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Italian Pasta Bowls for Italian Pasta Lovers!

Italians do so many things well: Wine, cured meat, cheese, pizza, cappuccino, gelato. But in my opinion, pasta is their biggest achievement of all. When I visit Italy, I eat a lot of pasta! For those who have had the chance to eat pasta in Italy, you know… it’s just better there! Regardless of its shape or the sauce it’s served with, Italian pasta is (almost always) lighter, fresher, more delicate and flavorful than any attempt to replicate it outside of Italy. But just because we can’t match Italian pasta, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I buy fresh pasta, try my hardest not to overcook it, and dress it with really light, subtle sauces.

Another secret to improving the pasta-eating experience is to eat it the way the Italians do. That means mixing noodles and sauce together in the pan so they fully incorporate, then serving large helpings in beautiful Italian pottery. Ceramic pasta bowls really can transport you (mentally and emotionally) to Italy… making the pasta you’re enjoying that much more authentic.  Here are my favorite dishes for serving pasta. I can’t promise they’ll make your pasta taste as delicious as in Italy, but they will definitely help.

Pasta Dishes for Serving 2-3 People:

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Above: This colorful Oval Serving Platter makes a great backdrop for fresh tomato or pesto sauce.
Shop all Oval Serving Dishes >>


Above: If you’re serving multiple dishes, it’s always fun to include a Footed Platter, like this one with an angel hand-painted in the center. I picture using this one-of-a-kind platter to serve a very simple Spaghetti Aglio e Oglio.
Shop all Footed Serving Dishes >>

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Above: The beautiful flowers painted around the edge of this Rooster Bowl with Handles make it lovely to look at even when the rooster is covered… maybe with some delicious ravioli!
Shop All Rooster Bowls >>

Big Pasta Dishes for Serving 4-6 People:

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Above: The Limoni Bowl is just begging to serve a simple fusilli or farfalle pasta salad. It evokes a sunny Italian charm that’s right at home on a back patio.
Shop all Lemon-Inspired Pieces >>

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Above: The rooster is one of the most popular motifs used to decorate Italian ceramics. This Large Serving Platter is a charming example of Italian ceramic roosters at their best. It would make an amazing dish to serve a traditional Spaghetti and Meatballs!
Shop all Rooster-Related Pieces >>

Serving All-You-Can-Eat Pasta Dishes:

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Above: The Large Frutta Venezia Bowl is Italian Majolica ceramics at its finest. The rich colors and medium depth of this bowl makes it the perfect dish for serving a huge portion of Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
Shop All Italian Dishes >>

Single Servings: The Perfect Italian Pasta Bowls

A few years back, we decided to add Deruta pottery to our Italian dinnerware collection. My #1 priority was of course finding some sophisticated, functional single-serving pasta bowls for Emilia Ceramics (and myself). I found just that with these bowls made by Gialletti Giulio in Deruta, Italy. We have the more traditional Deruta patterns in matching dinner and salad plates, but I love the subtlety of these stylish bowls. They’ll improve upon even the best Spaghetti alla Carbonara!
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Looking for the ultimate gifts for pasta lovers? Check out these ideas from Emilia Ceramics:
Italian Platters >>
Colorful Bowls >>
Italian Dishes >>
Majolica >>

 

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The Real Deal: How to Find Authentic Deruta and Spot Fakes

Deruta ceramics are justly famous. Their rich colors and intricate patterns also make this Italian ceramic style one of the most copied. Today seemingly every store sells Deruta and Italian style dinnerware, but most of it is not actually from Italy. So how can you avoid fake Deruta and get the real stuff?

Deruta ceramics

Buy handmade Italian ceramics

Many of the “Deruta-inspired” ceramics are labeled as such, but not all. Of course there are plenty of beautiful Italian handmade ceramics from other regions than Deruta. If a piece hasn’t been made by hand, it isn’t real Deruta majolica. Price can be an obvious give-away. If the price of a platter or pitcher seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Look for the mark

Genuine handmade Deruta should have a maker’s signature on the bottom of the piece, whether it was made this year or in the 1500s. This mark will often say the country of origin along with the name of the studio. Some pieces will even have the artist’s name or initials.

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Check out the glaze

Authentic handpainted ceramics have an unglazed foot at the bottom. This ring will look and feel slightly rough to the touch, like in the photo above. If a ceramic is completely glazed, including the foot, it’s likely been painted by a machine. Handpainted glaze will also have slight variations in thickness that you can feel.

