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Fellow Caffeine Fans, French Coffee Mugs Are Back!

I have a confession: I am addicted to warm beverages. Specifically my morning tea (often earl grey with cream and honey), though an early afternoon coffee is hard to resist. Of course, if I want to get any sleep, I have to carefully juggle the coffee/exercise/time equation. And then there’s getting the accessories right: which mug to use is of paramount importance, as is the tea or coffee pot if I’m brewing at home. Sound like anyone you know?

French coffee mugs

Thankfully with all the new French arrivals at Emilia Ceramics, I have plenty of beverage accessories to add to my collection. The polka dots on Richard Esteban’s French coffee bowls remain a favorite; I just love the easy way these pieces mix and match. Richard’s French coffee mugs are another must. There’s even a place to rest your thumb on the handle (good for not spilling as I walk my full cup back to my desk). The barn red is my personal favorite, but just like his French coffee bowls, there are plenty of color combinations to mix and match with abandon. These mugs also hit the sweet spot size-wise: big enough that you don’t have to constantly refill, but not so big that the contents are cold by the time you get to last sips. These are definitely a sure winner if you’re trying to buy ceramics for a caffeine lover.

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Summer is also almost here, which means it’s time to start brewing iced tea and iced coffee. And that means it’s time for pitchers! Looking to expand your summer serving ware? Try pieces like the quirky Richard pitcher, complete with hat and mustache or one of his polka dot pitchers to match the bowls and mugs.

Richard pitcher

Other fun beverage accessories of the moment: cream and sugar sets (perfect for entertaining) and the modern Ceramica Valenciana coffee pot. Sure, it’s Spanish, not French, but it beautifully compliments the playful chic of Richard’s ceramics. So many coffee mugs, so little time.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, the kettle is boiling… time for another cup!

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Capelo’s Mexican Vases: High Impact Style

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Vibrant and colorful, Mexican vases are a favorite of many interior designers. But while the graphic designs of Talavera Vazquez are wonderfully modern, there’s something truly special about Capelo’s vases that draw me back again and again to his studio outside Guanajuato, Mexico.

Capelo Ceramics
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himself says that his glazes are distinct because they use all-natural ingredients. But the playful patterning and expert color combinations set these Mexican vases, pitchers, serving bowls, and other ceramics apart from the rest. Even an empty Capelo vase easily becomes a focal point for a room, whether on a sideboard, shelf, or tabletop. A Capelo vase filled with fresh flowers is even more compelling. The variety of motifs—vases adorned with interlocking circle and diamonds, a repeating fleur de lys pattern, or abstract flowers—highlight their one of a kind nature and makes them even more special. No matter the size, the interesting shapes and warm, inviting glazes just beg to be touched and used.

Mexican vase by CapeloThe laid-back vibe continues beyond Capelo’s Mexican vases. His rustic pitchers accent homes with ease on the table or as decor. For example, this large pitcher would be especially compelling used as a vase for long branches or dried grasses. The ribbon accent on the handle gives it the perfect finishing touch.

large pitcherEach of Capelo’s pieces tells its own story, which is what makes them so compelling. I like how the abstract patterns appeal to a wide range of styles, so they seem right at home in a variety of settings. I can’t wait to see what Capelo’s team creates by the next time I visit the studio! They’re sure to bring high style no matter where they end up.

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Italians and Their Coffee: Centuries of Love and Espresso

The legends surrounding coffee are vast. From goats eating coffee beans and jumping around in Ethiopia to the over 2,000 coffeehouses in 17th-century London, coffee’s past is as dynamic as it’s energizing effect.

A merchant from Venice introduced coffee to Europe in 1615 after having some courtesy of the Turks, says National Geographic. Coffee has been smuggled on ships across the Atlantic, was at the heart of colonization efforts (starting in Java, home of the first European-owned coffee plantation), and is even made into beauty treatments at exclusive spas. Not bad for a little bean full of a lot of caffeine!

hand painted Italian coffee mugThe Italians have honed their coffee over the years and drinking a coffee at even the most remote roadside café is a delicious experience. But beware: drinking coffee in Italy is quite different than we do here stateside. Here’s a run-down of what you should know about drinking coffee in Italy, inspired by this post by Anna Maria Baldini.

First off, caffè means espresso. American-style drip coffee is hard to find in Italy, though a caffè Americano (espresso with hot water added) comes close. Italian coffee mugs are more likely to be espresso cups, though you’ll find larger cups holding morning cappuccinos (espresso topped with hot, steamed milk). Don’t want that much milk? A caffè macchiato has just a dash of hot milk on top. Italians never order a cappuccino in the afternoon or evening, some say the amount of milk is bad for digestion. Stick to this treat early in the day unless you want some raised eyebrows from your server and surrounding café patrons.

