British designer Richard Brendon’s career started with a beautifully simple idea to solve the problem of the ‘orphan saucers’ he saw for sale at Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market after their matching teacups had been lost or broken. ‘I noticed that many of the antiques dealers had piles and piles of tea saucers, some of them really spectacular, and I felt it was such a shame that they were sitting there; unused and irrelevant,’ he says. ‘I spent a long time coming back to the idea of these ‘orphan’ saucers and finally had the idea of pairing them with reflective cup – the design is reflected back and the saucer is brought back to life.’ This simple idea formed Richard’s Reflect Collection launched at his graduate show and one of the brand’s most popular collections to this day.
Richard’s interest in ceramics began at an early age. ‘My mother took me to pottery classes from the age of about six or seven, which I absolutely loved,’ he says. ‘I have very happy childhood memories of making things. That incredible feeling of starting off with a raw material and turning it in to something is so special and something that I think drives all creative people.’
Even so, he didn’t originally plan to go into the creative industries and started a degree in politics. ‘I quickly realized that it was really not fulfilling me and so I left and applied to study product and furniture design at Kingston University,’ he explains.
‘It was definitely the right decision. I worked with some fantastic tutors, who taught me the importance of working with industry and understanding manufacturing. They encouraged me to get hands-on in the workshop and to really understand the materials. They also taught me recognize the impact of design on society, and to make sure I designed meaningful products with a positive effect on society.’
Today, Richard works primarily with bone china and cut crystal, with craftspeople in the heartland of British ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent, and the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. ‘I’ve always loved ceramics and glass,’ he says. ‘Since designing my Reflect Collection I have become fascinated with the history of British ceramics and the beautiful things that we have made in England over the past three hundred years.’
‘Bone china is a quintessentially British material – the formula was perfected by Josiah Spode in the mid 18th century and since then so many beautiful and iconic designs have been created,’ he says. ‘Looking back at these designs is really inspirational. I want to create new designs that are informed by the past, but progressive and relevant for today. I feel it’s my duty to do everything I can to keep this heritage industry alive and healthy.’
‘Cut crystal also has wonderful heritage in the UK and Ireland,’ says Richard. ‘Sadly the vast majority of this production has now closed but fortunately the industry is still alive and well in Bohemia, where we produce our collections.’
‘All our glassware is mouth-blown and this process has been perfected over hundreds of years,’ explains Richard. ‘It appeals to me because I have a real passion for heritage crafts and people making things with their hands, using skills that have been passed down through generations, so crystal was a natural next step after finding my feet in ceramics.’
Richard has spent a long time finding the best craftspeople in the business and building strong working relationships in both Stoke-on-Trent and Bohemia. ‘The best relationships are those that develop and strengthen over time, and we like to be close to our manufacturers and spend time getting to know their business,’ he says. ‘It’s not always smooth sailing when you are developing new shapes or working on new designs and so it’s really important that we have a strong relationship with our suppliers.’
‘It is really important to me that I put meaningful volumes of business through to our partners both in Stoke-on-Trent and in Bohemia,’ he says. ‘It is the small part I play in supporting the regeneration of these wonderful industries and that makes me feel really proud.’
‘My goal is to play my part in making sure that the incredible industries are around for at least another 100 years, well after I hang up my boots.’
All product photography by Neil Watson.