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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

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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

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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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4 Italian Kitchen Design Ideas You Can Steal

rustic italian kitchen

Italian kitchens have a mysterious allure that calls to me. A culture of food, family and love; an Italian kitchen is the heartbeat of the family-centric lifestyle I strive to have.

Do you long to live like the Italians too? Start by incorporating traditional Italian kitchen design ideas into your home.

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Here are some ideas.

Artistic Details

Italians love to incorporate beautiful details into their design. The artisans of Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia use centuries-old traditions to add realistic imagery and brighter colors, transforming kitchen and other ceramics into a high art form. Using functional kitchen pieces that also serve as art is a fine detail of Italian design.

italian kitchen design tuscia serving platter

Bold Architectural Details

Italian kitchen design usually incorporates an interesting architectural detail, whether it be an arched doorway, wide-planked wood floors, wrought-iron elements, or an oversized island. Scour your local architectural salvage shops for the perfect Italian-inspired piece.

Beautiful Tile Work

From terra-cotta tile floors, to intricate artistic back splashes, tile is a common theme in an Italian kitchen. No need to go overboard, choose an accent spot such as behind the stove or above the sink.

tiles for an italian inspired kitchen

Utilitarian Function

Because Italian families spend so much time in the kitchen, having quality cookware, multi-functional pieces, and good organization is key to helping meal preparation run smoothing.   However, just because it’s utilitarian, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice beauty. Consider open shelves and easy-to-access pot and utensil racks.

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Incorporating Italian kitchen design ideas is easy when you consider adding artistic pieces, and rustic, yet functional design. But, the most important aspects of an Italian kitchen are love, laughter and family.

Save 10% off your 1st Emilia Ceramics order when you sign up for our email list!

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What’s the Secret Technique for Hand Painted Italian Ceramics?

Italian ceramic artist
The intricate designs of hand painted Italian ceramics take hours of work that can be ruined with a single misplaced brush stroke. Whenever I visit ceramic artists in Italy, I always take some time to just watch the master painters at work; it’s simply mesmerizing. So how do they do it?

Painting is the fourth step in majolica’s five-step process (after shaping, the first firing, and dip glazing the piece in a white, fast-drying mineral oxide glaze). No matter how intricate the design, all this hand-painting is done freehand. That’s right: No pattern, no tracing. There is usually a pattern or example for the artist to follow, particularly for traditional patterns. But some artists have been painting the patterns all their lives and don’t even need an example to follow.

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One major challenge of hand painted Italian ceramics is the medium itself. The glazes are all soft, white-ish pastels that change into deep vibrant colors after firing. Shades can be difficult to distinguish, so an artist needs to keep track of what color goes where. Look at the incredible number of colors highly-detailed Italian ceramics require; this is definitely a task that requires lots of practice and a systematic approach.

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Often an artist will do a number of pieces with the same design at once, allowing them to get into a groove of lemons or roosters or flowers (see photo above of Gabrielle the head painter at Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia). But since glaze color and depth vary where brush strokes overlap, no two pieces will ever be exactly alike. (Thank goodness!)

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The istoriato style, made popular in the Renaissance, is an extreme example of how detailed hand painted Italian ceramics can be. These ceramics look like paintings and literally tell a story (like on the Harlequin Plate above). The level of detail continues in the Deruta region, where Italian hand painted ceramics are characterized by intricate, jewel-like designs (like the stacked Raffaellesco plates below). I can only imagine how long it takes an artist to get all those colors and details exactly right!

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So I guess the secret of hand painted Italian ceramics isn’t really a secret after all. Instead it takes dedication, practice, and plenty of repetition to bring these beautiful, functional works of art to life. And looking at the results, I’m certainly glad there are still artists who continue this tradition so that we can enjoy these Italian ceramics today and well into the future.

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Your Favorite Ginger Jars From Around the World

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Ginger jars are a global favorite. Stylish and stunning, they remain a perpetual favorite with Emilia Ceramics customers around the world. Here are some of your (and our!) favorite ginger jars.

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Mexican Ginger Jars

black and white ginger jar - extra large

These tibores combine classic Mexican style with a contemporary twist. People love black and white ginger jars from Talavera Vazquez, whether they feature chevron designs, stripes, or the intricate floral pattern of the Hidalgo tibor. Blue and white ginger jars are another popular category; I particularly love the small chevron tibor from this part of the collection.

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Gorky Gonzalez ginger jars have a different vibe, with a rounder shape and delicate handle detailing. The layered motif of this ginger jar has a distinctly tropical feel, perfect for casual decor.

Italian Ginger Jars

What is the line between canister and ginger jar? I think it has to do with the curve of the vessel’s sides; a canister tends to be straight on the sides, a ginger jar curved. But there are always exceptions to prove the rule. Take this gorgeous vasetto di zenzero from Ceramiche Bartoloni. Used as a vase, shelf decoration, or to hold your stash of ginger, it’s a stunning example of ceramic fusion gone right.