Just as with most of Europe, in Italy the price of coffee changes depending on where you sit. The cheapest and fastest coffee is drunk right at the bar; sitting at a table means that you can watch the world pass by, but you’ll pay premium prices for the privilege. If you do order your drink at the bar, be prepared to order and pay first, then show your ticket to be served with your delicious drink. If you order sitting at a table, like these people at Caffè Florian in Venice (Italy’s oldest café), you’ll pay afterwards.

Caffe Florian in Venice, ItalyPeople rightly can’t get enough of Italian coffee, which is one of the reasons I think the hand painted Italian coffee mugs in the Emilia Ceramics collection are so popular. I know that every time I use one I feel like I’m back in Tuscany. Although my stovetop espresso maker isn’t quite the same as a full-fledged Italian machine, the combination of it and an Italian coffee mug still does the trick until I go back to Italy myself. What’s your favorite Italian coffee drink? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Italian coffee mugs

Italian espresso maker and grinder image courtesy Jonathan Rubio.

Caffè Florian image courtesy Son of Groucho.

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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.

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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.

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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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Capelo Pottery, a Unique Take on Mexican Ceramics

Capelo's studio and countryside

Capelo’s dedication to Mexico ceramics makes him stand out from other traditional artists. Not only is Capelo himself a talented, multi-faceted artist (he also is an architect, oil painter, and mixed-media sculptor), his dedication to keeping things natural makes his ceramics practically luminescent. His studio is one of the smaller ones in the Emilia Ceramics collection but the ceramics definitely make a big statement. Capelo potterySo just how does Capelo and his small team of artists create the unique Mexico ceramics that have made them famous?

One major factor I think is the land itself. Capelo’s home is high on a hill outside Guanajuato, Mexico, which gives him an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. His almost daily horseback rides and constant contact with such beauty comes through in his work with the colors and shadings of his ceramics. True artists, Capelo and his team take their environment and make it portable through their pottery.

Capelo’s ingenuity is also reflected in the unique shapes he creates. Pitchers with unexpected cutaway tops, fluted bowls, delicately pulled handles, and a willingness to play with scale truly set these Mexico ceramics apart. I couldn’t resist Capelo’s massive serving dishes on my last buying trip—I fell in love with the rounded square serving dish and all its possible uses. The same goes for the fluted serving bowls and smaller plates with kaleidoscope-like designs.

Capelo pitcher

square serving dishCapelo plates

Although Capelo pottery experiments with shapes, there are two things that never change: the use of local clay and natural glazes. Capelo says that his glazes are different because they don’t contain additives like many modern glazes do, using only natural ingredients. Of course, this doesn’t limit his use of color. His Mexico ceramics are rich with deep blue, dreamy green, burnt orange-red, and soft yellow. The resulting majolica is a softer, more subtle Mexican ceramics, almost glowing from within. Add to all this the fact that all of Capelo’s ceramics are one of a kind pieces and you have a recipe for an artist who definitely stands out from the rest.

Capelo fluted footed bowl

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Last Stop: Italian Ceramics and the Amalfi Coast

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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!

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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 : ).

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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!

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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!

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Behind the Scenes: Capelo’s One of a Kind Mexican 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 hand-painted ceramics come to life.Capelo

Whenever I visit Capelo’s studio and home on a hillside above Guanajuato, Mexico, I’m always struck by the beauty of the landscape. The rolling mountains with their winding roads are stunning. Capelo himself definitely appreciates the beautiful setting — he goes for almost daily horseback rides through the mountains to relax and enjoy!

hillsides around Guanajuato, Mexico

Capelo Capelo’s one of a kind ceramics are similarly stunning. They possess an unexpected, organic, and completely touchable quality that really sets them apart from other handmade ceramics. Capelo’s studio is one of the smaller ones that I work with at Emilia Ceramics, with only a handful of artists working alongside Capelo himself to create and paint these beautiful Mexican ceramics. Capelo is also a highly regarded architect and teaches classes at the University of Guanajuato, manages the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and executes special commissions. On my visit last June he showed me the gold “key to Guanajuato” he made to present to the Pope. Capelo excels at oil painting and mixed-media sculpture; he is a true artist — always creating something new and exciting.

One of the most striking parts of Capelo’s ceramics is their unusual shape. He makes something as simple as a bowl or vase seem completely new with curves which are accentuated by the gorgeous hand-painting on each piece.

Capelo insists on using only natural glazes, which give his Mexican ceramics a truly special touchable quality. Like Sylvie Durez, all his ceramics are one of a kind, painted in a recognizable range of signature colors. I always have a hard time choosing pieces from all the gorgeous possibilities available and am sad to see them go (but, of course, glad when they find happy homes). The last buying trip yielded striking statement vases, a collection of serving bowls and planters, massive pitchers, and a set of plates that remind me of an ever-changing kaleidoscope. Just like the landscape around the studio, Capelo’s ceramics is a small slice of Mexico that is hard to forget. I can’t wait for my next trip since I’m sure to find a whole new range of Mexican ceramics to fall in love with and share with all of you.

