Friday, July 30, 2010

Launching Chinoiserie and Swag, Limoges Porcelain for BRFC

Early in our careers while at Robert A. M. Stern Architects, we spent a good deal of time designing furnishings, bed linens, textiles and porcelain for private clients and international manufacturers. This was in the mid 1980s, during the first, great wave of the architect as product designer, whose icons today are Michael Graves' famous tea kettle and the Tizio desk lamp.

These Stern designs were among the most interesting and rewarding work we have ever done, and we are particularly pleased to again have opportunities to pursue product design anew, this time under our own names. Years after our initial, stillborn Limoges porcelain designs for RAMSA, we have had the great, good fortune to ally with Bryn Reese Fine China, a fledgling company dedicated to reviving the art of the table with innovative porcelain of the highest quality.

We were approached by BRFC's eponymous founder two years ago with a proposal for collaboration and the end result, after a fascinating gestation, are two services, Chinoiserie and Swag, that offer something contemporary porcelain has rarely seen—designs that build and interrelate among separate, unique pieces to create a harmonious ensemble, designs that tell a story that unfolds as a meal itself unfolds, enriching the dining experience with what we hope are successive notes of elegance, harmony, whimsy and surprise.

A mere handful of patterns have ever employed this approach; almost all are simple repetitions of the same decorative band, enlarged or reduced as needed to decorate the shoulder of each piece in the service. The result is, frankly, monotony, and in truth the vast majority of traditional patterns offer not the slightest nod to contemporary design aesthetics. This stultifying combination is, we believe, a major reason for the current crisis in fine porcelain, which cannot simply be blamed on the encroachment of low-priced Asian offerings or the belief that fiancées consider bridal registries for fine tableware to be démodé.

When we surveyed the market at the outset of this project, what surprised us most was the severe lack of patterns that combined understatement and a fresh perspective on traditional porcelain. We saw a real need to create services that both respond to today’s more informal entertaining and that reinvigorate the timeless qualities of traditional designs with lightness, concision and grace. We also remarked that many contemporary patterns were overly graphic and frankly overpowering "statements," and we saw that our task as designers was to accentuate the natural beauty of finely made porcelain, not to employ it as a backdrop for our designs. We hope that these new patterns embody a unique synthesis of abundance and restraint—lively yet balanced, each service is in fact five related patterns that, like a musical score, build a whole far richer than any single movement.

We intended both patterns to be "backbone" services, to be chosen and used as the host's "good china"; and so we selected fine porcelain from Limoges, France with clean, classic forms. We wanted that both Chinoiserie and Swag be equally at home at a formal dinner or an impromptu luncheon, combined with heirloom crystal and silver or with contemporary tableware. The Limoges blanks were decorated at Pickard Porcelain, the only quality porcelain company in the United States and the traditional supplier of State services to the White House (in fact, one set of proofs was delayed while the company rushed to complete the Obama State service).

The following posts treat each pattern in greater detail.

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