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Spanish Ginger Jars

A recent addition to the collection, this búcaro by Ceramica Valenciana is deceptively simple. People can’t seem get enough of its pure white glaze or graceful lines, let alone its three curving handles. It’s one of my new personal favorites too.

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Where do your favorite ginger jars come from?

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Deruta Plates: Italian Dinnerware at Its Finest

Deruta has been famous for centuries and after a quick look at its ceramics (both old and new), it’s easy to see why. One of Italy’s largest ceramic production areas, there are more than 300 ceramic workshops in Deruta today. Just as with other historical ceramic centers in Italy, modern Deruta is home to a mix of traditional artists still crafting everything by hand and those now mass producing their work. What’s wonderful about Deruta in particular is that it’s still possible to visit the artists who are following the old ways, in their studios. I’ve visited many artists there over the years while looking for the perfect fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection. Finding the Gialletti family-run studio took a long time, but was definitely worth the effort.

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Ceramics have been made in Deruta since the 14th century. Classic patterns such as Raffaellesco, Arabesco, and Gallo Verde harken back to its Renaissance peak, with each piece of Italian dinnerware painted by hand. Artists train under masters for years, perfecting their technique since majolica is a completely unforgiving medium. You can’t erase the glaze if you paint outside of the pattern. With all those intricate details, I always hold my breath when watching the artists at work. I’m afraid if I make a noise I’ll ruin everything!

Deruta Italian dinnerware
Italian dinnerware

This video by Geribi underlines the epic nature of Deruta as well as shows examples of its long history. Some of the fragments look much like pieces made by Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, which is quite amazing.

Want more Deruta? Check out the area’s history and incredible Italian dinnerware to see for yourself why so many people are just a little obsessed. Pinterest is also full of beautiful Deruta, though it’s a mix of authentic, handpainted pieces and imitation designs that have been mass-produced. With all these beautiful pieces of Italian dinnerware, I’m sure that Deruta will remain loved for centuries to come.

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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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New Hand Painted Italian Ceramics from Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio

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When thinking about hand painted Italian ceramics words like durable, intricate, original, and historic come to mind. From the locally sourced clay to fabulous, colorful glazes, Italian ceramics certainly stand out. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to find Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, a studio run by the brothers Antonio and Carlo, in Deruta, Italy. Another historic center for majolica, the highly ornate designs and lush colors of Deruta ceramics are justly famous. After I met the amazing team of artists at this third generation family workshop in the summer of 2013, I knew I had to share them as part of the Emilia Ceramics collection. Unpacking the boxes has been amazing.

For centuries hand painted Italian ceramics were used by wealthy families for their meals and home decor. Deruta became known for the intricate decorative work on their ceramics, setting their plates particularly apart from the rest. Gialletti Giulio’s exquisite plate collection continues this tradition, with intricate borders in an amazing array of colors. I love how the patterned borders create a strong statement when stacked together.

Italian hand painted ceramic platesItalian hand painted plates The decorative patterns really shine on their one of a kind jewelry boxes too. The flower-inspired motifs remind me of mandalas. You can also see every brushstroke, which makes these pieces even more special. These jewelry boxes are definitely a great gift idea for anyone who loves Italy and needs a small piece they can see every day on a dresser or tabletop.

Italian jewelry box

Other great daily reminders of Italy also include a variety of home accessories like salt and pepper shakers, oil and vinegar sets, and soap dispensers.

Italian salt and pepper setServing platters are another versatile, high-impact piece whether used as a centerpiece or holding your main course for dinner. Watching the artists work at Gialletti Giulio was much like visiting my other Italian artists; these are truly people who are meticulous and have a passion for their craft. I can’t wait to see what I unpack next so I can share even more of their amazing hand painted Italian ceramics with you all.

Italian serving platter

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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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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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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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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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Mexican and Italian Roosters: Different Takes on an Old Tradition

For most of us, roosters conjure up ideas of an idyllic American farm in the country, with a red barn and welcoming atmosphere. But these proud birds carry a rich significance around the world, and one that goes beyond their status as an international alarm clock. Roosters are popular in legends, often symbolizing heroism and courage (such as the French coq gaulois, a symbol of France since Roman times). Unsurprisingly, then, roosters have made their way onto objects ranging from flags to plates to wine bottles, though what they stand for changes vastly with geography.rooster dip bowl

Take Gorky Gonzalez pottery, for example. This Mexican artist has almost single-handedly revitalized Mexico’s majolica tradition rooster platterincorporating Japanese, Spanish, Italian, and Indigenous-Mexican techniques with his studies of traditional Mexican pottery. The rooster, in many ways, reflects Gorky’s pride in his country and his craft. For example, strutting roosters often are featured on the silvered or golden botonadura (the buttons and chains that decorate a dress suit) worn by Mexican charros (horsemen) and mariachis, most likely invoking the tradition that roosters bring good luck. In fact, one of the traditions about white roosters in Mexico is that they bring good luck, so you should never kill them, though a rooster crowing at night is a sign of bad luck coming.