Capelo statement vase

footed serving bowllittle blue plateCapelo Mexican ceramics

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Set a Rustic Tuscan Table with Ceramic Pitchers and Other Essentials

The charm of a rustic Italian table is unparalleled. Pitchers filled with wines and water are scattered to ensure everyone has plenty to drink. Platters piled with homemade delicacies are passed, then passed again. Exposed wood, ironwork, and handmade Italian ceramics all work together to enhance the flavors and experience.

Want to translate the homey, inviting feel of a Tuscan table to your home? Italian country décor invokes the same materials as Tuscany: large hand painted plates, ceramic salad bowls, Tuscan vases, wrought iron, glass bottles, and natural colors. Now you’re ready to invite over friends and family to feast the night away.

One of the easiest ways to get a Tuscan feel to your table is using ceramic pitchers. The thick clay keeps drinks cool in the summer and makes it easy to pour just one more glass of wine. Detailed patterns also make it easy to distinguish white wine from red wine, or adult beverages from those that are kid-friendly. A ceramic pitcher filled with wildflowers also makes for a great centerpiece, lending casual elegance to your table.

Sturdy serving pieces are also an essential for Italian country dining. A ceramic salad bowl large enough to toss greens for your entire group could also be used for a fragrant pasta dish. Platters stacked with cuts of meat or appetizing vegetables beg to be passed until diners can eat no more. Little bowls filled with sauces compliment everyone’s hand painted plates, large enough to comfortably fit a little bit of everything while adding a festive note to the table.

To feel truly like you’re in Tuscany, look for a wide-planked wooden table built to withstand the feasting of generations. If you’re satisfied with your current eating surface, a handmade tablecloth will transform it for your Italian feast; look for shades of orange and gold to compliment darker dishware. Add a Tuscan vase on the sideboard, some candles in rustic holders, and you’ll have the feel of Italy without getting on a plane. Buon appetito!

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Truly Unique Handmade Ceramics: Our Favorite One of a Kind Pieces

handmade ceramicsEven though all the ceramics in the Emilia Ceramics collection are handmade and handpainted, some artists focus on one of a kind ceramics more than others. Sylvie Durez’s French handmade ceramics are a perfect example. For her plates and bowls, she etches an original design onto the piece without a plan or pattern — then hand paints the piece, with women lounging, serene landscapes, or whatever else she fancies.

handmade ceramics: bowlmodern handmade ceramics

Every time I visit her Provence studio, choosing from all the many options can be quite challenging; often I wish I could just take them all!

Capelo also specializes in one of a kind handmade ceramics. He and his fellow artists in his Mexican workshop craft pieces with unusual shapes and truly touchable glazes. I especially love his vases. Take the Hawaiian vase: with its floral motifs and range of colors, this piece is beautiful empty on a shelf or full of flowers.

Hawaiian vaseCapelo’s unique bowls and trays are also fantastic examples of his one of kind work. They also make great gifts—with these handmade ceramics, you can be certain you won’t be giving something already in someone’s home.

handmade ceramic tray

Other artists, like Gorky Gonzalez and Richard Esteban, mix one of a kind pieces in with their regular handmade ceramic collections. For example, Gorky’s Catrina plates and the amor plate allow artists to get creative with their designs. I particularly love the El Pajaro bowl with its cheerful songbird. These pieces blend nicely with the rest of Gorky’s collection. They’re incredibly detailed, sharing border motifs, color palettes, and style with his other handmade ceramics.

amor platehandmade ceramic bowl

Richard’s one of a kind French handmade ceramics are also tied together by color and feel. Whether it’s a striking black tall pitcher, quirky polka dot planter, or striped serving platter, these ceramics definitely embody the spirit of his country home with a modern edge. I love his tall teal vase and its etching; this is another example of a vase that looks wonderful empty or full.

tall vaseblack pitcher

Of course, the one downside to all these handmade ceramics is once they are sold, they’re gone. It can be hard to not fall in love with every one, but if I kept them all, I’d have no room left in my home. That’s why I’m always happy to share them with you as well as hear from people about their new handmade ceramics when they receive them. Have a story about some handmade ceramics you love and how you use them? Comment below and please share it with us all!

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What Makes Italian Coffee Mugs So Special?

Are you a coffee addict? Or perhaps a tea fanatic? No matter how you like your caffeine fix, having the right mug makes all the difference. Handle design, thickness, and size are factors that make the difference between an Italian coffee mug you use everyday and one that just sits on the shelf.

