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Making Creative Dishware Sets with French Ceramics

As we wrap up the season of holiday entertaining, I find myself thinking about dishware sets. Instead of the couple of plates and bowls you use daily, entertaining has most people emptying the cabinets to serve the 8, 12, 30 people gathered for dinner, brunch, or afternoon cocktail party. If you’re not used to crowds in your home, finding enough of the proper servingware can be the biggest challenge. That’s where having flexible dishware sets comes in.

One of my favorite current trends with tableware sets and decorative dinner plates is having pieces that mix and match. Individual dinner plates with fun designs or vibrant colors make each place setting really stand out, and add incredible depth to a table. Layering dishes with different complimenting colors and designs is another deceptively simple way to create a dynamic table setting.

For color and pattern, I feel like French ceramics have a playful spirit, polka dot plates bowlsparticularly those from Provence. Whimsy endues polka dot plates and bowls by Richard Esteban as well as the delicate pastel washes of Sylvie Durez’s one of a kind French ceramics. Then there are details like Poterie Ravel‘s pitchers splattered glazes or the delicate edging of their bowls. Patrice Voelkel’s French ceramics go another direction with jewel-toned glazes and local black clay. No matter what speaks to your aesthetic, these plates and bowls are truly unique and make any table stand out.

Of course, French ceramics are useful throughout the year, not just around the holidays. Their festive spirit injects joy into all occasions, from toast covered with your favorite jam for breakfast to celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Appetizer dishes hold daily snacks, pitchers bouquets of fresh flowers, and bowls everything from ice cream to cereal. Richard’s plates and bowls are an excellent example of the versatility of French ceramics. The soft yellow base glaze makes food look delicious and the playful dots, stripes, bird, or dog motifs add lively personality to these decorative dinner plates.

Paired with weighty pieces like the barn red milk pitcher or a rustic casserole full of tonight’s dinner, it’s hard to resist these French ceramics.

How do you dress up your table for the holidays or everyday dining? What are your favorite French ceramics? Are there dishware sets you absolutely adore? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Just Opened: New Exhibition on French Ceramics in LA

Love French ceramics from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries? Then you need to check out the exhibition that opened last Saturday, October 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled “Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection,” it features over 130 examples of faïance, soft-paste porcelain, and hard-paste porcelain used in French daily life.

I found out about this exhibition months ago and wrote about it when comparing French ceramics past and present. For example, the curves of French country pottery pitchers mirror those of antique ewers which traditionally held water for washing in the morning. Other French ceramics in the exhibition include tablewares, tea accouterments, toiletry items, and even pieces used in times of sickness. The sugar bowl and spoon featured on LACMA’s blog is charming, with soft pink accents and a curiously slotted spoon.

Covered Sugar Bowl, 1780, Lunéville, France; and Sugar Spoon, 1775, Lunéville Petit Feu Faïence Manufactory, Lunéville, France; gifts of MaryLou Boone, photos © Susan Einstein

“This exhibition reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the service of the utilitarian and the ability of this discriminating collector to bring together remarkable examples of that artistry,” said Elizabeth Williams, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at LACMA, in a recent press release.

Wine Bottle Cooler (Seau à demi-bouteille). Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, Chantilly, France, c. 1730-1735. Soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel, The MaryLou Boone Collection. photos © Susan Einstein

I couldn’t agree more, especially looking at examples of handmade French pottery today, from French platters to the elegant curves of a French ceramic serving bowl. I was amused to see a French ceramic wine bottle holder circa 1730-1735 as a featured piece on the LACMA website. The Asian influence is obvious, as is the practicality of having something to keep wine cool. Unlike the porcelain jars for pomade, a wine bottle holder is a practical ceramic piece people still use today.

Many of these pieces look like they came from Asia because they were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford. Today’s French ceramics embrace colors, shapes, and textures of a timeless (yet contemporary) French aesthetic. French country pottery is a pleasure not only to see, but also to use, though the delicate artistic touches on Sylvie Durez‘s birds or the edging of Poterie Ravel’s French platters invoke the early examples of this tradition the LACMA exhibition highlights.

“Daily Pleasures” runs until March 31, 2013, so if I make it down to L.A. before it’s over, I’ll definitely check it out. Have you seen this exhibition or know of others that focus on French ceramics in your area? Leave a comment below and let us know!

“Daily Pleasures” images courtesy of LACMA.

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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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Our Favorite Plates and Serving Dishes, both Large and Small

When it comes to plates, one size definitely does not fit all. Take serving plates. Sometimes you need small side dishes to hold additions for a meal (like chopped cilantro, slices of lemon, or spices), other times you need a massive ceramic serving platter to hold an entire roast or turkey (like at Thanksgiving). Having only a few plates that are somewhere around 9 inches wide just won’t do, particularly if you enjoy entertaining.

A customer emailed the other day asking what my largest serving dishes are, so here’s a quick roundup of the biggest and the smallest plates in the Emilia Ceramics collection (as well as some ideas about how to use them).