The roosters on Gorky Gonzalez pottery may be silent, but they still make an impact. His rooster plates feature proud birds, whether brilliantly multicolored or monochromatic, caught mid-strut or proudly crowing. On my last visit to Gorky’s workshop, I noticed a proliferation of these birds and was happy to add many of his one of a kind plates, bowls, and even ornaments to the Emilia Ceramics collection.

blue and white rooster tray

Roosters also bring good luck in Italy. A common manifestation of this Italian tradition is a rooster pitcher, often given as a housewarming present to protect against trespassers and danger. The legend goes that an assassination attempt on Guiliano Medici in the 15th rooster salad bowlcentury was foiled when roosters announced the attack. Medici had hundreds of rooster pitchers created by local potters to celebrate. Though the rooster is often found on pitchers, other Italian ceramics such as serving platters, bowls, plates, and mugs are also popular. Bartoloni’s roosters are vivid and lifelike, with rainbow colored tail feathers, and are always painted mid-crow. As I prepare to visit these Italian artists later this month, I will be on the lookout for more of their black rooster plates, another Chianti legend and symbol of the region.

From rooster plates to pitchers, mugs to bowls, these birds are certainly a great addition to traditional ceramics the world over. Do you know of any other traditions associated with roosters from around the world?

italian rooster pitcher

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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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Four New Uses for Italian Coffee Mugs

The reasons for using Italian ceramic coffee mugs for your favorite hot drinks go far beyond aesthetics. The ceramic keeps things warm for longer, especially if you pre-heat the mug by running a little warm water in it first. Even better, ceramic doesn’t conduct heat like metal or glass, keeping your drink warm while still allowing you to hold your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate comfortably.

Italian coffee mug

Italian ceramic coffee mugsBut with so many great Italian coffee mugs out there, there’s no reason to limit their use to just drinks alone. Here are four ways to enjoy your mugs without coffee inside:

1. Go green. Italian coffee mugs can quickly transform into a fantastic mini planter. Add some rocks or gravel to the bottom for drainage, then soil and a small plant such as a succulent or fern. This can be a useful way to use a chipped or cracked Italian ceramic coffee mug that you love.

2. Get organized. Can’t ever find a pen? Use an Italian coffee mug to hold various writing utensils anywhere in the house, from study to family room.

 

Italian ceramic coffee mug

3. Serve creatively. Contemporary cups and saucers can also be a useful way to serve your next meal. Italian coffee mugs are great for starting off your next dinner with a small portion of soup. Mix and match different Italian ceramic coffee mugs to give the table some unexpected color. This works particularly well with cream or blended soups; everyone can just drink them, no spoon required.

Fiore Mug with soupItalian ceramic coffee mugs

4. Savor sweets. Sometimes you just need a little ice cream in your life, but not a whole bowl. Feel less guilty by serving yourself a scoop in an Italian coffee mug. By filling a smaller container, you’ll feel like you’re actually eating more since the mug looks full (it’s an old trick for those trying to eat less; the same works for eating off of smaller plates). For true decadence, make an affogato. One scoop of vanilla ice cream in an Italian coffee mug plus one shot of espresso equals a delicious treat that leaves you feeling like you’re in Italy.

What else do you put in Italian coffee mugs or contemporary cups and saucers? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Affogato image courtesy of Ewan-M.

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Bartoloni’s Lemons: More than Simply Decorative Plates

Looking for a decorative dinner plate that will bring cheer to your table? With Italian hand painted plates, your search is over. From square limoni plates to large serving platters, the lemon motifs by the Bartoloni brothers are a sure winner for kitchens and dining rooms alike.

lemon decorative plate

There are many factors that make these decorative plates so appealing. The rich colors are one; for example, the cobalt blue background contrasts pleasingly with bright yellows and greens on the blu limoni plates. The bright white of the limoni due square plate is more subtle, but just as vibrant with its two lemons (or limoni due) in the center and aquamarine border along the plate’s edge.

white lemon square plate

The unique rounded square shape also adds character to these Italian hand painted plates. They work well for serving appetizers, desserts, or side dishes with causal elegance. I’ve used them for artisanal meats and cheeses at dinner parties as well as delicate French macarons. No matter what they serve, these plates empty quickly – I think it’s because they make food look so delicious!Italian hand painted plates

Of course, hand painted dinner plates also appeal because of the human touch in their creation. Hand painting means that no two plates are exactly alike. The individual brush strokes, incredible detailing, and overall liveliness make for useful and usable works of art. For this reason lots of people like to hang the blu limoni plate as a wall decoration when not using it to serve. It’s just too vibrant to hide away in a cabinet.