Why does origin matter for contemporary cups and saucers? Well, think about your favorite beverages. Coffee grown in Latin America usually has lighter, citrus flavors while African beans are full of berry notes and earthy depth. Tea harvesting methods and varieties also vary from India to China, with different tastes depending on if the leaf is part of the first picking or last of the season. Because handmade ceramics use local clay, you’ll also find some differences in mugs from places like Mexico, Italy, and France in terms of color and firing methods used. The biggest obvious difference is in the traditional patterns that decorate French, Mexican, and Italian coffee mugs though. From lemons and fruits to roosters and flowers to playful polka dot mugs, there are as many designs as there are ways to make a cup of coffee!

The case for using ceramic mugs dates back hundreds of years. Ceramic keeps beverages hot for longer than most other materials, making it the ideal material for Italian coffee mugs right from the start of the coffeehouse vogue that started in the 17th century. Even today ceramic cones are used in serious coffee shops (and by home aficionados) all over the U.S. as a way to make a consistently delicious cup. Using a scale to get the correct proportion of grounds to water might be a little over the top, but I’ll admit that the results are delicious.

Both mugs and contemporary cups and saucers have their own advantages. A mug lends itself to moving around the house or office while a cup and saucer is better suited for staying put (and holding your spoon and a cookie or other small snack). I love the massive size of the Gran Taza mug in the afternoon (fewer need to go back for refills), but always start my morning with an Italian coffee mug for my first cup. For a few minutes I feel like I’m back in an Italian café in the heart of Tuscany.

What are your favorite ways to drink coffee and tea? Are you a fan of Italian ceramic coffee mugs, French espresso cups, or other contemporary cups and saucers? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Behind the Scenes: Gorky Gonzalez’s Mexican 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.

A visit to Gorky Gonzalez’s workshop in Guanajuato, Mexico is truly a feast for the senses. There’s color and creative genius everywhere you look, piled in ceramics both finished and in process. Considering the number of awards and international acclaim Gorky’s pottery has received, it’s no surprise that his development as a ceramic artist has international flavor as well.

An antique piece of Majolica pottery that Gorky found in the early 1960s inspired him to rescue this basically forgotten craft. After studying in Japan (where he met his wife Toshiko), he returned with a variety of techniques that have truly revitalized Mexican ceramics. The results blend past and present, creating Mexican ceramics that are unique and timeless.

Today Gorky Gonzalez and Toshiko’s son Gorky Jr. (known as Gogo) handles the daily responsibilities of the business, continuing the family tradition. On my most recent visit to Mexico this past June I was delighted to find all three members of the Gonzalez family hard at work with their dedicated team of artists. I visited with about six artists who were working on the wheel or painting these vibrant Mexican ceramics by hand. Whether dinner plates or mugs, each piece is treated with care through the multistep process that Majolica requires including multiple firings in the kiln.

With a workshop as large and bustling as this one it can seem like it might get old painting the same Mexican ceramics every day. However, there are always plenty of new pieces and designs being created as well as the continuation of old favorites. I talked with one artist who’s been painting Gorky pottery for nine years and still loves it. Each piece has a design guide that the artists follow, but they are encouraged to put their own individual stamp on it so in the end, no two pieces are ever exactly alike.

On this trip I was lucky enough to find some truly unique pieces to add to my Gorky pottery collection: dinner plates with the Catrina design (perfect for Dia de los Muertos), new creamers with owls and roosters, and even some fun new dip bowls. As Gorky pottery designs expand to include more traditional patterns as well as the modern Gogo collection, I’m always excited to share these amazing Mexican ceramics with you.

 

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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.

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5 Ways to Create an Instant Café Experience with French Coffee Mugs

Did Bastille Day make you long for France? It did for me! I keep thinking about my favorite French experiences and near the top of that list is whiling away the morning or afternoon at a sweet Provençal café. From croissants to French coffee bowls, here are my top tips for creating your own French café experience, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.

