Meet the woman reviving Cornishware, one striped mug at a time
PUBLISHED: 15:44 23 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:44 23 March 2020
Instantly recognisable, Cornishware is a timeless British design icon, writes Natalie Millar-Partridge
Cornishware is a British design icon – famed for its blue and white stripes – with a timeless, instantly recognisable style, and a history that stretches back to 1924; first created by renowned pottery company TG Green in Derbyshire, when employee, Frederick Parker – inspired by Cornwall’s blue skies and white waves whilst holidaying in the county – came up with the radical design-classic, giving Cornishware its name. He then returned to pottery and decided to paint simple blue stripes. The rest, as they say, is history!
The classic design has stood the test of time, with its iconic stripes, adorning kitchens the world over. “When I’m sitting on a Cornish beach, I completely see why this ceramic artist came up with the idea. You see the clouds and the crest of the waves – the Atlantic blue of the sea. That, for me, is what Cornishware is all about. We’re still talking about Cornishware now, and it’s nearly 100 years later!” says owner Karina Rickards.
The brand reputability grew from strength to strength, yet as time progressed it became increasingly difficult for the Victorian pottery to compete with modern industry. In 2007 it closed, until Karina and Charles Rickards came to the rescue, restoring the iconic stripes to their rightful position in British kitchens and dining rooms.
With the entrepreneurial husband and wife duo now at the helm, the company is in an exciting stage of development – bringing production back to the UK, with biscuit-fired blanks now made by Royal Stafford in Stoke-on-Trent, and using the clay dug from St Austell in Cornwall – its range is decorated, glazed and fired in Cornishware’s West Country pottery.
“It feels really special to have resurrected such a timeless British design icon; most of us have heard of Cornishware or remember drinking hot chocolate from our parents or grandparents’ Cornishware mug,” says Karina.
Creating long-lasting memories with friends and families, sitting around a table while hugging a Cornishware mug, after a day at the beach, is what Cornishware is all about. “We’re not just thinking about today, this month or the next six months, we’re thinking about the next generation of Cornishware-lovers,” explains Karina.
Lifelong fans of the brand, Charles and Karina now run the business from their beautiful Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse. Once an old dairy farm, the outbuildings have been converted; the painting, firing and packing of the collections carried out on the premises.
“We didn’t think twice at the opportunity to rescue Cornishware. We followed our heart by purchasing and breathing new life back into this stripy business. We couldn’t bear to see this iconic brand disappear under the Cornish white-crested waves. We reluctantly had to send production oversees in order to build the business, but this gave us time to think and plan our repatriation journey,” explains Karina.
The couple are gradually bringing production back to the UK, confirming the figure to reach 100 per cent by the summer. “I’ll always remember the day I decorated my first Cornishware plate. I am an artist so I didn’t feel too daunted at the prospect of applying the famous stripes by hand – when our first batch came out, all shiny from our kiln, it was an Eureka moment, I will never forget. My husband and I knew at that moment, Cornishware had a chance of being made in England,” beams Karina.
Cornishware has risen from the ashes, since being taken on by the Rickards ten years ago. Raised in Normandy, France, Karina’s bohemian upbringing inspired a love for travel, adventure and interiors, proving to be fundamental during the latest era of Cornishware’s story.
When her father built a yacht in their garden in 1987, Karina and her family sailed around the world, ending up on a beach in Antigua. It was here that she met Charles and after a few weeks, the couple moved to London where Karina went on to work at luxury brands Kenzo and Cartier as a visual merchandiser.
After a lifelong passion for the sea and life on the beach, Cornishware has been the perfect fit for Karina.
“Cornishware is a timeless and iconic design, synonymous with good times and happy gatherings. Everybody has a story to tell about Cornishware – I’d like to think I am creating memories when sitting at my wheel, busy decorating bowls, plates or mugs,” says Karina.
Cornishware is a brand with mass appeal – long gone are the days when the pottery was only spotted adorning dressers in grandmothers’ kitchens.
“Our stripes have created waves in our everyday lives, from high-rise apartments in New York to glamping at Glastonbury, from London offices to a beach hut; popular with lovers of design and quality craftsmanship, who are keen to purchase a piece of lovingly handcrafted British history. Cornishware is synonymous with family, as well as tea and cake, and holidaying in Cornwall,” Karina adds.
When Karina and Charles moved to the West Country, they knew that they had found their forever home. Cornishware HQ is nestled in a green deep hilly valley, amongst fields dotted with grazing-sheep – the pottery used to be a milking parlor and the warehouse was used for farm equipment and combine harvesters.
“I enjoy surrounding myself with quality, lovingly handcrafted furniture and objects, with a soul. My interior design style very much resonates with Cornishware.”
As one might expect, the couple’s home is full of the wonderfully cheerful striped crockery. “I have the blue collection in my kitchen and the red collection in the breakfast room. We don’t own any other ceramics.
“Each piece of ceramic is home tried-and-tested, before hitting our warehouse shelves. We live and breathe it,” she says.
Cornishware HQ is made up of listed stone farm buildings, where the days begin early; there is a constant buzz with the kiln humming gently as the team decorate and glaze, answer calls and dispatch stripes all over the world.
“The tranquility of our surrounding countryside is a welcome relief from the hive of activity going on in our pottery and warehouse,” says Karina. “We’re so lucky to be part of a hardworking and skilled team who share the same pride and thrill in being part of this special repatriation journey.”
Karina and Charles may live in a home dating back to the 16th century, but they are advocates of cutting-edge technology, used in promoting Cornishware, such social media channels and state of the art packaging designs.
“The contrast between old and new is omnipresent in our daily working lives, offering a multifaceted angle to our business; seeing a beautifully designed old stone wall, or cleverly planted ancient orchard motivates me to want to create pieces that also last for generations,” says Karina.
The pottery-loving duo also own a holiday house on the Lizard Peninsula; the brand’s yellow-range was inspired from watching the fishermen at work in their oilskins, as well as spotting the deep yellow gorse amongst the hedges during family coastal-walks.
“Whenever we’re not working, we head west, for some quality time with friends and family. This is where we catch our breath and talk big ideas. I believe in stepping back in order to let one’s mind do the work – this is very much the case in Cornwall!”
Cornishware’s 10oz mug is featured in the London Design Museum as part of a collection of the most iconic designs of the 20th century in the world. “It is timeless,” says Karina, “Stripes are here to stay, and will never go out of fashion!”
It’s these timeless creations that remain at the heart of Cornishware.
“The Cornish lifestyle is probably our biggest inspiration,” says Karina. “We often look to the past to see how our products were made, remembering our heritage, whilst keeping our finger on the pulse in terms of trends and the latest technology.”
Karina and Charles have many plans in the pipeline for their much loved brand, including plate-painting workshops, set to take place at Cornishware HQ, beginning this spring.
“In order for a business to thrive, one has to forever think forward,” says Karina.
It’s this forward thinking, fused with an unquantifiable passion for quality, heritage-homeware, that has transported the quintessential Cornish-stripes into our modern day lives. Long may it live!