Category Archives: Behind the Design

Behind the Design: Our New Barcelona Pillows and Dinnerware

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Inspired by a recent trip to the Park Güell in Barcelona, one of our head designers came back to San Francisco with a camera roll brimming with ideas. Park Güell was built over the course of 14 years by famed Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí, and is one of the largest architectural works in the world. The masses of curving stone, covered in tiny broken bits of tile caught our designer’s eye, so she snapped some pictures to take back to PB HQ. Take a look at a couple of her inspiration shots below:


The majority of the park is covered in broken tile, carefully plastered together in intricate patterns and designs. There’s a unique mix of patterns and shapes on almost every surface.


The curving shapes and bold patterns felt like a natural fit for a textile design. After perusing these photos, one of our in-house designers experimented and painted several new patterns inspired by these colorful, curving, tile designs.


Here’s a few snapshots of her paintings. Aren’t they beautiful? Some patterns took on a life of their own, expanding into several different designs. Others were just one-offs.

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Several of the paintings (the two at the top of this image) lent themselves to an all-over repeating pattern. Our textile team scanned in these paintings and carefully engineered a pattern based off her designs in warm and cool color palettes.


The result is our new Barcelona pillows, dishware and table linens — part of our latest summer collection. The design retains the original tile-like shape and painted style of the pieces that inspired it.

See the rest of our summer preview, here.

Behind the Design: Our Benchwright Dining Table

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The table in Stefano del Vecchio’s grandfather’s work room was perfect for the 20th century Italian artisan. Its sturdy construction could stand up to any type of work, and the dents and dings only added to its beauty.

When del Vecchio’s grandfather couldn’t use the table anymore, del Vecchio moved it into his personal home office. Surprisingly, the antique table felt right at home in the more updated space. Del Vecchio, a Pottery Barn designer, started thinking about its other applications — the worn patina, smooth surface and artisan construction felt like a natural fit for a dining table.


Today, this family heirloom lives on as our Benchwright Dining Table, one of our best selling items.

When designing the new construction, del Vecchio and the Pottery Barn team made sure that the Benchwright design would have the same worn look as the original table. Each table has pieces that are fine-sanded by hand and finished with a 12-step finish for a deep, comfortable patina.


“The mixed materials of the metal and wood really speak to the artisan heritage of this table’s original design,” says Pottery Barn furniture designer Brice. The metal turnbuckle in the middle supports the table’s slanted legs, and stays true to the original table’s hardware.

“This table is great because it doesn’t look like it belongs to a specific period of time, or style. It has clean lines, but it’s not modern. You could put this in a Napa house, a country house, a coastal house, or a city house,” says Brice.

Now, the Benchwright Dining Table is available in new sizes and finishes to suit every space.


Watch this video to learn more about the Benchwright design from del Vecchio himself.

Studio Tour: New Orleans Artist Elise Allen

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Elise Allen’s path to fine art didn’t exactly follow a straight line. Once a professional faux finisher in New York, she took a break from her career after getting married, having children and moving to New Orleans. It wasn’t until she met an inspiring fellow artist in the Big Easy that everything changed, and her painting career came to life. “The floodgates opened and I just kept painting and painting,” says Allen.


Eventually, she tried her hand at faux finishing again — focusing on Venetian plaster — but this time working on custom wood panels. “You can’t do Venetian plaster on canvas — there’s too much pressure when applying the plaster.”

This unique technique is now Allen’s artistic mainstay. Making each piece requires hours and hours of careful work. “There’s up to 200 layers of plaster per piece,” says Allen. “Venetian plaster is very thin, so there’s a lot of layering, and layering and layering.”


“I like the abstract element of Venetian plaster,” she says. “I like what comes up when I’m working on it. Every pass brings up something new and interesting,” she says.


She has two studios that she works out of: A small work studio off her bedroom at her house. “I work on smaller pieces there. I like that because I can work early in the morning or late at night.”

“I usually work on 4 to 5 paintings at once. I work on something, let it dry, and then work on something else,” Allen says. “Sometimes I get stuck, and then leave it for a few weeks until I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and get inspired again.”


Allen also works in a studio in downtown New Orleans, on Julia Street (pictured in this post). “It’s a huge, open space. There’s great light and it’s very peaceful and relaxing,” she says. “I keep a very calm place, and I think you can see that through my paintings.”


Despite the dramatic transition from the Manhattan art scene to New Orleans’ vibrant artistic community, Allen loves the beauty and color of New Orleans — it constantly inspires her. “Every time I walk around the neighborhood, I see a new house and a new color. I’m constantly surprised and inspired by the beauty around me.”

See more of Elise Allen’s art at Pottery Barn.




Behind the Design: Our Watercolor Bunny Pillows

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Easter is still a couple months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make room for these little bunnies in our homes. We love the handpainted style of our new Watercolor Bunny Pillows — it makes these special Easter items welcome in our homes year round.


Although many of our items are made at PBHQ, we worked with local fine artist and printmaker Ellen Heck (through Cathy Heck Studio) to develop the initial illustrations for these beautiful pillows. Read on to learn about Heck’s inspiration and take a sneak peek at some of her sketches.


“For this particular collection, we wanted a light feeling to go with the springtime theme,” says Heck. “So I sketched a lot of rabbits quickly and freely, applying a few loose washes.” Heck’s fine art background and emphasis on gesture and figure drawing resulted in each bunny’s unique expression — doesn’t it look like each one has a personality? Take a look at some of Heck’s in-process pencil sketches, below. “I thought these were particularly sweet and expressive,” she says.


“It’s been a lot of fun to see this group translated on different materials,” says Heck. “The choice to print a layer of white over the darker linen fabric, and then soften the images with the neutral watercolor gives the group a natural look that is both sweet and works well in the home.”


Take a look at our entire Easter collection here.
See more of Ellen Heck’s work.

Behind the Design: Our Cambria Collection

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Each piece of our Cambria Dinnerware, from the tiny Tidbit Plates to the spacious Serve Bowls, starts out as a simple slab of clay in a Portugal factory.  Skilled employees — many who have worked in ceramics for all of their lives — take each piece of clay through a painstaking process to produce our beautiful line of dinner and serveware.

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Although much of the work is done with the aid of machines, each step also requires work to be done by hand. Cleaning the clay, applying patina and finalizing the shape by hand makes each and every piece of Cambria a unique piece of art. Take a look at the amazing process, from start to finish, below.

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First, large pieces of clay are cut to size for the press machine. Each piece of clay is sized to the type of dish it will create.

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The slabs are then placed on a press machine. Specialists carefully monitor the process to make sure the pieces are molded accurately and without defect.

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Once the clay is molded and pressed, extra clay is cut off, and the shape is fine tuned with a roller machine.

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Here, one of the Portugal factory’s many skilled workers finishes a shaped piece with a wet sponge to clean the edges.

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Then, the pieces are left to dry on racks.

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Once dry, patina is applied with a brush by hand to give each piece visual texture and depth.

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The Cambria pieces are then glazed with a machine for cohesive, continuous color and cooked in a kiln.

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Here’s a shot of the colorfully glazed complete product. The meticulous process makes each piece just a little bit different — a true piece of art.


Every piece of Cambria is carefully inspected before its labeled, packed and shipped off to your home.

See more Behind the Design posts. 

Q&A: Photographer Lupen Grainne

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Like many of the visual arts, becoming a successful photographer is no easy feat — particularly in a time where iPhone photos often steal the limelight. So California photographer Lupen Grainne, whose unique work is sold at Pottery Barn, is a true diamond in the rough — particularly since she’s self taught! “It’s all been a journey of inspiration and exploring,” she says. “And of course, some YouTube tutorials have really saved me a few times.”

Grainne’s stunning work brings nature to the home in a compelling way. Take a look at some of her newest work and learn about her process and inspiration, below.  


Q: How would you describe your approach towards photography?

A: My approach to photography is pretty random. I can be very inspired for a week solid, going on outings, having ideas for still lifes and creating lots of images. Other times, I’m more focused on other projects, like painting or music, so I won’t do any photography for a week.

I feel like all creative mediums and pursuits influence each other. Working in other mediums definitely affects my photography’s composition, color and texture.


Q: How have you honed your style over the years?

A: Over the years, my style has emerged mostly from experimenting with different ways to compose my shots and edit them. It is continually evolving. What looks or feels right to me last year might not be the same this year.

What I love about this kind of creative photography is that I don’t have to make images that I hope someone will like. Instead, I just follow what really inspires me — the possibilities are kind of endless this way.


Q: Where do you like to find inspiration?

A: I find my inspiration in many ways, but mostly finding things out in nature, like a beautiful landscape or a flowering tree or seed pods fallen from a plant for a still life. I’m also inspired by color combinations, like green and aqua, or a kind of muted monochrome palette with gradations of all the same color. So I look for certain color combinations and create images from those ideas.


Q: What is one of your new, favorite pieces?

A: The “Touch of Spring” (above)  is one of my very favorite pieces, I have this one in my house and never tire of its sort of humble cheerfulness, and of course the pink — I have a lot of pink decor in my house.

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Lupen Grainne (pictured above)  is a professional photographer who lives in Northern California. See more of her work at Pottery Barn.

Wedding Inspiration: Our Design Team’s Registry Window Display

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Did you, or one of your loved ones get engaged this holiday season? If so, you’re probably in full wedding planning mode: finding the dress, setting the date and of course, setting up your registry.

We know that a lot goes in to planning your big day, so we want to make it as easy as possible on our end. Our Wedding + Gift Registry can help you find everything you’ll need for your new home. To show you how, and kick off 2014 wedding season (and our new registry blog!), we’re hosting an event at San Francisco wedding studio Blu Bungalow.

Our design team put together a beautiful display of some of our favorite registered items in the Blu Bungalow window. Take a look at the display and the inspiration, below!


Our talented design team combined our most simple, elegant and must-have tabletop items for any new home in a single display in Blu Bungalow’s front window on Union Street in San Francisco. Everything from our Great White Dinnerware, to Antique Silver Serving Set, to Schott Zwiesel Goblets to our Gabriella Cakestand is carefully stacked in this delicate display.

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The inspiration for the display was this image, shot for one of our Spring catalogs.


Black display cubes were stacked just-so and filled to the brim with piles of dishes, serveware and silverware. Each cube is carefully designed to look beautiful from every angle.


The elegant etchings on our Antique Silver serveware add just the right details to the classic vignette.

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If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t miss out on seeing this vignette, several others and the opportunity to win some great prizes at our February 6th event. RSVP today at Hope to see you there!