Shopping & Design: Check It Out: VESSEL - CERAMICS AND GLASSWARE

NADIA DEMETRIOU Ladas began obsessively collecting Fifties glass after a holiday in southern Sweden's glass-blowing region. Four years on, she is opening her own glassware and ceramics gallery-cum-shop, Vessel, in west London.

Bored by her job as a pop journalist, she switched to public relations for her boyfriend, an up-and-coming furniture designer called Angel Monzn, and worked as a buyer for a Japanese homeware shop.

"My collecting became a joke," she says. "People kept saying: `Oh Nadia, why don't you open a shop?' "

Which is what she is doing. Vessel, in Notting Hill, occupies two floors: on the ground floor is a shop and downstairs there's a gallery. (Between shows, this is furnished with laid-back, low-level seating and design mags.) On sale is a combination of contemporary design and classic post- war pieces still in production. Modern glassware and ceramics might have arty, slightly precious, associations, yet Ladas's intention is to create a homely setting. "I don't want Vessel to have an intimidating vibe," she says.

There is free jasmine tea available for people as they browse, to make them feel welcome. Ceramics and glass aside, Vessel sells beautifully simple cutlery, place mats, bottle openers, candle-holders and trays. Ladas believes today's tableware can have many functions. She even chose the name Vessel because its neutrality - a vessel can contain anything - implied versatility to her. "There's a breaking down of formal eating arrangements nowadays. We're all eating international food, from Thai curry to Japanese noodles, so we don't need the usual place settings. A bamboo sushi coaster, for example, can double as a place mat."

International style is what Vessel is all about. In elm cabinets designed by Monzn are an array of Scandinavian, Italian, Japanese and British tableware. Plates (pounds 13.95 each) featuring a surprisingly trad flower design by the Italian company Driade might nestle next to an austere Japanese Kotobuki saki bottle and two wooden cups (pounds 30) or Marc Newson's Sixties bachelor-style tumblers (from pounds 16.95), designed for the Finnish firm Iittala.

In contrast, you'll also find Swedish designer Cecilia Johansson's tray in walnut or birch (pounds 39.95) or the Danish firm Stelton's stainless-steel salad bowl by designer Arne Jacobsen (pounds 145). Home-grown pickings include Bodo Sperlein's ceramic beakers (from pounds 18) and the design veteran Ron Arad's oil and vinegar bottles (pounds 49.50 each). There are also Danish cheese planes and Swedish schnapps glasses (with pointy bottoms to encourage you to down your tipple in one swig).

Vessel is a stone's throw away from the hip design drag Westbourne Grove. So is there anything that sets it apart from its competitors?

"Other shops will have the trendiest things," she says. "I want everything to be timeless: to spot the design classics of the next century, not what's hot in '99." Hence the simple, subtly organic shapes of Vessel's tableware in such shades as white, black, bamboo green and smoky brown. Ladas also aims to stock affordable goods.

"We'll never be like Habitat. A lot of our stuff is handcrafted and labour- intensive and so more expensive. But, because it's timeless, it will last. People say interiors are the new rock'n'roll, but you can't buy a dining table every six months. Vessel is about something more permanent."

Some contemporary design aficionados might not dig Vessel's homely feel, but they needn't worry: in this emporium of super-modern tableware, there's absolutely no danger of stumbling upon anything so domestic as a doilie.

Dominic Lutyens

Vessel, 114 Kensington Park Road, London W11 (0171-727 8001), opens today. Its first exhibition, of Iitala's newly launched `Relations' glassware, runs from 1 May to 19 June.

Readers of `The Independent' who produce this page will be entitled to a 10 per cent discount on any Vessel purchase (valid to 27 March)

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