Learn about pattern types

Deruta majolica has a fair number of named, traditional patterns. Some standouts: Raffaellesco (look for the dragon), Galletto (look for the rooster), Arabesco (inspired by Persian calligraphy), and Ricco Deruta (based on stylized wheat-shafts and scrolls used by early Romans).

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All are characterized by intricate details and rich colors. Deruta artists also create their own pattern variations, making for lots of options (sometimes too many!). Get familiar with what’s available, then mix and match to your heart’s content.

Find the brushstrokes and crazing

Even the most experienced artists have visible brushstrokes on their ceramics. Deruta’s intricate patterns can make these a little hard to see, but any large section of color will have visible variations. You’ll also likely see slight variations in the pattern from piece to piece. Any older Italian majolica ceramics will have crazing, little hairlines in the glaze, a natural result of the aging process. Be suspicious of anything that looks too perfect.

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Ask about the artists

Deruta’s artists made the region famous for majolica in the 1600s. If you can find out about the studio where the ceramics were made, you’ll be less likely to end up with something manufactured on an assembly line elsewhere.

 

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Can History Explain the Popularity of Italian Ceramics?

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Italian ceramics are incredibly complex and time-intensive, especially the task of hand-painting, which is a precise skill that allows for no errors. So how has majolica been a ceramic favorite for over 500 years? Maybe looking at history will explain it all.

Italian ceramics waiting to be glazed

Before Italian Ceramics

The majolica process originated in Mesopotamia during the 9th century, though the white tin-glaze process wasn’t yet known by this name. Both practical and beautiful, the process traveled along major trade routes in these early centuries. The Moors brought majolica techniques with them to Spain and from there they made their way to Italy, usually by way of the port in Majorca (thus gaining their name).

Italian Ceramic Artists

Italian ceramic artist

In Italy, the conditions turned out to be perfect for the craft and Italian majolica pottery quickly took off. Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo-Fiorentino all become production centers due to their location, natural resources, and talented artists. Italian ceramics proved extremely functional as both storage vessels and tableware — In fact, ceramic tableware actually changed Renaissance eating habits as people shifted from eating off common platters to using individual ceramic dishes! Among aristocrats, Italian style dinnerware becomes a sturdier alternative to porcelain and other more fragile ceramics.

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Beyond Italy: Majolica Around the World

Of course, majolica didn’t just get made in Italy during the Renaissance. Important Spanish and Portuguese ceramic centers were also in high demand. In the 19th century the technique became the basis of Wedgwood and other companies which manufactured in the United States and Britain. Meanwhile, Central American ceramics also adopted and adapted the technique, fusing it with traditional designs that are still in use today.

Technique and Talent

The five step majolica process hasn’t changed much, which is perhaps why it remains so popular. Artists have passed the traditions and techniques down through the generations: just look at historic examples of Italian ceramics next to contemporary creations. Ornate Deruta patterns make for hand painted dinner plates that truly stand out. Tuscan cheer endues pitchers and serving platters. Looking at the end results, I feel like Italian ceramic artists will be making beautiful ceramics for generations to come, no matter how arduous the process seems to an outside observer.

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Historic majolica image from Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi.

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

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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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Why This Rooster Pitcher Is Perfect for Spring

rooster pitcherHave you noticed April filling up with social engagements, with friends and/or family? Temperatures are rising, the light lasts longer, and it feels like everyone is waking up after the chilly, dark winter months. Call it spring fever; I’ve definitely caught it.

So how do rooster pitchers fit into this time of celebration? Just like other rooster ceramics, they exude a cheer and brightness that’s perfect for spring. A rooster creamer sets the tone for your breakfast table (even if you’re not a morning person). Fill one of Gorky’s rooster creamers with cream for your coffee or tea. Don’t caffeinate first thing? Fill a small rooster pitcher with daffodils or wild flowers and adorn the table or kitchen nook where you eat the first meal of the day.

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Spring also means it’s time to start reaching for crisp white wines with lunch or dinner. A ceramic pitcher minimizes messy spills, adds a personal touch to your meal, and keeps the wine perfectly cool. Always having two pitchers on the table—one filled with water, the other wine—remains one of my favorite European traditions. Definitely ideal for spring entertaining, don’t you think?