Ceramiche Bartoloni’s lemons grace more than just plates, with mugs, pitchers, soap dishes, and spoon rests that continue the theme. Whether used as an accent or a central motif, these lemon plates are the perfect way to brighten a room with a touch of Tuscan charm.

lemon muglemon pitcher

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Add Instant Sophistication with Italian Blue and White Ceramics

blue and white pitcherBlue and white is a popular color combination, though not all blue and white ceramics have the same feel. I think the flexibility of blue and white explains the combo’s success since it can adapt so easily to any decorating style. For example, blue and white ceramics from Mexico have a quite contemporary feel while Italian blue and white ceramics feel more subtle and refined. Feeling overwhelmed with all the blue and white options out there? Trying to find the perfect blue and white vase or serving tray? Here are some easy ways to pick the pieces that are right for you.shades of blue

First, think about the blue shades that you gravitate towards. Rich cobalt or a lighter slate? Turquoise or teal? Navy blue or sky blue? Peacock blue or periwinkle? If you already have a blue in your decorating scheme, look for something like a blue and white vase in a complimenting shade. Blue is wonderful in that not everything needs to exactly match, but try to group hues together that have similar tonal qualities for the best look. Wikipedia has at least 61 pages devoted to different shades of blue – you’re sure to find at least one that you like!

Italian blue and white lamp

Next think about the blue and white balance. More white or cream, like with most Italian blue and white ceramics, tends to read as more refined and sophisticated. Do you want blue and white mugs that are mostly blue with a touch of white or the reverse? Mixing dominant colors with your blue and white ceramics and home accessories is a good way to keep things textured and balanced. Think white plates on blue chargers with a blue and white pitcher holding water or wine at dinner. Or a blue and white lamp as an accent light in the bedroom or den.

Blue Striped Vase by Talavera Vazquez

Of course, patterning is another factor when adding blue and white home décor. Do you tend to mix prints and patterns or stick with a single motif? Prefer mostly solid colors with some subtle accenting textures? I recommend additions like a blue and white serving platter – the color combination makes food really pop, no matter how ornamented or plain the platter is itself. The same goes for blue and white mugs, plates, and bowls. I tend to mix patterned pieces with solid colors, but there are endless interesting ways to combine dinnerware that will reflect your own unique, individual style.

Italian blue and white mug

Do you prefer blue and white ceramics from Italy, Mexico, France or somewhere else? How do you use these pieces to create sophistication in your home? Check out our blue and white decorating ideas on Pinterest, then leave a comment below and let us know.

Shades of blue image courtesy of Booyabazooka.

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Rooster Ceramics from Around the World

What’s a motif you’ll find on ceramics almost anywhere in the world? Flowers are a good guess, as are geometric and abstract designs. But there’s another favorite design that might surprise you: rooster ceramics. From Mexico to France and Italy, proud roosters and sometimes chickens grace a variety of ceramics, both decorative and functional.

Italian roosters are probably the most refined of the bunch. Painstakingly detailed with realistic coloring, the Italian rooster pitcher by Ceramiche Bartoloni is a typical example of this rooster type.

Italian rooster pitcher

Even though this rooster looks almost the same on their rooster serving dishes and platter, the hand painting gives each piece a unique attitude with variations in the comb and waddle.rooster bowl

Mexican roosters, in contrast, are more fanciful than their Italian ceramic counterparts. Gorky Gonzalez’s colorful rooster plate is similar to the Italian rooster in details, but feels more like a watercolor sketch, with looser lines (though still definitely proud and tall!).

rooster plate

Then there are blue and white rooster plates, like this octagonal serving dish, which showcase a monochromatic bird on the strut.

blue and white rooster ceramic

Gorky’s three-dimensional rooster ceramics are definitely an excellent mix of fun and realism. The large blue and white rooster sits proudly on a shelf or countertop, and the rooster pitchers and creamers add whimsy and color to the table. Unlike the standard color palette of Italian roosters, these Mexican pieces often have a completely different color combination, making each rooster ceramic totally unique.

Rooster Creamers at Emilia Ceramics

In France, roosters are a mix of refined detail and playful whimsy. Quimper ceramics offer excellent examples of roosters, often in blue. “Le coq gaulois” is an important French symbol that dates back to Roman times and is used today as a sport mascot for French soccer and rugby teams. Some good examples of Quimper rooster plates can be found here and sculptural pieces here. French roosters are fighters and it shows, like in the proud rooster strutting below.

Choisy rooster

What are your favorite rooster ceramics? Are you a fan of chicken décor in general? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Crowing rooster image courtesy of hans s.

French rooster plate image courtesy of Patrick.charpiat.

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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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An Old Favorite for the New Year: Our Tuscan Utensil Holder

I’ve really enjoyed my time in the pop-up shop this holiday season. As with every year, it’s wonderful to get to talk with people about their favorite ceramics, whether they are gifts for others or themselves. But there’s one piece that everyone seems to love unconditionally – the Tuscan utensil holder.

