Cath and Jeremy Brown run Feldspar Studio, making handcrafted ceramics in Devon. They work exclusively with materials sourced as locally as possible, specialising in pieces made from fine bone china with every product designed to be an ‘object for life’. We spoke to Cath about their story so far and the processes they weave into daily life to keep them inspired, uplifted & connected to nature.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, WHAT IS IT THAT DREW YOU AND JEREMY TO POTTERY ORIGINALLY, WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
It began after moving down to Devon from London. We moved on a whim just after we’d had our son - we were looking for a house to buy in London and getting pushed around shoebox viewings and it all seemed a little depressing. Jeremy has family here in Devon and so we found an old granite farmhouse on Dartmoor to rent and moved in a few weeks later! The farmhouse in question had no internet, phone signal or neighbours so we spent the time cooking and growing veg and bought a pottery wheel off a potter on the moor just for fun. Jeremy would throw pots and plates and bowls and I would decorate them, and we’d have to drive with them over the moor to the potter to fire them at first. We made a whole set of tableware for our families to eat off for Christmas, and then decided we’d much rather carry on making things that return to our old jobs…
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAND AND SURROUNDINGS HAS DEVELOPED SINCE WORKING & DESIGNING WITH CLAY?
We have a new appreciation of the possibilities of mud, that's for sure! We’re surrounded by mud here for most of the year, especially having the workshop on a working farm (cider and sheep), and yet if you take the right mud and sieve it (a lot) you can turn it into a mug. It’s wonderful, quite primeval.
HOW DOES THE DESIGN PROCESS MAKE YOU FEEL? HAS IT IMPACTED THE WAY YOU RELATE TO OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIVES?
We always approach anything with a ‘can we make it better?’ attitude. We have done for years - probably a legacy of my dad’s insistence that everything can be fixed, he once mended our cd player with a piece of string - but now we have a workshop if we ever need anything at home we’ll always ask if we can design and make it first. Often these things will then work their way into the Feldspar collection.
DID YOU LEARN FROM ANYBODY AT ALL, IS THERE A COMMUNITY YOU FEEL A PART OF IN THE WORLD OF CERAMICS, WOULD YOU LIKE THERE TO BE MORE?
We are mostly self-taught - we learnt initially from books, then youtube videos when we finally got some patchy internet. And then when we set up the ceramics workshop here in Devon we learnt so much invaluable generational knowledge from the family run factory up in Stoke who make some of our bone china wares. They were so helpful, it’s such a shame that they’re one of the last potteries up there making slip cast fine bone china. It’s a critically endangered craft here in the UK as most factories now outsource all the making overseas, so it feels good to be helping to keep the craft alive.
WE ARE HUGE ADMIRERS OF YOUR ETHOS AT FELDSPAR, ESPECIALLY YOUR COMMITMENT TO USING LOCALLY SOURCED MATERIALS WITHOUT EXCEPTION - TELL US ABOUT THIS PROCESS, WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU SET OUT TO DO RIGHT FROM THE START?
Always - Jeremy worked for the UN for years trying to make supply chains ethical and sustainable, but there were always huge hurdles to try to overcome. With Feldspar as we were controlling everything from the materials to the finished products we could do everything ‘properly’, without having to compromise on any aspect. We use fine bone china from Cornwall, as it’s the strongest type of ceramic so it means the walls of the vessels can be much thinner - and we hand paint everything as it’s important to us that every piece is unique, while being a part of a larger collection. Even the paper for our packaging is milled in the Lake District and hand-assembled in Malvern. We wanted everything to have as few air miles as possible, to prove that it is possible to make a quality product from beginning to end here in the UK.
AT SSAW, WE’VE OFTEN HAD DEBATES FUELLED BY THE DIFFICULTY (AND TIME IT TAKES) IN TRACING THE WHEREABOUTS OF A PRODUCT'S ORIGIN - WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO SOMEONE STARTING A BUSINESS WANTING TO SOURCE AS LOCALLY AS POSSIBLE?
Just to be meticulous. Ask awkward questions! And don’t compromise. There are wonderful natural resources here in the UK that aren’t used perhaps because they’re not fashionable, but it’s more important to me that something hasn’t travelled halfway around the world to get to me when I could get something similar, even better, from down the road.
An example of this is our soap - we make a bar soap, and originally we wanted it to be made from only UK sourced ingredients, but without using Glycerine (animal fat) this is very hard to do. Now our soap maker is developing a plant-based bar soap made only from ingredients ethically sourced within Europe - we’ll be launching it later in the year.
HOW DO THE SEASONS AFFECT YOUR ROUTINES , AND DAY TO DAY, NOT JUST IN YOUR WORK AND DESIGNS, BUT EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY TOO? IS THERE A TIME OF YEAR YOU FEEL MORE, OR LESS, ENERGISED OR PRODUCTIVE FOR EXAMPLE?
Definitely! Winters here are wet and cold and dark and can seem a little endless, and that’s always going to affect your mood and productivity. But we start each day with a walk around the fields with the dog - that makes a huge difference, to go outside whatever the weather and come back in to a cup of tea. Being able to see the cycles of everything around us and seeing the landscape change from green to orange to brown to green again makes us feel much more connected to our surroundings too - I know that in January the barn owl will be patrolling the fields, in the dusky long evenings in Spring the deers herd together outside of the woods.
WE ARE HUGE ADVOCATES OF THE NEED TO APPRECIATE AND BE CONSIDERATE OF THE PROCESS AND TIME INVOLVED IN CREATING AND WORKING WITH NATURE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS MOST IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE AT FELDSPAR?
Probably just that things take time. When things are handmade it takes two weeks for a piece to be ready, from slip to shelf. We’re always trying to speed things up at the workshop but in the end, it’s good to take stock and remember that we’re hand making things to be treasured for years to come. We’re not machines, every single piece is meticulously hand-crafted. It’s good to remind ourselves of that sometimes.
WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF YOUR EXPLORATION INTO CERAMICS AND BIRTH OF FELDSPAR? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
Oh probably a hundred things! We had no idea about most things business-wise. It was all an adventure, and we must’ve made hundreds of things that haven’t ever seen the light of day, but it’s alright, it’s all part of the learning curve. But I feel if we hadn’t done them all then we wouldn’t be where we are today - I think it was Alfred in Batman who said that you only fall down to learn how to pick yourself up again… wise words.
AND FINALLY, HOW HAVE YOU HAD TO ADAPT YOUR BUSINESS THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC, HAVE THERE BEEN ANY SILVER LININGS?
We were really very lucky - although we had orders cancelled last minute, and we closed our workshop to begin with, as everyone was stuck at home our web sales were good throughout. We’ve felt consistently lucky to live and work in the middle of nowhere during this past year, easily able to socially distance and surrounded by fresh air - where we can walk for hours and not see another person.