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La Dolce Vita

florence1After a long day of train rides, I made it from Nice (where I dropped off my rental car) to Florence. It was actually a longer journey than I had envisioned (in the past, I’ve always stopped along the way) and I arrived starving. About halfway to Florence, I had decided I was going to wait to eat until I could eat real Italian food… so I checked into my hotel, splashed some water on my face, and headed to the nearest trattoria. It was worth it! The fresh tagliatelle al funghi was delicious and the “house red” tasted as good as any wine I’ve had in a long time.

The next day I woke up early and headed back to the train station for the 20 minute ride to Montelupo Fiorentino. Montelupo is famous for its majolica because of the town’s location on the old Roman road that brought Moorish traders (and their ceramic wares) from Spain to Florence. During the Renaissance, artisans in Montelupo began elaborating on the ceramic designs, adding realistic imagery and brighter colors, transforming them into the high art form we know today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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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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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.

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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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Much Loved (and Used) Favorites!

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One of the best things about the pop-up shop in Palo Alto is interacting with customers. Many people who walk into my shop just assume I’m an employee. Sure, I might know something about ceramics, but they don’t expect me to be quite as intimately connected with the goods as I am. I don’t blame them… I make the same assumption when I visit other stores. It’s fun to get to surprise customers by sharing that I actually know the artists who make the pieces, that I personally pick out each piece, and that I use many of the ceramics myself at home. The last piece of info is probably the most helpful to perspective customers. I can give them precise knowledge of food that looks great served on Tuscia’s square platters, promise them that all the mugs work well in the microwave, and assure them that the Vina Azul salad bowl is the best size and shape for tossing/serving salads. I love sharing personal stories of how my parents use an eclectic set of Gorky plates as their everyday dishes, how my sister serves spaghetti, ice cream, salad, chili, and IMG_0779anything else she can think of in Gorky’s pasta bowls, how my brother makes beautiful caprese salads on his Amor Platter, and how I always serve cheese and crackers on my favorite square platter with oranges. Here are some personal photos of Emilia Ceramics in use… Enjoy!

Right and Below: Dinner at my parents’ house with El Mar Platter, Oval Serving Dish, and various Gorky plates.

gorky gonzalez serving platters and plate

Below: My brother’s famous caprese salad served on the Amor Platter

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Below: Delicious and beautiful Gazpacho at my friend’s house, served in Emilia Ceramics’ Italian mugs and blue and white bowls by Gorky Gonzalez.gazpacho

Below: One of my favorite of Richard Esteban’s pieces, this oval serving platter (which I gave my dad for Christmas last year) works great for serving meat dishes and salads. We even served the turkey on it for Thanksgiving this year (but I forgot to take a photo)!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0384

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Ceramics Expert to Speak at The Shop!

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I started taking ceramics classes when I was in 3rd grade… learning to stack coils of clay together and then smooth the surface to build a vase. Soon after I was taught how to use a wheel and slowly form (usually lopsided) bowls. On my first solo trip to visit my uncle in Los Angeles (who is an artist and art professor at UC Irvine) I sculpted a miniature dog… I was pretty proud of myself! IMG_1238My mom, who’s now a fantastic oil painter (I sell her beautiful landscape oils in the Palo Alto Shop), always loved ceramics — she threw a clay tea set for my dolls when I turned 10. Later, I took ceramics in college, as a mental release from the reading and writing that often overwhelmed me. And when I moved to Spain after college, I took ceramics to make friends. I loved throwing bowls, plates, and cups as I listened to Spanish housewives gossip, gripe about their husbands, and worry about their children. Point is, long before I began importing ceramics, I loved creating it myself.

That, however, in no way means that I am an expert. When people ask me about firing temperatures, specifics on the clay composites, or why the glaze used by Gorky Gonzalez comes out looking different from that used by Richard Esteban, I really don’t know the answer. But, lucky for me, my uncle Gifford does! And this Saturday (as in TOMORROW), Gifford is going to be at the shop in Palo Alto to talk about the complex process of crafting and painting ceramics. He’s also going to talk about his experiences working with artists in Italy. Gifford introduced me to Ceramiche Bartoloni and Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia. He’s worked with both for the last 20 years. He’s especially close to the Bartoloni brothers (who he nicknamed the Blues Brothers).Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 6.12.24 PM

Since starting Emilia Ceramics, it’s been really fun for Gifford and I to share our similar experiences meeting, befriending and working with such fun, creative artists around the world. And I am so grateful to have Gifford as a resource to go to with my nitty-gritty ceramics questions. I really look forward to him seeing this year’s pop-up shop — which I think is our best yet — and getting to share his comedic stories and knowledge with my customers.

Hope you can make it!

11:30 Saturday, December 15th
At Emilia Ceramics — Town & Country Village, Suite 10. For more information, visit us online or call us at 650-257-0292.

Here’s a little more about my uncle:

Gifford Myers is an artist who works with ceramic as well as many different materials and techniques; fiberglass, aluminum, bronze, steel, wood and found objects. The research of Gifford Myers is a continuous development of ideas and new experiences, without convention, utilizing wide vision that goes beyond the rigidity of conventional rules and restrictions.

Myers transforms the reality that surrounds him through wit, a free spirit and a strong capacity for observation. He is continuing his research, a synthesis of new dimensions that express results that are never the same, never repetitive. His work is always something new, something explorative, surprising for its variety, freedom and imagination; from large works to small objects, a form of self-portrait from the imagination of a unique artist that both surprises and draws the viewer in through the strength of expressive ideas.

http://giffordmyers-artist.com/index2.htm

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Ceramic Canisters: Practical Kitchen Decoration

Ceramic canisters have been used to organize everything from pasta and flour to medicines and special remedies for centuries. While I’m certainly glad we no longer need to rely on Renaissance-era medicine, I do like the idea of making storage beautiful as well as functional. Here are my top 5 ways to use ceramic canisters in your kitchen:

  1. Inject Style into Dry Good Storage. Flour, sugar, pasta, and other heavy-use items can be a pain to pull out of a cabinet or pantry every time you need them. Save yourself time by keeping these staple dry goods on the counter in ceramic canisters. The ever-popular spaghetti ceramic canister by Tuscia d’Arte is a great example (and doesn’t have to be limited to noodle storage). A variety of sizes keeps the counter interesting and can save you space.
  2. Add Floral Accents. A tall vase filled with dried or fresh flowers is a surefire way to cheer the cook throughout the day. In the fall, I love dried grasses or decorative branches in keeping with the season. Place your vase on top of the fridge or use it as a centerpiece on the kitchen table. This way the flowers don’t get in the way of cooking. I like how striking a blue vase can be even when empty, but take into consideration your kitchen’s color scheme when choosing the perfect option. Another idea for a hefty bouquet is to use a utensil holder as a vase.
  3. Keep the Wine Handy. A wine bottle holder is another kind of ceramic canister that has more than one use in the kitchen. Perfect for holding tonight’s bottle, it’s also ideal as a utensil holder for your favorite tools. The zig zag pattern on this ceramic wine bottle holder hits a modern note for a fresh looking kitchen.
  4. Don’t Forget Other Drink Options. Small ceramic canisters or even ginger jars are great ways to keep your coffee or tea on the counter with no one the wiser. I love the rooster on this ceramic canister; he’s definitely ready to help you face the day, no matter if you’re a morning person or not. The floral motifs on these ceramic canisters by Capelo also look great with a grouping of three (one each for coffee, tea, and sugar).
  5. Repurpose History. Ginger jars were a way to ship and store spices, herbs, and other trade goods (including ginger) in China for centuries, but today they’re valued mostly for their decorative properties. Still, a large blue and white ginger jar can add flair to your kitchen or dining room. Use it to store anything from dog treats to your shopping bags (depending on where it is in the room) or as a tall vase.

With all their varied uses, it’s no wonder that ceramic canisters make a functional and stylish gift no matter the occasion. How do you use ceramic canisters in your kitchen? 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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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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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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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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Montelupo Fiorentino and the Tradition of Majolica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villa dell’Ambrogiana drawing image courtesy of Sailko.

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Displaying Your Favorite Italian Plates

One of the best things about ceramics is their ability to combine function with art. A masterfully-painted design you can eat off! That said, there are some plates and platters you would rather just look at – I grew up with handpainted Italian plates like these on my parents’ walls. Wall plates are making a comeback in the decorating world. And there’s no law that says if you display your favorite Italian plates on the wall you can’t take them down to use them when the need arises.

There are many ways to display your favorite handpainted Italian plates (or really any plates you want to decorate with). Here are my quick tips for making your wall plates shine.

  • Use the Right Tools. A v-shaped hanger is best for delicate or antique plates, recommends Martha Stewart. Spring-loaded hangers are another option, but the best wall plates already have holes in them: that’s one of the things I love about these Italian plates from Tuscia d’Arte. You can use strong monofilament or wire for security and hang from a picture hook strong enough for your plates’ weight.
  • Go Beyond the Wall. Of course, you don’t have to display wall plates on a wall. Italian plates make a great addition to a sideboard, table, or cabinet when displayed upright on small plate easels. These little display helpers come in a variety of colors and sizes to match your style and plate size. Layer Italian plates with other objects like candles, pitchers, pictures, or other art for personalized decorating.
  • Be Creative in Groupings. A single plate can be beautiful, but a collection of Italian plates packs a decorative punch. Arrange wall plates in columns flanking a mirror, in clusters above a table, over a doorway, or on dedicated plate shelves or racks. Pick plate shelves (they have a groove in them that keeps plates from slipping) that compliment your existing décor and finishes as well as sets off the colors in your wall plates.
  • Think about Scale. A single tiny Italian plate over a fireplace looks lost, but a collection with multiple platters and plates fits the space nicely. Use smaller plates for smaller spaces, like this interestingly shaped Italian plate that compliments a houseplant on an end table. Large pieces need space around them to prevent a cluttered feeling.

  • Mix it Up. Rotate your hanging plates for a quick décor refresher, perhaps seasonally or whenever the fancy strikes. Don’t feel like your plates need to completely match either: groupings that have a common color, shape, or style make for even more attractive decoration.
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Italian-ize Your Holiday Entertaining

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week? The entertaining season has officially begun and will not wind down until New Year’s, so it’s time to take a deep breath and get ready to party! From blue Italian vases to fun rooster serving ware, having the right accents for a dinner party (or any gathering) will help make it an instant success. One of my secrets is to use the festive colors of Tuscan ceramics to bring instant warmth to any space. By making your guests feel warm and comfortable, you ensure that your party is a success.

At our upcoming family gatherings, there are three pieces that will definitely get a lot of use: Tuscan pitchers, Italian vases, and, serving platters. Here’s a quick rundown of how this trifecta of entertaining essentials can help your next party be something you actually enjoy as well.

Tuscan Pitchers

Big or small, pitchers are super versatile, being both decorative and functional. Larger ones are perfect for serving wine or water at the table. A Tuscan pitcher allows your favorite red to breathe and keeps a chilled white cool on the table. Not only does it add an element of Euro-cool to your party, it also keeps wine from dripping down the bottle and onto your special tablecloth.  

Having friends over for brunch? Fill up the rooster pitcher from Ceramiche Bartoloni with mimosas to start the day off right; it also handles milk or plain orange juice with Tuscan flair. Use smaller Tuscan pitchers to create a relaxed accent with a simple bouquet. I love having one on the kitchen counter for an unexpected splash of color that still feels natural in the space.

Italian Vases

I always have fresh flowers when I have company over; whether it’s a truly stunning bouquet or multiple smaller, single color arrangements, flowers make for a conversation piece at a fancy cocktail party or informal get-together.

Large Italian vases support the stems of robust flowers beautifully. Of course, these statement-making Italian vases look great empty too, perfect on a shelf or side table.

I like arranging buds in small Italian vases to add color to the table without blocking the view for your guests. These bud vases also make fantastic hostess gifts –  adding a sweet touch of Tuscany to a bathroom counter or bedside table.

Italian Serving Platters

What’s a party without well-plated food? Having the perfect serving platter for your hors d’oeuvres encourages guests to nibble at will and shows off that great cheese you found or those tarts you slaved over. I like using unusual shapes of serving platters and visually enticing colors to really show off the menu. This year, why not use a large Italian serving platter for slices of turkey after you carve the Thanksgiving bird? Of course, they work well with any kind of roast meat year-round.

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Top 5 Gifts for Pasta Lovers

spaghetti al sugo
Spaghetti with a hearty tomato sauce, fettuccini alfredo, delicate handmade raviolis, gnocchi in sage butter… how can you resist the temptation of pasta? Ubiquitous in Italy, pasta comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors which makes it possible to never have the same meal twice.

With pasta so popular, it’s no surprise that Tuscia d’Arte’s spaghetti canister is a consistent top seller. Functional and decorative, keeping this stylish spaghetti canister fully stocked means you have a quick and simple dinner always on hand (ideal for those days you don’t want to think about cooking). This spaghetti canister also holds its own as a decorative element on a kitchen counter, or pairs beautifully with other canisters holding your essential dry goods.

As the holiday season approaches I’ve started thinking about creative gifts for my “hard to buy for” friends. Since so many people love pasta, it’s the perfect starting point for a useful and delicious gift, no matter the reason.

Here are my top five gifts for pasta lovers:

1. Pasta. While the boxed stuff is good for everyday, why not indulge your favorite pasta lover with handmade, fresh noodles? I love the pasta from Lucca Ravioli here in San Francisco. Their ravioli has incredible seasonal flavors like pumpkin or turkey and is always tasty. You can also find dried artisanal pastas at specialty markets if fresh isn’t easily available in your area.

2. Spaghetti canister. Fill it with quality spaghetti or fettuccini for a practical gift. The Tuscan Fruit spaghetti canister is perfect for anyone who loves Italian ceramics, Tuscan style, or just appreciates the fusion of art and food in their kitchen.

3. Pasta machine. Since fresh pasta is so delicious, why not make your own? From the manual to state of the art electric versions, pasta machines roll out dough to the perfect noodle thickness. Use cutters to make noodles or take the sheets to create ravioli and tortellini with your favorite flavor combinations.

4. Pasta bowls. The best part about pasta is eating it. A pasta serving bowl (I love the yellow and turquoise one pictured above) makes for the perfect presentation. Or try a set of individual pasta bowls that are large enough for a hearty portion of noodles and sauce. I like mixing and matching for more personality at the table.

5. Kitchen accessories. Pasta needs the right accouterments from a solid colander to spoon rest for your sauce spoon and pasta claw. A large pepper or cheese grinder, salt and pepper shakers, or a spice rack ensures perfect pasta seasoning. A wine bottle holder keeps a favorite bottle handy to compliment any pasta feast.

Now I’m hungry for some pasta myself. What’s your favorite pasta dish? Post a comment to let us know!

 

Spaghetti image courtesy of Dèsirèe Tonus.

Pasta maker image courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

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The Allure of the Majolica Plate

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

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

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

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

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Handmade Italian Ceramics: How to Shop Smart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceramic mark image courtesy of Grannies Kitchen.

16th century jar image courtesy of F B.

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Function’s nice, but how ’bout some originality?

We talk a lot about a ceramic piece’s function: How a platter is perfect for appetizers or a vase is great for displaying cut flowers. But we all know there are millions of serving platters and ceramic vases that function well. Thanks to Ikea and Target, we can buy functional ceramic pieces for less than 10 bucks! And at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, we can get Italian-like ceramics for less than $50. So why spend $185 on Tuscia’s Oval Serving Platter with Lemons or $110 for Vazquez’s Large Paloma Vase? Sure they function well, but the real reason we love them is their originality.

When a piece of ceramics is handmade and hand-painted, it is intrinsically unique. It is one of a kind because a human hand crafted it and a human hand applied the glaze… not to mention the fact that a very imperfect firing process was also involved! All this to say that even if the same artist tries to recreate the same piece it will undoubtedly look different. Of course, pieces made simultaneously look the most similar, that’s why I encourage customers who want a whole set to special order it at the same time.

To some, these inconsistencies might seem inconvenient. But as far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t want it any other way! I love that the artists I work with put their own human touch into each piece. Sure some days their lemons are larger or more ripe-looking than others. Some mugs have thin handles, while others are more thick. But isn’t that the fun of it all?! Knowing that when you pick out a particular plate or fall in love with a pitcher, you’ll be the only one in the world to have that plate or that pitcher? It’s a one of a kind… a complete original. The artist made it with love and now it’s on your table or serving appetizers at your party. That one piece is special and that’s what gives it value. Sure it also serves it’s function perfectly. But as appose to the platter that came off a factory line, it’s got just as much personality at it does functionality.

A great example is one of my favorite pieces by Ceramiche Bartoloni, the Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel (left). I have ordered this platter from the Bartoloni brothers many times and each one they send me is different: Sometimes the little angel has fruits in his hands, other times he has a musical instrument, a flower or a leaf. Each platter has its own personality and tells its own story, just as an original work of art should.

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Tuscan Utensil Holders Get the Kitchen Organized with Style

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

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

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

  • Variety

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

  • Holds Tools…

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

  • …And More

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

  • Stylish Sophistication in the Kitchen

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

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

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Simple Touches of Tuscany for Any Home

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

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

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

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

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

Tuscan balcony image courtesy of Star5112.

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

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

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

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

Deruta ceramics image courtesy of Zyance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cafe image courtesy of LenDog64.

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Italian Country Ceramics Create Instant Warmth in Your Decor

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

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

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

 

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

Sunflower image courtesy of Eric Perrone.

Tuscan food image courtesy of Gabrielle Cantini.

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Oh, Glorious Italian Food!

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

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

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

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

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

Spaghetti photo courtesy of Bejie Ordonez.

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The “Science” Behind Buying for Business

Recently, a friend asked me how I decide which pieces to buy for the Emilia Ceramics Collection. I had trouble with a concrete answer because the reality is most of my decisions are based more on gut reactions than a set of rules. There are however, a few guidelines (listed below) that definitely impact my decisions. As with every part of my business, I am still learning… but lucky for me, traveling to meet artists and pick from their work is a pretty fantastic way to learn!

1. Classic Shapes. People gravitate to the shapes they are accustomed to seeing and using, such as oval serving platters, deep salad bowls, and full-bodied pitchers for drinks or flower arrangements. These classic ceramic pieces make fantastic gifts as they are universally useful and can be added to any existing collection. For that very reason I like buying these functional shapes in multiple color schemes and styles… so they can fit into any aesthetic.

2. Original Shapes. The counter-effect to classic shapes, these pieces surprise and challenge the norm… and that’s why I love them. Squared edges are a great way to add originality to a utilitarian piece. My favorites are pictured below: The square platter by Tuscia d’Arte is perfect for serving cheese and crackers, Gorky’s octagonal bowls inspire Mexican fiestas, and finally Vazquez’s square planter adds dimension to the garden or patio.

3. Blue and White. Simply put, people will always love this classic color combination. I definitely gravitate to other colors as well, like warm earth-tones and fresh greens and yellows. But when blue and white ceramics is an option, I buy it. It is the closest thing I’ve found to a sure thing.

4. Functionality. Probably my biggest buying mistakes have come when I just fall in love with a design or piece that is not actually functional. While it may be exceptional artwork, that’s not always enough. To appeal to a larger audience a piece needs to be both beautiful and functional. Examples? Vases that look just as stately with or without a floral arrangement, plates that can be hung on the wall or used to serve dinner, lamps that add color and sophistication to the bedside table, and of course, probably my best seller of all-time, Gorky’s darling salt and pepper shakers!

5. Pure je ne sais quoi. When I am lucky enough to come across an artist that is creating original works of art that are striking, fun, thought-provoking, and useful, I know I’ve hit the jackpot. Prime examples are Angélica Escarcega in Guanajuato and Sylvie Duriez in Provence. These two women are talented, creative artists who work in their own personal styles to craft artwork that is imbued with personality and character. There is no rhyme or reason behind my purchasing their work… it’s just something I know is right. And my customers seem to agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Grand Canal courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.

