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Pinterest Best: Italian Pottery

limoni oval platter

Italian pottery spans far too many different styles, shapes, and uses to sum them all up in one blog post. However, this week I am doing a Pinterest round-up of some recently posted favorites, which represent a few of the many ways Italian pottery can be used and enjoyed. Starting with our very own Limoni Oval Platter.

On a Shelf

limoni oval platter

A spectacular serving platter or display piece, featuring sunny lemons on a crisp white background. It will brighten any meal or any nook you choose to display it in.

You may enjoy: Can History Explain the Popularity of Italian Ceramics

Mismatched on the Wall

italian pottery

Image credit: Coquita 

Italian ceramics are not just for the table. Mounted on a wall, they add a level of flair and drama. And there is no need for them to match perfectly… the more eclectic your collection, the better!

You may enjoy: Create Tuscan Chic with Ceramic Pitchers & Italian Country Decor 

Using Pops of Color

italian pottery

Image credit: Artistica

Turquoise and salmon give a pop of color and add incredible energy to a space. I love how they’ve displayed a variety of Italian pottery pieces in the same color for added drama.

You may enjoy: Orange Home Decor Ideas

Oversized Ginger Jars

italian ceramics tibor

Image credit: Blogging Over Thyme

We love ginger jars here at Emilia Ceramics! I think this oversized version is simply spectacular. It includes the classically designed fruit in intricate details and vivid colors.

You may enjoy: Pinterest Best: Ginger Jars and Lamps

Italian Ceramic Tiles

italian tilesImage credit: Stone Impressions

 

Italian ceramic tile makes a stunning statement, whether it’s in your kitchen, on your patio, or incorporated into some other nook in your home. I would love a bathroom tiled with these intricate pieces.

You may enjoy: New Italian Soap Dish from Ceramiche Bartoloni

Italian ceramics are incredibly complex and time-intensive, especially the task of hand-painting, which is a precise skill that allows for no errors. That’s why we have partnered with the best in the business. Learn more about our artisans here. And, shop our collection of Italian ceramics here.

 

 

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What Makes Deruta Patterns Unique Among Italian Ceramics?

Deruta is one of Italy’s historic ceramic centers, known for intricate designs and truly amazing Italian ceramics. Vietri dinnerware is famous for its animals, Tuscan majolica for its nature motifs of flowers and fruits. Deruta patterns are intricate and detailed, often combining organic and abstract motifs. The results are similar to the patterns in a kaleidoscope: ever-changing and always beautifully striking.

Italian Deruta

 

Deruta is especially famous for hand painted dinner plates. Patterns go back to the Renaissance when the area manufactured ceramics for popular demand (Faenza catered to the aristocrats and Montelupo Fiorentino to trade outside of Italy). The geometric motifs continue with today’s Italian ceramic artists, many of whom use the same colors and techniques as their predecessors.

Looking at the plates from Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, I see a rough divide in motifs: organic flourishes and stylized geometry. The organic-inspired plates are what many imagine when they think about Deruta patterns: arabesques, plenty of colors, and whimsical figures (like the dragons on these hand painted dinner plates in the traditional Raffaellesco pattern).

Raffaellesco Deruta plate

These Italian ceramics are full of personality and whimsy. Every time I look at the Raffaellesco and Fogliame (inspired by waving leaves) I find something new. The Fogliame design makes me think of waves and breezes, not just curled leaves.

fogliame Deruta plate

The Deruta patterns with stylized geometry have an almost Art Deco feel. Though inspired by natural phenomenon as their names suggest (Nevicata is “snowfall,” Alba is “sunrise,” and “Il Sole” is “the sun”), the patterns feature more angles and repetition.

Deruta patternDeruta pattern

The contrast with deep jewel tones and bright gold also makes these geometric plates stand out. Although rooted in centuries of tradition, this Italian style dinnerware feels quite modern.

Deruta patterns definitely stand out from other Italian ceramics. They also mix well with less intricate motifs, like these boldly striped plates. Much as people did in past centuries, layering Deruta plates is a wonderful opportunity to mix patterns and colors to create a table fit for your most special occasions. And since Italian majolica is quite sturdy, you can use these gorgeous Italian ceramics for every meal, adding elegance to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s no surprise that people can’t get enough of their favorite patterns for plates, serving ware, and table accessories.

Deruta Italian plate

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Create Tuscan Chic with Ceramic Pitchers & Italian Country Decor

Italian countryside

Looking to add the perfect touch of warm, Italian charm to your home? Look no further than Tuscany for your inspiration. The gorgeous countryside and rustic aesthetic have worked together perfectly for hundreds of years. Don’t own your own Italian country house? Here are some ways to add simple, yet chic touches from ceramic pitchers to iron accents that will add the feel of Tuscany to your home, wherever it might be.

Italian country kitchen

Bring in nature. Traditional Tuscan kitchens have herbs hanging and flowers on the table (often in a Tuscan vase). Connected to the land, there’s a seamless transition between outdoors and the organic feel of inside. Simple touches like branches or dried flowers are an easy way to freshen a space and bring some of the outside in. Hang a bunch of dried lavender, rope of garlic, braid of onions or another decorative and useful addition to your kitchen. Greenery adds warmth to the dining room, whether a few plants in the window or a vase on the sideboard.

garlic braid
Mix materials.
A large wood table is the backbone of most Tuscan homes. It’s where people gather to feast, visit, or maybe make a batch of homemade pasta. Iron candleholders or trivets mix well with a ceramic salad bowl or Italian hand painted plates to set the table for your feast (or just for family dinner). Choose handmade accents whenever possible as you mix pieces together to create a warm, eclectic space. And forget about everything matching. With Italian country décor, when your ceramic salad bowl doesn’t exactly match your plates it feels more authentic.

Italian hand painted plates

Use ceramic pitchers. Surprisingly versatile, these ceramics can double as a Tuscan vase or decorate a shelf in your kitchen when not in active use. A ceramic pitcher full of water is ideal for any meal; use multiple ceramic pitchers to easily pass wine, juice, or another beverage of choice. Even the most ordinary dinner suddenly gains a relaxed Tuscan elegance.

Italian ceramic pitcher

Italian country kitchen image courtesy Craig Stanfill.

Garlic image courtesy nociveglia.

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Off to France and Italy! What French and Italian Ceramics Will I Find?

TuscanyAs some of you already know, I’ve just gotten to France for the first leg of my June buying trip. Visiting Richard’s studio was stunning, as always, and I’ll write about all that I did there soon. But though I’m excited to be reconnecting with my French artists, I’m particularly looking forward to Italy since it’s been a few years since I’ve visited in person. I’ve done some research on things like Deruta patterns, Vietri dinnerware, and other types of Italian majolica pottery, but there’s really no substitute for actually being “on the ground” where these Italian ceramics are made.

There are three centers of Italian ceramics: Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo Fiorentino. All three of these areas have access to the raw materials necessary for Italian majolica pottery as well as to major trade routes necessary for success in the Renaissance, making them ceramic centers for hundreds of years. Both Ceramiche Bartoloni and Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia are in the Montelupo Fiorentino region, and I cannot get enough of their intricately hand painted dinner plates, servingware, mugs, and other Italian ceramics. Both studios are home to incredibly talented Italian ceramic artists and it’s always exciting to see the new ways they combine traditional and modern elements to create unique, personal ceramics.Italian ceramic platterhand painted Italian platter

But what about Italian earthenware or Italian pots? Vietri ceramics or Tuscan style dinnerware?Italian pots These Italian ceramics, along with the famous Deruta, are what I’m hoping to find. I have some leads on some studios that practice traditional methods with everything made by hand and hope to unearth some new gems to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. I love the geometric shapes that make up Deruta patterns, resulting in breath-taking plates, bowls, and platters. And with all the possibilities for rustic Tuscan style dinnerware, I’m sure to find pieces that fit in with my existing collection. New artists are always a thrill and I can’t wait to start exploring.