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‘Tis also the season of showers, both literal and celebratory. Bridal showers, wedding showers, baby showers… it seems like there are never enough weekends for all the celebrations taking place! Bored by giving the same predictable gifts? For anyone starting a life together, a rooster pitcher symbolizes good luck for their home. Your friends who throw parties will love rooster ceramic platters and serving plates (the same goes for your family members!). A global icon, rooster ceramics come in so many different styles that you can easily find the perfect pieces for all those you’re fêting this spring.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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For the Love of Rooster Pitchers…

With the new Emilia Ceramics Showroom up and running, I’ve been able to see our collection in a whole new way. One thing that really stands out is just how many rooster ceramics we have in the collection. Right now it’s mostly Mexican and Italian rooster ceramic, though I’m sure to have French roosters and other new additions in the coming months.rooster ceramicRight now, though, I can’t get enough of the rooster creamers and rooster pitchers from Gorky Gonzalez. These ceramics are unique in how they are actually shaped like roosters, full of personality from the colorful feathers to the beak that doubles as a spout. Both rooster creamer and rooster pitcher are fun enough to be a permanent addition to your counter or table. I think they look great filled with a small bouquet of wildflowers or just on their own.

rooster creamerowl pitcherThe new owl creamer is another feathered friend that’s proven popular in just the few short months I’ve had it in stock. Like Gorky’s salt and pepper shakers, these creamers are a great gift for anyone who likes a little whimsy. And for those more traditional rooster fans, there are always the Italian rooster pitchers and creamers by the Bartoloni brothers. The smooth lines and detailed, colorful crowing rooster embody the vibrancy of Italy (and they make waking up just a little easier). Rooster pitchers are a traditional good luck gift, ideal for housewarmings and weddings. I’m not sure if they really do protect the home against danger, but they certainly look regardless!

owl creamerrooster pitcherHave you given a rooster pitcher as a gift? Are you a fan or collector of rooster ceramic? Leave a comment and let us know about your favorites.

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The Nostalgia of Blue and White

Remember when you were a kid visiting relatives and how wonderfully different their homes were from yours? Or when guests would come over and suddenly there would be an entirely different set of dishes to serve dinner? My favorite was my grandmother’s etched glassware, which I actually now have and use whenever I have guests over. It always transports me back to her house and the iced tea she made in the sun each day.

blue and white tea partySimilarly, there’s something wonderfully nostalgic about running into plates and bowls that remind you of your childhood. Whether it’s the fact that your parents still have and use the same dishes or coming across a blue and white bowl at a friend’s house, restaurant, or antique shop, the memories can be incredibly vivid. My parents had (and still use) small, delicately painted blue and white bowls — blue and white bowlthey served me soup when I was sick and  held ice cream when I was healthy. I think this is one of the reasons I was immediately drawn to Richard Esteban’s French coffee bowls. They have a similar feel and shape to the bowls of my childhood.

I think this is why people love blue and white ceramics so much. Blue and white is a classic color combination for fine porcelain, but those delicate plates, bowls, and cups aren’t really suited for the contingencies of everyday life. Sturdier ceramics that evoke the same associations are an ideal compromise. Although not every ceramic piece brings up a memory, the link between objects and experiences is definitely a strong one. I came across this intriguing blog post discussing the link between objects and memories if you’re interested in reading more about the phenomenon.

mug_sideIf you think about it, people do the same thing by collecting souvenirs when they travel. The word comes from the French “to remember” since having a thing makes the memory easier to access. Whenever I want to be reminded of my travels, I reach for an Italian mug or a French coffee bowl: suddenly I’m back in European rolling hills enjoying a drink at a little local café.

Of course, the easiest way to keep a link with the dishware from your past is to use it. This is why so many people pass down their porcelain table settings and fine serving pieces as well as other important objects. Having the creamer that sat on your great-aunt’s dining table or the crystal glasses used by your grandparents is a wonderful way to keep the people from your past as part of your present.
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What objects make you remember your childhood? Are there certain blue and white bowls, plates, cups, or other ceramics that connect you to your past? Souvenirs you try and use frequently? Leave a comment and let us know!

Tea party image courtesy of kevin dooley.

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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.

