Maker Spotlight: Heath Ceramics

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Last week I had the immense pleasure of going on a Sausalito Heath Ceramics Factory tour with a big group. For the record, if ever  you need a fun group outing (particularly one that ends in a delightful shopping trip) this is a perfect outing for creative folk!

Anyways I thought Heath’s processes and history were so interesting that I’d share it with all of you!

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A little about Heath Ceramics:

Heath Ceramics was started in the 1940’s shortly after Edith Heath started making pieces of pottery on a sewing machine that had been converted into a potter’s wheel (talk about DIY!). Edith was a skilled potter and found her first big break when Gump’s, a luxury home furnishings store in San Francisco, loved her pottery so much that they asked to stock everything she could make.

Heath Ceramics is now owned by Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey who bought the then aging company from Edith and Brian Heath. Robin and Catherine have been credited with bringing back much of the company’s vitality and keeping the high quality and high standards of the Heath’s going.

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The tour started with all of us walking into the Heath Factory showroom which essentially equates to drool-worthy home shopping. There, the fabulous and friendly Rhonda picked us up for our tour and we popped next door into the factory.

The whole factory is full of pops of color, the shelves, the walls, contain bright citrus colors. The factory designers also built courtyards throughout the factory and added tons of windows for natural light. If only office buildings were designed the same way!

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Believe it or not this is the factory entry hall! I know! Adorable right? This little kitchenette is chock full of Heath Ceramics, including two bowls full of… you’ll never guess! Safety goggles. Seriously, I’ve never been presented safety goggles in such a gorgeous way. It made those uncomfortable plastic glasses seem like luxury designer lenses.

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Throughout the tour I got to see so much! These bud vases above are still raw un-kilned clay. Heath primarily uses two clay bases, Manganese and white clay base. The Manganese is significantly darker than the white clay base but before the clay is baked they’re both in the grey – dark grey range.

A few things to know when planning an outing here:

  • Wear close toed shoes
  • Glasses or safety goggles required
  • Choose how much you’re willing to spend before entering the showroom
  • Second level quality items (still gorgeous!) are 20% off of the normal price!

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We also got to see the molds that heath uses to create a large portion of their pottery. Heath uses a mix of casting molds (where they pour a liquid clay in) for more complex designs, and molds like the one above that uses a firmer clay pressed into the shape of the plates and bowls.

Fun fact, Heath actually still has some of the original molds from their early pieces. Since they revisit old designs on a regular basis, they use these early molds to make more durable master molds. The Master molds are then used to make the industrial molds like these (above).

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Though Heath seems to have mastered mid-century designs the area that their creativity really shines through is in their glazes. There is a woman on staff who tests glaze and pigment mixtures all day. Her desk is possibly the most colorful and amazing desk in the whole place. Each mixture is marked with the amount of pigment and which glazes were used, then the glazed tiles are stored in, I kid you not, the glaze library. I was practically bouncing out of my glittery gold Keds as I stared at all that bright color. Is it wrong that I briefly wondered if I could raid the tile library to create a giant colorful backsplash in my kitchen?

The tour ended back in the showroom where I promptly bought 4 second-level quality items (slight imperfections in the glaze) for the normal price of one bowl. Honestly this part was worth the boat trip over alone, you can’t get the second-level quality items in Heath’s other showrooms, only the factory. Ladies and gents take note, this is an awesome bargain.

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