What is it about the Tuscan utensil holder that makes it so beloved? It’s quite functional for one, holding all the necessary kitchen utensils on a countertop with ease given its size. The solid ceramic also means it won’t fall over. And the cheerful fruit designs with apples, lemons, and leaves adds happiness to any kitchen.

Of course, Italian ceramics are a perennial favorite for gifts. The Tuscan utensil holder is wonderful for housewarmings or weddings, anniversaries or birthdays, making it a versatile piece no matter the occasion. Tuscia d’Arte makes other designs of this functional ceramic piece, including the playful blue rooster and simple blue and white pear motif. I think all these Tuscan utensil holders look great as a vase holding branches or a large floral arrangement, making them good gifts for those who don’t care to cook as well.

The difference between a Tuscan vase and utensil holder has to do with shape more than anything else. Good utensil holders have a cylindrical shape that prevents them from tipping over no matter how many utensils are inside. A Tuscan vase, on the other hand, often has a smaller base and curving sides. These vases are perfect for flowers or a stand alone decoration, but could spell disaster on a kitchen counter.

What do you put in your Tuscan utensil holder? Any ideas as to why so many people love this piece besides its beautiful functionality? Have you given one as a gift recently? Leave a comment and let us know!

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An Italian Country Style Gift Guide

Snow in TuscanyThe rustic, touchable quality of Italian country décor makes it very much a natural fit for the kitchen. Wrought iron, ceramic serving dishes, stonework, and plenty of wood are all elements of this popular look. The warmth and friendliness associated with this Tuscan style is closely tied to the Italian tradition of hospitality, which is why so many people turn to Italian country décor in spaces where they spend time with guests, from kitchens to dining rooms.

Italians are experts at relaxed entertaining, piling large serving trays with delicious food and always ready to drink another glass of wine. Know someone who loves Italian country décor or just likes to entertain? Here’s my final gift guide of the holiday season to help you find the perfect Italian country accent for their home.

Here are some Italian Country Gift Ideas:

Large serving tray

richard esteban serving platter

Perfect for anyone who loves to have company, a large serving tray is ideal for any stage of a meal from starters to desserts. The striking size of these rectangular serving platters make them a favorite choice for a special gift. Another cheerful piece is the large square blu limoni platter – this is a large serving tray that combines modern bright colors with Italian country charm.

Italian pottery spoon rest

italian spoon rest

Italian country décor is in the details. A beautiful handpainted Italian pottery spoon rest adds functional color and pizzazz to any countertop.

Whether fruits or an abstract design, this unexpected gift idea is sure to get used for years to come.

Ceramic serving dishes

oval platter

Help make entertaining or a relaxed family dinner easy. Ceramic serving dishes like bowls and platters inject charm into any meal large or small. Plus they double as instant wall decoration when not in use.

Italian country mugs

italian country mug

Know someone who loves a cuppa in the morning? No matter the hot beverage of choice, Italian country mugs make it just taste better. Pair a single or set of mugs with mulling spices, special coffee beans, or select tea for a delicious and memorable gift this holiday. If giving more than one mug, mix and match designs for a fun injection of personality from roosters to lemons.

Tuscan utensil holder

italian country wine bottle or utensil holder

 

Another useful piece of Italian country décor, utensil holders are a fantastic way to add life to a countertop. A personal favorite is the blue rooster Tuscan utensil holder. No matter the design, pair a utensil holder with a set of wooden spoons or other useful kitchen tools for a practical gift idea that’s sure to please.

Tuscany image courtesy of Podere Casanova.

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4 Quick Gift Ideas Using Soap Dishes

Soap gift ideas
As we get closer and closer to December 25, the shopping stress starts to skyrocket for those of us who haven’t finished all our holiday gifts. The list seems to grow longer and inspiring gift ideas fewer. That’s why I wanted to share the beauty of Italian soap dishes when it comes to last-minute holiday gifts (or really any time year-round). These practical pieces have a startlingly wide range of uses; which are the best soap dish gift ideas for your list this year?

italian soap dish

  1. Pair an Italian soap dish with a bar of soap. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Whether you love fine milled soaps, natural bars from your local farmer’s market, or want to make bars yourself, gift soap should be distinctive. You can match the shape of the soap to that of your Italian soap dish (round soap with a round dish, square soap with a square soap dish) or mix things up with contrasting shapes. Just make sure your soap fits inside the dish so it won’t make a mess when in use.
  2. Give a delicious soap dish. Pair soap dishes with unusual cooking accouterments. One gift idea is some pink Himalayan salt, though other spices like these pictured are also great options.  spices I think the best soap dish for this gift is the square Italian soap dish; the rich blue and indented sides hold any seasoning on the counter in style. This gift idea is ideal for the adventurous cook on your list, especially with all the fansastic seasonings available.
  3. Make a soap dish home for accessories. Small trays or soap dishes make a useful addition to a beside table or dresser top to hold watches, rings, or other jewelry. Add a favorite accessory from brooch to bracelet and present it in a handmade soap dish for anyone who loves a little glitz.
  4. Fill soap dishes like gift baskets. Two piece soap dishes quickly become a repository for other small gifts. The Sayulita soap dish is best for this gift idea. Fill it with candy, bottles of scented lotion, bath pampering essentials, or other little treasures.

