“People aren’t entertaining in the same way they used to, but that means it’s more important that when you do it, you do it right,” says Jill Fenichell, founder and head designer of The Bespoke Porcelain Company. For years, Brooklyn-based Fenichell was an antiques dealer specialising in European ceramics, and when she couldn’t find the pieces to match a client’s stylistic request, she would have them made. This happened often enough that, 20 years ago, she started a business focusing exclusively on custom porcelain designs.
Homes painted onto plates with a border colour that matches crockery made by Royal Crown Derby in the 19th century? No problem. A pattern that resembles a favourite necklace? Doable. Faux bois? Bien sur. Just about anything a client wants – whether for their home, yacht or private jet – Fenichell can create it.
Except a monogram. It’s not that she can’t do it – she’s just not a fan of the look, unless it incorporates other decorative elements. “The monogram might have been an old-world way of personalising homewares, but I think if you really want to distinguish yourself from other people today, the whole composition has to reflect something personal to you,” she suggests, politely.
The process takes anywhere from a few months to an entire year, depending on the complexity of the design and how many pieces are required (she’s done single items, like a mug or punch bowl, but also complete services). It begins with a “discovery phase”, where clients are asked questions that range from the practical (“How and where will you use these pieces?”) to the personal (“What kind of memories do you want the porcelain to evoke when you use it?”).
Once the design is approved, a trial copy is made before Fenichell decides which of her affiliated workshops will produce the final designs – based on the materials required whether gilt work (the use of 24ct gold is not uncommon) or hand-painting is involved. She then oversees every single step of the process to ensure a happy ending – be it a yellow tea set (first picture) depicting birds found on Florida’s Key West, with 23ct gold gilding; an interpretation of an 18th-century Royal Worcester pattern on dessert plates (second picture); cups and saucers for an opera fan, for whom the swagged scarlet reminded him of the curtain at La Scala; or a Georgian-style dinner service (third picture) with a border design based on an 1830s Wedgwood creamware soup tureen, but made bolder and bigger.