What do you get when an accountant and an engineer start making ceramics? You end up with an incredibly well-organised ceramics design and production studio called Vorster & Braye.
I happened to stumble upon Vorster & Braye walking back to my studio last year an noticing a stairway at 96 Long Street. At the top, I was amazed to emerge into a sprawling, highly organised, light-and-plant-filled ceramics studio – complete with photographic area – and barely a mote of dust. It was only my first impression, but it certainly looked to me like this operation meant business. I had to find out more.
It all started after Martin’s switch from accountancy to architectural design saw him becoming frustrated with the lack of large, well-designed planters. He took matters into his own hands, starting with an evening pottery class, and persuaded his partner, electro-mechanical engineer Colin Braye to join him… and next thing, Martin and Colin were converting an ex-nightclub space on Long Street into their dream studio.
Colin’s engineering skills and niftiness with a welding machine meant they could make all their furniture, and they laid out the studio to include production space, storage, manufacture, a photographic area and a plant-filled balcony too. These two have had a hand in every single thing you can see in the studio, adding a whole new level to the idea of a ‘handmade business’.
But aside from their enviable studio space and level of organisation, I fell completely in love with the clean and simple, yet very individual and inventive work coming out of Vorster & Braye. The clean-edged forms are beautiful, and often quite ingenious, and are enhanced with admirable restraint by a the contrast between the fired terracotta and the careful selection of glaze colour.
I asked the pair about their inspirations, and was not surprised when they cited Heath Ceramics‘ simple clean West Coast design as an inspiration. There’s a definite mid-century vibe to the Vorster & Braye colour palette, as well as the way they allow the unadorned fired clay to work together. The duo describes their style in a few well-chosen words: “considered, unadorned, delighting in contrasts of texture and colour”.
Production techniques change, according to the shape and size, with larger pieces thrown on the wheel, while smaller and irregularly shaped pieces are slipcast using moulds. They also employ a process known as jiggering, where clay is pressed down into a spinning plaster mould. After pieces have dried, they are bisque fired, then spray glazed and fired again. Ceramics is patient, slow work, with plenty of room for disaster, but despite the high level of organisation in this studio, they love the unpredictability of working with clay and fire, as unexpected results often lead them into a new creative direction.
The entire process happens on site, with the design work a collaboration between the two – Martin comes up with much of the original design concept, while Colin puts his engineering chops to work, working on prototypes and molds – and day-to-day production supported by a small team of artisans.
Like what you see? Follow Vorster & Braye on Instagram to find out more. One of the things I’m sure they’ll be posting about is the fact that they’re putting some of their ceramics in our shop this month, as well as a fabulous showcase in the Skinny laMinx window. I’m so thrilled to be working with this iconic South African pair, and look forward to seeing how much our customers enjoy discovering their work in our shop.