Real Living: A place for work, rest and clay

inside...: Ceramicist Kate Malone's London studio is a work of art in itself. Katherine Sorrell reports

Spirited yet enigmatic, Kate Malone's pottery positively vibrates colour and life. Her erotically curvaceous forms are inspired by nature - recent fascinations are gourds, pumpkins, papayas and pineapples - and are glazed in luscious colours within which delicate and complex crystals add yet another layer of depth and complexity.

Even the names of Malone's pieces resonate with meaning: "Tutti Frutti Sliced Fruit of Your Dreams", "Mr and Mrs Gourd" and "Triumphant Pineapple" endow domestic tableware with a humorous symbolism and jaunty personality. "I suppose I'm trying to show the wonder that I have," says Malone, who is one of this country's most prominent ceramicists. "You can't put your finger on the wonder of nature, of having a seed in your hand, putting it in the soil, and it gets wet and grows into this huge thing. It's almost as if it's an Alice in Wonderland dream. I try to show that by making dream fruit."

A similar sense of magic is evident in Malone's house, set in one of the oldest terraces in north London. She and her partner, Graham Inglefield, bought it 10 years ago when it was "seriously derelict", restoring it from use as a plant-hire and window-cleaning operation to an intriguing and welcoming home.

Inglefield, a former antiques dealer and builder, did much of the work himself, digging out the cellar, installing doors and windows and constructing fire surrounds, among a great deal else. When the structural work was done, he turned his hand to a variety of intricate decorative finishes: golden patterns, taken from a Vietnamese temple, sponged onto the walls of the sitting room; a red, white and black Indian-inspired mural in the spare room; and hand-made paper in ethereal pastel shades, layered on the walls of the "summer bedroom". A variety of ethnic furnishings, collected on the couple's travels, add to the mystical atmosphere, including a carved wooden bed from Lombok, a teak chest from Bali, aboriginal bark paintings and cushion covers from Gujerat.

Alongside bright rugs and throws, masses of paintings and an eclectic collection of artefacts, Malone's handiwork is, of course, very much in evidence. Jugs and vases appear in the bedrooms, terracotta leaves twine up a fire surround, and in the white bathroom, at first sight plain and functional, the tiles are speckled with tiny sea creatures. The kitchen, however, is the real pottery paradise. Bright mugs and jugs hang all around, and a large tiled splashback has been hand-painted by Malonewith bottles of wine, vases of flowers and bowls of fruit.

"Pottery is instinctive and intuitive for me," says Malone, "and it's heaven to work with something I love." Malone's creations are made in a light and airy studio just yards away from the house. In fact, it's literally at the bottom of her garden, meaning she can pop back at any time to see Inglefield and their seven-month-old baby, Scarlett. The two-storey studio was custom-built from scratch by Inglefield and is the realisation of two dreams: to install one of the largest kilns in London and set up a space that could be shared by a dozen or so craftspeople.

Malone, whose artistic vision does not prevent her from being superbly well organised, runs the studio at present, although, eventually, she plans for it to become a true co-operative. "Helping other potters was something Graham and I always wanted to do," she explains, "and having the big kiln is really important. It means that we can put craft in the environment, making huge pieces for schools and hospitals, hotels and restaurants. These days there aren't many studio potters who are able to work on that scale."

The studio has a mosaic staircase made from smashed tiles and a bathroom where transfers cover the white tiles, the basin and even the loo. Specially made metal entrance gates symbolise earth, wind, fire and water. With another staircase of suspended railway sleepers, double doors onto a small balcony and a gallery area lined with glass shelves, the studio is an exemplary amalgam of functional and attractive.

Jola Spytkowska, whose figurative pieces are based on what she calls "urban junk", has been at the studio for five years, ever since she left college. "I was really impressed when I first came to visit," she says. "The light is important and the studio is very well maintained, but it has also got a glamour that a lot of places don't have. It's very uplifting and, because it's open plan, there's a real community spirit."

Studio members, who range in age from their twenties to their seventies, produce a wide variety of work, from egg cups to giant, rock-like sculptures. Malonerelishes this stimulating mix and is proud to give visitors a tour, whether it's a school trip or clients such as designer Zandra Rhodes and architect Nigel Coates." It's a real urban initiative," she says. "Working together is fantastic - we really feed off each other. A lot of people use it as a stepping stone, others just want to stay here for ever."

Balls Pond Studio is at 8b Culford Mews, London N1. For an appointment, call 0171 923 4736. A Members' Exhibition in the gallery takes place from 15-17 November, and open weekends will be held on 29-30 November, 6-7 December and 13-14 December (llam-6pm).

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