Cath and Jeremy Brown are the creatives behind Feldspar, the homeware brand creating ‘objects for life’. The husband and wife team moved to the countryside for a slower pace of life after extensive careers in fashion and architecture and started making ceramics. We spoke with them about how the countryside inspires their work and the importance of surrounding yourself with fewer, meaningful objects.
WW: How does life in the countryside of Dartmoor influence your business and design philosophy?
C & J: I think that living surrounded by space, fresh air and endless skies really does influence us in so many ways - most immediately probably in our drive to use only natural materials, and to make things that are long lasting, things that (we feel) deserve a space among all the stuff of this (over-filled) world. Living here of course also gives us the space we need - both physical space in which to make and experiment with materials, and - importantly - the headspace to design.
WW: How did you find your way to ceramics after careers in fashion, the UN, and architecture?
C & J: We moved to Dartmoor when our son (now three) was a baby - we left London pretty much on a whim, looking for fresh air and a slower pace of life. No plans to start a business at all! One of the first things we did when we moved down was buy a pottery wheel from a potter on the moor, and without the distractions of Internet, TV or even phone signal for the first few months (!) we learnt to use the wheel through reading books, eventually through youtube videos and by Christmas we’d made all the crockery we needed to host both our (huge) families! We started making everything we needed (we’d moved from a tiny flat to a rambling farmhouse), not only ceramics - Jeremy began by making our kitchen table and stools. We’d always wanted to be able to make things ourselves, we had a huge list of things we wanted to design and make before we ever thought we’d have our own design company - only when we moved to the countryside we had the time and space to be able to actually set about making these things we’d imagined.
WW: How have your backgrounds influenced your designs?
C & J: We’ve both had a great grounding in design - and the key principles are the same whether you’re designing a teapot or a teahouse. From architecture I definitely have a ‘less is more’ philosophy - and Jeremy’s working for so many years bridging high fashion and artisans throughout the world (he was the creative director and founding member of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a UN-backed project that pairs artisans with fashion labels to create stable, fairly paid jobs for the artisans) gave us an amazing grounding in the production of luxury goods from all aspects, and also obviously instilled how important the integrity of an item is, how vital it is not to compromise your aims and beliefs!
WW: Your creation process is pretty in-depth (3 firings, etc.), how did you learn and perfect this process?
C & J: We’ve mostly taught ourselves and then learned the intricacies of fine bone china production from our wonderful manufacturer in Stoke-on-Trent. Initially our entire collection was made in Stoke, the home of bone china production (and where it was invented), but now we’ve set up a workshop in Devon because we wanted to take on some of the manufacturing ourselves. The production of bone china is totally different from that of regular clay, it is much less forgiving! We slip cast everything by making plaster models and moulds, an art in itself (Jeremy taught himself how to make them), which are filled with liquid clay and then left, depending on how thick you need the walls of the vessel to be. The slip that hasn’t had the water sucked out of it by the plaster is then poured out. Fine bone china is completely vitrified after the first (bisque) firing, and the items are then glazed using only a transparent glaze that highlights the bright white of the material. The third firing is a decoration fire, after the blue or 22k gold has been hand-painted on.
WW: You make 'objects for life' - how do you define timeless wares?
C & J: They’re made properly, by hand, using the finest materials we can source locally. We’re inspired by items that our grandparents have - tiny china mugs that are almost 400 years old but look as though they were made yesterday. We appreciate the importance of the handmade, especially and increasingly now so much is automated and machine made. Which isn’t to say that we’re anti-machine - not at all, we just truly appreciate craftsmanship, and the importance of surrounding yourself with (fewer) objects that are both useful and beautiful.
WW: What is an item in your home you cherish the most and why?
C & J: Hmm. There are a few items that really stick out - for sentimental reasons! There’s our Victorian egg coddler that a friend gave us when we moved to Devon and that went someway to kick-starting Feldspar - it’s a beautiful piece of silverware that cooks your boiled eggs at the table. And 150 years later it works perfectly! An excellent example of the longevity of good design. Then there’s a glass jug from Jochen Holz, who Jeremy worked with years ago on some glassware he designed - it’s pink with a green wing for a handle, all entirely wonky and just brilliant. Having visited Jochen’s studio too, and to know that he made it makes it really special. We also collect old kids toys - we have lots of beautiful building blocks we’ve picked up along the way - we’ve even got some that are 200 years old, made of polished stone and were intended for architects to understand volumes of buildings. So cool.
WW: You just expanded your product line to include plates, bowls, and additional colors, how do you decide which new products to make? What's next for Feldspar?
C & J: We began by just making what we needed, and while we’ve grown as a company we do still look to what we’d like or need - what we can’t find, or what we’re excited about. So, kid’s toys are pretty high on that list (having two young children helps there…) and we’re also interested in what we can use fine bone china for - so we’re developing lampshades for example - as bone china is the strongest ceramic, it can be so fine as to be translucent (which is why we make candles too - the vessels glow like lanterns when they’re lit) and that works so well for lighting.
WW: Do you have a personal philosophy you live by?
J & C: We do! A couple really - firstly, the old William Morris saying ‘have nothing in your house that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ - very important. And secondly, from my dad - ‘you don’t have to be mad, but it helps’… I don’t think we’d have quit our jobs and moved to the middle of nowhere with a tiny baby if we weren’t at least a tiny bit nuts, but we’re so happy we did!