Have any suggestions for Italian ceramics I should go after? Know of any artists that would be a good fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection? Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

 

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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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Our Favorite Italian Ceramics, Patterns, and Pieces

Italian ceramics
I’m planning to go to Italy in the spring to look for new artists to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. There are so many traditional patterns used to decorate Italian ceramics, from intricate Deruta patterns to the whimsical animals of Vietri dinnerware. Many of these motifs are nature-inspired, with fruits, flowers, and animals common for Italian majolica pottery.

Italian platters

Lemons, for example, are a widely used pattern. The bright yellow can be paired with deep cobalt blue backgrounds or creamy white, giving a very different look to the piece. Cheerful serving pieces are typical, like the blu limoni serving tray by the brothers at Ceramiche Bartoloni.

A totally different look, this oval serving platter is subtle, refined, and has a refreshing color pallet.

oval_due_limoni

Cherries are another of my favorite fruit motifs. Mixed with greenery, they enliven plates, mugs, and pitchers of various sizes. The deep red of the glaze is quite striking and gives an almost modern sensibility to this unusual pattern.

Of course, there’s no reason to stop at just one fruit. Mixed fruit patterns are another of my favorites for Italian ceramics. They add elegance to planters and platters alike with colorful peaches, pears, apples, quince, and grapes. I love using this mixed fruit platter as a centerpiece on a long table – it looks fabulous full of food or empty.

Tuscan Fruit Long Platter

new_rooster_bowl_2Roosters are another common motif I’m sure to find on my Italian travels. Invoking the countryside, Italian ceramic artists can’t seem to get enough of these feathered friends. Tuscia d’Arte’s playful blue rooster is almost comical, while Ceramiche Bartoloni’s roosters are more intricate and lifelike. The beautifully painted rooster salad bowl and rooster pitcher will add color and possibly some good luck to your kitchen.

There’s also istoriato ware, a style of Italian majolica that tells a story. Historically these were hand painted dinner plates that featured intricate central imagery of people (though not always) surrounded by a rich border. The style is still popular today, often for wall plates. Tuscia d’Arte’s harlequin plates are a variation on this tradition, as are the figures on Bartoloni’s ceramic canisters and jars.

What are your favorite Italian ceramics and Italian patterns? Have any suggestions for where I should visit when I’m in Italy looking for new ceramic artists? Love Deruta patterns or another Tuscan style dinnerware? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Behind the Scenes: Tuscan Pottery at Its Best

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.

It has been way too long since I last visited Italy! I LOVE Italy… the food (every pasta dish is cooked perfectly), the wine (even the house bottle is always delicious), the cappuccinos (consistently 10 times better than anything Starbucks can do), the people (so friendly, so open, so Italian), and of course the ceramics. It’s no surprise that some of the most beautiful, colorful, and high quality ceramics come from Italy… it was 13th century Italian artists, after all, that transformed the tradition of Majolica into the high art form we know today. From relaxed fruit and floral motifs to precise depictions of renaissance characters, fine Italian ceramics continue to set the standard for the craft the world over.

Five years ago when I went on my first buying trip to Italy, I had the good fortune of visiting two of the best workshops in Tuscany: Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni, both of which are located in Montelupo Fiorentino, a small town right outside Florence that is famous for Majolica. I learned of both artists from my uncle, Gifford Myers, who’s a ceramicist in Los Angeles and has collaborated with many Italian artists over the years. Gifford insisted that Tuscia and Bartoloni were the best in Tuscany and would be friendly, fun partners for me to work with. He was so right!

On my first visit, I took the train from Florence to Montelupo and was met by David, who runs Tuscia. David brought me to the warehouse where 3 of 5 local artists were painting that day. 

Gabriel (seen painting above) started working with ceramics when he was 15 years old and is now the principal artist at Tuscia. He is responsible for designing and executing the most intricate designs, such as my favorite, the Square Plate with Oranges.

David gave me the grand tour of the workshop, which was packed with beautifully crafted and painted platters, pitchers, lamps, and planters. It was like a museum, showcasing all the styles, sizes, and designs they’ve created over the years. I took a ton of photos, which I still reference when I’m placing a new order.

Founded in 1982, the Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia building has an old, slightly warn-down charm — it is so picturesque set amidst the rolling Tuscan hills. Patrizio Bartoloni (on the left below) met me at Tuscia and drove me to the Ceramiche Bartoloni workshop, where he and his brother Stefano run their business. While slightly smaller in scale than Tuscia, Ceramiche Bartoloni is larger than life when it comes to the vibrancy of their glazes, the delicacy in their designs, and the pure personality they put into each ceramic piece. Their sophisticated Italian style is clearly evident in the Limoni, Blu Limoni, and Rooster pieces, which have always been favorites among Emilia Ceramics customers.

Patrizio and Stefano started their business when they were 18 and 20 years old, respectively. At the time, their “studio” was a wood shed with a dirt floor in Capraia, a tiny village bordering Montelupo. When they outgrew that space, they moved to their current workshop in Montelupo, about 10 miles outside of Florence.

Patrizio is more of the flamboyant painter and Stefano does more of the intricate designs and lettering. My uncle met them in 1987 in their “studio” in Capraia and has been friends with them ever since. He nicknamed them the “Blues Brothers,” which they think is really funny.

In my opinion, small Italian workshops like Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and Ceramiche Bartoloni represent the best Italian ceramics and Tuscan pottery has to offer. In these close-knit, family-run studios, artists are not just reproducing traditional ceramic pieces; they are creating their own unique artwork in a style that their ancestors have spent 600 years perfecting.

I am thrilled to be returning to Italy this coming spring — partially because I miss the great pasta, wine, and cappuccinos so much — but mostly to immerse myself in the originality, vibrancy, and colorful creativity that personify fine Italian ceramics. I’ll visit Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia and the Bartoloni brothers, hopefully discovering some new and hidden gems to add to the Tuscan pottery in my collection. But I will also seek out new, undiscovered Italian artists in other parts of the country. My hope is to diversify the Emilia Ceramics collection over time, adding the unique abilities and cultural influences of artists from Umbria, Sicily, and the Amalfi Coast. What are your favorite Italian ceramics and where do they originate? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

                   

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Find Your Plate Style with the Right Ceramic Dishes

When it comes to plates for dinner, what do you reach for? Large, plain ceramic dishes? Small, intricate decorative plates? Colorful pottery dishes? While white is a universal standard for plates, there are so many other options out there that it can seem overwhelming to think outside the “white plate box.” Looking to update your existing plates or invest in a whole new set of ceramic dishes? Here are three decorative styles for plates, inspired by the homelife buying guide for dinnerware. Which suits your home best?

Your Style: Supreme Simplicity

Elegant lines and simple shapes are the hallmarks of your ceramic dishes. Your idea of a perfect table setting has matching plates that don’t detract attention from your delicious meal. Smoothly glazed serving dishes, like a French chalk white serving plate or ivory footed serving platter, are good choices that blend into your existing tableware. Another approach is to highlight your more subdued dishes with boldly patterned Italian decorative plates for mains and sides. The detailed designs of these serving plates add just the right note of sophistication to your table.

Your Look: Rustic French Country

You want plates for dinner that would feel right at home in Provence, mixing personality with functionality. The butter yellow plates with colored polka dots by Richard Esteban are a great example of this plate style in action.

From dinner plates that say “Vive le bon vin” to dessert plates decorated with stripes or songbirds, these plates find their compliment with polka dot mugs, bowls and rustic casserole dishes.

All you need now is some wine, cheese, and fresh baguette.

Your Preference: Lively Color

You get bored with monochromatic pottery dishes, instead mixing and matching colors, shapes, and textures. Embrace your colorful leanings by having plates in all different colors or sticking to a palette of three complimenting favorites.

