Category Archives: Behind the Design

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!


Behind the Design: Our Rhodes Ceramics

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Here at Pottery Barn, we take great pride in the artisan heritage behind many of our pieces. Our beautiful Rhodes ceramics are just one of many Pottery Barn collections that has a rich story behind it.

Many of the items in our Rhodes ceramics collection, including our Ceramic Bottle Coaster and our Party Bucket and Wine Cooler, are made in Montelupo-Florence, Tuscany in Italy. Each handmade item in the collection is produced at Ceramiche I.M.A., a small company founded in 1978 by three close friends.

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Here, you can see our Rhodes Bottle Coaster carefully shaped on an expert artisan’s potter’s wheel. Ceramiche I.M.A. only uses hand made processes — no factory machines here! Each item is made with care until completion, even if it takes 10 hours of painting to finish (which some items do!).

And here’s the final result: the beautifully finished and handmade Rhodes Bottle Coaster.

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All of the clay for the Rhodes collection is extracted from the shores of the nearby River Arno and then purified. In this shot, one of Ceramiche I.M.A.’s potters carefully shapes the details on our Rhodes Wine Cooler. Most of these artisan workers have at least 35 years of experience creating perfect pieces of pottery.

This shot shows the completed wine cooler — beautiful! It takes about 20 days from start to finish to create a single piece — with a week in the drying kiln and two days of firing after dipping the pieces in glaze.

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In this shot, a potter puts the finishing touches on the Rhodes Party Bucket, making sure that each tiny detail looks perfect.

Voila! The handwork on this piece makes it truly unique.

The process behind our Rhodes ceramics, and many other Pottery Barn pieces, takes a lot of time and hard work to complete, but the results are well worth it. Our Rhodes ceramics are each one-of-a-kind and made to last for generations.

Say Hello to Our Performance Fabric Collection

Behind the Design, Behind the Scenes | | | 9 Replies

Thatcher Performance

Life is messy — we get it! Real life isn’t picture perfect — real life has kids jumping on the couch, the dog sleeping on the ottoman and your Great Aunt Emma spilling wine on your favorite white chair. The mess is inevitable, and to be honest, your home wouldn’t be the same without it.

However, that doesn’t mean your style has to suffer. That’s why we’ve created our exclusive Performance Fabrics Collection. These fabrics are tough, and designed to stand up to every scuff, stain and spill your family will bring to the table. But don’t worry — we wouldn’t dare compromise on comfort or style.


For spring, we’re offering something brand new: Performance Fabric from Perennials. “This fabric’s practically bulletproof,” says Pottery Barn textile designer Sandra. This high-end fabric now tops our grades of Performance Fabric in durability, style and cost.

Not sure which Performance Fabric is right for you? We’ve summarized the properties of each below, along with Sandra’s tips about using each in your home.

Note: All of our Performance Fabrics easily spot clean and are machine washable.

-Bleach cleanable
-Linen look, soft feel
-Indoor/outdoor friendly
-Mold and fade resistant
-Water repellent, stain resistant

Sandra’s tip: “Perennial fabric is a great choice for a large upholstered item that you plan on investing in. Since it’s so durable, it’ll last a lifetime.”

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-Wipes clean easily
-Smooth, soft feel
-Becomes softer with time
-Withstands scuffs and dings

Sandra’s tip: “We consider leather a performance fabric because it looks better and better with time. The scuffs can be rubbed out, so it’s great with children and pets.”

-Ultraplush, soft microfiber
-Stain and oil resistance
-Suitable for heavy duty use
-Water repellent
-Exclusive to Pottery Barn

Sandra’s Tip: “This suede is one of my favorite fabrics. It stands out in a crowd. The fabric is hand-finished in Italy with a special brushing and bonding technique that makes it look beautiful.”

-Long wearing
-Extra-soft with a plush pile
-Water repellent
-Suitable for families with children and pets

Sandra’s Tip: “I love everdayvelvet’s neutrals. When used on a big piece of furniture, you can layer in rugs, drapes and pillows to complete a room with ease.”

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Performance Canvas:
-Performance fabric with superior feel and look
-Water repellent

Sandra’s Tip: “Performance Canvas means that anyone can have a white sofa! Whether you use a slipcover or upholster a new piece, it’s incredibly easy to clean.”

Performance Tweed:
-Water repellent
-Woven with chenille bouclé yarns for extra softness
-Child and pet friendly

Sandra’s Tip: “This Performance Fabric looks just like linen. We added 3 colors to this fabric for Spring — they’re perfect for a fresh, new look in your home.”

Read more about our Performance Fabric collection here.