The striking handmade stoneware that emerges from Kari Ceramics’ studio is a pure manifestation of founder Kari Ytterdal’s passion and deep-seated love for art, nature and pottery. Creating pieces that are unique, functional and easy on the eye, the carefully crafted dinnerware from Kari Ceramics enhances the dining experience with swathes of colour, texture and emotion.
FOUR hears a bit more about the inspiration and creation process behind these handcrafted masterpieces from the artist herself…
Can you explain a bit about your background and the history of Kari Ceramics?
Initially, I started out in a very different direction. Growing up in Norway on a small island, I needed to move to the city for higher education. Towards the end of studying social sciences at the University of Oslo, I decided in 1988 to take a year off to go on a world trip. During that journey, my life changed its course, and I ended up first living in Los Angeles and then later moving to Tel Aviv in 1991. There I decided to pursue my dream of studying sculpture, as I have always loved clay. This might also come from my grandfather, who was an artist and sculptor.
In Tel Aviv, I decided to take a private pottery class in parallel to art school – and there it all began; I was hooked. I soon decided that pottery would be my path, and I bought a potter’s wheel and an oven with the intention of opening my own studio. I was sitting day and night on the wheel to master this form of art, as there is no other way than by dedication and a lot of practice. In 1993 Kari Ceramics was born.
I had never imagined when I started my academic studies that I would end up living in another part of the world, running my own business, passionately dedicated to ceramic art and design. I consider myself a very lucky person!
How would you describe your signature style?
My signature style is the organically shaped and textured pottery I create, which on the outside almost feels like stone, bark, or shell. Hence, my collection is called “Organic Stone”. The pieces are rough and rustic yet smooth to the touch. The technique I use to create this organic effect is a secret I keep to myself, as it has taken me many years to develop this specific technique and forthcoming design. One thing I can reveal is that it takes a lot of time and attention through detailed work by hand.
The interior of the pieces is glazed in various different colours, with food-safe, lead-free glazes. Available in up to nine different colour variations, some of the ceramic pieces have beautiful visual effects, which I create by layering different glazes and firing the pottery for a long time. Other glazes create a calming, satin-like surface, letting the food itself stand out and become the star of the show.
The collection offers a large variety of items: mugs, bowls, plates, and serving dishes in various sizes, as well as table accessories. Our specialty niche is the eye-catching dinner sets, as they can be put together in an almost endless amount of colour combinations.
My signature style literally has my signature at the bottom of each piece, which for me, is a final mark of quality and style. Each piece is a unique piece of art.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I would definitely say that my collection is a reflection of growing up on a beautiful island in the south of Norway, being surrounded by trees, rugged rocks, and the ocean. This is my eternal source of inspiration.
It took me some years to find a way of reflecting that core part of myself in my creations. When I finally got there, it felt like coming home, knowing that I was creating something which is a part of my inner landscape, emotions, and memories. The touch and feel of climbing on rocks to reach the top or being hypnotised by swirling water from the creek. In a way, I feel that it is these landscapes and happy moments which I want to transfer to whoever uses my pieces. This connection to nature which so many of us have lost and often miss in our day-to-day lives, sometimes even without knowing it.
I like to think my ceramic creations can help you feel more grounded merely by touch and that the mix of vibrant and calming colours brings both joy and balance to the table. I must admit, even for me, it can be challenging to maintain my connection with nature, as I can get lost behind a computer sometimes, as we all do. This is why we created a tradition of a yearly hiking trip with my family for at least 2 weeks, preferably doing wild camping and spending the whole period in nature. This year we plan to go hiking in the mountains of Austria, hopefully ascending the Wildspitze (3768m) after doing a Mountaineering course….
How has the studio and your work evolved since the company was founded in 1993?
It all started from dedication and passion in a small room with nothing but space for the potter’s wheel, an oven, a shelf, and a worktable. I was selling my pottery twice a week at a popular artist market in Tel Aviv for several years – primarily reaching locals. This dedication and passion are what still keep me going today, running a thriving 200-square-metre studio in an artist complex in Amsterdam, supported by a team of 4 to 6 assistants. My business now sells handmade ceramic pieces to customers and chef restaurants located all around the world, processing orders from one to hundreds of pieces – and occasionally even a thousand – which I could have never imagined!
My pottery has gone through many styles – but always based upon organic shapes and colours. From natural shapes with ethnic-inspired decoration to periods of Japanese-inspired forms and techniques to my current signature style, which is very recognisable. Initially, the potter’s wheel was my only tool, but later, I added the slab roller and hand-built clay to my repertoire as it better represented my need to express myself in a sculptural and more artistic way.