Patterned edges on salad plates are ideal for layering over the solid colored dinner plates by Gorky Gonzalez, creating a vibrant table before you’ve even brought out the food. Looking for another way to play with color? Incorporate plates with roosters, fish, or other whimsical designs. They’re a fun way to begin or end any meal.

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Lemons + Ceramiche Bartoloni = Cheerful Italian Ceramics

The history behind Italian ceramics plays a big part in their allure. Patterns and techniques that have been handed down for generations make for handmade ceramics that really stand out, whether they were made last year or 100 years ago. But writing about Italian country décor recently has got me thinking about lemons in particular, a fruit that’s a hallmark of Italian ceramics.

The Limoni pattern by Ceramiche Bartoloni is a wonderful example of this Italian ceramic motif in action. There are two versions – one on a white background, the other on a deep blue – and both are cheerful and bright, no matter the size or shape of the piece. I’ve watched the Bartoloni brothers paint these Italian ceramics themselves, Patrizio with his flamboyant swirls and curves, Stefano a bit more focused on intricate detailing. The finished product has the power to brighten any room.

So how can you get some of the lemon Italian ceramics in your life? The mugs are a great way to start the day, managing to be decorative even when they’re drying in the dish rack. Another favorite is the Limoni pitcher. It looks fabulous with a bouquet of fresh flowers or holds 1 liter of water, juice, or wine. Rounding out the table décor for your kitchen or dining room are the salt and pepper shakers complete with a small tray for easy passing.

The Bartolonis don’t stop there, however. Kitchen counters and stovetops benefit from an Italian ceramic spoon rest, keeping everything clean when you make your signature spaghetti sauce. The Limoni wine bottle holders are also versatile Italian ceramics; use them as a utensil holder, a vase, or keep tonight’s wine chilled on the table.

Soap dishes add cheer to any sink, and serving trays and bowls complete the collection. These Italian ceramics are equally at home on the wall as decoration or on the table, serving a delicious meal.

Popular as gifts or just as a way to bring some sunshine into your home, these lemon patterned Italian ceramics are the perfect mix of beauty and utility. How do you use these or other Italian ceramics from Emilia Ceramics in your home décor? Send us a photo and you can get 15% off your next order!

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Need a Quick Injection of Italian Country Décor?

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have live in Tuscany, where the Italian country décor essentials like wrought iron, exposed wood, and sturdy ceramics are plentiful. But for the rest of us, there are many ways to incorporate this decorating style into the home, whether it’s your kitchen or other rooms. The most basic principle when it comes to Italian country is to think about how to make your home inviting and approachable… everything else comes from there!

Italian country décor is a mixture of comfort and chic that never fails at making people feel welcome. Fresh flowers in a pitcher on the table, appealing chairs and couches, and other soft touches warm the stone, wood, and other uncompromising surfaces that characterize many Italian country homes, both in and out of Italy. This is why the kitchen often becomes the focus of any Italian country decorating – it’s the perfect place to make people feel at home around a substantial wood table, whether for a cup of coffee or a full dinner.

For an easy way to incorporate Italian country into your décor, look no further than ceramic serving dishes. These pieces serve double duty: they add color and interest to your walls when not in active use, then delight your family and guests when you need a large serving tray or bowl for your delicious meal. Pieces don’t need to exactly match, but instead reflect colors and designs that you find appealing. The fruit designs of ceramic serving dishes by Tuscia d’Arte are the perfect example. Rich blue backgrounds and vibrant colors ensure that these large serving trays get noticed however and wherever they’re used.

Of course, the difficult decision can be what shape you need for a large serving tray. These rectangular platters are over 17 inches long, making them a striking centerpiece for their size alone. The fruit motifs add to their Italian country charm, and are sure to be a winner on any table. Equally at home with cheese and bread or desserts, you’ll find yourself creating reasons to keep these ceramic serving dishes on the table. Add other ceramic serving dishes like an oval serving platter with apples or the large serving tray with lemons on a red background and you’re on your way to easy Italian charm… without even having to pack a bag. Benvenuto!Italian countryside image courtesy of SanguineSeas.

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Spoon Rest Lovers Unite!

It never would have occurred to me that there might be people who don’t like spoon rests. Just look at an Italian pottery spoon rest and you’ll understand my assumption. These ceramic pieces are a quick and easy way to add functional chic to the kitchen, whether it’s on the stove or countertop. What’s there not to love?

It seems that spoon rest lovers are in the majority, at least according to this unscientific survey by theKitchn. Apparently when talking about “useless” kitchen utensils they mentioned spoon rests and were surprised by the fervent response in support of this essential kitchen tool. While spoon rests can be made out of anything from Italian pottery to a bowl to a flattened wine bottle, I agree that they are an-often overlooked yet highly useful addition to any kitchen. The ideal spoon rest really depends on the cook using it — some enjoy a small, delicate Italian spoon rest, while others need a wider and more hefty Mexican spoon rest. For cooks who want a place to rest multiple spoons, ladles, and spatulas all at once, I recommend a flat ceramic plate. Whichever you choose, using a spoon rest is a simple and practical solution that will inject subtle style into your kitchen.

Curious, I decided to see if others shared my spoon rest love. Some folks on Chowhound listed them as one of the pieces that stays on countertops along with appliances like coffee makers, toasters, and cutting boards. No matter how novice or expert a chef, I think that everyone can use a place to put down a spoon/whisk/spatula where it won’t make more of a mess.

I’ve noticed that people often buy Italian pottery spoon rests as gifts. These pieces, along with Italian hand painted mugs, are good for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, and that holy grail of gift giving: weddings. Practical, functional, and stylish as well as portable, what is there not to love? The variety of designs also means that you can easily find the Italian pottery spoon rest that fits any personality: cherries, lemons, and abstract designs are just a few options that match the décor of any size kitchen space from tiny apartment to professional grade.

Italian hand painted mugs are another good gift choice for many of the same reasons – everyone can always use another mug for their morning coffee or other hot beverage of choice. Perhaps more versatile than pottery spoon rests, Italian hand painted mugs can also function as pen holders, desk organizers, and even a home for toothbrushes. And if you’re looking for the gift for the kitchen that has everything, why not give a matching set like the hand painted cherry pottery spoon rest and mugs? They’ll feel like they’ve stepped into Italy (and think of you) every time they look at the stove.

Spoon image courtesy of mynameisharsha.

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Is the Price Right for Italian Ceramics?

Have you ever watched “The Price is Right,” the game show where people guess how much things cost and then win them if they’re correct? After spending a few months in our pop-up shop explaining pricing to customers, I feel like I could be a big winner on that show, especially when it comes to Italian ceramics. People often ask – why are they so expensive, particularly when compared to pieces at big box stores like Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma?

There are many factors that go into the price of Italian ceramics, but the major ones are materials, the manufacturing method, and quantity of production, particularly for majolica style ceramics. Supplies for Italian ceramics include clay, glazes, and temper, as well as all the tools and equipment from kilns to potter’s wheels. Rising costs and inflation in recent times have affected ceramic artists just like they have everyone else (especially in Italy). When materials cost more, the product itself becomes more expensive. In fact, many of the larger Italian ceramic manufacturers have sadly gone out of business in the last 5 years.

Artists then face the tough choice between cutting costs and compromising on quality or raising prices and keeping to a high standard. It’s a phenomenon that’s not limited to Italian ceramics – designer clothes, handbags, even peanut butter have all seen rising material costs over the past few years.

Manufacturing method also makes a major difference in pricing. Handmade ceramics require skilled craftsmanship to create, whereas mass-produced pieces require workers to operate machines. I’ve talked about the difference in these Italian ceramic types before, particularly the trend of pieces being made somewhere else and only finished in Italy with a “Made in Italian” signature. There are lots of “Italian ceramics” on the market currently with dubious origins, often actually made in China or Portugal.

The last aspect of Italian ceramic pricing is quantity. At Emilia Ceramics, we work exclusively with small manufacturers, some of which are made up of a single artist. At Ceramiche Bartoloni, for instance, it is just the Bartoloni brothers (Patrizio and Stefano) who do all the ceramic artwork. And because our orders are selective, requesting one of a kind pieces with their own unique character and style, they are relatively small. Importing these small productions of handmade Italian ceramics means higher shipping costs than larger manufacturers sending over boat-loads of a manufactured product.

With all these factors in mind, I think it’s more important than ever to support artists that are continuing a craft that’s generations in the making. And I feel good about cutting out all the middlemen and paying my money directly to the hardworking and talented artists in Italy. While there might be ceramics “inspired by” Italian methods, nothing quite matches up with the real thing. And to me, that’s worth every penny.

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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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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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How to Avoid Breaking Your Favorite Mugs, Spoon Rests, and More

Gravity sometimes doesn’t feel like a friend when you drop a favorite mug only to have it lose a handle or shatter on your kitchen floor. I heard from a friend last month wanting to find a replacement for a pottery spoon rest she’d dropped and broken. Luckily I still had some that fit her pattern: problem solved.

But it got me thinking: what are the best ways to avoid breaking that favorite Italian hand painted mug or pottery spoon rest? Let’s look at some tips on how to avoid breakage and best care for your gorgeous ceramics.

AVOID: the dishwasher. Chances are if you use something often, it gets washed often. While all my pieces are dishwasher safe, the high temperatures will weaken your handmade Italian pottery spoon rest, plate, bowl, or other favorite pieces, particularly with repeated use. Take the 30 seconds to wash your pieces by hand – they’ll last for years as a result.

EMBRACE: the dishtowel. Dish drying racks are another place that spell doom for Italian hand painted mugs, particularly when you stack them with plates, platters, and bowls. Instead of tempting fate by leaving pieces in a drying rack, quickly wipe them and put them away for added protection.

AVOID: temperature shock. We all know what happens when you put a hot glass into contact with cold water – lots of glass shards to clean up. While Italian pottery holds up better than this, frequent quick temperature changes can result in small cracks in a spoon rest, pitcher, bowl, or other piece. Repeated use of your Italian hand painted mugs in the microwave should be avoided for this reason, even if they’re microwave safe.

EMBRACE: gradual change. The characteristic crazing that majolica develops over time comes as a result of shocks to the glaze. To minimize this effect and keep the integrity of a favorite ceramic piece, make temperature changes smooth. Never go directly from refrigerator to microwave, for example. A handy tip: run warm water in your Italian hand painted mugs before filling them with hot liquids. Your mug will gently warm and keep your drink warmer longer as a result.

AVOID: dropping. Accidents can happen, of course, but most majolica ceramics are quite sturdy. If you protect your pieces from weakening influences, chances are that your Italian pottery spoon rest might survive a small fall and grace your stovetop for years.

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What Sets Fine Italian Ceramics Apart?

There are many diehard lovers of Italian ceramics out there, and for good reason. Whether it’s Tuscan pottery or a piece from Sicily, there is just something about Italian ceramics that sets it apart from the other other forms of maiolica-type wares being made elsewhere.

The majolica technique itself still flourishes throughout the world, seen most often in Portuguese, French, Mexican, and Spanish pottery. While the majolica process varies little between countries and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, there’s definitely a wide variety of results.

Both Spanish and Portuguese pottery have long been recognized for their gorgeous tiles, in addition to their tableware. Called azulejos, these glazed tiles decorate large swathes of Portuguese buildings from churches to houses to train stations and their use dates back to the 15th century. The geometric patterns and later figurative motifs create stunning mural-like decoration in the most unexpected places. Truly beautiful and useful, the tiles also help with temperature control.Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira - Azulejos

The tradition behind both Portuguese and Spanish pottery (as well as most of the Mediterranean region) started when Arabs introduced the technique in 711. An important coastal town for centuries, Valencia remains a major center of Spanish pottery and I’m still hoping to start carrying pieces by some artists from there in the near future (stay tuned).

So how is Italian Majolica different? I believe it is a combination of excellent artists (many of whom have dedicated their entire lives to perfecting the craft) and the traditional designs which generations of Italians have enhanced, individualized, and improved upon. Tuscan pottery is what many people picture when it comes to fine Italian ceramics. From the noble tradition behind the wares made in Montelupo Fiorentino to more commonly found pieces from Deruta, the bright colors, practical shapes, and ineffable charm truly put Italian ceramics in a class of its own. Who can resist the cheerful lemons, proud roosters, and rustic flowers that decorate plates and other majolica dinnerware from Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni?

Italians are masters at blending art and function to create masterpieces that are beautiful and unique. But just as Italian ceramics stay near and dear to our hearts, there’s no reason to overlook the gorgeous producers of ceramics in Portugal, Spain, France and Mexico. Among all these individual traditions there’s sure to be a majolica-inspired pottery that’s just right for your home.

Azulejos image courtesy of Concierge.2C.

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Blue and White Rooster? Red Rooster? Find the Right Rooster for You.

Not all roosters are equal when it comes to decorating, as any true rooster fanatic will tell you. Like other fun decorative accents, there is a range of rooster styles to choose from. A traditional motif for Mexican and Italian pottery, you can easily find roosters on everything ceramic: serving platters, cups, pitchers, and plates are just the beginning.

But where to find the right roosters? While Vietri pottery is well-known for its Italian pottery, I find their collection of roosters disappointing. Rustic rooster plates and cups should have personality, not look manufactured. But even though Vietri pottery might not be the rooster destination I desire, there are many other options out there. Here’s my quick list of some rooster styles and pieces suitable for a variety of homes:

Rustic Roosters

Straight from the barnyard, rustic roosters work well for homes with a hint of country. The blue and white rooster on Tuscia d’Arte’s utensil holder is playful and practical. The hand-painted aesthetic of Gorky Gonzalez’s roosters, like this rooster salad plate, adds color to the table.

Modern Roosters

A stylized rooster sculpture by Vietri pottery is a good example of a modern interpretation of ceramic roosters. Sleek, streamlined shapes and clean lines let the bird blend into any kind of minimalist décor with ease. Another great example is Gorky’s set of salt and pepper shakers, portraying wide-eyed and funky roosters, which definitely appeal to a more contemporary aesthetic. 

Blue and White Roosters

Yes, I love blue and white, and roosters are no exception. The simple color-combination lends a subdued, more sophisticated feeling to the rooster motif. A long-time favorite, El Gallo Azul (the blue rooster) looks great perched on a kitchen counter — adding a subtle, yet fun vibe to the everyday kitchen routine. Of course, blue and white rooster ceramic serving platters or bowls are another useful option.

Vintage Roosters

The timeless popularity of rooster ceramics make them a great addition to any vintage collection. A blue and white rooster plate like this one on Etsy adds charm with china. Try antique stores and flea markets for other one-of-a-kind finds.

Kitchen RoostersRealistic Roosters

Looking for a rooster that makes people do a double-take? Sculptural pieces are your best bet when it comes to ceramic roosters that look lifelike. A stand-alone piece works like El Gallo Azul as a striking accent to a table, counter, or shelf. You can also try something like this realistic rooster cachepot, perfect for your favorite flowers or plant.

Functional Roosters

Don’t use roosters just for decoration, but also practicality. Rooster salt & pepper shakers, rooster creamers, rooster sugar bowls, rooster mugs, and rooster pitchers are all excellent additions to the breakfast table, adding some real personality and flair.

Realistic roosters image courtesy of srqpix.

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Montelupo Fiorentino and the Tradition of Majolica

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the food. I love the family traditions that surround the day, even as they evolve with expanding and changing family structures. So as I reflect on Thursday’s feast of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, I’m reminded of another place where family and tradition rule the day: Montelupo Fiorentino in Italy.