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

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

geribi_red_square

jewelry_boxes

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

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

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

miracles_3

miracles_4

 

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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.

me

painting

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

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

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

tile

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

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

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

daniella

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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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The Staying Power of Fine Italian Ceramics, Past and Present

Fine Italian ceramics are nothing new. Dating back to the Middle Ages and beginning to flourish in the 1400s, the ceramic centers of Italy have been producing incredibly detailed ceramics for literally hundreds of years. I recently came across a little book discussing Italian and other European ceramics throughout history – Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi – and wanted to share some of its beautiful images with you. Just look at the inside of this “loving cup” from circa 1500 Faenza, used to celebrate engagements or as a gift for a beloved:

fine Italian ceramic loving cup

The detailed likeness is strikingly similar to work by Tuscia d’Arte, such as this Italian canister.

Italian canister

Another timeless piece is this plate of a solider from circa 1630:

Italian soldier plate

He looks so jaunty, reminding me of this contemporary Italian ceramic plate with a drummer at its center.

Italian ceramic plate

Italian ceramicsOne of the amazing things about hand painted Italian pottery is that patterns and techniques have been passed down through generations. Artists today hand paint using the same process as those centuries ago, following traditional patterns as well as adding some contemporary touches. Historically important areas for Italian ceramics have stayed pretty constant throughout the years, many of them in the center of Italy. One is Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence in Tuscany. It’s where I get the fine Italian ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection. In a few months I plan to travel to Italy to visit both Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni as well as some potential new artists; I can’t wait!

Other famous centers are Deruta, Siena, and Vietri, examples of which are easy to find at Biordi Art Imports, also here in San Francisco. Biordi has a huge selection of typical Italian patterns that go back to the Renaissance; their walls are stuffed with dinnerware, decorative pieces, and exquisite tiles. If you find yourself in North Beach and want to see some Italian ceramics in San Francisco, check Biordi out.

No matter where hand painted Italian pottery comes from, I love how it connects to the artists that create it. Fine Italian ceramics are usually hand signed, a fitting recognition of all the time it takes to paint as well as form these pieces of art. Italian canisters, Italian utensil holders, or dinnerware pieces, these are all ceramics rich in history and tradition that make it easy to bring Italy to your home.Italian hand paintingWhat are your favorite fine Italian ceramics? Any recommendations for places in Italy I should visit this coming summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Vases for Your Valentine from Around the World

Stuck on what to give your Valentine this year? The saying goes “say it with flowers.” Roses might be cliché, but they are certainly a traditional standby. Tulips are another colorful winter flower, as are daisies, irises, stargazer lilies, and orchids. No matter the flowers you pick, you’ll need the right vase to show off those blooms to full advantage. I think giving a vase with a bouquet is a great way to make a lasting statement beyond when the flowers themselves droop and die.

Of course, choosing the proper vase is its own task. It’s important to choose a vase that suits the flowers – a large vase might be ideal for roses or lilies, but dwarf delicate sprays of orchids. A big round vase balances a massive varied bouquet, but overwhelms a simple arrangement. Style is another key consideration – will the delicate flourishes of Italian vases be more appealing or the graphic boldness of a Mexican vase more appropriate?

With vases available from all parts of the world, it’s important to think about the style of your recipient. Do they tend towards minimalism and clean lines? If so, a solid colored vase with sleek styling, like this big round vase, is a good choice.

For those with a more ornate sensibility, a fancy vase with intricate patterning makes sense. The hand painting on vases from Italy makes them perfect for display even without flowers. I love this large vase with Tuscan fruits and curving handle detailing.

Color palettes also change with location. Mexican vases often have bright colors that really pop. An exception to this norm are vases by Capelo, whose soft colors are dreamlike and extremely touchable. His one of a kind Hawaiian vase with floral motifs and sloping sides makes a statement without taking up much space.

The Mexican vases by Talavera Vazquez, on the other hand, use rich cobalt, deep black, vibrant green, or burnt orange for their striped, zig-zag, and patterned vases. French vases by Richard Esteban also use deep colors, though his vases tend to use solid-colored glazes instead of patterning.

 

Will you give flowers and a fancy vase this year for Valentine’s Day? Have another go-to gift? Leave a comment and let us know!

Rose image courtesy of “KIUKO”.