The profound break I took from 2011 until 2016 was vital to my personal and the studio’s growth. That break enabled me to redefine the concept of my work to make it fit into a bigger picture. We had been playing for some time with the idea of travelling; but I was afraid of leaving my studio, my customers, everyday logistics, and responsibilities behind. Eventually, I finally took the big step, told my customers I was leaving and would come back in periods to work when there would be enough orders, and I rented out my studio on the condition that I could be back in between for co-sharing.
And so it happened. I went backpacking for almost 5 years in South-East Asia with my partner and our 2 children, who were 7 and 13 years of age at that time. It was the most wonderful thing we ever did, experiencing the feeling of freedom and understanding that everything is possible if you put aside the fear of change and think in terms of solutions.
I am forever grateful to my amazing partner for helping me with this big step and for always being a visionary and great support.
These 5 years of change, of running my business in a different way while travelling, have helped me tremendously to be less afraid of growth. Now I dare to think more global, but still stand with both feet on the ground, being humble and grateful for what is.
What makes Kari Ceramics different from other pottery studios, in your opinion?
I had my assistant write this answer since my first thought was ‘probably nothing, right?’ She smiled at me, said I was too humble and took over from here.
“First of all, it is unmistakably Kari’s signature style on her ceramics. She weaves her personal story into the design of her distinguished ceramic collection; Organic Stone. The fact that her inspiration comes from her home, her personal story, makes a world of difference to me compared to following a trend.
“Secondly, Kari will not compromise on quality. For example, I suggested we should make a stamp with her signature to make it possible for others to finish the pieces as well. Kari insisted on her signature there, to make sure each piece goes through her hands again, double-checked, and signed by herself. And the same goes for customer service: Kari will go above and beyond to keep customers updated and satisfied.
“And last but not least, it’s Kari! Kari is like no one else I know. She is a true artist, and that makes her a colourful person. The studio and her team are a reflection of her personality: originating from all over the world, inspiring and most of all, loving.”
What are some of the company’s core philosophies and principles?
Heart-based, genuine care and attention to the customer are at our core. Our basic belief is that good service and happy customers are what will make people come back.
Each customer is attended to personally, and we always strive to cater to special needs. We guide customers with their choices, often sending pictures of requested colour combinations in order to resonate with the interior design and colour palette of their home.
If somebody should be unhappy with any piece – which luckily happens very seldom – we replace or refund, no matter the cost. Thus, our focus is 100 % satisfaction.
Commitment and reliability are other core principles for us. Late night or weekend work happens often, in order to get things ready in time, whether it is a large chef restaurant order or a promised wedding gift for a certain date. With pottery, you cannot always predict the results from the ovens and sometimes pieces have to be remade, but we strive to get out every order in time.
Another core value is the quality and strength of the ceramic pieces. We do not compromise on the quality factor, and that is one of the reasons we make stoneware pottery, which means that the pieces are fired above 1200°C/2220°F. It is a costly production process, especially today with the high energy costs, but this temperature ensures that the ceramics are dishwasher safe, strong and resistant for everyday use, and are made to last.
Last but not least, I strongly believe in the importance of functional pieces made fully by hand, reflecting the love and attention put into each piece. In a society dominated by mass production, we need more than ever this “soul aspect” of what we surround ourselves with. Both the food and the dining experience will be elevated when the dishes are served on handmade ceramics created as pieces of art.
In your opinion, what are some of the key elements that have led to the company’s success?
For many years my partner advised me to build an online shop, but I was always very sceptical. Assuming that people naturally would prefer to FEEL pottery before buying and that they would not trust safe postage. How wrong I was!
When we came back from travelling, I was ready for a change, so in 2016 we built a new webshop, as well as reviving my dormant Etsy shop. This step is the best thing I ever did to make my business grow. Since then, my company has slowly grown to become a thriving boutique studio with loyal customers from countries worldwide. About 75% of our orders go outside Europe, mainly to the US, but also to very exotic and remote destinations. It often makes me deeply touched and amazed to think about how many people I have reached during these years with my pottery, achieving my goals of bringing happiness and a feel of nature to people’s homes.
Behind this success also lies our earlier mentioned excellent customer service – resulting in outstanding reviews that take away a possible threshold for new customers. The majority of our customers have become loyal customers, some of them already for a decade, in which they obtain their personal collection. Apart from their stories, I sometimes also receive pictures from their homes or from family events and dinner parties. The fact that we together create this personal relationship adds an extra layer of meaning to both my creative process as well as to their dining experience.
