There was a knock at the door. Being in lockdown, I only opened it a crack. And lo, suitably distanced across the hall by the lift, was ace potter – and D-N member – Linda Bloomfield. She had personally delivered my latest star buy: four nesting ceramic bowls which I’d ordered through a self-indulgent click on Instagram. They are exquisite. The largest is about six inches across (15 cm) and the other three fit snugly within. The outsides are matt white, and then you discover the gorgeous glossy glazes of the interiors, supremely tactile.
The largest bowl is lined with misty grey which has puddled into a deeper shade at the bottom, as has the lustrous turquoise inside the second bowl. “That was a bit of accidental discovery,” Linda later said. “I made the glazes a bit over-runny in the first instance and liked the effect.” The third bowl is lined delicately with baby blue, and the fourth is a blush pink. These pastels are deliciously unexpected, and faint circular brush strokes add to the artistry.
Linda also tells me she mixes all the colours for the glazes herself. She is the alchemist and the ingredients – to the uninitiated – are arcane, such as soda feldspar, calcium borate, quartz, tin oxide, whiting and china clay. Glaze is Linda’s forte – she has written standard texts on the subject and her popular workshops are scheduled to re-start this summer in East Grinstead, where she has a space large enough for students to stay well apart. I last saw Linda for a proper chat at Collect, where her assembly of ceramic “rocks” (thrown then “closed”on the wheel) evoked the lichens she observes on travels around the UK – “they are environmental markers,” she says, “and are killed by pollution.” Some pots were healthily speckled with glazes that cracked and bubbled during firing. Others were sinisterly smooth.
I got to thinking about the other pieces from designers that have made their way into my home(s) over many years. Once I started wandering around our Chiswick apartment, with its huge front room and double height walls, there were artefacts at every turn.
Take my “roughly drawn” chair. It date backs to around 2008, and is one of about 120 made by Richard Liddle of Cohda Design, founded in 2006, and based in Newcastle. It is wonderfully woven, highly sculptural – and a forceful eco-statement, being extruded from re-cycled plastic. Eco-activist Richard would make some of them at live “happenings” to raise consciousness. Doing a little web crawl, I found one – already sold! – on 1stdibs.com for pushing £2,000. I think I paid around £200. “We’ve actually seen them go for £4,500 said RCA-graduate Richard cheerfully, speaking from his still pretty-much lockdowned studio “Wish I’d kept a few more back…” Well, mine’s not going anywhere soon.
Equally eco, but even older, is my RCP2 Chair by Jane Atfield, from the early 90s. It’s made from multi-coloured sheets of a high-density plastic board, speckled and flecked in radiant shades. This in turn was made from discarded containers for shampoo, yoghurt, dishwashing liquid and so on , shredded, heated and compressed at high pressure. It was a radical call to action rather than a comfy seat. Jane – another graduate of the RCA – discovered her original sheet material in America. She brought the idea back to the UK, and set up the pioneering Made of Waste in 1994, to make various boards from different mixes of recycled plastic. Architects loved them and, with their distinctive flecked but super-smooth surface, they were used to kit out shops for brands such as Zara and Body Shop, eco-houses in Paris and shelters in Tokyo.
Jane closed Made of Waste in 1998, but her business partner Colin Williamson went on to develop many similar boards for his brand Smile Plastics, before winding up the business in 2008. Then about five years ago, a dynamic young duo, Adam Fairweather and Rosalie McMillan, acquired the manufacturing rights/expertise and have been building a new business. They’ve just got funding from the Welsh government, and are adding a larger 3m by 1.2m board to their standard 2m by 1m sheets (www.smile-plastics.com).
As for Jane, she’s teaching at Middlesex Uni, and designing/making 100 necklaces using different materials/processes. “Great to know Design-Nation is still going strong,” she says. “I’m remembering the fabulous Peta Levi and the early days.” As are we all (if old enough).
I love materials. Iron, for example, forged as of old, by blacksmith Kevin Boys, who made my madly-twisting fruit dish, an art nouveau pastiche. It’s at least 25 years old. I tracked Kevin down a couple of years ago to his forge set a little incongruously in open-access Surrey Docks Farm opposite Canary Wharf. It’s a vast repository of well-ordered tools/machinery – around 200 hammers alone – and a cluster of old anvils on tree trunks – “yes, wood is good for iron bashing,” says Kevin, whose arresting black iron figures stand all over London (you can see one on the left as you leave Angel tube station).
Then there’s my trio of delicate little wood bowls by master turner Bert Marsh, who died in 2011. I think I bought them separately at various fairs, and remember him as gentle and quietly-spoken. He once said that there was no “complex philosophy” behind his work – “I just want to expose the beauty of the wood.” Glass, too, I love, and have a huge collection of apples, and some pears.
And for many years I’ve had a jug bug, and have really run out of shelf space. Here, I’ve not been a very careful collector, swooping down on David Mellor for another impulse buy, but neglecting to record the names. But in the picture at the back you can see Sue Pryke’s terrific terracotta vessel partly dipped in the white tin glaze that continues inside. Which brings me back to where we came in: Sue is a Design-Nation member (and brand ambassador, no less).
By Barbara Chandler, who also took all the pictures, except those of Linda Bloomfield’s nesting bowls.