Camilla Hibbert

Meet the Maker ... John Julian

by Camilla Hibbert At Thyme 10 Jul 19

We came across designer Julian Sainsbury's ceramic workshop when searching for beautiful crockery for Thyme's Ox Barn restaurant. Known for his distinctive kitchenware with its pared-back aesthetic, neutral palette and finely judged simplicity, the pieces created in his secluded Wiltshire workshop were a perfect fit for Thyme's aesthetic and importantly the ethos of John Julian really chimed. A working relationship between the team at John Julian and the team at Thyme is now a friendship that has gone from strength to strength. It was wonderful to have this opportunity to learn more about the thoughtfulness behind the brand ...

How did John Julian come to be, what’s your story?
At school I was introduced to pottery and immediately felt an affinity with the materials and the processes.  I went on to study ceramics at Cardiff College of Art where I moved into figurative sculpture, which I pursued for some years.  I maintained the love of making functional pieces and so always had a potters wheel in my sculpture studio.  I became fascinated by Pestle and Mortars and wanted to hold an exhibition exploring their many forms and materials. As a consequence of this exhibition at Egg and the love of developing these pieces, John Julian was born.

Handcrafted in Wiltshire, what techniques do you employ to create your pieces?
We have two main techniques for producing our pieces.  The first is to hand throw them on the potters wheel and the other is to jolley them into a mould.  Jolleying is the method of spinning a mould whilst having a form pushing the soft clay into shape.

On a day-to-day basis, where do you find your inspiration?
As a creative person, I am constantly looking at the world around me and taking different elements from it.  For example, our Linen Stripe range was inspired by a meal at the Beckford Arms where they were using some vintage French linen napkins with a similar set of stripes. The influence for my ceramics comes from early English porcelain and pewterware.

As an artist and maker, do you feel the effect of a world where craftsmanship is battling to hold its own?
I feel very lucky that I have managed to find a market that understands and values the work that goes into the pieces and appreciates that these traditional methods of working and the time it takes can be costly. I also believe that this is a growing movement in this very mechanised world.

The words elegant and tactile have come up when guests describe your pieces.  How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would describe them as having a pared down classical aesthetic where form and function meet. I take great care in my proportions when designing a piece and have a good understanding of form from my sculptural background. I also choose my materials carefully to highlight these elements.

John Julian pieces grace the tables of our Ox Barns restaurant and now the shelves of our new shop, The Piggery.  In your eyes, what is it that unites John Julian and Thyme?
As stated above, this growing appreciation of quality maps across to provenance of food and the creative craft of chefs. We are very happy and honoured to be in the same company as Thyme, who represent these qualities so well.

You have built such an aspirational brand.  What does the John Julian brand stand for and what is the ambition?
The John Julian brand stands for making timeless and functional pieces using traditional skills.  The ambition is to keep our authenticity whilst growing the business further and creating more beautiful, long lasting designs.

What steps do you take to ensure you are a sustainable and responsible business?
We take sustainability very seriously and we try and act responsibly in all areas of the business.  It is a challenge but our ambition is to move to a carbon neutral status as quickly as feasibly possible.  We have made progress in terms of greatly reducing single use plastics from our packaging and are very conscious of waste levels.  We are also currently looking at methods of heat recovery from the kilns. Also, the ideas of the designs and materials we use are they are intended to be robust and timeless so we hope they become heirloom pieces to those that own them.

What John Julian piece sits at the centre of your home and why?
The piece that creates the centrepiece for our table is the Fruit Stand.  In terms of usage, the Mixing Pouring Bowls are used daily and the Flat Spear Pestle and Mortar on at least a weekly basis in our kitchen.

And finally, what has been the most memorable moment along the journey?
First exhibiting my Pestle and Mortars at a trade exhibition and seeing a long queue form for enquiries and orders.  It just seemed an affirmation of the 2 year journey from my inspiration to the initial ideas to the finished reality.

Pop into our new shop, The Piggery, to see the collection!

Photography Credits: Joan Ransley & Saskia Rumbelow