feel the irregularities in the glaze that make handmade ceramics truly special; forming personal connections with artists simply deepens my appreciation for the pieces. Choosing ceramics from artists with a strong dedication to their craft makes it easy to buy with confidence, knowing your pieces will stand the test of time.

What do you look for when you buy ceramics? Leave a comment and let us know!

Posted on

5 Sites for Summer Design Inspiration

With the recent warmth in San Francisco, I’ve actually been making use of my outdoor space (which is quite a novelty). Perhaps Mark Twain never actually said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” but anyone who’s spent the summer here knows that the sentiment still rings true… most of the time.

All this sunshine makes me think of new design ideas and ways I could update the look of my home, both indoors and out. Perhaps it’s time to do some redecorating? Here are some clever and inspiring home designs I’ve come across in my quest for a fresh outlook:

  • Material Girls. A design blog for interior décor, I love the bold colors in this recent post about unique design details that make a space truly out of the ordinary. The striped multicolored floor is incredible, as is the hallway with yellow and white striped walls meeting green chevrons on the floor.
  • Design Mom. In a recent posting, the author ruminates on the modern accessibility of interior design advice. It’s true that with modern communication you can get expert help from anywhere in the world and sometimes having an outsider’s opinion is all you need to get a fresh perspective. Other posts include useful advice and inspiration on places where interior design and motherhood intersect, which is a challenge for many stylish moms I know.
  • Making it Lovely. Slowly transforming a house is a time-consuming process, yet this blog has inspiring tips, photos, and suggestions for every room as the author does it herself. Because I’m a sucker for ceramics and have a little collection myself (cough, cough) I enjoyed her post about how to best arrange a ceramics collection.
  • Apartment Therapy. An old roommate of mine showed me the book years ago and I’ve been addicted ever since. Perfect for summer decorating are these farm inspired ceramic pieces. White minimalism goes with almost every design, so why not add a whimsical egg holder or milk jug cup measure set to your kitchen?
  • Freshome. This site always has the wildest photos and design ideas, ranging from things I could see in my own apartment to totally crazy how-could-you-do-that (yet inspiring) designs. This cheese-inspired staircase is just one example. The round cut outs and child-friendly treads are beautifully thought out, making the stairs more than just a home necessity.

I’m curious about other design sites you are addicted to: any further reading suggestions?

Design collage image courtesy of Bill S. Living room image courtesy of Posh Living, LLC. Office image courtesy of Jeremy Levine.