Several ancient cultures lay claim to the invention of enamel, but credit goes to the Austrians and Germans for taking this brightly colored, crushed-glass surface out of the jewelry box and into the kitchen. They discovered that when vitreous or "porcelain" enamel is bonded by high heat to metal, the resulting nonporous, nontoxic, and nonstick surface is not only an excellent heat conductor but also very durable—hence the application of enamel to all manner of utilitarian objects from cooking utensils to pots to stoves.
In the foothills of the Austrian Alps, the Riess family has been making kitchen utensils for nine generations. The Riess company's factory went hydroelectric in the 1930s, and all its electricity has since been powered by the local water source. In the town of Ybbsitz, Riess produces enamel-coated pots and pans fabricated from single sheets of steel, which makes them much lighter than cast iron. The choice of color is lighter, too: Many of Reiss's pots haven't altered at all since the 1950s. Perhaps a founding father asked his frau what colors she'd like to cook with, and she replied, "rose, blau, grün, und gelb." Riess interpreted these as soft deep pink, very delicate blue, palest green, and powdery yellow, all finished off with a clotted cream interior. The Riess palette continues to appeal today; here are some notable examples.
Five to Buy
Above: A more recent design from Riess, the Stackable Canister comes with an airtight ash lid and is made in four sizes. They range from $38 to $58 at Joinery, which also offers Riess ladles and other accessories.
Above: The Blue Roaster, 13 inches long and 8 inches wide, is £40 ($62.56) from Objects of Use, in Oxford, England.
Above: The Enameled Measuring Cup is another new design from Riess, made by dipping a white-enameled pitcher into a purplish-navy enamel. This measuring vessel holds one liter (four cups); $45 at Potager.
Above: The Colander is 7 inches in diameter and 15.5 inches from tip to stern, which allows it to hook across the kitchen sink. $48 at Provisions.
Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on iconic designs, including the Hudson Bay Blanket and the Eames Lounge Chair. We featured her Connecticut shop in our post Purveyor of the Practical and the Timeless.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on April 15, 2014, as part of our Shades of Pastel issue.