In world of Tuscan ceramics, Montelupo Fiorentino is famous for its quality majolica (it is one of a few major historical centers of Italian hand painted ceramics). Located on an important crossroads between the Florentine area, the Apennines, and the Tyrrhenian coast, Montelupo Fiorentino has the perfect access to clay, water, and transportation that ceramics needed to thrive in the Middle Ages. The Florentine Republic took over the area in 1204, enlarging the defensive castle (you can still visit its remains today). Construction of walls in the 14th century helped protect the town and the Priory of St. Lorenzo, and helped it grow into a thriving city and production center for Tuscan ceramics in the 15th and 16th centuries.

But none of this really explains why Montelupo Ceramics are so famous. The craze for majolica in the Renaissance brought in wealthy families who needed beautiful, sturdy dishware. Montelupo Fiorentino became the center of production for the Medicis (who built the Villa dell’Ambrogiana nearby) and other noble families.

The detail and craftsmanship of Montelupo ceramics led to its distribution around both the Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, and France) and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic (Southern England and Holland). Talk about being internationally renowned! You can see beautiful examples of Montelupo ceramics from this era at the Museum of Montelupo.

The production of Montelupo ceramics was hit hard by the plague that ravaged Italy in the 17th century — creating a shortage of labor and an economic recession. Luckily for us, there was a revival in the 19th century of the art form, and today Montelupo Fiorentino is once again a major center of beautiful, quality, handmade majolica combining innovation and modern style with the traditional techniques that originally made it famous.

Many consider Montelupo Fiorentino to be the best of Tuscan ceramics. You can celebrate the traditions of the region at the annual International Ceramics Festival, held on the last week of June. There you’ll find great examples of the art, as well as see masters at work, hear live music, and sample traditional Tuscan food. If you can’t get to Italy next summer, add a touch of Tuscan elegance to your home with gorgeous Montelupo ceramics by Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte.

Villa dell’Ambrogiana drawing image courtesy of Sailko.

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We’re into Blue! Are You?

What’s the most popular color in the world? A recent post on Apartment Therapy describes a survey conducted by Dulux paints to learn what colors people love and hate. The big winner? You guessed it: Blue, followed by red and green.

But what’s better than just blue? Blue and white of course! This color combination continues to be one of my favorites, perfect for an entire room or just accent pieces. We know that it’s a classic pairing, in part because there’s so much versatility. For example, just look at these gorgeous pieces of blue and white Italian pottery.

  • Lamps. Now your blue and white Italian pottery can literally illuminate your room. This Blue Leaf Lamp works wonderfully with both traditional and contemporary décor. The playful movement and subtle accents of green and yellow are great compliments to the predominantly blue and white glaze. A smaller version of this lamp works for a bedside table or creates soft lighting in a hallway. Looking for a more subtle blue and white Italian pottery lamp? With delicate tracery, the Rouen Blu Lamp is both elegant and understated.

  • Vases. For me, the best vases are ones that look beautiful both empty and with flowers. I love the Blue Leaf Vase for a great example of blue and white Italian pottery that always looks fantastic. The handles invoke classical amphora, but the style is definitely perfect for a contemporary home with textured layered glaze and shading.
  • Mugs. What could be a more practical and stylish example of blue and white Italian pottery? Whether it’s your first or eighth cup of coffee (or tea), it’ll be extra delicious coming out of a handcrafted mug like this one by Ceramiche Bartoloni. Mix and match blue and white mugs with other color combinations for diversity or choose a matched set, whatever fits your style.
  • Bowls. I can’t resist the charm of a rustic bowl like this one by Patrice Voelkel. The functional shape is perfect for salads, mixing, or even as a fruit bowl. Or opt for one of Gorky Gonzalez’s inspired blue and white bowls — great for bringing elegance and sophisticated charm to any table setting.

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Favorite Recipes to Fill Ceramic Salad Bowls

I love parties. Throwing them, going to them, it doesn’t matter. A friend’s potluck bash got me thinking recently about all the things I could make to share with a crowd. Making food for parties is totally different than cooking for yourself. For example, I wouldn’t be apt to make a dip to eat myself, but if some guests are coming over, I might make some humus, guacamole, onion dip, or fresh salsa to go along with pita or tortilla chips. I also love the excuse to pull out some Mexican or Italian ceramic chip & dip dishes and class up the entire experience. Dip bowls are just too appealing to pass up!

But what about uses for other Italian serving dishes? A ceramic salad bowl is versatile for lots of dishes from salads to soups to pasta. This tortilla salad recipe from 101 Cookbooks looks delicious and would be great served in a huge ceramic salad bowl. I love salads that use something besides lettuce for the base, whether beans or unusual greens.

Italian serving platters are great for meat dishes, appetizers or even desserts. A juicy roast, delightful canapés, cookies… I’m getting hungry! I find that when you have all these Italian serving dishes around you start looking for more excuses to use them. It makes daily meals just a little more gourmet as a result, just as with any other exciting new kitchen tool.

But back to the potluck dilemma. With all my Italian bowls in the kitchen, I was finally inspired to make a pesto pasta salad. Fresh basil from the farmer’s market really makes it a taste sensation, especially with fresh broccoli and squash. The empty bowl at the end was a testament to the fact that I’d made the right choice. Try my friend Andy’s recipe below and see what you think for yourself. It’s great on pasta both hot and cold; you can use any leftovers to make delicious omelets or jazz up scrambled eggs.

Pesto Recipe

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 garlic gloves (lightly crushed)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tb pine nuts

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2-3 Tb freshly grated pecorino cheese

Blend first 5 ingredients in a blender or food processor. Incorporate cheeses by hand when blended.

I’d love to know what recipes you use to fill your ceramic salad bowls – please post comments with recipes or links to good cooking websites you like!

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The Allure of the Majolica Plate

Originality is an important quality when it comes to all ceramics. But with the wide variety of majolica plates out there, I’m always looking for something that’s fresh and new. Not to say that I discount tradition – just look at examples of Italian ceramics from Umbria or Faenza Italian ceramics. (Faenza, by the way, is where we get the term faience for majolica ceramics.) These rich ceramic centers in Italy are hugely important historically as well as stylistically.

Underlining the importance of Faezna in the larger world of Italian ceramics is the city’s International Museum of Ceramics. I visited a few years ago and got a firsthand look at the majolica plates in their collection, which date from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Exquisite details are on these pieces that have been found through excavations and other acquisitions, dating to the 1400s. Obviously the allure of the majolica plate is nothing new.

But beyond its rich history, what draws people to majolica plates? Of course there’s the obvious explanation of function: plates are great for eating and serving meals. But majolica raises the bar on other functional plates. Let’s look at a few different examples to see how:

  • Design. The large flat surface of a plate is like a canvas. Majolica plates range from being a solid, simple landscape to detailed, complex works of art. Repeating motifs are common but plates became more complicated with scenes in the istoriato tradition. Introduced in the 16th century, this style literally means “with a story in it” and marked the transition of majolica plates from purely functional to decorative pieces. The harlequin plates are a great example of this tradition – the lifelike figures are uniquely Tuscan and so playful! I love the scene of the serenade with its story in progress (above right).
  • Shape. Majolica plates are often round because it’s an easy shape to make on a potter’s wheel. This serves to make other shapes all the more striking, like squares or rectangles. I love serving food on these obscure shapes, but they work equally well as colorful wall hangings. A personal favorite is the square plate with lemons; the lemons are so inviting, their blue background so rustic, and the pattern around the edge adds a light and whimsical feeling. Curious to know which Italian town is most famous for lemons and ceramics? So am I since it seems so many make the claim.
  • Unexpected Details. Going hand in hand with these other qualities of majolica plates is adding a little extra, like a foot. Footed platters literally elevate their contents, making them perfect for fruit or dessert, whether as a centerpiece or a gorgeous accent on your kitchen counter. As I mentioned in a recent post, Ceramiche Bartoloni’s Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel is a great example of this, as is Tuscia d’Arte’s Footed Platter with Tuscan Fruits. There’s always fruit in this bowl-like plate, even when it’s empty, creating a great mix of form and function.