  1. Pick the cup to suit your drink. Whether you love strong espresso or equal parts coffee and cream, the right vessel makes all the difference. Tiny espresso cups allow the ideal amount of crema to cover the shot for the best taste possible. Like American style coffee? Then treat yourself to a polka dot mug for your brew. And for you hot chocolate and tea lovers, there’s nothing better than French coffee bowls for capacity.
  2. Try using a saucer. At a café in France, every beverage is served on a saucer that holds a tiny spoon, perhaps a lump of sugar, and a small sweet. French coffee mugs with saucers do the same at home, giving you an easy way to transport your cup to your favorite chair or seat on the patio. The saucer also provides protection for your table and won’t go missing the same way a coaster always seems to.
  3. Eat fresh. In France people usually pick up croissants or pain au chocolat from the local boulangerie or pâtisserie when they are only a few hours old. This makes for flakier pastry that tastes even better with a coffee at the local café or breakfast table. While you might not have a bakery right down the street, pair the contents of your French coffee bowl with the freshest breakfast possible, from fruit that’s in season to treats you picked up from the bakery the night before (shhhh, we won’t tell anyone).
  4. Pick up a newspaper. When traveling in Provence, I always see people reading their favorite newspapers at cafés, particularly in the mornings. It’s an easy way to slow down and truly savor what’s in your French coffee mug, whether it’s your first or fifth cup of the day.
  5. Don’t neglect the details. From interesting sugar cubes to those tiny spoons, the right details make your French coffee mug feel even more authentic. Recreate a French breakfast with Nutella or jam spread on toast or a croissant; then dip it into your French coffee bowl and enjoy the delicious results. Whether it’s a playful polka dot mug, gently steamed milk, or a cheerful cream and sugar set on the table, these little details will make any cup of espresso, coffee, or tea seem like someone else made it for you.

Interested in more coffee rituals? Check out our Pinterest board for coffee and tea lovers and let us know what you think.

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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!

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Making Beverages Special: From French Coffee Bowls to Espresso Cups

french coffee bowls

What’s your hot beverage of choice? Coffee with cream and sugar? A potent espresso? Antioxidant-rich green tea? Hot chocolate with whipped cream? There are as many variations on these warming drinks as there are people who drink them. Talk with a barista and you’ll find out about even more factors that make a drink great: foam density, temperature, even the size of the espresso cups all contribute to the resulting taste.

There are a few coffeshops in San Francisco who will only serve small espresso drinks (like a macchiato or a simple shot) in ceramic cups, never to go. When I asked a barista why this was, she told me that the oils that give espresso its full flavor get absorbed by the paper of “to go” cups, making the drink taste flatter. Another factor is temperature –  a cooled espresso is a pale imitation of its warm delicious glory.

How should you serve your favorite handcrafted beverages? Here are some tips to get the most flavor out of your favorite cup, no matter what it may be:

Warm your mug first. No matter what you’re drinking, run some hot water in your French coffee bowl or polka dot mug and pour it out first. Bringing the ceramic to a closer temperature with the beverage means that your drink will stay warmer longer. You often see baristas doing this with espresso cups right before pulling the shot.

Use loose leaf tea. The flavor difference is incredible between tea bags and loose leaf because of how they’re created. Tea bags use the leavings and broken bits, while loose leaf varieties maintain more of the leaf and thus flavor. If you hate the mess of loose leaf, use filter bags or a tea ball to create your own tea bag.

Assam Melody

Get fresh beans. Roasting date makes all the difference as after about two weeks coffee starts to go stale. Grinding your own beans can be inconvenient, but getting fresh beans ground at your favorite coffeeshop is infinitely superior to buying pre-ground coffee.

Add some decadent finishing touches. A French coffee bowl is a great way to enjoy hot chocolate, but it’s even better if you add some fresh whipped cream or a drizzle of dark chocolate just before serving. Coffee purists might not like mixing their brew with flavors, but fresh cinnamon, vanilla, hazelnut, or other favorite flavors can jazz up your routine.

Serve in style. Stylish French coffee mugs, like these polka dot mugs by Richard Esteban, make any drink more enjoyable. Whether espresso cups, French coffee bowls, or a giant mug like the Gran Taza, having the right cup makes all the difference.

Tea leaves image courtesy of A Girl with Tea.

Coffee beans image courtesy of kadluba.

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Italian Country Décor: Charm for More than Just the Kitchen

Tuscany Country on a Overcast Day
Who can resist the charm of Italian country décor? From stunning patios to rustic kitchens, this is a decorating style that is warm, welcoming, and timeless. Traditionally, Italian country décor showcases simplicity and functionality throughout the home. I find that more and more people are embracing this chic yet comfortable decorating style, especially in the kitchen. So how can you get the look yourself?

Rustic tables, wrought iron racks, and earth tones all contribute to the feel of a Tuscan home. Throw in some Italian country ceramics, glass bottles, and your favorite Italian food to complete the ambiance. Details like ceramic tile floors, fireplaces, and exposed wood beams are architectural elements that also add to the look. Stonework in the living room or kitchen, gorgeous wood floors, and a stunning rustic chandelier continue the Italian country décor into the living and dining rooms. Want to see more? I’d recommend checking out Houzz for some truly inspiring images of Italian country décor from designers world-wide.

