Since holiday entertaining is on our mind this month, we caught up with the makers of one of our favorite dinnerware collections. We've been stocking Alex Marshall Ceramics at our Newport Beach location for a few seasons now, with each piece having it's own integrity- slight asymmetry while remaining clean and modern in form. So let's meet the creative duo behind Alex Marshall, who just so happen to be based in our favorite state of California.
GARDENOLOGY: Was working together as a husband and wife team something you expected would happen?
ANDREW: Alex and I met in 2003 while she was visiting NYC on a sales trip and I was living there working in software development. After a year of flying cross country to see each other, we decided I should move to the bay area where Alex was living since my job was more portable. Having a computer science background and moving to the heart of the technology sector made it a pretty easy decision. We truly thought Alex would continue making her handmade ceramics on the specialty level as she had been doing and I would work in software development. The job I left in NY hired me on as a remote worker for 6 months which gave me time to settle in. After 6 months working on my own and helping Alex, we realized we could actually make a life together with the ceramics. We wrote a business plan, figured out how to navigate the wholesale market and here we are 13 years later producing handmade ceramics from a studio on our olive orchard in northern California.
GARDENOLOGY: Where do each of your roles and daily tasks differ within Alex Marshall?
ANDREW: Since we’re a 2-person operation that manufactures exclusively in California our roles are definitely intertwined. However, the short easy answer is- Alex is responsible for everything going into the kilns and I’m responsible for everything coming out of the kilns. The more in-depth answer is more like- Alex and I decide together what new forms and glazes we’d like to develop, we sketch it out together and then Alex makes the initial sample, we discuss it, figure out improvements and Alex makes the next sample and so forth. It’s a very iterative process. On the other side since I make the catalogs, price lists and website, Alex will take the photography and we’ll work together on the layout. When you’re a partnership you have to find the balance between relying enough on your partner while making sure you don’t overly rely on your partner.
GARDENOLOGY: What would you say is the inspiration behind your designs?
ANDREW: Everything inspires our work and, with the advent of smartphones, it's become much easier to capture any inspiration. We photograph everything we like, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. We rip pages out of magazines because you never know when that inspiration will lead to a new design. We also keep every doodle we make, even if it's on a napkin drawn hastily in 30 seconds because you never know. An excellent source of inspiration is to listen to our clients since they're listening to their clients. Inspiration can happen anywhere at any time, it's up to us to grab that inspiration and put it to use.
For example, Alex has a background in painting and we have a few of her paintings hanging in our house. One day I said to Alex I’d love to do a glaze that matches the sentiment of one of her paintings. This led directly to our new glaze; sienna on matte white which matches the composition of one of Alex’s paintings. The inspiration had been there for 13 years; it just took a while for us to capture it.
GARDENOLOGY: What is your studio space like?
ANDREW: Our studio is a 1200 square foot steel building that’s located about 20 feet from our backyard and looks out onto our olive orchard. It has 4 production kilns, 1 test kiln and lots and lots of unglazed wares.
GARDENOLOGY: Is there anything special about your production process that sets you apart from the competition?
ANDREW: We have an 8KW solar array on the roof which offsets about 45% of our electrical usage. All of our ceramics are produced 100% in California. We don’t import anything in our process.
GARDENOLOGY: What is your favorite food or holiday to serve with Alex Marshall tabletop?
ANDREW: Every year we put on a huge holiday party, making all the traditional foods we grew up with. We serve appetizers on our larger platters with stacks of our bread and butter plates. Although we serve dinner buffet style we always set the table with our white dinnerware. We love to use our tumblers for flowers cut from our property.
GARDENOLOGY: What is your favorite theme for a dinner party or fave way to set the mood for one?
ANDREW: About once a month we have “sushi night”. It’s always a fun way to entertain because everyone can gather around and watch and eat as food’s being made. We put out huge flat platters; one for sushi, one for tempura and one for dumplings or fried wontons. We use our round bread and butter plates for soy sauce and our smaller bowls for all the different sauces. Music is very important to us. We always have music on when we’re entertaining, usual a mix of contemporary singer songwriter, relaxing electronica or classic R&B (Alex’s favorite).