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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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How Do You Ring in New Year’s? Some Traditions from Around the World

As we enjoyed the last days of 2012, I found myself thinking about the ways that people celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world. Special drinks and foods abound, as do traditions to bring good luck for the new year. From breaking plates (yikes, maybe not these plates) to wearing polka dots, here is a small sample of New Year traditions worldwide.

Mexico is not only home to Gorky Gonzalez’s pottery workshop, but a host of New Year traditions. People eat twelve grapes, one for every chime, at the stroke of midnight. Each grape is supposed to be a wish for the upcoming year. The same custom is found in Spain. Traditional food includes the Rosca de Reyes, Mexican sweet bread that has a coin or charm baked inside. Whoever finds the charm in their slice has good luck for the whole year.

Throughout Latin America, South America, Spain, and Italy, people turn to their underwear for good luck. Those looking for love wear red, while others looking for money wear yellow pairs. People in the Phillipines wear polka dots, a pattern that links to coins and prosperity. They also throw coins at midnight to increase wealth. Hoppin’ John, a dish from the American South, also invokes money for good luck. It consists of rice and pork-flavored black-eyed peas or field peas (which symbolize coins), served with collards or other greens (the color of money) and cornbread (the color of gold). A plate of home cooking that brings good luck – sounds delicious to me!

In Denmark people jump off of chairs at midnight to ensure they fall into good luck. They also smash old plates on their friends’ and neighbors’ doorsteps as a sign of good luck and friendship. Those with the biggest pile of broken plates in the morning are seen as the most lucky because they have so many loyal friends. Being surrounded by handmade ceramics and Gorky Gonzalez pottery here in the Palo Alto pop-up shop, I can’t imagine throwing these plates, no matter how lucky it might be.

For those wanting to get rid of things, in Italy people throw old televisions and other unwanted goods out of their windows. Folks in Ecuador burn portraits or something else that represents the old year as a way to get rid of the past.

No matter where you are, you probably have a tradition or two of your own — Maybe you served your wishing grapes on a cheerful rooster plate or another colorful piece of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, invested in some colorful underwear, or tried a new dish. No matter how you rang in the new year, here’s wishing you health and happiness for 2013.

Champagne image courtesy of maxxtraffic.

Rosca de reyes image courtesy of From Argentina With Love.

Broken plate image courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

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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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What Makes Italian Coffee Mugs So Special?

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

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

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

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

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

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Behind the Scenes: 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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Add Style and Luck with Roosters in the Kitchen

Chickens and roosters in the kitchen are a classic theme. The trend is partially because a rooster in the kitchen is thought to bring good luck; and chicken decorations provide the perfect company. Whether your style is rustic farmhouse chic or streamlined and modern, there are multiple ways to incorporate some of these fun feathered friends into your kitchen, no matter its theme. Here are some suggestions for whimsical, fun (not tacky) rooster and chicken decorations in your kitchen.

  • Rooster wall plates: Blue and white rooster plates are classic, invoking fine china and delftware. A traditional black rooster plate from Chianti, or a colorful rooster ceramic platter are other great options to decorate your walls or above your cabinets.
  • Rooster centerpieces: Many spacious kitchens devote some counter space to a decorative ceramic rooster or two. This rustic blue and white rooster is just one example of a more stylized piece. You might prefer a more realistic looking rooster in ceramic, depending on the rest of your kitchen décor and color scheme.
  • Rooster weather vanes: Invoke a traditional countryside feel with an iron rooster weathervane as a wall decoration or countertop centerpiece. This example from Houzz proudly lords over the pantry, pointing the way to the food.
  • Soft rooster and chicken decorations: Why stop at just ceramic roosters? Kitchen towels, potholders, curtains, rugs, and cushions are all ways to expand on your kitchen theme. Big bold graphic prints grab attention, like this rooster rug. Small chicken prints are lively without being overpowering, no matter where you choose to use them.
  • Rooster art: For true rooster lovers, a fowl-themed painting can be the perfect touch for your kitchen (and compliment those blue and white rooster plates nicely).

    Or have a rooster on your backsplash above the stove or sink, like this example painted to look like tile.

