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Tableware that summons up an enchanted era

A poetic, romantic charm runs through this collection

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Tableware that summons up an enchanted era

June 22 2011
Lucia van der Post

When I first came upon Astier de Villatte in its small Paris shop some years ago, I thought I had discovered some wonderful old French company that was still lovingly producing wares according to traditions laid down by its ancestors centuries ago. There before me was a collection of très ancien-looking ceramic tableware. Plates of every size, jugs, cups, saucers, mugs, goblets, bowls, cake stands, all in the same slightly milky-greyish shade of white, all in shapes that seemed redolent of a more enchanted past, each one different, each one perfect in its imperfection. The whole collection had a poetic, romantic charm that is almost impossible to capture in words.

So taken with it was I that I started to investigate its origins. Far from being the products of a long-established company, the wares were in fact the brainchild of Ivan Pericoli and Benoît Astier de Villatte, two not very old (late 40s) French craftsmen-cum-designers who opened for business only in 1996. Since then, despite having only a very small number of stockists, they’ve developed a cult following among the design savvy. Each piece is made from the same black clay which is hand thrown and hand moulded before being twice fired. All this gives the pieces their distinctive hand-made, slightly irregular look, and the black clay accounts for the slightly greyish tinge to the light white glaze.

The reason for writing about them now is that they have expanded the range. At the Milan Furniture Fair, a visit to Rosanna Orlandi’s cult shop is on every design writer’s must-do list and there, in among the edgy and the avant garde, was a vast selection of its latest offerings. Wonderfully ornate serving platters, huge bowls (fantastic for pastas or salads), cake stands, serving dishes, all with slight twirls and curves but all made out of the same distinctive greyish-white porcelain.

There, too, is a collection of its newest candles, the same delicious smells that its fans will recognise (Ben Pentreath sells them in London for £45 a time), but now put into milky-white faïence containers with lovely ornate lids, and a blown glass container made in Italy, giving them a distinctly grand and different air (£125 from Selvedge). They contain no paraffin or other petrochemical products, being made of a mixture of soy oil, two (secret) plants and a little beeswax. They burn for 60 hours.

Coffee cups are about £65 each, dinner plates range from £50 to £75, oval platters are £170, a cake stand £210, a fleur pitcher (a jug with an embossed flower on the side, second picture) £225; and the good news is that they can be put in the dishwasher. The problem, though, with Astier de Villatte is that almost nobody except the Paris shop (first picture) stocks the full range. Liberty currently has some of its tableware and through the store you can order a gorgeous dining-room table (the Hollandaise, £4,750) and you can check the full furniture range on the Astier de Villatte website. Summerill and Bishop and Designers Guild both have some of the tableware and so does TCS in Teddington. But if you can, make it to the Paris store.