Tiles with style on Savile Row

Clay Technology magazine
7 May 2015

When ceramic artist Kate Malone was commissioned to clothe a building on London‘s Savile Row with glazed tiles, it suited her just fine. The idea was to make it a work of art using top-notch materials in the country’s spiritual home of bespoke tailoring.

Like an expensive suit, the job involved a lot of working by hand, and it took time to complete – four years from when talk about the project began – but she says it has been worth it. Malone, a judge on new BBC2 show The Great British Pottery Throw Down, says, ‘People’s heads are spinning about it down there in Mayfair. They are loving it.’

The job was far from easy, particularly in finding a company that was the right fit in terms of firing the thousands of tiles needed for the job – 11,000 were glazed and about 10,000 have been used on the building at 24 Savile Row. Malone says, ‘The glazes that I use on my decorative ceramics are highly fired, they are 1,260–1,280°C. It’s porcelain temperatures, and I phoned all around the country to all the factories of architectural ceramics, people who work in that area, and they all said, “No way, crystalline glazes are too fluid, they’ll ruin our kilns. We can’t work at those temperatures.”’

She finally found Richard Miller, at Froyle Tiles in Hambledon, Surrey, and he was up for the challenge. The job then became a collaborative effort for Malone, her workshop manager Helen Evans, Miller and Stephen Pey, an Associate Director at EPR Architects. The glaze was all hand mixed and processed in her London studio and sent to Froyle Tiles in a van. It was so sensitive, its raw condition could even be affected by how much it was shaken during the journey. Malone, who is best known for decorative art ceramics and has pieces in more than 40 museums worldwide, as well as large-scale public art pieces in hospitals, parks, schools and libraries, adds, ‘We have had to produce well over a thousand litres of raw glaze that was sent to Froyle in batches, and every single bucket of five or six litres had to be measured, numbered and tested.’

Each of the tiles created are unique. Malone makes her glazes like a cooking recipe, adding different ingredients to get the colour and surface effect she wants. Their sensitivity when in a raw state means that they can be affected by factors such as the weather, heat and humidity, even if all of the methods used to create them are exactly the same. The glaze was precisely applied to the tiles at Froyle, which again required a bespoke degree of expertise and care. After being fired, they were stored and eventually used on the building, which was completed in April. It took a year-and-a-half of back-to-back kiln firings with no breaks to meet the tight time schedule. 

Pey says, ‘I don’t think it would have been possible to do it without the level of dialogue for understanding our design intent, where we wanted a white building and a dark building, which reflect the original plot widths on Savile Row. That was very important to us and it took two years of research and development and a lot of heartache. It was a labour of love, effectively.’

Malone has the most extensive set of crystalline glaze tests in the country in her archive at Balls Pond Studio in North London. For further information, visit www.katemaloneceramics.com

Brick of the bunch

Entries showcasing Britain’s best use of brick are being sought for The 2015 Brick Awards. Organised by the Brick Development Association, the 39th annual awards are open to architects, designers, building owners, developers, house builders, contractors and brick manufacturers.

There are 13 categories for projects featuring clay bricks and pavers manufactured by association members, plus a Worldwide and International Award. Winners will be announced on 18 November. The closing date for entries is 12 June.

For an entry form, visit www.brick.org.uk/brick-awards