The New Blue: Delftware Comes Cross the Pond
If you’re a journalist, you’re trained to recognize that if some new behavior shows up on your radar once, it’s interesting. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a story.
When I first noticed the barrage of hand-painted blue-and-white pottery – ginger jars, vases, ceramic stools -- in home stores and catalogs, I made a mental note: “Hmmm, interesting. Are those pieces I saw as a girl in my parents’ house, alongside those Hummel figurines, coming back?”
Later, while interviewing an interior designer and trend expert about the New Traditionalist movement, bringing traditional looks back into the home in unexpected ways, I asked for an example. “It’s putting Delftware in an all-white modern Miami apartment,” said the trend spotter, Karen Wolf, of New Jersey.
“You mean that old-fashioned, blue-and-white pottery?” I asked, dusting off my recollection of the iconic hand painted-pieces named for the town in The Netherlands where they’re made.
“Have you seen it lately?” she asked. “Royal Delft has completely reinterpreted its product, and it’s coming across the pond in a big way,” she said.
Coincidence, I thought.
Then, just before the holidays, my husband, who lost his mom a few months ago, went to Pittsburgh to help clear out her house. Perhaps he took a page from my book, “Downsizing the Family Home,” because he came home with only a precious few mementos, including two hand-painted Delft pieces: a plate and a tile.
“Why these?” I asked, curious. They remind him of a trip he took in 1984 with his mom, sister and grandfather to Delft, where his mom bought them, he said, and also, he added “because I like them.”
Three is a story.
The story, I discover, begins over 400 years ago when the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602 to protect Dutch trading interests in the Indian Ocean, stumbled on white porcelain with blue decorations in China. Think Ming vases. The Dutch imported this “Chinoiserie” back to Europe, where it quickly became popular.
May I interrupt? If schools only taught history through home décor instead of via stuffy white men and their politics, I just might have paid attention. Anyway, by the middle of that century, civil war in China shut down the importing. So some enterprising Dutch folks tried copying the Chinoiserie, including, beginning in 1653, a Delft factory called De Porceleyne Fles, which later became Royal Delft. The copies were a hit. Soon the Dutch artists began swapping out the Chinese motifs of pagodas, dragons and elephants, for windmills, tulips and cows.
Obsessed, I make some phone calls to find out whether and why hand-painted blue-and-white pottery in general, and Delft in particular, is trending.
Though she couldn’t share numbers, Helen Taylor, spokeswoman for Royal Delft, confirmed my hunch. “The past couple of years we have noticed an increase in demand and interest for Royal Delft, particularly in the states,” she said, in a series of email exchanges to and from The Netherlands (Met vriendelijke groet, Helen, or kind regards).
Part of that is due to Royal Delft’s updated line, Blue D 1653, which gives the classic Delft patterns a modern twist. This is not your grandma’s Delft.
Others are also reinterpreting the historic patterns. This month, designer Nicolette Mayer, of Boca Raton, Fla., released a line of Royal-Delft-inspired wallpaper and fabrics http://www.nicolettemayer.com/ after getting the company’s blessing, which is not easy.
“We do not often license another company or designer to use our designs,” said Taylor, acknowledging that Mayer’s reinterpretation marks the first time that Royal Delft designs have appeared on wallpaper and fabric.
“I’ve always loved Delftware,” said Mayer, who grew up in South Africa surrounded by Delft pottery given the heavy Dutch influence there. “It’s historical, and has this classic nature which is strangely modern.”
Here’s what else I learned lay behind the trend:
Sick of slick. “The younger generation is getting tired of machine-made, technology-driven, monochromatic items,” said Wolf. “They want handmade pieces that have a story, and that bring authenticity to their life and home.” Royal Delft Blue products fit into that category.
Blue and white is hot. “We’re seeing a definitive move away from gray and white, and white on white toward blue and white in homes,” said Wolf, adding that the blue-and-white craze is especially popular in kitchens.
Pattern is back. After a long spell of simple solids, consumers are embracing pattern again.
The doors are coming off. “Open shelving is also trending,” she said, “which raises the question of what do you fill it with?” With a blue and white palette, you can combine pieces that have a different patterns and origins; Royal Delft dishes from Holland and Ming-inspired vases from China all go together.
Everything’s indigo. “Finally,” Wolf added, “we’re in the midst of a big indigo craze, and Delft and other blue-and-white pottery fall right into that.”
How does it fit into today’s home? Because of its international history, the look is at home in European, Asian, American, Modern, or rustic-style homes, said Mayer. Consider a collection of urns, platters, ginger jars and vases in the kitchen, or on a buffet in the dining room; Delft-inspired wallpaper in your entryway or powder room; and an assortment of Delft-fabric pillows in a guest room.
Where can you buy it? You can buy Royal Delft at www.royaldelft.com, said Taylor, and stateside through Scully & Scully, in New York. Many pieces are also on Amazon and eBay, but verifying authenticity can be difficult. Many lookalikes are not hand painted. A genuine Royal Delft piece has a hand-painted signature and the word “Delft” on the underside.
The New Old -- Nicolette Mayer’s new line of Royal-Delft-inspired wallpapers and fabrics takes its gives the old classic a modern twist. Photo courtesy Nicolette Mayer.
Precisely human – Royal Delft artists spend on average eight years learning how to hand paint the iconic Dutch pieces. Using brushes made from the hairs of martens and squirrels, they apply black paint that contains cobalt oxide. During the firing, the cobalt activates and causes the color to change from black to blue. Photo courtesy of Royal Delft.