Have other gift ideas that use soap dishes creatively? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Soap image courtesy of Chris_Parfitt.

Spice image courtesy of geishaboy500.

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Tired of Your Messy Mug Cabinet? How to Choose the Perfect Cup

It’s early in the morning and you’re not quite awake yet. You open the cabinet door to get a mug for your morning cup of coffee or tea only to be confronted with an array of choices, none of which you really want. It can feel like a Goldilocks moment: this one’s too big, that mug’s too small. Then you spot the mug that is just right. It’s the right size, shape, color, and thickness. Sound familiar?

I’m always surprised at the mugs, cups, and glasses people will hold onto even though they never get used. A friend of mine recently mentioned she’d gone on a cleaning/simplifying mission in her kitchen. She took about half of the mugs and cups in the cabinet (the ones that usually stayed in the back) out, boxed them, and put them on a high shelf in a storage closet. The result? She’s now able to display all her favorite Italian coffee mugs on a shelf, adding color to her kitchen and complimenting her other Italian ceramics on display. There’s also less clutter in her cabinet. She’s thinking about holding onto the extra mugs and cups for a while in case she needs them for entertaining, but told me she also might just donate these extras and get more of the Italian hand painted mugs that she likes (and uses) instead.

Given that mugs are a popular choice for gift giving and we are well into the holiday shopping season, I’ve been thinking about what makes the perfect mug. Here are four factors to consider when choosing the right coffee cup for coffee or mug for tea:

  1. Thickness: A thicker coffee cup will keep things (like your coffee) hot longer and be generally sturdier. Thin mugs and cups are more likely to crack (think about your Grandmother’s china cups).
  2. Size: Know something about your gift recipient’s coffee or tea drinking habits. Do they favor espresso or an extra large serving of coffee with plenty of cream? “Standard” mug size might be the perfect fit, or maybe a bigger mug is in order. Having a variety of sizes can also be useful when it comes to entertaining or accommodating different family members’ beverage preferences.
  3. Handle: This allows you to carry mugs and cups and not get burned. Look for solid handles that are big enough to slip a few fingers in, letting the drinker savor the warm beverage inside. Small, thin handles are likely to break off or slip out of hands.
  4. Design: Mugs are a place where it’s easy to mix and match stylishly. I love the array of designs in my personal collection of Italian coffee mugs – most of them have the same size and shape, so my only decision is which Italian hand painted mug I feel like using that morning. These Italian ceramics make great kitchen decorations with their mix of organic motifs. Others prefer solid colored mugs or cups, and then there are always the fun designs like these polka dot mugs.

Need some mug gift ideas for yourself and others? Check out these mugs and cups to get you started.

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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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New Italian Soap Dish from Ceramiche Bartoloni

Do you get excited about Italian soap dishes? Have you ever even thought about Italian soap dishes? Believe it or not, these little ceramic pieces can be quite exciting. I wasn’t much of a fan myself before I visited Ceramiche Bartoloni on a buying trip years ago. The beauty of their hand-painted Italian soap dishes was astounding and the variety of shapes and sizes was a revelation. Practical and decorative, I found that these small accessories add big style throughout the home.

Our newest Italian soap dish at Emilia Ceramics is no exception. In the ever-popular blu limoni design, this square Italian soap dish is too pretty just to stay in the bathroom. It’s also perfect for holding sponges, hand soap, or other cleaning supplies by the kitchen sink. More alternate uses for this Italian soap dish include using it as a small serving dish; it holds lime and lemon slices for drinks or taco night, olives or nuts for appetizers, and any other garnishes for your meal. I’ve also seen these Italian soap dishes used to organize rings, as a place for depositing keys, or even as a stylish spot to store a cellphone.

With so many uses for this small piece, an Italian soap dish is the perfect go-to hostess, housewarming, or birthday gift. Pair this square Italian soap dish or one of the round ones with a luxurious bar of soap and voilà! The vivid blue, yellow, and green of the blu limoni pattern works in both modern or traditional spaces, making this Italian soap dish truly versatile in both usages and design aesthetics. Who knew that soap dishes could look this good and do so much?

Stay tuned for more new ceramic arrivals on the website in coming weeks as I get through sorting all the new pieces arriving from Mexico. Check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages for photos and updates as they happen.