  • Rooster utensil holders: With all the unusual utensil holders out there, roosters are a playful addition to your kitchen that’s also quite useful. This blue and white rooster ceramic utensil holder is full of personality, looking cheerful before your first cup of coffee until after you’ve washed the dinner dishes.
  • Rooster salt and pepper shakers: These are definitely a chicken décor favorite and make great gifts. Who can resist the colorful feathers on these handpainted rooster ceramic pieces by Gorky Gonzalez?
  • Rooster pitchers: In Italy rooster pitchers are a traditional housewarming present, meant to protect the home against danger and trespassers. Use a full size rooster pitcher for water or wine at meals or as counter decoration. A little ceramic rooster creamer adds cheer to your afternoon tea or looks sweet filled with a small bouquet of flowers.

Are you a rooster lover? What are your favorite ways to incorporate these roosters in the kitchen?

Rooster kitchen images courtesy of Houzz.

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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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Celebrate Our 4th Anniversary with 15% Off!

I can’t believe it’s been four years since I started Emilia Ceramics. I began by carrying handmade ceramics from just a few artists like Gorky Gonzalez and Tuscia d’Arte and now am proud to work with eleven artists from France, Italy, Mexico, and yes, Spain (coming this fall).

It couldn’t have happened without fantastic customers like you. That’s why this month we’re celebrating with discounts – but you’ll need to work for it (though not too hard, I promise).

Simply send us a photo (or a few photos) of the Emilia Ceramics you already own, in your home. Whether you’re serving dinner on one of Gorky’s plates, displaying fresh flowers in a Vazquez vase, or enjoying your morning coffee in a Bartoloni mug, we want to see it in action!

Here’s how to get your discount:

Option 1: Email us the photo(s) of your loved Emilia Ceramics in action, we’ll send you a 10% off coupon in return.

Option 2: Like us on Facebook and post your photo(s) on our wall. Then send us a private message so we can send you a thank you in the form of a 15% off coupon.

We’ll post all the photos on the Emilia Ceramics Facebook page and our Pinterest album Emilia Ceramics in Action. The best photos will also be featured on our new website, set to launch in October. And who knows, our favorite photo overall might even get a little extra something… wink, wink!

Don’t own any Emilia Ceramics yet? Don’t worry, you have until the end of August to buy that piece you’ve been lusting after, photograph it in action and send/post the photo. Then we’ll send you the coupon. No matter how you get us your photos, you can use the one-time discount through the end of 2012.

The offer ends August 31st, so get your cameras out and send us your photos now!

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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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My Obsession with Majolica Dinnerware, Fine Italian Ceramics, Spanish Pottery, and More!

My love of Spanish pottery and fine Italian ceramics is long-standing and one of the reasons I began Emilia Ceramics. While living in Southern Spain, I saw gorgeous pieces of pottery (plates, cups, and bowls were only the beginning) being used everyday that were just as unique as the people using them. I realized that I couldn’t use all the pieces I thought were beautiful, but knew that there were others who would love them too. And thus Emilia Ceramics came into being.

Now my collection includes fine Italian ceramics, Tuscan pottery, as well as ceramics from France and Mexico. I’m excited because it looks like I’ll be adding Spanish pottery (by Ceramica Valenciana) to the Emilia Collection by the end of the summer (crossing my fingers about how shipping times work out). All these pieces emerge from the same roots and display similar techniques — resulting in majolica dinnerware and accessories that have distinctively “fat glazes,” vibrant colors, and unique designs that vary not only from region to region, but also from artist to artist.

But while I love these new pieces being produced today, what about vintage pottery? Collectors of Quimper, Fiestaware, majolica from Deruta and Faenza, as well as other fine Italian ceramics know what I’m talking about. A friend sent me a link to some Portuguese pottery she’d found made by SECLA (this espresso cup was my favorite piece) and it got me thinking about how designs and glazes have both changed and stayed the same for all these years. Just look at these Portuguese pottery tiles, ashtrays, and vases designed by Ferreira da Silva. Most of them are from the 1950s, yet their modern lines and fun designs could come out of an artist’s studio today.

That’s one of the reasons I love all kinds of pottery – they hold timeless appeal. Fine Italian ceramics become heirlooms, whether it’s a plate or a lamp. Majolica dinnerware graces the table for decades since its sturdy construction holds up quite nicely to the rigors of daily use. Not only does Tuscan, French, Mexican, and Spanish pottery look great, it’s functional and stylish. No wonder I keep finding artists whose pieces I love to add to the Emilia Collection!

Portuguese pottery image courtesy of R.Ferrao.

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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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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.