Touring the Heath Ceramics Factory
In the heart of that artsy part of The Mission, where you don't see quite so many people wandering the streets, but a ton of converted warehouses where you know there are people inside, quietly creating beautiful things, is the Heath Ceramics showroom, studio, and tile-production plant. The brand is mid-century ceramics at it's best, a huge collection of beautiful pieces created and inspired by the founder Edith Heath. There's even a line used by Alice Waters in Chez Panisse (you know how I love me some Alice Waters).
The space has got a lot to keep you entertained for longer than you expect to be on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when you should be outdoors. A Blue Bottle café, a floral pop-up shop, a collection of artist studios (including the one where they dream up with new products for Heath), a huge showroom, and best of all — a free factory tour.
Edith Heath, a ceramist and frankly, scientist, is the founder of Heath Ceramics. She created a series of clay designs that are still sold today. From Iowa but of Danish descent and trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the California School of Fine arts, she took the Scandinavian aesthetic into modern California.
She got her real start during the 1940s, taking advantage of the wartime lull in production of en-masse goods. A huge success for her was selling work in San Francisco's Gump's Department Store, which she parlayed into her own studio and shop in Sausalito. The housewares collections came first, and then tile in the 1960s. Heath's second shop in the Mission was opened in 2012 by the new owners, Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, who took over from Heath in 2003. All of the tile production was moved to this space, a large converted laundry facility, while the pottery factory remained in Sausalito. Note: that factory is also supposed to be very cool, more dark and midcentury versus the bright and contemporary aesthetic of the SF space. It also offers free tours. Bucket list!
Heath was involved at all levels of the design process — she came up with the recipes for the clay and the glazes, designed the lines, everything. Now there are three different clay bodies, which are the types of clay that they use to produce goods. There's one red, one white, and one made from recycled materials left over by the processing of the other two. There's also over 80 glazes for the tiles. And with designers working constantly from Heath's inspiration to create new products, there are new products every year.
Here's how the pieces get made: