How do you add that extra touch of class to your new home? Ceramic vases, bowls or pots for plants and snacks are for much more than decorative purposes. In out post on how to decorate with handmade ceramics we take a look at different types of ceramics, sizes, shapes and uses. How to use them and why they are such a magical way to improve the look and feel of your home.
The history of ceramics is exciting and reflects different cultures over thousands of years. One upon a time artists had no “canvas” so pottery was one of the few art forms available. But first a look at how to achieve the Nordic look with ceramics. Think simple, pale and classic. Don’t think ornate or colourful. Those familiar with Nordic style and design will know we like pared down objects, pieces that don’t shout from the rooftops. So it is with ceramics – simple earthy colours such as sand, beige, white, cream, grey and moss green.
Scandis don’t care for the visual shock
Shapes are classic too: oval, round, square, v-shapes…no fuss. The reason for this careful approach to accessories is that they are there to accentuate the surroundings.
A pale vase will make flowers stand out. A sandy coloured or moss green fruit bowl will make the fruits look even juicier. We like to stimulate our senses, to have a 3-D experience when seeing a beautiful object. Scandis don’t care much for the visual shock of multi-colours and patterns. That said, one of the most famous and successful Scandinavian ceramicists is Bjørn Wiinblad. His pieces were enormously ornate with imaginative and dreamy designs. But he was the exception. He had a very different idea of how to decorate with handmade ceramics to most of us.
Few homes in Denmark are without a Wiinblad piece. He stood out because people, who normally favour functional pieces, bought into his distinctive style. They love his imagination and the decorative value of his pieces. Today’s big names in ceramics in Denmark are Kähler and the porcelain brand Royal Copenhagen. Kähler’s instantly recognisable relief designs are beautifully tempered. While Royal Copenhagen’s classic and understated white and blue designs are forever popular with the young as well as the old.
Rich Tradition in Pottery
To truly create something special with your home decor using pottery, go for something hand made, or hand turned. Handmade pieces add an extra dimension to the visual experience. That’s whether it’s a candle holder or a tea cup or fruit bowl. The same rules apply to fashion, cars, art – anything machine made is cheaper (and likely to be blemish free) than the ‘couture’ version.
Like Great Britain, Denmark has a rich tradition in pottery and ceramics. In the UK Bernard Leach was the leading figure mid 20th Century who showed us how to decorate with handmade ceramics. While the Danish island of Bornholm has been and still is a creative powerhouse known for its studio pottery movement. Bornholm, also a popular holiday destination with the Danes and the Germans is the spiritual home to Danish pottery.
Is it handturned? Decorate with handmade ceramics
It is possible to buy a perfect piece like a vase or a teacup for a fiver which looks “perfect”. But great art and design isn’t perfect. To look for uniform perfection in a ceramic piece is a mistake, in our view. Because it means it can’t have been made by human hand. The same rules apply to fashion, cars, art – anything machine made is cheaper (and likely to be blemish free) than the ‘couture’ version.
Hand turned ceramic pieces are a one-off, even if they are part of a set or series. Look at the rim of a pot or cup and see if it’s a perfect circle. The handle, is it perfectly attached and does it look exactly like the one next to it? Is the glazing perfectly even all over and particularly round the bottom edge? And then look at the stamp, usually found on the bottom of a piece.
A producer’s stamp means the piece is likely to be mass produced. Depending on the stamp, it could be the signature of a studio artist. Check the stamp by Googling it or asking experts. Initials will indicate it’s made by an individual artisan while a company name will suggest it may not be hand turned, but poured into a mould.
Provenance, originality, skill and aesthetic are as important in a vase as in a painting. Some ceramic pieces are as valuable and collectable as a work of art. Because today many ceramic pieces ARE works of art – as beautiful, though-provoking, and decorative as any painting. And there is a growing demand for ceramic pieces in the home and as investment pieces. Some ceramic pieces – bowls and vases – are viewed as sculptures. Leading auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s sell pieces reaching hammer prices of millions.
The Masters of Ceramics – Lucie Rie and Hans Coper
Two friends who shared a studio in London’s Bayswater in the 1950s became, arguably, the most influential potters in the world. In the latter part of the 20th Century, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper created new shapes for colours in pottery. Their vases are now sculptures worth tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds. The late Lucie Rie from Austria was knighted by Britain for her efforts. She created stunning, distinctive vases and bowls. Their raised feet, the tall necks and sgraffito patterns put Lucie Rie firmly top of the list of collectors.
Many tried to imitate her, but her style was unique. Imitating the raised base (or feet) of the pieces was easier said than done. Rie made ceramic buttons during the war and later branched into tableware. Anyone in possession of a Lucie Rie cup or saucer should have it valued at a reputable auction house. They’ll be sitting on a small fortune.
But it is her delicate vases and raised bowls which have earned her place in ceramic history. Her friend, the German Hans Coper, had his own distinctive style. His vases are instantly recognisable – they’re bold and angular. He mixed round and angular shapes all in one. And Hans Coper is perhaps only potter to knock Rie off her perch. He described himself as a potter, but Rie described him as an artist. His bold stoneware pieces were closer to the Nordic aesthetic given his clean, strong and severe lines and earthy colours.
Decorate with handmade ceramics: Collector’s Items
Collectors who either decorate their homes or simply invest in unique ceramic pieces include fashion designer Issey Miyake and environmental broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Sir David recalls how, when he got married in 1950, he and his wife we looking for a coffee set and spotted one by ceramicist Lucie Rie in a London gallery window.