Of course, the warmth and friendliness associated with this Tuscan style is closely tied to the Italian tradition of hospitality that goes with it. Italians are experts at relaxed entertaining. It’s easy to channel this skill when you have Italian serving platters and bowls by Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte. In addition to my favorite square serving platters by Tuscia d’Arte (with oranges, lemons and pomegranates), we’ve just received this beautiful oval serving platter with lemons on a red background. Versatile for parties, dinners, or just wall decoration, this ceramic serving dish adds the warmth of Tuscany to any kitchen. Another new cheerful piece is the Limoni serving bowl, perfect for a tossed salad or gracing a tabletop filled with fresh fruit. Blu limoni serving trays remain a popular favorite for gift-giving, whether it’s a wedding, anniversary, or birthday.

Whether you’re going for Italian country décor or another style completely, remember that decorating goes beyond getting the furniture or ceramic serving dishes that fit your theme. It’s about making a home that’s yours — One that’s welcoming to your family and your guests. Let us know what you think about Italian country décor by leaving a comment below!

Tuscany image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.

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Gorky Gonzalez Pottery & California: A Perfect Match

Why is Gorky Gonzalez pottery so popular in California? Is it the rustic design? The playful motifs on Gorky’s traditional pieces? Or maybe the sleek contemporary feel of the Gogo line? I think it’s all of these things and more. Gorky Gonzalez makes pottery that perfectly fits a relaxed California vibe, a refreshing idea regardless of whether you live in the state! Let’s look at some reasons why:

Rustic. From beach culture to farmlands, California has plenty that’s a little rough around the edges and a lot of California design reflects that. Gorky Gonzalez pottery is all handmade and hand-painted, lending individuality to each piece. The animal and human subjects on plates, bowls, and platters fit easily into a more relaxed design feel, making them fantastic gifts that work equally well at a dining or picnic table.

Playful. Check out the salt and pepper shakers; they’re a perfect example of why Gorky Gonzalez pottery is so ideal for California. In our Palo Alto pop-up shop, the bunnies, frogs, chickens, and roosters are flying off the shelves.

From swimming fish to a man on his horse, Gorky Gonzalez pottery has real personality. These pieces are an easy way to make everything from breakfast to dessert more fun.

Southwestern. The desert is definitely part of California. The cacti, soft colors, and unique shapes make some pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery feel right at home in a California home with southwestern flair.

The La Mexicana motif with bright fruits and leaves fits this style perfectly (and with all the pieces available from mixing bowls to serving platters, it’s easy to create an entire matching set).

Contemporary. Gorky Gonzalez uses techniques deeply rooted in tradition, but he isn’t stuck in the past. His son Gogo has created a line with the same quality craftsmanship but a more modern and contemporary feel. The bright solid colors mix well with more patterned pieces, whether bowls, plates, or platters. The Gogo espresso cups are another fun and unexpected shape that’s sure to get compliments. These pieces of Gorky Gonzalez pottery easily fit into a range of aesthetics, both in and out of California.

Eclectic. That all said, there’s something completely one-of-a-kind about Gorky Gonzalez pottery. The fusion of modern and traditional motifs, an inherent dynamism, and effortless charm make it perfect for an entire kitchen set or just a few pieces. Gorky pottery gives you the freedom to layer your favorite patterns and colors for a style all your own.

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Italian Style, Italian Ceramics: 5 Top Tips

Italian style seems so effortless, from a relaxed afternoon sipping espresso in the piazza to zipping around town on a Vespa. I know that life in Italy isn’t all what we see in the movies, but there’s still an enviable charm about “la dolce vita.” It’s one of the reasons that Italian ceramics are consistently top sellers – people long for a way to incorporate some of this laid-back style into their own homes.

So how can you add a little Italian style into your home? Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years when it comes to Italian ceramics:

1. Matchy matchy. Italian style dinnerware comes in many textures, colors, and sizes. Some people have a favorite Deruta pattern and only buy pieces from a particular artist or manufacturer (much like what my grandmother’s generation did with china patterns). I encourage mixing and matching various styles instead of becoming dependent on one specific Deruta pattern, which could stop being produced before your collection is complete or as soon as you break a few dinner plates. Ceramics that are painted by hand will always vary anyway, so why not embrace the variety!

2. Start small. All transformations take time, so gradually introducing Italian ceramics into your home with a piece or two is a smart way to go. An Italian earthenware utensil holder adds color and personality to your counter while keeping ladles, wooden spoons, whisks, and all your other kitchen tools in easy reach. Other options are perhaps an Italian ceramic centerpiece platter for your kitchen or dining room table, a spoon rest for your stovetop, or a handmade Italian ceramic vase in your living room.

3. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Sometimes a price tag can be informative… “made in Italy” on a platter that costs $19.99 for instance, probably means it was signed in Italy. However, that doesn’t mean you can always equate expense with quality. I think this assumption is one reason people spend so much money on Vietri dinnerware. While well-known for emulating Tuscan style, I think that Vietri ceramic fails to capture a truly handmade spirit. While quality is definitely worth paying for, a large price tag doesn’t guarantee quality. Skip Vietri dinnerware and find Italian ceramics that showcase the artist’s personality and match your aesthetic.