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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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The Italian Legend of the Black Rooster

I hadn’t been importing ceramics for long when I got what seemed like a strange request: Do you sell any black roosters?! The answer was no. I had colorful Italian roosters on plates, mugs, bowls, and pitchers, as well as tons of  blue and white roosters decorating Mexican pottery, but not one “black rooster” in the collection. While I was a little thrown off by the request for a black rooster, I did have a faint memory of a story related to the black rooster from when a friend and I tasted our way through the beautiful Chianti wine region.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized Ceramiche Bartoloni paints the black rooster. I was ecstatic, both because of the Bartoloni brothers’ unmatched painting skill and because I’d finally have a black rooster for the Emilia Ceramics collection. After all, we’re not talking about any old Vietri pottery rooster, this is a proud black rooster with a story and tons of personality.

And the new black rooster plates from Ceramiche Bartoloni did not disappoint: The dynamic blue, white, and yellow border perfectly frames a proud black rooster getting ready to crow. It’s also the perfect counterpoint to Bartoloni’s colorful rooster ceramic serving platters, bowls, and mugs.

And now to the story about the black rooster, which goes back to the 1200s in Italy. Florence and Siena had debated for years over who had claim to the Chianti region, each wanting it as part of their territory. Finally, the legend goes, leaders decided to settle the matter by a competition. Two knights (or horsemen, depending on your source) would set out at cock’s crow in the morning, one from Florence and one from Siena. Wherever they met on the road would determine the southern border for each city’s claim over the disputed land.

Siena chose a well-fed white rooster as official timekeeper, while Florence picked a starving black rooster. Again, sources differ as to why the black rooster was starving; the Florentines might even have kept it in a box with no food for several days. In any case, when the day of big event came, the black rooster crowed before dawn while the white rooster slept in and only crowed at sunrise. Thus, the Florentine rider traveled much farther than his Sienese counterpart, and the two men met about 19 or 20 km outside of Siena, giving most of the Chianti region to Florence.

Whether or not this legend is true, the black rooster was branded in 1384 as the emblem for the winemaking League of Chianti and is an important and common symbol for the region. The next time you get a bottle of Chianti, look for the black rooster (gallo nero in Italian) on the seal around the neck of the bottle. Different background colors and borders also represent different kinds of wines, says Wine Trail Traveler.

Complete with a legend, I’m excited to offer these new rooster ceramics. Whether you use them as ceramic serving platters or as a unique wall decoration, these black rooster plates are perfect for anyone who loves rooster chic with handmade Italian charm.

Rooster wine bottle label image courtesy of Live from Italy.

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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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Tuscan Utensil Holders and Vases: Containment with Style

Having problems finding the pancake turner or a spatula in the middle of cooking? Many kitchens have a drawer filled with utensils that are never quite as handy as one would want. (And just try to keep a whisk in a drawer – you’re on the path to failure.) It’s hard enough to get everything right when making a meal, so having your tools at hand is a simple solution to lighten the load.

That’s why I (and so many others) love Tuscan utensil holders; sturdy, decorative, and highly functional these pieces are incredibly useful in the kitchen. Fruit motifs on the pear utensil holder are subtly sophisticated, while the blue rooster utensil holder adds some fun to any counter. Use multiple Tuscan utensil holders to separate wooden spoons from metal, spatulas from whisks and ladles, so that everything is easy to locate and put away.

Both utensil holders and Tuscan vases can do more than just hold flowers or cooking gadgets, however. Here are some more ideas for these ever-versatile ceramics:

  • Make a Tuscan vase into a bookend. Why only display a vase when you have flowers? Use stones to fill any favorite ceramic vase half way so that it’s heavy enough to hold up your books. If you have glass vases, fill them with shells, marbles, or other small objects for a personalized accent. From one accent piece to several decorating a shelf, your books never looked so good.
  • Decorate with dried flowers or branches. Lavender and pussy willow branches are two of my personal favorites, but many blooms look great when dried and will last year round. Use this decorative accent in a favored Tuscan vase anywhere in your home (though keep a sharp eye out for mold if in the steamy bathroom) for unexpected texture.
  • Grow plants or flowers. Vases and utensil holders can both become miniature gardens. Line the bottom with pebbles for drainage, then fill with dirt and plant anything from herbs to flowers. A row of planter vases looks charming. A large glass vase easily becomes a terrarium when filled with sand and some succulents.

Have any more ideas on how to use a utensil holder or vase in an unexpected way? Let us know with a comment below!

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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 Soap Dish Love

What’s something you use multiple times everyday but gets little attention? Give up? Your soap dish! Sure you won’t find a lot of people talking about the glory of Italian soap dishes, but today I wanted to focus on this overlooked essential. Wherever you have a sink, you probably have some soap – why not make it more visually interesting?

I’ll admit that I’d not thought much about Italian soap dishes before I visited Ceramiche Bartoloni. But their beautiful pieces definitely made me pay attention. The circles, squares, and rectangles stand out – these aren’t mundane soap dishes at all, they’re works of art! Since then, I’ve discovered that their uses go beyond the bathroom counter. One alternative use for these Italian soap dishes is to hold jewelry on a bedside table or dresser. Definitely makes it easier to find your watch and rings in the morning.