They bought it for their new home but over the years, as it became chipped, they replaced it with a new Lucie Rie set – bought at auction and at a very different price. Rie’s ceramic pieces had by now become collector’s items. A simple white minimalist bowl with four thin lines on the inside and outside, made in 1978, sold for $170,000 (£133,900) in 2016. But despite the high price, Sir Richard and his wife still used their new Lucie Rie coffee set at home.
Investing in Functional Tableware and Decorative Pieces for the Home
There is a cross over between functional ceramics, such as tea and coffee sets, vases and bowls and sculptures which are works of art. However, with pottery being one of the oldest forms of art, even a simple egg cup can cost thousands depending on its heritage. And prices have shot up in the last decade. Pieces bought for $200 in the 1970s can now sell for $200,000 – again depending on heritage. Our forefathers’ bowl and cups used casually round the open fire are today’s priceless collectables displayed on designer tables and shelves and behind locked cabinets.
The Ming and Tang Dynasties – How Ancient Ceramics Influences the Day We Live and Decorate Our Homes Today
The Tang dynasty in China developed functional pieces for the home in the years 600-900 AD which made it a world leader in ceramics and a major international trader. It was also first producers of porcelain, inventing the blue-and-white porcelain style which we now see in so many everyday cups and plates. Blue and white porcelain is also the trademark look of Royal Copenhagen.
But we’ve heard much more about the glamorous Ming dynasty which ruled from 1368-1644 AD. During these years China became a major exporter to Europe and the intricate white and blue porcelain vases and bowls are very similar to the pieces sitting in our own kitchen cupboards.
One Ming dynasty vase was used as a doorstop at a New York home when the owner decided to sell when it was surprisingly valued at $600,000 to $900,000 – and then went under the hammer for $1.3 million. Another buyer snapped up a Ming vase from the 15th Century at Sotheby’s auction house for man extraordinary $22 million – twice the estimate. This shows that demand for ceramics, original older pieces, far outstrips supply. It also shows a rising trend for ceramics and pottery as home decor and design objects.
The Victoria & Albert Museum in London – a World Class Treasure Trove of Ceramics
There’s a chance to view other priceless pottery and ceramic pieces from the old dynasties at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There you’ll see one of greatest collections dating back thousands of years – and once you’ve seen the extraordinary samples of bowls and vases and cups and saucers from centuries BC, you’ll never look at your kitchen cupboard in quite the same way again.
Buying Pottery – What to Look for when Shopping for Tableware and Decorative Pieces
When shopping for tea sets and plates and bowls, and particularly decorative pieces such as vases, check whether it’s porcelain, stoneware or terracotta/earthenware. If you’re an expert you’d easily tell, but for the uninitiated there are clear and subtle differences. Porcelain is durable but fine and lightweight and it is usually more expensive. It is often used for exclusive coffee and tea sets and fine dining as well a decorative pieces. The process of making porcelain is higher maintenance requiring higher temperatures under firing.
So it less durable, more prone to cracking – not the ideal choice for the busy first time buyer when furnishing his or her home. Stoneware is our personal favourite. It has some of the fine qualities found in porcelain and the toughness lacking in earthenware. It is often used in large vases and bowls used for both functional and decorative purposes.
The stamp is important – even Ikea has their stamp along the bottom of cheap and cheerful mugs, which are perfectly respectable and charming. But if you’re planning to buy collectable pieces for the home, getting the background story is key. And it’s satisfying to put your legs up with a cup of tea knowing a little bit about the history of the mug you’re drinking from.
How to Care for Your Ceramic Home Decor Pieces and Tableware
water or liquid from seeping into the fired clay and staining furniture. Are you using glazed stoneware as planters ensure there is a hole at the bottom for surplus water to drain through. If you are planting a green succulent in a bowl without a hole for drainage – as we do – watch out for water clogging. If the plant hangs its leaves more than usual, but is still green, that is a sign there is too much water gathering at the bottom of the pot with nowhere to go.
Are you using glazed stoneware as planters ensure there is a hole at the bottom for surplus water to drain through. If you are planting a green succulent in a bowl without a hole for drainage – as we do – watch out for water clogging. If the plant hangs its leaves more than usual, but is still green, that is a sign there is too much water gathering at the bottom of the pot with nowhere to go.
Change the soil and tidy the roots, before replanting. Be careful not to over water. Using pots indoors with drain holes a the bottom will need to stand or sit on a tray. It is easy to get carried away by beautiful pots from the garden centre or pottery, but it will stain the floor or window sill or whatever furniture it sits on.
Decorate with handmade ceramics: where to Buy Ceramics
For kitchenware it is essential pieces are glazed for health reasons. Check when you buy a cup or pot or food tray that it is both dishwasher and oven proof. It will often say so alongside the stamp at the bottom but if not ask the assistant for advice wherever you’re shopping.
Garden centres are ideal places to find the perfect pot for plants and experienced staff know how and show us decorate with handmade ceramics. But unusual and unexpected town stores and upmarket leisure and shopping centres are increasingly stocking unusual pieces. Designated plant and pot centres have a huge variety of larger-than-life pots. Exclusive kitchen boutiques often carry a wide selection of handmade and decorated plates, cups and bowls.
Other home decor boutiques are catching on to the ceramics trend with specially commissioned product lines to complement their own brand and look. Ceramics are now a lifestyle product, as attractive as a painting, a piece of jewelry and designer handbag. Size also matters in the Scandi aesthetic – for more on how to make you home appear bigger, read also our blog Clear Furniture: How to Make a Living Room Look Bigger.