4. Color counts. Instead of trying to get the patterns of your Tuscan style dinnerware to all match, chose a few colors and build a collection around those. The variety will add depth and interest to your table, particularly when it comes to layering pieces. From Deruta patterns to Italian majolica pottery, you’re sure to find colors that work with your style. Warm yellows, soft greens, vivid blues, and rich reds are just the beginning.

5. Pack a design punch. Statement pieces are another quick way to transform a room or entire home. Instead of an entirely new collection of Italian style dinnerware, incorporate some stylish serving platters. Italian ceramic planters are another favorite as are wall plates or large Italian earthenware vases. Tuscany here you come!

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Feliz Día de los Muertos!

I love visiting Mexico. The people are so friendly, the food is delicious, I get to use my Spanish, and on top of all that, I can see Mexican artists make ceramics, weave all manner of gorgeous cloth, work metal or leather, and create other beautiful traditional crafts. With Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) starting today, my mind is wandering both to Mexico and my favorite Mexican artists — Talavera Vazquez, Gorky González, Capelo, and Angélica Escarcega. I have heard so much about the colorful festivities surrounding Day of the Dead and have always wanted to experience the nation-wide celebration in person!

What is the Day of the Dead exactly? First off, it’s actually two days (November 1 and 2) during which people remember and celebrate ancestors and friends who have passed away. This celebration has roots in Aztec, Purepechas, and Totonacs traditions as well as the Catholic practice of All Souls Day. People visit their relatives’ graves on the first day, decorating them with flowers and candles. It’s a sort of picnic in the cemetery, with friends and family sharing stories about their loved ones buried there. It’s a celebration of the dead, as well as a celebration of the community they helped create.

These graveside picnics usually feature tamales and pan de muerto, a special bread. Bakers hide a toy skeleton inside (usually plastic) and it’s good luck if you bite into it. Sweets are another important tradition, with cookies, chocolate and sugar skulls. By biting into the skull shapes, people symbolically “take a bite of death” and inoculate themselves against the fear of death.

Another important aspect of the Day of the Dead are the intricate altars constructed and dedicated to deceased relatives. These are often decorated with yellow and orange marigolds and/or chrysanthemums; yellow is the Aztec color for autumn as it’s the season when nature begins to die. There are both home and public altars, where people leave offerings of favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed (candy skulls are a popular choice), photographs, and religious amulets. The altars show the cycle of life and death as part of the human experience. Day of the Dead celebrations also can include processions (like this one in San Francisco), music, or dancing; but the main idea is to celebrate life and death together.

While I won’t be in Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead this year, I will be surrounded by the festive pottery of Talavera Vazquez. I’m especially inspired to bring out my Vazquez pottery this time of year — the bold beauty reflects traditional Mexican decorations and the bright colors evoke the change of seasons. While you might decorate for many different fall events (Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving come to mind), putting Mexican artist ceramics like a Vazquez pottery vase or ginger jar into the mix makes for the perfect fall touch. Felicidades!

Day of the Dead altar image courtesy of Ute Hagen.

Candy skulls image courtesy of Glen Van Etten.

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Italian Coffee and Our Favorite Italian Coffee Mugs

I know that the Clover coffee machine is old news, but it fascinates me that people are so enamored of coffee that there’s a machine on the market that costs thousands of dollars and claims to brew the perfect cup. Personally, I like making my morning coffee at home and savoring it in an Italian ceramic coffee mug. I feel momentarily transported to Italy, if just for a few lovely minutes before my day truly begins. One of my favorite parts of traveling in Italy is getting to experience the relaxed, community-oriented culture found in local cafés. Coffee definitely has a way of bringing people together and in Italy, coffee helps me feel right at home.

Why is it that we think of Italy and coffee together though… I mean, coffee isn’t even grown there! Part of it is history. Venice was home to the first coffeehouses in Western Europe. The first one was recorded in 1645. Coffeehouses quickly became a place to do business and talk with like-minded people (hence their attraction to students and thinkers the world-over). The modern espresso machine was created in Milan in 1945, and the subsequent craze over this bitter yet delicious concentrated brew continues today with cafes and aficionados world-over.

And when did Italian ceramic coffee mugs come into the picture? Right at the beginning in fact. Italian coffee mugs were traditionally made of ceramic because it kept the coffee hot for longer. Cool coffee didn’t have the same appeal, so Italians ensured their coffee mugs helped draw out the delectable experience just a little longer. Clever, no?

