Ella Hookway's handcrafted ceramics feature in our First Home collection and the South London based potter also appeared in our Firsts film to launch the new pieces, which are designed for modern living. She took us on a tour of her studio and explained how she found her vocation.

‘I studied Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art but I didn’t do ceramics there, even though it was quite broad and you could use any medium. When I graduated, I didn’t want to continue with Fine Art. It wasn’t until I was living in Berlin for work, a few years later – I was working as a buying assistant for an ecommerce site and it was a very desk-based job – that I started to think that I wanted to do something creative again. I thought about ceramics because I recalled enjoying it at school and I had lots of plants that needed new pots. I couldn’t find English-speaking pottery classes in Germany so I waited until I moved back to London and took a couple of evening classes.

One day I was near my house in South London and I saw a sign that was asking for help to crowdfund a new ceramic studio, so I checked out the website and decided to give it a go. Progressing from an evening class where I had 2.5 hours a week to make something, to being in a studio where I had 18 hours a week, allowed me to experiment with and develop my work at a pace that I would not otherwise have been able to.'

'The studio I work in (The Kiln Rooms) opened in 2015 and I’ve been here ever since. There are 25 people working in the space and we have access to it for around 15 hours a day. Being part of a community studio is great because you’re surrounded by people with a variety of experience and it enables you to share your knowledge. Making ceramics is quite time consuming, so if you’ve found a way of doing something that could help somebody else and save them a bit of time, it’s nice to share tips and offer advice! Obviously, you need to be a bit protective if you’ve got something that’s unique to you - people won’t necessarily share their glaze recipes and so on, but in terms of sharing techniques, people are very generous.

The Kiln Rooms is run by Ben Cooper and Stuart Carey, who met at the RCA. As part of the membership they also offer a programme of professional development. They invite ceramicists who have already started their professional careers or businesses to come and give talks outlining the development of their work and sharing their experiences. They also provide advice on how to price work properly, which is particularly important when you’re working with wholesale. Stuart is a ceramicist who has created several collections for large retailers, so he’s able to offer advice on how best to deal with buyers and to approach the business side of things.'

Raw materials

'I use stoneware clays in a range of colours and textures because I’m interested in working with different clay bodies. I prefer a clay that’s slightly ‘grogged’ - this means it contains tiny grains of pre-fired clay which gives it more strength and is better for hand-building.'

Learning to adapt

'My ceramics aren’t directly influenced by other people in the studio because we all produce very different work, but it’s always interesting to observe other people’s working practices. You could ask three people in the studio to make a cylindrical pot and we’d all have a different way of doing it. As you progress, you continuously adapt and find your own way of creating things.'

The collaboration

'This is the first time I’ve produced pieces in collaboration with another brand. It was exciting to work on something that was bespoke and I loved the concept behind the First Home range. I tend to repeat forms such as the jugs and plant pots, so it’s the surface decoration or the material I use which changes. With the plant pot we’ve gone for an inlaid design. The technique was something I’d started experimenting with, then I worked on a set of samples and during our meetings the colour palette was chosen to compliment the wider collection.'

Glazing and firing

'I use a slab roller to roll out my clay then everything is precisely measured to create the net of the shape. Once made, it’s dried slowly for about a week to a week and a half and then it goes in for its first firing which goes to a thousand degrees - that’s the bisque firing. After that it’s still porous so you can glaze it, but it’s more robust so you can sand it and it won't break. Once glazed, it goes in for another firing – which could be anywhere up to 1260 degrees. The firing process takes around two days and then it’s done!'

'I tend to create minimal, functional forms, I’m particularly interested in working with coloured clays and focusing on surface decoration. My ceramics are often inspired by animals and by nature - the inlaid design on the plant pots in the Soho Home collection is based upon the lines of quartz you find running through pebbles. There’s a subtle difference in the texture of the two clays, which adds an extra tactility to the piece. From a distance the design might look painted, but in fact the contrasting shapes are made up of individually torn, thin pieces of clay which I roll into the base colour. After the first firing, I sand it all back to reveal the crisp edges of the joined pieces. It’s quite a time-consuming process so the end result feels really special, in part because it takes so much effort to produce.

I’m fortunate that my hobby has become something which is self-sustaining, because people have supported me by showing interest in (and purchasing) my work. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way since I started working with ceramics, as for future ceramics-related hopes/dreams/ambitions, I’d really like to make tableware for a café or restaurant and to try my hand at lighting.'

Shoreditch House

Our East London House has a gym, Cowshed spa and rooftop pool.