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Handmade Italian Ceramics: How to Shop Smart

I talk a lot about my love of handmade Italian ceramics, but let’s take a look at the alternatives. There are many stores and sites that sell “Italian ceramics” – but are they really what they claim to be? What should you be aware of when looking for stores that sell Italian ceramics? And what are really the differences between hand painted Italian ceramics and manufactured ones?

The alternative to handmade Italian ceramics (or handmade ceramics of any kind) is ubiquitous, impersonal mass produced home decor. I came across “Deruta-Style” dishware like this the other day at Sur la Table. Sure, the plates don’t claim to be handmade Italian ceramics, simply “inspired by” the region. It makes me think of the arguments made against buying counterfeited designer goods. Companies (and in the case of ceramics, small family-run businesses) work hard to build up their reputation and create unique products of the highest quality. When those ideas are stolen, sold at a fraction of the price, and with a fraction of the quality, not only do the businesses suffer, but consumers do as well, explains a recent opinion piece in the Times & Transcript.

In a way Sur la Table is selling knockoffs of a style that artists have made famous through a tradition of craftsmanship for generations. And they’re not alone when it comes to stores that sell Italian ceramics – many will make claims that pieces are made in Italy for the cachet when they clearly came from elsewhere.

But when you’re investing in the beauty of true Italian handcrafted ceramics, how can you spot a fake? Just like leather handbags or designer shoes, there are lots of them out there! Here are some tips for shopping at stores that sell Italian ceramics to make sure you get what you really want.

  • Flip it over. All authentic ceramics should have some mark of origin on the bottom. There are guides to these marks for antiques, but anything that’s genuine handmade Italian ceramic will have something there. And beyond just stating the country, hand-painted ceramics is usually signed by the artist.
    Clearly made in Japan, not Italy.
  • Touch test. Along with a mark, the bottom or foot of the piece should be unglazed if its authentic Italian handcrafted ceramic. This will look like a ring of rough, unglazed clay with a brown-orange color to it. You should feel the glaze as well for the natural variations that occur.
  • Brushstrokes.
    From 16th century Italy; can you see the brushstrokes?

    This along with crazing is another true test of hand painted Italian ceramics. If a pattern looks a little too perfect, it probably was manufactured on a machine. There’ll be some variations in color and pattern too.

    Modern piece by Tuscia d'Arte; look at the brushstrokes here as well.
  • Know your source. If pieces are legitimately hand painted Italian ceramics, the seller should know something about the people that make them. I am always shocked when a shop owner knows nothing about the artists behind the work. It’s a pretty good bet that if a shop stocks generic “Italian ceramics” it’s probably coming from a large factory on Italian soil or, as I mentioned earlier, is merely “Italian inspired.” This is one of the reasons I frequently visit my artists in person; I see the entire process in motion and love to share photos and stories about the artists with my customers. Aside from traveling to Italy and buying directly from the artists (which I definitely recommend), it is the best way to buy with confidence that they are 100% handmade Italian ceramics.

Ceramic mark image courtesy of Grannies Kitchen.

16th century jar image courtesy of F B.

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Majolica: More than Just Italian Ceramics!

Even though majolica (or maiolica) has been around for over 500 years, the process remains the same in today’s manufacturing of Spanish, Mexican, French, and Italian ceramics in this style. There are five basic steps to create majolica:spanish_artist at potter's wheel

  • Formation – The potter forms the piece by hand and/or with a potter’s wheel and lets it dry in the open air. Dried pieces usually are a light grey color.
  • First Firing – The dried pieces are loaded into a kiln and fired at 1890° Fahrenheit to reach the bisque stage, turning a terracotta red color. Care must be taken that temperatures don’t change too rapidly as they heat up or cool down as this causes the pieces to crack.
  • Glazing – Traditionally the bisque piece is dipped into a white powdery glaze that quickly dries. This provides an ideal surface for hand painting.
  • Painting – Here is where artistry is key. Artists paint the piece with mineral-based glazes that leave no margin for error. Once this glaze is applied it cannot be removed or covered over. An artist might paint freehand or follow a pattern, depending on the piece. Often the glaze colors look totally different than they will on the finished piece.

painting Majolica

  • Second Firing – Here again the kiln is loaded, though the temperature for this second step is only 1690° Fahrenheit. This firing can take up to 24 hours to give pieces 12 hours of constant heat. After cooling, you have gorgeous, vibrant majolica ceramics.

With a process so labor intensive, how has majolica remained popular for so many years? Long before it was transformed by the Renaissance and became synonymous for Italian ceramics, the majolica process was used in 9th century Baghdad and Mesopotamia. The technique made its way through trade routes and the port of Majorca to Spain and Italy, where it inspired local potters.

In the late 15th century and early 16th century fine Italian ceramics meant one thing only: majolica. The form was perfect for practical items like tableware and apothecary jars, mixing function and art with ease. Even more incredible was majolica’s role in social change: instead of people eating off common large wooden platters they now used individual dishes, often decorated with a family’s coat of arms. As you would imagine, dining customs and hygiene changed greatly as a result.

But majolica doesn’t stop there. Victorian majolica, manufactured in the 19th century in Britain and the United States, follows the same process, though the glaze is different. Wedgwood and Mintons were major manufacturers, creating whimsical, creative forms for both decorative and daily use — everything from tableware to umbrella stands and candlesticks. The International Majolica Society is devoted to collectors of this exuberant period of majolica ceramics.

And today? Majolica continues its popularity in Spanish, Mexican, French, and Italian ceramics, combining tradition and modernity, as well as functionality and beauty. In fact, modern majolica shares many common motifs with Italian antique ceramics and Victorian majolica. Rooted in the natural world, both traditional and modern designs often depict flower patterns or raised shapes of fruits and animals, regardless of where or when they are made. It seems clear that the timeless beauty and durability of majolica continues to make this painstaking process well worth the effort.

Victorian majolica fish image courtesy of Leon Brocard.

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Tuscan Utensil Holders Get the Kitchen Organized with Style

A good friend of mine had a housewarming party last week and I racked my brain to think of what to give her and her boyfriend. I knew their new apartment is tiny, so I didn’t want to get something that would just be decorative. A cool objet d’art looks great in the store, but isn’t very functional. Besides, they’re trying to cut down on clutter to keep their small place feeling spacious. I thought about a bottle of wine or flowers, but those ideas felt mundane and impersonal.

And then inspiration struck – they both love Italy and cooking, why not a Tuscan utensil holder? Practical, stylish, and meaningful – it’s the perfect trifecta for gift giving I think.

When it comes to where to a find a Tuscan style utensil holder, of course, I have an inside edge. It’s an item with rising popularity at Emilia Ceramics and no wonder. Here are some reasons a Tuscan utensil holder is a great gift:

  • Variety

Tuscan utensil holders come in a wide variety of styles and colors, which allows them to fit in with any kitchen. The different sizes work for holding everything in one or having a mini collection to divide tools by types. Solid construction means that they won’t tip over easily, which isn’t always the case with other kinds of utensil holders.

  • Holds Tools…

There are so many kitchen gadgets that are too big or inconvenient to stick in a drawer from whisks to ladles and spatulas. But a sturdy Tuscan utensil holder can hold items you use often, keeping them within easy reach on the counter top.

  • …And More

Of course, a Tuscan utensil holder can be used for other things besides your kitchenware. They look stunning with a big bouquet of flowers, for example. And depending on size, the utensil holder may also work as a wine bottle holder, keeping a chilled bottle of wine cold on the table.

  • Stylish Sophistication in the Kitchen

Useful doesn’t have to look utilitarian. Traditional inspired designs like those by Tuscia d’Arte blend function with form, adding a splash of color and life to any space. With different designs and forms, you can find a Tuscan utensil holder that works with any kitchen décor, from a small city apartment to a large rambling farmhouse.

My friends loved their Tuscan utensil holder and immediately put it to use on their counter. It seemed like it had always been there, making it truly the perfect gift.

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Simple Touches of Tuscany for Any Home

Every year about this time I long for a trip to Tuscany. For starters, there’s the Tuscan Sun Festival with its incredible array of concerts, art, food, and celebration of both the local and international community. I like how this festival was begun as a way to bring like-minded people together and how it continues this celebration in such a warm, welcoming part of the world. Perhaps I’ll make it next summer…

But even if I’m not in Italy right now, I can savor little bits of it in my home. Tuscan décor is known for reflecting the values of the people who live there; it’s tactile, welcoming, and yet rooted in tradition. It evokes a homey vibe, with lots of flexibility for individual character and quirks. That said, it is not surprising that Tuscan décor is a popular choice for kitchens and dining rooms.

There are some beautiful homes entirely done in Tuscan style, like this one I saw in House Beautiful recently. The gorgeous wood, attention to detail, and soaring architectural details make this home truly stunning. What strikes me about this home in particular is its mix of styles and periods, enabling it to reflect Tuscan style within a truly comfortable space.

So how can you bring a little of Tuscany into your home without doing a complete redesign? Here are three tips for incorporating Tuscan décor into your entire home, from kitchen to living room.

  1. Raw materials: Tuscan homes are built to be used, so incorporate hard-working and rustic materials like stone, wood, wrought iron, and ceramic into the space. Surfaces are tactile and inviting, so continue the comfortable feel with touchable fabrics and textures.
  2. Deep, rich colors: From blues and greens to browns and golds, the colors of Tuscan décor reflect the landscape of the region. Capture this organic influence in dark wood and richly colored ceramics, like Tuscan vases and serving ware. The glazes used to decorate Tuscan ceramics are made from all natural mineral pigments, resulting in a wonderful interplay between the land and the beautiful artwork that comes from it.
  3. Functional Beauty: Tuscan décor has a rustic elegance about it that makes it not just beautiful to look at, but to use as well. Take Tuscan vases: these vessels don’t just hold flowers, they compliment them, with rich colors and whimsical designs that add to the floral arrangement. The playful motifs you see on most Tuscan ceramics, like animals, fruits, flowers, and harlequin characters, reflect this interplay between joyful living and everyday function. From big to small, every Tuscan ceramic piece is packed with personality, bringing a touch of authentic Italian warmth into your home.

Tuscan balcony image courtesy of Star5112.

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Maiolica… or is that Majolica?! Three Historical Centers of Italian Hand Painted Ceramics

Is there a difference between Maiolica and Majolica? It’s a good question and the answer is, kind of. Both words describe the double-firing technique most often associated with hand painted ceramics from Italy. I’ve talked about the history of Majolica before and how this labor-intensive process moved across the world, its patterns and designs evolving from geometric shapes to elaborate images of people and animals. The result is the diverse collection of Mexican, French, Spanish, and Italian hand painted ceramics we know today. (As a side note, Faience, Delftware from Holland, and Staffordshire ware from England are all descendants of Majolica too.)

So back to the question about Maiolica versus Majolica… It turns out that Majolica is just the English version of the Italian Maiolica, though sometimes older and/or finer wares are referred to as Maiolica in English. Confused yet? Think of it this way: either term refers to hand painted Italian ceramics, probably from one of the three epicenters of production in Italy.

  • Faenza. Historically important, it’s no wonder that the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza makes its home here. A leading city for ceramics from medieval times onward, Faenza was a natural crossroads for the Po valley and Tuscany as well as blessed by rich clay sources in the soil. The Renaissance was when things really got going for these Italian hand painted ceramics. Pieces were described as “faenza-faience,” expressing the elegant and complex style. I saw some marvelous ceramics when I visited the museum, like this one in their Italian-only newsletter. Padovani ceramics continues the long-standing techniques of these Italian hand painted ceramics; their decoration and motif timeline and complex, limited production creations are truly inspiring. These high-end plates take over 10 hours (one even 48 hours!), but the results are magnificent.
  • Deruta. If Faenza became known for its aristocratic style, Deruta is all about manufacture for popular demand. This is the region where lots of “typical” Italian hand painted ceramics come from; its central location in Umbria probably contributes to its ubiquity. Blue, yellow and orange are popular colors, along with strong geometric designs. Even Sur la Table has a “Deruta-style” line of dishes, though they’re obviously not hand made. When I was in Deruta, I met the owner of Geribi Deruta, a great artist that I’m hoping to work with in the future. His collection is definitely worth looking at if you’re interested in seeing more of this style of hand painted ceramics from Italy.
  • Montelupo Fiorentino. Outside of Florence in Tuscany, this is another historically important ceramics center. Florentine merchants helped popularize this Tuscan-influenced ware from the Renaissance onwards, while lots of high quality clay meant production could keep up with demand. This is where I get hand painted ceramics from Italy for the Emilia Ceramics collection; Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte both follow the traditions of the area while adding a personal and modern flair. The Museum of Montelupo has a great variety of tours (if you go there) as well as a helpful timeline about this region’s proud tradition of Majolica ceramics.

Deruta ceramics image courtesy of Zyance.

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‘An American in Paris’ was Only the Beginning: Living Vicariously with French Home Décor and European Design

America has always looked to Europe for the latest trends in fashion and home décor. From gowns by Charles Worth (an Englishman working in Paris) starting the trend for Haute Couture in the 19th century to our modern day fascination with Hermes, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton, European style adds instant cachet. As we know, fashion is more than just clothes, and this influence can be felt in everything from Italian ceramics to French home décor to Scandinavian design.

While looking at all those design blogs, I came across one that bridges the gap across the Atlantic. Decor8 is written by an American currently living in Germany, who brings together inspiring design from these as well as other countries. Her recent trip to Amsterdam made me long to be walking along the canals and eating at the small cafes. I know I’m not alone as an American pining for a European lifestyle that seems synonymous with a relaxed attitude and stylish way of life.

By importing European style, are we also trying to import a way of life? Will using French home décor make my home a small slice of France, complete with long lunches, an appreciation for fine food, and consistently delicious coffee? Or by using Italian ceramics, will I channel Tuscan sunsets, rustic aesthetic, and friendly bonhomie?

Why not? Personally, I think that having a long break at lunch instead of rushing to wolf down a sandwich while trying to catch up on emails is much more civilized. My friends in Paris tell me that more and more the business world there is becoming “Americanized” – I wonder how much the fight for the 35-hour workweek in France was in response to this fear. It seems that everyone associates a better quality of life with Europe, so it makes sense that we’d all like to hold onto it. Europeans do this by setting up safeguards against sweeping changes in lifestyle, Americans by adopting Swedish, Italian or French home décor to create a private European oasis.

So how can you bring some of this European flair to your abode? Draw on inspirations from your own European travels. A mix of fabrics, furniture designs, and accessories (like Spanish and Italian ceramics, Belgian linen, or Swedish lamps) takes what inspires you most about Europe and makes it truly personalized. Whether it’s sleek Scandinavian furniture or ornate Louis XV rococo, Parisian chic or Provencal rustic, French (or Spanish or Danish) home décor is certainly here to stay.

Cafe image courtesy of LenDog64.

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Italian Country Ceramics Create Instant Warmth in Your Decor

Are you drawn to the warm, friendly atmosphere of Italy? Ceramics are one of the best ways to capture the Italian way of life and infuse it into your own home. A Tuscan decorating theme is especially popular as it incorporates elements of food, wine and nature, turning it into art with a rustic flair.

