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Bartoloni’s Lemons: More than Simply Decorative Plates

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

lemon decorative plate

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

white lemon square plate

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

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

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

lemon muglemon pitcher

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Our Favorite Italian Ceramics, Patterns, and Pieces

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

Italian platters

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

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

oval_due_limoni

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

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

Tuscan Fruit Long Platter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Italian Country Style Gift Guide

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

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

Here are some Italian Country Gift Ideas:

Large serving tray

richard esteban serving platter

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

Italian pottery spoon rest

italian spoon rest

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

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

Ceramic serving dishes

oval platter

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

Italian country mugs

italian country mug

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

Tuscan utensil holder

italian country wine bottle or utensil holder

 

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

Tuscany image courtesy of Podere Casanova.

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Our Gift Guide for the Person With Everything

Christmas wreath and handmade ceramicsDo you have someone on your holiday gift list this year that’s nearly impossible to buy for? The person who has everything might be your boss, mother-in-law, or a close friend, but no matter who it is, the frustration can be intense when trying to think of some suitable gift ideas. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Blue Striped Vase by Talavera VazquezI’ve talked with people in the Palo Alto pop-up shop these last few weeks about the folks that difficult to shop for and come up with some ideas about holiday gifts that are sure to please. From stripe painted vases to Tuscan utensil holders, here’s my gift guide for the 2012 holiday season.

Stripe Painted Vase. Large or small, the graphic charm of a stripe painted vase is hard to resist and is a great decoration for either the home or office. The blue and white stripes of this stripe painted vase by Talavera Vazquez go with any décor. Fill your gift vases with some festive branches or a winter bouquet and skip the need to wrap.

Unique Serving Platter. Ideal for the party planner in your life, a beautiful serving platter not only enlivens a party or dinner, but also can double as wall decoration when not in use. The simplicity and freshness of Tuscan lemons are always a winner, or choose Talavera Vazquez’s blue and white Mexican tray. Pair with a cheese knife or other serving utensil for a complete gift set.

Tuscan Utensil Holder. Guaranteed to please any stylish cook, a Tuscan utensil holder is a practical and cheerful way to hold kitchen counter essentials. Whether a blue rooster or luscious fruits, Tuscan utensil holders remain a classic go-to gift. Here too you can add useful kitchen tools, like wooden spoons or silicone spatulas, and bring a smile to anyone who loves working in the kitchen.

blue rooster utensil holder

Playful Pitcher. Pitchers are incredibly versatile, which makes them a great gift idea. A pitcher can decorate a shelf, brighten a kitchen, hold flowers, or serve a favorite beverage. The playful polka dots of this handmade pitcher by Richard Esteban are festive while the classic rooster pitcher by Ceramiche Bartoloni exudes Italian charm.

Drink Accessories. If your boss is a beast before that first cup of coffee, a mug and beans from their favorite roaster is a great gift. I think cup and saucer sets are a bit dressier than your average mug, whether they’re espresso cups or the giant cup and saucer by Gorky Gonzalez ready to fuel an entire morning. For wine lovers, a wine bottle holder and delicious bottle of red, white, or rosé gives them something they’ll enjoy now and for years to come.

What are you go-to gift ideas for holiday gifts? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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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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Customer Spotlight: Your Favorite Uses for Serving Trays

I know my favorite ways to use Italian blue and white ceramics (like a blue and white mug for my morning coffee), but it’s always great to hear from customers about ways they use ceramics in their daily lives. Recently people have let me know about the ways they entertain with their favorite pieces, from square serving trays to blue and white ceramic bowls, so I wanted to share some of their stories with you.

At the Brown house, family dinner often involves a mix of ceramics. They mix and match serving trays from Gorky Gonzalez for mains and sides (and dinner in this photo certainly looks delicious!). The rounded shape of this rectangular serving platter makes it perfect for vegetables or desserts alike while the sloped sides of the oval serving dish keep sauces nicely contained for your main course. Even with different designs, the blue and white ties these serving trays together for a stylish meal everyday.

“Sometimes bigger really is better,” Michael wrote about his fish platter by Richard Esteban. He went on to say that this oval serving tray “is great for summer salads when I have people over for a barbeque.” I think this salad looks super delicious with the one-of-a-kind decoration around the edge. Other large trays, like this unusually shaped mustard yellow serving tray by Poterie Ravel, are ideal for handling the fixings for burgers, tacos, or other customizable meals.

