Potty about pottery

How Charlotte Storrs took her garden shed hobby into an international business.
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The Independent Online

‘We should give all the rioters a pot to throw and they will feel much better,’ laughs ceramicist Charlotte Storrs, who is a firm believer that transforming lumps of clay can do wonders for your wellbeing. A career ceramicist by accident, Storrs - who makes rustic stoneware, dishes and pots - has been heralded as a star in the interiors world.

Her burgeoning pottery business began by accident. Before her four children were born, she was an interpreter, translator and taught violin and viola by trade. She signed up to a ceramics class and loved it but dropped it while her children were growing up. ‘There was no time for hobbies like ceramics in those days,’ she laughs. Once her youngest son left for college in 2004, Storrs revisited her passion and spent a morning a week learning how to throw a pot with Graham Hudson in Oxford.

‘I got completely hooked and absorbed,’ recalls Storrs. ‘After two terms, I got a wheel and kiln to do pottery in our glorified garden shed.’ What started as a hobby in her ‘Heath Robinson’ shed quickly escalated into a business. She now spends all her time at the bottom of her quiet garden in Oxfordshire where she has her pottery, a pizza oven, a greenhouse, raised vegetable beds and a large outside living room. ‘There came a point, after a few months, that I realized I couldn’t keep inflicting my pots onto family and friends forever.’ Her first venture into selling her wares was an open sale in aid of a charity. The rustic stoneware, which is hand-finished with white and muted glazes, sold like hot cakes giving her the encouragement to pursue it as a business.

Her first commission was an ambitious one; a lady wanted a complete dinner set. ‘I thought, ‘help! I’ve never even made a plate in my life.’ I obviously didn’t tell the buyer this and it turned out to be a success,’ Storrs says. ‘Business snowballed from then on.’ A trip to visit potters in Japan inspired her to incorporate akebia quinata vine into her work as handles. The two materials make a striking contrast. Her work is decorated plainly with a rustic elegance; rather a muted Sophie Conran Portmeiron style. She limits her decoration to combing, faceting or using patterned ceramic rollers on the clay. Earlier this year, she was listed in Elle Decoration's design Hot List 2011 of the New, the Classic and the Collectable and such an accolade has bought with it additional work. ‘I’m now working flat out on a deadline making lots of plates and bowls for a restaurant in Bordeaux set up by David Bellion, the young French footballer.’

Hers is a modest one-man band but her vision goes beyond the limits of throwing pots. ‘I dream up things.' Storrs says. 'We were doing up our own bathroom recently and I decided to make the basin. Since making our own, I’ve gone into selling them.’ Is there any stopping her? She now sells through shops, galleries, her website and is a member of the mydeco design boutique of independent designers. ‘What was supposed to be a hobby has become a little business. The whole thing since 2004 has been on the up. I am most proud of making a business that works.’ She still teaches music and is reluctant to give up the ‘people’ bit of her work. ‘Being in the pottery can be lonely business. Spending my entire day there without seeing bodies would not be good for me. The combination of pots and music works very well.'

What thrills Storrs is most is helping those less fortunate. ‘I love to make more of these for handicapped people, where appropriate,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a very recent private commission for a quadriplegic person who has limited use of his right arm. I made some plates for him with an upstanding edge on one side. I often have open days at home in aid of a third world country. It gives me a great kick.’ Her latest was in aid of the Pavement Dwellers Project in Dhaka, Bangladesh. ‘I invited people to throw their own pots. They pay £5, and I show them how to throw their own pot from a lump of clay. Turning clay into something different is a totally special experience.' Perhaps she's right; we should give the rioters a pot to throw and they'll feel much better.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.