Vibrant African tableware to elevate everyday rituals

Cape Town’s Potter’s Workshop makes distinctive hand-painted ceramics brimming with personality

Espresso cups, £32 each
Espresso cups, £32 each

I look forward to my morning coffee with a passion – particularly the ritual of padding to the kitchen, Labrador in tow, to mull over which blend suits my mood. As for the choice of cup, I was always less engaged ­– until now.

Potter’s Workshop bowls feature distinctive, intricate beadlike graphic and floral designs, and start from £15
Potter’s Workshop bowls feature distinctive, intricate beadlike graphic and floral designs, and start from £15

A few weeks ago, at the recently opened, dazzlingly designed Silo Hotel in Cape Town, I was led astray. In a beautiful room, furnished in bold red and shocking pink velvet, with spectacular views onto Table Mountain, I just couldn’t take my eyes off the hand-painted coffee cups. They were a joyous pink, with tiny red chillies and circles of duck-egg blue and red dots lining a rim that waved gently like the ragged edges of a flower. It was love at first sight.

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I asked where they came from and was directed to the Watershed, part of the city’s booming V&A Waterfront design complex, where artisans sell their ceramics, art, furniture, textiles, fashion and jewellery. There I found Potter’s Workshop, and a table groaning with brilliantly coloured cups, plates, bowls and platters in a seductive assortment of shapes and designs rooted in African tradition – but not the pink colourway that I wanted. I ended up following a trail to the heart of the business, set in a park full of indigenous flora on the outskirts of the Cape Town conurbation.

Benoni salad bowls, £32 each
Benoni salad bowls, £32 each

There, I watched the highly skilled craftsmen – who train for years to develop their own take on the company’s distinctive, intricate beadlike graphic and floral designs – at work. What started as a mission for the pink coffee cups (£19 through Ibbi in the UK) led to buying the blue and green too; then I had to get the espresso cups (£32) and the plates (from R300, about £17, direct from Potter’s Workshop) and bowls (from £15) to match – until I had gone well past suitcase capacity and needed to organise a home delivery.

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My kitchen – and my morning – are all the better for it. Now, that first delicious sip of coffee comes in the cup with a personality to match how I’m feeling: I particularly love the uplifting blue and the lively pulse of the deep nail-varnish red.

I’ve since discovered the full breadth of the Potter’s Workshop range (pieces can be ordered directly from the maker, or from Ibbi, which imports striking homewares from small crafts businesses around the world). A new favourite of mine is the Juniper platter (£135), one of those endlessly useful dishes that just works for everything and makes an occasion of ordinary dishes. The same goes for the Sweetie bowl (£20), which I use for individual salads or for serving roasted almonds with aperitifs. As for the Balfour salad bowl (£125) in the lime and red palette – it’s as fresh and zingy as wild rocket… it’s almost a shame to put anything in it.

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