Last but not least, also each and every one of the fully dedicated people I work with has helped the business to become what it is today. I feel extremely lucky to have such a good team around me, as the studio would really not have been the same without them.
Also, my amazing partner and 2 children who all these years have been helping out with the business, making it into a ‘family business’ as everyone is involved. They have also been tremendous support at times when I have sometimes seemed to live more at work than at home.
You work a lot with hotels and restaurants around the world – can you explain a bit more about these collaborations?
Working with chef restaurants on a more international scale started in 2014 when the head chef of Sushisamba in London stumbled upon my work in a gallery in South Africa. He contacted me, and a few weeks later, I found myself in London with a suitcase full of samples. He immediately fell in love with my ceramic design and placed an order more or less on the spot. Until this day, those chosen models are still in use for their signature dishes, also with their other international locations.
It is such a joy to work with chefs from all over the globe, as it’s like a part of me also is travelling to these unique locations – from exclusive resorts in the Maldives and luxury super yachts cruising the seven seas, to high-end restaurants in Swiss mountain resorts.
What I probably don’t need to explain is that a high-end restaurant in the Middle East would want something very different from a Michelin-star restaurant in The Netherlands. The collaborative journey starts from the catalogue for restaurants, but after that, I often work closely with the chef to finetune the pottery. Specific wishes about size, shape, and colour nuances are implemented when the raw materials allow it. When the chef already has a dish in mind he wants the pottery for, we strive to complement or enhance the dishes they are intended for. As I said, it’s a wonderful journey!
Could you describe your favourite design – past or present – from any of these collaborations?
This present design was created during a collaboration but is not in the hands of a chef yet. I was working with a chef on special platings for his cookbook, and during that time, I was experimenting a lot to give him various options. From that, a playful selection of strong surface patterns combined with a flow of blue-green nuances is definitely my favourite. These plates will catch the eye when serving food on it, fit for brave chefs who allow the plate to stand out just as much as the dish itself.
What have you been working on recently?
This might not be what you had in mind when asking me this question, but I had no other choice since this part of my personal ‘work’ is very present in my daily life. I have arrived at a point in life where I have woken up and realised that we do not live forever. If I do not take my mental and physical health seriously now, it will become more difficult over time to implement changes. In the last 10 years, I have been a vegetarian and have more and more been diving into yoga, meditation, and breathwork as profound core pillars for my personal life as well as my energy and focus for work.
My latest step in the last two months is doing a full clean-up; I became vegan, excluded processed foods from my diet, and started to exercise more. This has been such an amazing change for me! My energy levels have gone up, and I feel it clears my mind. Hopefully, this change will help me maintain my vitality for the future, so I can keep doing what I love: running my ceramic design studio until I am a hundred years old and exploring life to the fullest.
Do you have new ideas or projects for the future, adding new pieces to the collection?
As I mentioned before, dinner sets are really our speciality and our strength. I would love to go in a more artistic direction with those and create totally unique dinner sets. Playing with a mix of glazes, I envision sets that embody harmonious natural flows. While in other moments, the fiery setting sun inspires me to create more bold contrasts that will wildly stand out from any interior design. As you might hear from these words, I have been tinkering with this for quite a while now – it will be such great fun to create these sets. One thing is for sure, if you acquire one of these sets, it will be a collector’s piece that nobody else has. Functional art in the purest sense of the word.
Is there an iconic artist you admire?
I have an attraction to the world of surrealism and find the works of Salvador Dali very fascinating. His inner landscapes of struggles and fantasies are expressed in an uncompromising and raw manner.
I also admire artists like the Sufi poet Rumi for inspiring words about living a life connected to the heart. His poems still resonate very deeply with many readers, despite being written almost 800 years ago.
Another creator’s work I find interesting is the huge architectural spaces created by Eduardo Neira, who integrates nature into his amazing designs without any straight lines. I would be over the moon living in such a house.
How do you envision the future for Kari Ceramics?
For the last 30 years, the studio has been my lovechild, and I hope it will continue to expand organically to touch people inspired by art and handmade creations in every corner of the world.
I would love to be able to take some more time off again to travel, explore, be inspired, and study, which would also give me more time to focus on creating new inspiring designs and continue to do what my passion is, to bring happiness to each one who is enjoying my handmade functional art.
“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go” – Rumi.
To find out more about Kari Ceramics contact the studio using the details below: