homestyle’s Amber Armitage has just released a collaboration with Studio Ceramics. She looks into the history behind this iconic local business.
I have always had a love for beautiful ceramics. I’ve also long been familiar with the work of Studio Ceramics. But my first real introduction to this West Auckland-based business – and its owners Phillipa and Ken Croft – was when I visited the factory about a year ago to borrow a few ceramic pieces for a photoshoot. I was blown away, not only by the resources on offer, but also by the ethos of the business and the history behind it – especially after learning that head mould-maker Bruce Yallop was on the team at the iconic ceramics company Crown Lynn for over 40 years.
Phillipa and I soon got talking about the benefits of quality craftsmanship in New Zealand, and the joy of creating beautiful things. We were both excited about the idea of creating a new range of ceramics together and so a collaboration was born.
I designed the range so you could match each piece with its colourway set, mix them with other colours in the range, or use them alongside your other ceramics. This would allow the pieces to be collected over time, encouraging the collation of personalised collections from the different colourways. It also encourages the notion that ceramics should be kept and treasured for a lifetime, not bought and discarded as part of a passing fad.
The stylist in me also wanted the ceramics to be multifunctional; so they could sit as well in the bedroom as they could in the kitchen or living room, and move around the house when you want to change things up. To achieve my objectives, the designs needed to be simple, clean and refined – all of which matches perfectly with my aesthetic.
Seeing this project come to life has been an exciting journey, one that opened my eyes to the amount of work and time involved in developing a new ceramics range. The designs have grown and developed through the process of making, and the final result is something that I am very proud to put my name to.
Wanting to find out more about Studio Ceramics, and the history and perspectives of this unique business, I sat down to ask Phillipa a few questions…
Tell me about how the Studio Ceramics aesthetic came to be: The original range was based on New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, so it features a lot of Kiwiana and retro-inspired items. The products are all handmade. It’s not an automated production line, but highly skilled people casting, handling, smoothing and glazing, each putting their soul into the products. This process shapes our aesthetic as no two pieces are ever exactly the same.
How important are collaborations to this? In recent times we’ve worked with various designers such as yourself, Evie Kemp and Carole Prentice. Each complements the ideas and designs that we already have, adding their own flair to existing and future pieces. We feel it’s imperative to support local designers to assist them to showcase their designs. They share in our collective knowledge base and the results work out great for both sides.
How do you develop new designs? We brainstorm with the designers we work with. The public and retailers suggest ideas that we take on board. And then there are the middle-of-the-night ideas – the Swan Lamp was a 3am one.
How do you decide which designs to produce – and which to keep producing? We constantly need to test new products in the market. If they’re successful, they get added to a range. But any designs that we’ve stopped producing can still be reproduced via our mould archive.
How have your practices changed in light of the present-day economic climate? Much of our business used to be in producing huge amounts of painted dinnerware – at one stage, there were 50 hand-painters on staff. But with the importation of cheaper goods, people are not so concerned about the quality they’re buying or where it’s made – if you aren’t in the industry it’s hard to appreciate the amount of work that goes into each piece. But we feel like we’re the spiritual successor to other great ceramic companies that have gone before us. If we don’t keep going, the ranges are most likely going to be lost from the market together with our history and knowledge base. We’ll lose yet another New Zealand manufacturer and imported products will take over the market.
As a local boutique manufacturer, how important is it that you’re supported by the local design industry? Very. Too many local manufacturers have had to shut their doors as the price point drives people to get products made offshore. And, also too often, those designers realise that the quality is not as good and try to re-approach that manufacturer only to find they have had to shut their doors. Crown Lynn was the biggest tableware producer in New Zealand until import restrictions were softened and they tragically had to close. This is why Kiwis need to value and support local manufacturing rather than getting products made offshore.
What sustainable practices do you implement in your business? All our slip wastage and off-cuts are recycled and turned back into slip. We don’t use any glazes containing cadmium or lead as our products need to be food-safe. Any broken or damaged product is turned into mosaics or given to local schools for smash alleys at galas. The only product we can’t recycle is our bisc-ware or first fired product, which gets turned into landfill – and, as it is clay, goes back to where it came from. We use New Zealand-mined white china clay which is pure white and needs no colouring to achieve. It has a beautiful resonance when you ping it like a crystal glass. The clay is mined in Matauri Bay in Northland and it looks like a giant white blot on the landscape on Google Maps. A lot of New Zealand’s white clay gets shipped offshore to companies such as Noritake, Lladro, Limoges and Doulton. A lot of people don’t realise the prestige associated with New Zealand’s white clay going into some of the world’s most coveted ceramic brands.
To view this range or to buy online visit amberarmitage.com. For more on Studio Ceramics or to find a stockist, visit studioceramics.co.nz