The longest plate

This is the pear rectangular serving platter by Tuscia d’Arte. At 22 inches long and 9.5 inches wide, it is a gorgeous decoration as a centerpiece or even more appealing holding an assortment of appetizers at a party. The other rectangular serving dishes (the Tuscan fruits plate and the peaches plate) are similar in shape, but just slightly smaller at 17.5 inches long and 9 inches wide.

The widest plate

Not quite as long as Tuscia’s serving plates, Ceramiche Bartoloni’s rooster platter is the perfect size for a turkey with its generous rectangular proportions (measuring 17 by 14 inches). This serving plate also looks fantastic hanging on the wall for a touch of Italian country charm.

Other large ceramic serving platters

The fish platter and the petal platter by Richard Esteban are both ceramic serving platters that make a bold statement, nearing 20 inches across.

Both these styles come in a variety of colors, the rustic glaze making these plates truly stand out on any table, buffet, sideboard, or as a wall decoration.

The smallest plates

Proving that even small plates can pack a major design punch, these 6.5 inch mini plates by Gorky Gonzalez are perfect as bread plates for dinner, serving dessert, or even as a soap dish.

The El Mar plate and Las Flores plate mix and match perfectly with your other blue and white serving dishes.

The even smaller plate

Speaking of soap dishes, the cheerful lemon soap dishes by Ceramiche Bartoloni also double nicely as tiny serving plates. 6 inches across, these round and square plates add flair to your condiments and other delicious additions to any meal, from jam at breakfast to chocolate shavings at dessert.

What do you use the largest and the smallest serving dishes for? Are there plates you just can’t do without? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Entertaining with Originality

Last weekend I went to Portland to visit some good friends who were actually among the first of the couples to register with Emilia Ceramics about 4 years ago. They have a beautiful house full of all sorts of unique touches, including an extensive collection of Emilia Ceramics. Upon entering the house, you’re immediately greeted by 3 such statement pieces: A colorful zigzag ginger jar by Talavera Vazquez, a one-of-a-kind vase by Capelo (stay tuned, I’m about to receive the Capelo pieces I hand-picked while visiting Mexico in June), and a sophisticated planter by Tuscia. Of course I felt right at home in the midst of all this beautiful ceramics… but the best part was seeing how my friends have made these pieces their own by incorporating them into their charming home.

The night I arrived, my friends prepared a beautiful dinner for us, including chips and salsa (served in the las flores serving dish and dip bowl) and a delicious gazpacho, which we ate in blue and white mugs, by Ceramiche Bartoloni.

The relaxed blue and white pattern on these Italian mugs was the perfect compliment for the bright orange soup. The main course was slow-roasted pork tacos, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, they were so good all the guests wanted the recipe. Turns out, it’s from an amazing blog I’ve just now discovered, The Amateur Gourmet. You have got to try these tacos… and I can personally attest to the fact that they look and taste their best when served on Emilia Ceramics!

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A Look at French Ceramics, Past and Present

Think you know French ceramics? Many people picture porcelain when they think about French ceramics, such as the famous Sèvres porcelain. Louis XV became the owner of this producer in 1759 and it was a major maker of French porcelain throughout the eighteenth century (according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most of these early porcelains were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford, though there was plenty of French innovation once the new processes got traction. Because of a lack of essential materials to make a clay body that was the same as the Asian pieces, all of the French ceramics made before 1770 were soft paste porcelain, not hard paste. (For those that are wondering, soft paste porcelain requires a higher fire temperature and is much harder to form than the more plastic and malleable hard paste porcelain, which contains minerals like kaolin and quartz.)

Technical talk aside, these old French ceramics are certainly beautiful to see. If you’re in the LA area, an upcoming exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art will feature examples of porcelain from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France that have a whole range of style and function. What’s particularly interesting about this collection is that it also features faience, which is simply another name for tin-oxide glazed pottery… also known as majolica.

Flash forward to today where faience/majolica is still going strong in French ceramics. Sturdy, rustic, yet also refined, this ceramic tradition continues to grow with modern sensibilities while staying true to its roots.

Just look at the curves of the pitchers by Richard Esteban and Poterie Ravel. Simple and elegant, their rich glazes are enticing for hands and eyes alike. Compare a faience ewer circa 1700 (like the photo above) to Richard’s barn red milk pitcher – they have the same clean lines and visual appeal with tall, stately spouts.

Poterie Ravel’s fancy pitcher, stunning in mustard yellow or creamy ivory, also reflects shapes and function from the past that fits in with today’s aesthetics for French ceramics.

Then there are French ceramics like those by Patrice Voelkel and Sylvie Durez. Patrice does so much with colors like white or blue, creating pieces that are deceptively simple. His large serving dish has a delicate rim that exposes the black local clay of Provence, while the white irregular glaze gives it real character. Sylvie goes a completely different direction, treating her bowls, serving platters, and pitchers as canvases for playful animals, dreamy women, or pastel landscapes with a surreal feel.

No matter your style, the variety of French ceramics being made today are sure to be just as sought after in hundreds of years as those that were made in the 1700s. So which French ceramics suit you best?

French faience ewer image courtesy of Sean Pathasema/Birmingham Museum of Art.