There’s something irresistibly appealing about handmade ceramic tableware, which explains why so many people are avid collectors. Much of the lure is visual – the glimmer and freckle of minerals in clay, the moonlit clarity of porcelain or the richness of natural colours. The infinite possibilities of shape are also a draw. Organic curves and sweeps mean there’s a different detail to see from every angle.
For many of us, it’s the feel of handmade ceramics that sets them apart from their machine-produced counterparts. They’re made to be held and used, as well as looked at. By celebrating and magnifying the intrinsic properties of their raw materials, they make a feature of natural tones and textures. Look to plates from Hana Karim to see the extra dimension and pattern that comes from the simple speckles found in unrefined clay.
Much of the joy of ceramic tableware is found in the union of texture, balance and weight. Imagine running your finger across the line where lustrous glaze meets sandy clay. Think about the comfort that comes from hugging a stoneware mug in your hands or clutching its generously sized handle. Featherlight porcelain cups made by Penny Spooner, with their perfect proportions and clean lines, embody this sense of grounded contentment.
When you pick up a handmade ceramic plate, cup or bowl, your hands follow the same journey taken by those of the maker. There’s an immediate connection between craftsperson and user. It’s fascinating to imagine the process of drawing out a beautiful and functional object from an apparently unpromising lump of clay. Even when produced with immense skill, no two pieces will ever be identical, which adds intrinsic value you’d never get from mass production. Put together a dinner set from Julie Damhus Studio, and you get a harmonious collection of complementary pieces, each with something individual to discover.
In the realm of artisanal pottery, the notion of imperfection is a cause for celebration. In every uniquely asymmetrical form, intriguing texture and errant dribble of glaze, you can see the maker’s figurative fingerprint. Hana Karim makes a virtue of this, as her work is untemplated and shaped by touch. This means a stack of her plates is like a pile of pebbles washed to shore – the same force has created them, but with distinctive results every time. This handmade uniqueness is also celebrated by SGW Lab in their collection of colour-contrast glazed mugs.
In the hands of an inspired ceramicist, the possibilities of colour are boundless. Relationships between shades echo those found in nature – sometimes surprising but always concordant. By choosing biophilic tones, clever crafters enhance the natural characteristics of the clay they work with. The gentle petal pinks and earthy browns found in plates and bowls from Julie Damhus gain depth and interest from stippled finishes and painterly washes. Glossy or matte glazes are on hand to add drama and contrast while emphasising texture. Hana Karim’s work is a masterclass in blending colours, while SGW Lab’s seemingly spontaneous transitions from one hue to another evoke the play of light on the horizon.
Natural tablescapes featuring handmade ceramics feel effortlessly warm and welcoming. There’s an edge of informality, which speaks of comfort and the delight of good company. But that doesn’t mean sophistication is overlooked. Envisage Penny Spooner’s dip-glazed mugs and a nest of Julie Damhus Studio bowls set on a well-washed linen tablecloth against a tumble of seasonal flowers. Isn’t that a table you’d love to pull a chair up to?
To put together your own inspiring table settings, shop our collection of handmade ceramic tableware, crafted in the UK and Europe.