The recent Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair had much in store for aesthetes and lovers of fine craft, but one brand stood out above the rest. Unveiled at the fair, Clay and Liberty is a small ceramics brand that stopped us in our tracks. Owners Frederik Labuschagne and Henriette Els produce a range of everyday home essentials that is both basic and beautiful; they’re simple, unadorned and clean in form, but painstakingly thought through from their use to their finishes.
The brand was born from a major change in their lives. Not so long ago, the pair lived in Johannesburg, with Henriette consulting to large corporates on their digital marketing strategies and Frederik practicing as an architect. But the two of them yearned to take a break from city life. “Quite suddenly, Frederik decided to leave the architecture practice he partnered, and I stopped taking on consulting work; we sold our house in Johannesburg, packed the Defender and headed for McGregor, a tiny village in the Western Cape,” Henriette recalls.
What was a passion project for Henriette quickly revealed itself as a business possibility. With her working on production and Frederik on design, the pair hand makes a select range of homeware including cups, bowls, plates and more. “We wanted to produce a range of beautiful, simple objects that would give us joy every time we used them at home,” Henriette says.
The name Clay and Liberty is a throwback to their material of choice, and the changes they have made to their lives which have brought about a certain amount of freedom. “There is liberty in choice and we are loving the choices we have made so far,” she adds.
Having tested too many clays to recall and witnessing the melted, buckled results first hand they went on a mission to perfect the art of using unglazed clay. “We wanted to have the outside of the vessels unglazed as we believe this puts you in touch with the clay and gives a more tactile experience,” she explains. Vitrified porcelain (fired at extremely high temperatures), they eventually learned, was the way to go.
“We make objects that we want to use ourselves. We don’t want to fill the world with more stuff. Every piece of the collection is considered and there is vigorous debate about whether we’ll add it to the range or not,” explains Henriette. And it shows… each piece in the collection is vital to one’s kitchen or dining room, but its lean white profile and double act of glazed and unglazed finishing makes each a thing of beauty in its own right.
The obvious rebels in the collection are the small terracotta cups that refuse to be white and won’t be porcelain. Henriette puts their existence down to a rogue moment on her part, the success of which swayed her husband (and single minded design director). If you keep an eye on their website though, you’ll soon be delighted with a new range of terracotta planter pots that Henriette describes as “stripped down to its essence.”