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How Tuscan Food & Decor Can Whet Anyone’s Appetite

Local flavors are key to any cuisine, but if you’re lucky enough to have eaten in Tuscany, you know that it’s full of delicious traditions that are hard to explain if you haven’t tasted them yourself. One of the things I love best about this region of Italy is that simplicity fuses with elegance, both in flavor and presentation of even the most basic dish. It’s no wonder that Tuscan décor inspires so many kitchen designs – who wouldn’t want to emulate the flavor and decor of a region with food that tastes this good?

Aurora Baccheschi Berti discovered the beauty of Tuscan cooking and decorating while vacationing in Tuscany in the 1970s, never realizing she’d ultimately move there, she explains in The Telegraph. She and her husband fell in love with and bought the castle of Vicarello, moving there in the early 1990s and embarking on ten years of restoration work to make it into a true home. I love the way she describes finding “a whole new approach to cooking, where the honest flavours of locally produced ingredients lend even the simplest of traditional dishes an unexpected elegance.”

Obiously emulating true Tuscan décor would be so much easier if we were  surrounded by the land, people, and colors themselves. This is a place where art is living, in a very real sense. Plates, bowls and platters are beautiful but also practical, a philosophy I have always shared.

Just reading the description of the food in this article makes me want to be in Berti’s kitchen. She tells how a local friend and mother figure inspired and taught her to make tortelli: “Using 20 eggs, she would make one immense sheet of pasta – large enough to cover my huge kitchen table. She never measured or weighed a single ingredient.” Perhaps needless to say, her cookbook My Tuscan Kitchen sounds like it’s packed with delicious recipes.

So how to bring some of this Tuscan delight into your own kitchen? The rich blues, greens, and golds that dominate the Tuscan landscape add to any décor. A signature of Tuscan ceramics is their playful motifs: fruits, flowers, animals, and whimsical, comedic characters like those on the traditional harlequin plates. Decorators can give you more professional advice perhaps, but I say it should have a homey vibe, one where you can tell that surfaces and objects are used and loved. Kitchens are where not only food is made but people gather – serving homemade food from a beautifully-painted platter, enjoying coffee from a colorful mug, even using a simple spoon rest as you cook can bring out the Tuscan flavor in your food, your hospitality, and your home, no matter its dominant décor.

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Tuscia d’Arte Arrives in California Wine Country

Tuscia d'Arte

I recently went to visit the new Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California.  Surrounded by rolling hills, lush vineyards, and a deep blue sky, the new winery has a majestic look and feel.  In addition to the breathtaking scene outside, the cool tasting rooms and retail areas inside are beautifully designed.  Dark wood and soft lighting are the perfect backdrop for Coppola’s artsy wine bottles, retail items from around the world, and of course, the artifacts, videos, photos, and even a few Oscar Awards from the director’s most successful films (think the Godfathers and Apocalypse Now).

Tuscia d'Arte

Among the carefully chosen and creatively displayed retail, is a large collection of the Emilia Ceramics Tuscia d’Arte line.  A few months ago, Francis Ford Coppola Presents contacted me about buying a few vases, platters, and pitchers for the new winery.  I was thrilled to be a part of the opening.  Years ago, I worked at a Coppola wine bar and was impressed with the company’s dedication to authentic products and their family-focused ideals.  They espouse a true Italian spirit — with the goal of creating  a “place to celebrate the love of life.”(franciscoppolawinery.com) It is an ideal setting to showcase the traditional and painstakingly handmade, hand-painted ceramics by our friends at Tuscia d’Arte.

Tuscia d'ArteTuscia d'Arte

It was exciting to see my favorite Tuscia pieces looking so at home on the shelves surrounded by Coppola’s best bottles of wine, as well as beautiful books on cheese and charcuterie.  I’m equally excited to send the photos to the dedicated artists at Tuscia d’Arte in Montelupo, Italy.  I’m sure they will be thrilled to know their artwork is being appreciated in a place so far from where it came, but with such a similar landscape and value system.   Below, compare the vineyards surrounding the Francis Ford Coppola winery (left) and the rolling hills outside of Montelupo (right). I think it is safe to say these Tuscia pieces have found their home away from home.

Tuscany near Tuscia d'Arte Geyserville near Francis Ford Coppola Winery