Traditionally, Italian country style homes belonged to farmers and tradesmen. Homes were furnished simply with decorations consisting of locally produced items. This craft heritage still is hugely important in everything from Italian country ceramics to ironwork. Items are both beautiful and practical at the same time. It’s no surprise then that the kitchen, the room where art and practicality mix to produce delicious food, is probably the most popular room when it comes to Italian country ceramics and home decorating. So how can you get this popular look for your own home? Here are some tips to make your kitchen feel like a small slice of Italy:

  • Wood table. The center of the Tuscan kitchen is the kitchen table. Substantial and long-lasting, this is the true heart of the home, the central gathering place for friends and family alike for generations. In Italy, both the preparation and the enjoyment of a meal are long, un-rushed affairs… having a beautiful space to cook, eat, and socialize is key.
  • Italian country ceramics. Here things go together, but matching isn’t de rigor. White, chunky canisters alongside precisely painted vases and rustic terra cotta pots growing herbs. Pitchers, plates, serving platters, bowls, and even more modern items like spoon rests or salt and pepper shakers contribute to the atmosphere. Pieces aren’t delicate but sturdy and built to last the occasionally rough and tumble life of the country.

 

  • Mixed material accessories. Handmade wicker baskets, copper utensils and pots, metal chandeliers, wooden racks and spoons: a Tuscan kitchen is a true feast of textures. Even items like utensil holders or dry goods canisters show off Italian country ceramics or metal work traditions. Hanging pots from wrought iron racks on the wall or overhead is both decorative and practical, just like the Tuscan kitchens of yore. Glass bottles gleam in racks, stone and exposed wood beams add a rustic authenticity.
  • Colors. Earth tones are the way to go. Terra cotta, deep reds, yellows, browns, and even greens reflect the palette of the Italian countryside.
  • Food. Italian olive oil, wine, cheese and pasta – these are all easy enough to find outside of Italy. Continue your homage with fresh fruits and vegetables displayed in bowls or platters before being consumed; braids of onions and garlic lend a practical yet also decorative touch.

Sunflower image courtesy of Eric Perrone.

Tuscan food image courtesy of Gabrielle Cantini.

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Oh, Glorious Italian Food!

In Italy, meals are truly an art form. The traditional Italian meal can be anywhere from three to six courses, incorporating a vast array of dishes and tastes into one delicious feast. It’s no wonder that Italian serving dishes are a vital compliment to this eating experience.

Italian food has a lot of personality and variation by region. For example, Northern Italian food tends toward risottos and polenta, though pasta is still popular, according to Life In Italy. Liguria is home to pesto, a worldwide (and personal) favorite. In Lombardy minestrone and osso bucco reign, while in the Vento, seafood and wild fowl are the stars. It’s a pretty good bet that whatever grows regionally will be served on local Italian platters.

Now that I’ve gotten you hungry, why not start planning an Italian style dinner party. Now that it’s summer and staying light later, slow down and enjoy a long evening, savoring a leisurely meal just as they do in Italy. Italian serving dishes are the perfect way to showcase your meal. Presentation might not be everything, but I can attest to the fact that it definitely makes the meal taste better.

Whether you prefer white serving platters or something a little more colorful, let’s break down the courses to see what Italian serving dishes work best for each part of the meal.

  • Aperitivo and Antipasti: A little alcohol prepares the palate while small snacks get your stomach ready for the feast ahead. Sliced cheese, meats, or peppers are all good ideas, especially when served on handmade Italian serving dishes, like a Blu Limoni Rectangular Plate.
  • Primo Piatto: For the first course, pasta, risotto, polenta, gnocchi or soup are traditional. An Italian ceramic pasta serving bowl makes everything from spaghetti to tortellini look gorgeous for your guests.
  • Secondo Piatto or Piatto di Mezzo: This second course showcases meats, whether seafood, meat, poultry or game. For the less meat inclined, an omelet or a cooked cheese or vegetable dish are all great options.
  • Contorno: A side dish of cooked vegetables, salad, rice, noodles or polenta is a perfect compliment to the second course. Ceramic Italian platters or a statement making salad bowl ensure your side won’t be overshadowed.
  • Formaggio & Frutta: Usually served in sequence, cheese helps the body digest and fruit cleanses the palate. A decorative footed platter makes apples, cherries, or peaches even more appealing.
  • Dolce and Caffe: Save room for dessert and the obligatory espresso to finish up the meal.
  • Digestivo: A liqueur like grappa, Amaro, or Sambuca finishes off the feast.

Spaghetti photo courtesy of Bejie Ordonez.

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The Best Place to Buy Italian Ceramics: It’s Closer than You Might Think

So you’re on a whirlwind vacation in Italy and want to buy some ceramics? Think again. I know what you’re thinking, while there are some things you can’t bring home – the espresso in the piazza, the incredible pizza, the sun glinting on canals – but beautifully-painted Italian ceramics seem like a great, tangible souvenir that will forever remind you of your Italian adventure. However, there are some solid reasons why importing Italian ceramics yourself is just not worth it.

I hear horror stories from customers all the time that go something like this:

“We visited a small town known for its ceramics and shopped around until we found the most interesting artist. We fell in love with the work – it was so unique and perfect for our home! After developing such a strong connection with the people at the workshop, we thought that splurging on an entire set of dishes would be the perfect souvenir.

“The seller told us they could ship directly to our home and that we would avoid paying VAT because of the customs regulations. It was definitely pricey, but we figured it must be cheaper than what we’d pay in the US; even when we found out the handling and shipping fees it still seemed worth it.

“Imagine our frustration when we received our package (a few months later) and found almost half of the pieces broken! I can’t even tell you how upset and disappointed we were.”

Besides the complicated dance that is getting an Italian VAT refund and paying duty at US customs, there’s nothing more upsetting than finding a box of broken shards after you’ve invested hundreds of dollars. Many people just don’t realize how well ceramics need to be packed to make the long journey. I know this from personal experience, you can be sure. I spend a lot of time (and money) researching packing and shipping methods so that everything arrives in one piece, wherever my artists may be located. I hate the idea of letting even one of these works of art break in transit.

Tuscia d'ArteSo what’s the answer? I recommend touring the workshops while in Italy, meeting the artists, gaining an appreciation for the craft, and identifying your favorite designs and styles. Then, once you’ve returned to the States, find a reliable place to buy Italian ceramics. Enjoy your Italian experience and then let someone else do all the legwork that goes into importing. You can buy Italian ceramics online from a reputable source – inquire about their shipping methods and policies before you buy. And think about bringing some less breakable souvenirs home from your next Italian vacation.

Photo of Grand Canal courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.

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Looking at the Past Through Italian Ceramics

It is amazing how much we know about early civilizations in Italy. I have always found archeological excavations and what they uncover to be fascinating, perhaps doubly so because they often involve ceramics.

There’s a new exhibit that opened recently about Pompeii in New York’s Time Square (Voice of America). Over 2,000 years ago, this Roman seaport was a thriving, cosmopolitan town. Its people farmed, traded, created beautiful things, and lived life to the fullest. But when an eruption struck in 79 A.D., everything became frozen in time. Pompeii has been extremely important for archeologists reconstructing life from that time since the civilization was so well preserved.

The exhibit shows over 250 objects from the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Studying these relics, archeologists have surmised that the people in Pompeii, much like present day Italians, knew how to have a great time. The lively street life and appreciation for fine living is clear with mosaics, frescoes and an obvious love of art throughout the city.

Since Italian pottery is one of my favorites, seeing how far its origins stretch back is eye-opening. Italian ceramics really take on a new meaning when looked at from this perspective. By studying storage vessels, cups, plates, and bowls, archeologists have used ceramics to discern the purpose of rooms and the food people were cooking. Ceramics have also helped identify trade routes, fashion trends, even power structures. So now I wonder: What would future civilizations surmise about us if they saw my Italian ceramic collection?

Photo courtesy of Adria Ariste Santacreu.