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Design Sleuth: 7 ‘Weird and Wonderful’ Ceramics at Birch Hotel, from Hooks to Taps

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Design Sleuth: 7 ‘Weird and Wonderful’ Ceramics at Birch Hotel, from Hooks to Taps

December 13, 2023

Earlier this year, we were drawn to the muted tones and wobbly shapes of ceramicist Emma Louise Payne’s first homeware collection, London Plane, inspired by the towering plane trees which line the edges of London’s city parks. Delving into Emma’s work, we spotted some familiar forms…and a look back at our post on the Birch Hotel in Hertfordshire—winner of the Time’s Hotel of the Year 2020—revealed the ceramicist’s role in the project.

“Birch was one of my first large projects, and it’s still my biggest project to date,” Emma says. “The founders, Chris Penn and Chris King, and architects Red Deer knew they wanted a ceramicist involved in the project. The cofounder of Red Deer, Ciarán O’Brien, got in touch and we instantly hit it off. They loved the weird and wonderful items I’d brought to show them.”

Emma was duly commissioned to bring “a handmade touch” to each of Birch’s 140 rooms. “Originally I was going to move to Birch while it was being renovated and make all the items on site,” Emma recalls. “Sadly, health and safety got in the way of that. Nevertheless, I worked on the project solo for over a year and produced over 1,200 objects across the site.”

Just last week, Birch announced the closing of its two locations. To mark this news, we’re taking a last long look at Emma’s clever ceramic details all over:

the grand exterior. 12
Above: The grand exterior.
there are \140 rooms at birch, each of which has three coat hooks, two pendant  13
Above: There are 140 rooms at Birch, each of which has three coat hooks, two pendant lights, one vase, one door number, and two key rooms made by Emma. In addition to the room details, Emma’s vases and candle holders appear in communal spaces across the hotel—even the ceramic bar taps are hers.

1. Vases and vessels

emma&#8\2\17;s extruded vessels appear throughout the communal areas a 14
Above: Emma’s extruded vessels appear throughout the communal areas at Birch and are available to purchase from her website (from £70).

2. Beer taps

even the beer taps got the ceramic treatment. 15
Above: Even the beer taps got the ceramic treatment.

3 + 4. Room numbers and all-purpose hooks

Above: Emma’s handmade ceramic room numbers line the corridors (left); knotted coat hooks come in handy in the guest rooms (right).

5. Valet stands

emma&#8\2\17;s sculptural valet stands are integral to the handmade design  18
Above: Emma’s sculptural valet stands are integral to the handmade design ideology of Birch.

6. Bedside pendant lights

one of emma&#8\2\17;s glazed, suspended pendant lights. &#8\2\20;the pe 19
Above: One of Emma’s glazed, suspended pendant lights. “The pendants I designed have looped handles at the top that are almost like cow bells,” she says. “On approach, Birch looks like an old English school, so the bell-shaped pendants were a nod to the history of the site.” A small selection of suspended lights are available to purchase through Emma’s website.

7. Room keys

visitors receive a unique ceramic key ring at check in. 20
Above: Visitors receive a unique ceramic key ring at check-in.

“Ceramics is a slow process, and it’s amazing how often I get to forge ahead with ideas I have or shapes I’m working on personally for a commercial project,” Emma says. “The key rings that we made as part of the reception space behind the counter were derived from a shape I was working on for my mum, a Christmas bell. We continually used simple shapes with expressive glazes, and it’s the glazes that really shine throughout.”

emma&#8\2\17;s london plane collection, which launched at this year&#8\ 21
Above: Emma’s London Plane collection, which launched at this year’s London Craft Week, turned us onto her work. Shown are the London Plane plates (£280 for a set of six). Photograph by Kirsty Noble.
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