I’ve also used an Italian soap dish for serving small condiments, like lemon slices to go with drinks or chopped herbs for garnish. The cheerful lemon designs hand-painted on these Ceramiche Bartoloni pieces really brighten any space, from dining room to buffet table.

Of course, traditionally one uses an Italian soap dish for just that – soap. Everyone has their favorites, from plain unscented bars to handcrafted wonders of texture and perfume. One of my aunts always has a bar of Yardley English lavender soap in her guest bathroom; whenever I smell it I think of her. Shaped soaps can also be fun, though they’re never as pretty when they’ve been used a few times.

Whatever your soap bar preference, it’s important that your dish be roomy enough for the entire bar. Sloping inward sides prevent water from getting everywhere (keeping counters dry). An Italian soap dish can be the perfect accent in a cheerful bathroom or a place to keep sponges and hand soap (less harsh than dish soap) in the kitchen.

Another idea? Pair an Italian soap dish with elegant soap for a practical and stylish gift that’s unexpected. With all these possibilities for using Italian soap dishes, it’s a wonder we don’t talk about them more.

Do you have another way you use soap dishes? Or a favorite soap to give as a gift? Post a comment below and let us know.

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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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Just Arrived: Italian Pasta Bowls and French Plates!

Remember when you were a kid and you would wait impatiently for your birthday to finally arrive? Perhaps packages would come from far-flung relatives that would be stacked waiting for the big day. But when it finally came time to open the packages, it was totally worth the wait. I continue to enjoy that suspense as I wait for boxes of ceramics to arrive from artists around the world. Shipments are usually large and come by ship across the Atlantic for my France and Italy orders, making for slow progress. Still, with careful handling those bowls (from pasta bowls to serving bowls), plates, vases, mugs, and other gorgeous pieces arrive in perfect condition. They’re totally worth the wait, just like those birthday presents from years past.

Of course, when I do get a shipment, there’s lots of unpacking to be done. New pieces need to be photographed and posted on the site, like these new French ceramics by Richard Esteban, Sylvie Durez, and Poterie Ravel. I check every piece from bowls to platters for cracks or chips to make sure only the highest quality pieces are available for my customers. My recent French and Italian shipments came right at the start of the holiday shopping season, so there are some new bowls, pitchers, platters, and vases that are still only available in our pop-up shop in Palo Alto (though they’ll be on the website soon for those of you not in the Bay Area). Unpacking shipments is like the best birthday and Christmas rolled into one, but it certainly requires a huge amount of time to unwrap, organize, photograph, post, and store all the pieces.

Stay tuned as I update the website with all the new and beautiful pieces from Italy and France. To tide you over, here are a few that I’ve already added to the Emilia Ceramics website: the Italian Large Limoni Bowl and the French Olive Branch Bowl are both fantastic serving dishes, whether to show off your classic spaghetti and meatballs or fusilli with pesto. While these make great pasta serving bowls, I recommend enjoying them with the brightly colored Gogo bowls for individual servings of pasta or the Songbird Dinner Plates that have just been unpacked from France. Bon appetit!

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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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Who You Calling a Square? Why Shape Matters

Shape matters. Don’t believe me? Think about all the thought that goes into the design of everyday objects: your cellphone, car, computer, and countless other objects have all had teams of designers that work on melding style with functionality. So what about something like Italian blue and white ceramics? Are teams of experts working round the clock to make them sleek, sophisticated, and fashion forward?

Strangely enough, I think when it comes to pieces like serving trays and platters the answer is yes. Ceramic artists have to consider not only how a piece will look but also how it will function. Is the lip too curved to let food sit near the edge? What kind of food can be served with this rectangular serving platter? If it’s too big or too small, no one will use it. Can serving trays be made to have multiple functions (like decorating a wall when not in use)? How thick is sturdy without looking too clunky?

One of the joys of handmade ceramics is how they truly set your table and home apart, matching your style and personality. While many of my customers gravitate towards Italian blue and white ceramics, the patterns, motifs, and styles vary widely from geometric designs to intricate pictures. I love the variety of platters and serving trays out there, especially those with a surprising shape. Who said that all plates needed to be round anyway?

For example, one of my favorite square serving trays is this one with oranges. While still an Italian blue and white ceramic piece, the warm orange and yellows of the fruit make them look good enough to eat. Looking for square serving trays with some more zest? Try one of the many with lemons, guaranteed to brighten the wall as a hanging piece or the table as a serving platter.

There are many other shapes for serving trays and platters from circles to rectangles. Continue the fruit theme with this magnificent rectangular serving platter perfect as a centerpiece empty or filled with fruits, snacks, or desserts.

Big or small, rectangular serving platters can be used as key or jewelry trays, a spoon rest, or even a way to keep toiletries stylishly arranged in the bathroom. Use a mix of shapes to keep things interesting, adding surprising texture throughout your home. You’ll never look at squares the same way again!

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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.