Interviewing incredible design icons just happens to be one of the many perks of this job, but only every now and then do we have the honour of sitting down with a legend.
Last month, design editor Jessica Waks and I enjoyed afternoon tea with Lord Wedgwood, great grandson of Josiah Wedgwood, who started perhaps the best-known and best-collected tableware brand in the world, Wedgwood (now Waterford-Wedgwood-Royal Doulton) more than 250 years ago. We chatted about everything, from tea to terrible cooking, from spectacular dishware to Downton Abbey, and walked away, under the spell of British charm, to bring tea time back to our own homes.
Lord Wedgwood: I can smell what kind that is from here. Take a sip. You’ll taste a smokiness with lapsing and a touch of bergamot with a few other additional spices to give it zest. This tea is called 1759, after the year we were founded – and it’s my signature tea. We have a huge tea project going on at the moment. I was asked to get involved with the development to help create some teas, as I grew up in a tea-plantation region of South Africa. So I went to Devon in England and have been doing tastings there for the past year. In fact, this is the very first public taste testing – we don’t even have the tea caddies yet.
Style at Home: It’s delicious! Are you choosing archival patterns for the tea caddies?
LW You are good! We definitely are. And we’re planning to open our first tearoom in either Dubai or Qatar.
SAH Why not London?
LW There’s already a number of special teahouses in London, and we want to establish our own type of tearoom brand. The tea culture worldwide is amazing; tea connoisseurship is every bit as involved as wine connoisseurship. I had no idea, even though I grew up in a tea plantation area in South Africa.
SAH Tell us about the new Wedgwood and Bentley collection.
LW In 1769, my great grandfather Josiah Wedgwood took into partnership Thomas Bentley, a great inspiration to Josiah, who was commercially well connected. Josiah needed the impetus to expand and develop his experiments in pottery, and Thomas took care of that side of things, bringing the company into early golden years. But in 1781, Thomas Bentley died without any heirs, so that portion of the company reverted back to Josiah Wedgwood. Many of the items in this collection were inspired by that golden Wedgwood-Bentley era, but there are many others that have evolved over the course of the last couple of centuries. We have more contemporary pieces that use very traditional methods of decorating and design, all handcrafted in England.
SAH The pieces on display here are simply stunning.
LW There are very few venues where we’re showing this collection. There are only a number of places that, we feel, can display this collection in the manner to which it needs to be done, and William Ashley’s is so far the only in Canada. It has a great reputation for wonderful presentation.
SAH What part of the collection are you most excited about?
LW There are two distinct aspects. There’s the decorative pieces, and they are truly breathtaking – you just have to look at them to know how much work has gone into them. But the actual tableware patterns are hugely significant because I am a china junkie myself. I love to entertain, I travel a lot and I hate to go out when I’m at home. So friends and family, I’m afraid, have to put up with my own cooking quite often, which is pretty helpless. But if you present it on the right plates and give them enough booze, they’ll never know!
SAH What patterns are in your own home?
LW I have two patterns that I’d take with me if there were a fire: Ruby Tonquin and Black Tonquin. I really like heavily decorated patterns, but I have a wide cross-section. I have quite a bit of of Queen’s Ware because I love that creamware finish. I love black basalt – they’re classics of all time and they have wonderful shapes.
SAH What’s a key piece for a Wedgwood collector to buy?
LW All the big collections that have evolved over the years are built from one piece that the person was given when they were young or got married. A key piece would be the iconic Wedgwood pieces like Jasperware, but something practical, a teapot, a cup and saucer, a tea set. Jasperware took 10,000 experiments to develop and was considered to be one of the greatest ceramic developments in over 100 years. Josiah Wedgwood never stopped experimenting throughout his entire life.
SAH What does every well-designed table setting need?
LW I think it’s important not to be restricted by any particular formula. I personally like to change things around to have different accessory pieces. A mix is of classic and contemporary pieces is exciting, that, to me, is the trend. A sauce boat can be used for so many different things be creative in what you have – use your gravy boat and stand for something other than gravy. I look at my stable of china and try to use as many as possible in as many creative ways as possible. And I think people enjoy that. I get a kick out of it, even If they think I’m a nutcase! And to some people, less is better, and I’m not saying, if you’ve got it flaunt it. But if you have it, don’t be afraid to use it.
Which of these Wedgwood pieces do you like best?