Of course, espresso is another story. It is best drunk quickly, while it’s still hot. Many Italians grab a quick shot on their way to work, just drinking it at the bar, explains Life in Italy. However, you’ll still see people lingering in a café in the late afternoon, enjoying company of friends or simply soaking up the atmosphere. You can visit some of the original coffeehouses in Venice or frequent the local café no matter where in Italy you might be. Even the train stations have incredible brews and they often serve them from the cutest little Italian coffee mugs and espresso cups.

Not going to Italy anytime soon? Then create your own café feel with Italian ceramic coffee mugs at home. And don’t believe purists who tell you espresso is the only way to drink it – coffee has been brewed in a variety of fashions since it was first discovered (probably in Ethiopia, though sources don’t always agree). So whether you filter, French press, or use a stove top espresso maker, take a few moments to really savor your next cup. May I suggest these ideas For Coffee & Tea Lovers, including my favorite Italian coffee mugs.

Coffee bean image courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

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The Case for Handmade Ceramic Pottery

There’s nothing quite like holding well-crafted ceramics in your hand, whether a mug, bowl, plate, or large decorative vase. Yet some believe handmade crafts like painted ceramics are endangered, as stated on the Mexican Pottery and Crafts blog.

As with other artistic professions, a ceramic artisan is not focused on speedy production – there are machines now for that – but instead on creating quality work that follows long-standing tradition. The artists I work with at Emilia Ceramics have all chosen to follow a path that doesn’t bring easy money or involve mass production. For them it is a labor of love, aimed at giving satisfaction to both artist and customer alike. Each piece of painted ceramics is the result of hours of work, from beginning to end. So the question is, as our society becomes more and more streamlined, is there still a place for this kind of intensive labor?

I believe that there is value in the tradition and culture behind handmade ceramic pottery, which mass-produced pieces just don’t have. I love seeing a fingerprint or other slight “imperfection” on a piece — it is evidence that the bowl or plate was crafted by human hands. It is definitely true that you “can feel when there was a person with enthusiasm behind an object and not simply a machine.” That connection is completely different from the feelings engendered when you buy a piece off the shelf at a big box store.

The idea of being part of a long-standing tradition is also critical, as a culture’s values are often passed on through its artwork. I think about artists like Gorky Gonzalez, Richard Esteban, and even Juan Quezada of Mata Ortiz fame. These men chose to pursue and truly revitalize ceramic traditions that had either disappeared or were on the verge of disappearing. They are great examples of the genius that results from combining traditional craftsmanship with a new and creative modern aesthetic. These artists respect the past, but aren’t slaves to its forms or designs.

Just look at painted ceramics like a graceful vase, a simple bowl, or even something as basic as a mug. These gorgeous, practical examples of handmade ceramic pottery appeal to all the senses, invoking rich traditions and celebrating life’s simple pleasures. And for that reason alone, I think we’ll be able to keep the tradition of handmade artistry alive, even in an increasingly technological world.

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French Coffee Bowls to Handcrafted Coffee Mugs Make Any Drink Special

French coffee bowl

I love to start my day with a good cup of coffee. While living in Sevilla I had various favorite cafés where I would sip my “café cortado” while watching the morning rituals unfolding around me: best friends and complete strangers, happily exchanging news and well-wishes. And when I’m traveling in Italy, nothing beats a lovingly-made cappuccino, at any time of day.

As with most things, I believe coffee (or tea) tastes better from handcrafted ceramics. Whether you prefer a rustic Mexican cup and saucer, French coffee bowl or Italian ceramic coffee mug, its a nice reminder to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. What kind do you prefer?

Cup & Saucer
If you love coffee, you don’t have time for dainty tea sets. The Gran Taza holds enough to wake you up or sip throughout an afternoon. I made a special request for large cups that are the perfect size for a traditional Café Con Leche. No matter the size, blue and white coffee mugs set off tea or coffee so nicely. Saucers are convenient as a built-in coaster, spoon rest, or even do double duty as a snack plate. And I would suggest mixing and matching designs (especially if you can’t decide which you like best).

Prefer espresso? Indulge in distinctive espresso cups and saucers inspired by Jackson Pollock for whimsy with your shot.

Mug
While any handcrafted coffee mug is special, I love Italian ceramic coffee mugs. The bold patterns make me smile; how can you not love a colorful rooster greeting you first thing in the morning? Here too the range of sizes satisfies any drinker. There’s something solid about a mug with a handle that fits perfectly in your hands, warming you inside and out.

Mugs also make great gifts – people never seem to have enough. Mixing and matching mugs adds instant Italian flair to both your shelf and table.

Coffee Bowl
A grande crème anyone? French coffee bowls are part of many breakfast tables. I love filling mine with hot chocolate and dipping in croissants like the locals do.These French coffee bowls come in various sizes, depending on your need for caffeine. They also double as dessert or cereal bowls, for useful versatility.