The world of the 19th-century Portuguese ceramics company Bordallo Pinheiro is whimsical, colourful and eccentric, and its surreal creations are taking over tables and Instagram feeds around the world. How has this 134-year-old brand – stocked in Liberty, SCP, Amara, Couverture and Arket – become a must-have for millennials?
With the current vogue for macramé wall hangings and velvet sofas and hanging baskets, it seems we are turning to our grandmothers’ homes for inspiration.
Elsewhere, bold colour fills the high street, from Frida Kahlo to tropical Havana brights. In the age of Brexit and Trump, Scandi-style neutrals don’t cut it; there’s an appetite for something stronger.
The company’s founder, Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro, was a visionary – a subversive socialist who liked to poke fun at late-19th-century Portuguese society. He was a caricaturist, interior designer, sculptor and publisher of satirical newspapers, with an artist’s disregard for convention. His dream was to elevate everyday tableware to the design standards of porcelain pieces – the preserve of the upper classes.
His designs are strongly rooted in Portuguese culture, its culinary heritage and natural environment. Raphael wanted vegetables, flowers, insects, fish and animals at the table. He also had a passion for science – “a technical sensibility”, says Elsa Rebelo, Bordallo Pinheiro’s artistic director.
“He experimented to achieve natural colours and detailed features, such as feathers and leaves. His goal was to create objects that look as real as possible.” The company is opening its first shops outside Portugal this year, in Paris and Madrid. Half the one million pieces it sold last year went to buyers outside Portugal.
Rebelo works with in-house sculptors to create new moulds from original pieces. “In our archive, we have hundreds that were designed by Raphael and his son Manuel between 1884 and 1910,” she says. “When we’re choosing which to release, we look at the sculptural aspect of a design and also try to reflect the aesthetic tastes of the moment.”
The company’s way of working hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades. Its factory is on a pine-lined side street on the outskirts of Caldas da Rainha, a city 75km north of Lisbon. The single-storey building feels more like a large artist’s studio than a commercial factory, and products are almost entirely hand made by a 250-strong workforce. Outside the mould-making workshop, racks of animal designs sit on long shelves like a watchful zoo.
For the vast majority of pieces, workers hand fill the moulds with liquid clay, tipping them gently from side to side, to fill each nook and remove air bubbles. When dry, another team puts the pieces together, delicately fixing a tail to a hissing cat, a claw to a lobster, six slender legs to a wasp: some designs are made up of as many as 25 moulds.
After a first firing, the pieces are hand glazed or painted by a team of more than 20 artists. A second firing completes the process. For fans of the brand there’s no danger of running out of designs. “We have enough [in the archives] to release new products for another 100 years or more,” Rebelo says.
(Source: The Guardian )