On Facebook, Sarah told her secret for throwing a great party: “a beautiful Italian platter with yummy cheese and crackers.” This technique works well for a wine and cheese party, casual get together, or special occasion like a birthday, anniversary or engagement celebration. Square serving trays by Ceramiche Bartoloni with their cheerful lemons or Italian blue and white ceramics decorated with fruit motifs are great ways to use Sarah’s tip. Compliment your cheese and crackers with Italian blue and white ceramic bowls like this one with cheerful lemons.

Many thanks to all of you who have written in about how you use your ceramics and posted pictures on Facebook. Want to share your favorite uses for rectangular serving platters, Italian blue and white ceramics, or salad bowls? Simply leave a comment below!

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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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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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5 Tips: Italian Blue and White Ceramics for Cool Summer Fun


Having a party or just a causal weeknight barbeque? If you’re like me, summer is the time you eat and cook outside as much as possible. San Francisco might not have warm nights, but the grill makes everything taste just a little better.

But presentation also counts for something. So what better way to add some style to your summer dining than with Italian blue and white ceramics? Not sure where to begin? Here are my top tips to bring some flair to your outdoor dining this summer.

  1. Remember, pitchers aren’t just for drinks. An Italian blue and white ceramic pitcher is the perfect way to serve sangria, kid-friendly fruit punch, or even just water. But don’t limit this instant table decoration to drinks. A small blue and white pitcher holds a wildflower bouquet that adds a great causal touch to your table. And if you use a table cloth, blue and white pitchers will keep it from blowing away before you sit down to eat.
  2. Use creative serving trays. Square serving trays are some of my favorites, like this Italian blue and white ceramic tray with lemons. Use it to serve your freshly made burgers right from the grill or pile it high with toppings for people to dress their own. Another idea is to use a big platter as a staging area for do-it-yourself skewers (make sure to soak the wooden skewers first so they don’t burn). Bowls and smaller square serving trays hold the ingredients and the finished skewers with favorite vegetables and meats easily get to grill with no spills.
  3. Keep your grill master happy. The large format of most grilling utensils means that they’re difficult to find a place to set them down cleanly (a spoon rest just doesn’t cut it). Try using a large rectangular serving platter instead – it will hold those tongs with no spills. This trick makes serving a snap, since your grill master just needs to transfer dinner to the serving tray and bring it to the table.
  4. Add some ambiance. Flowers on a picnic table are a good beginning, but why stop there? Decorate your patio or porch with fairy lights or lanterns for gentle lighting as the sun sets. Candles are another great choice for mood lighting; dress them up with Italian blue and white ceramic candle holders to match the rest of your table setting.
  5. Don’t forget dessert. What says summer more than freshly made s’mores? Load a rectangular serving platter with all the essentials: graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. If you don’t have a camp fire, you can assemble the s’more and wrap it in aluminum foil, then place it on the grill at medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until the marshmallow is melted. Delicious!

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Who You Calling a Square? Why Shape Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Sets Fine Italian Ceramics Apart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azulejos image courtesy of Concierge.2C.

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We’re Loving Ceramic Wine Bottle Holders

Summer brings with it many things: long sun-filled days, picnics, trips to the beach, and barbeques. It also seems to bring out the white wine drinker in all of us – on a hot day there’s nothing like a cool glass of crisp pinot grigio or chardonnay before and during a leisurely dinner.

But with the heat comes another age-old problem: how to keep things cool? Icy champagne buckets are heavy and messy. Not only does the bottle drip all over the place, the ice becomes just a pool of water by evening’s end. But keeping the bottle in the fridge means multiple trips back and forth to replenish glasses, which is inconvenient whether you’re sitting outside or in. However, I’ve come across another solution for this quandary: try a ceramic wine bottle holder. It keeps a chilled bottle cold on the table, there’s no mess, and it looks great the whole time!

I wrote about giving a ceramic wine bottle holder as a gift, along with a special bottle of wine back in May. They make a great gift because bottle holders fall in that category of items that you may not think to buy, but use constantly once you have.

What makes a ceramic wine bottle holder so handy? It gives instant charm to any table setting, whether a romantic dinner for two or a full-scale dinner party. Even plain table wine seems a little more special when presented thoughtfully. The ceramic wine bottle holders above from Ceramiche Bartoloni give a delicious touch to your place setting, with hand-painted grapes, lemons and olives. Choose whichever fits your (or your friend’s) décor best.

Of course, a ceramic wine bottle holder can do more than just hold wine. Use it for cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas near the stove. Or add flowers to this ceramic wine bottle holder by Talavera Vazquez with its bold black and white chevron pattern.

Whether it’s a gift for your wine-enthusiast friend or for yourself, a ceramic wine bottle holder is a practical way to add elegance to the table throughout the year. Care for another glass?

Wine glass image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan.