Stine Dulong, SkandiHus London
Stine Dulong is a London-based ceramicist. Her creations are coveted by the likes of Nigella Lawson, Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver. The SkandiHus studio, based in Hackney, was also recently named as the best pottery class in London by TimeOut. We asked Stine a few questions about her studio and how she balances creativity and productivity.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Skandihus.
I grew up in Denmark and to me, SkandiHus carries the Scandinavian design hallmarks of minimal distraction with maximum functionality and beauty. SkandiHus is all about handmade, high-quality ceramics that are affordable, stylish and relevant. I tend to work with light colours and seek to make that understated impact of minimal, utilitarian design.
The name originates from ‘Skandi’ plus ‘hus’, the Danish word for house, and the whole ethos of my work is based upon my belief that the home is our haven. It represents the most important things in our lives – our family, where we welcome friends and where we relax. Home should be a place of calm and contentment and my work aims to complement that. I think functionalware has failed if it disturbs the calm of a home.
You have an incredible space! What was your vision for the Skandihus studio?
Thank you. My second studio was initially born out of a need to expand the business. We were literally bursting at the seams at the old studio, both in terms of my own "production" - with things selling quicker than I could make them - but also our classes and private events were selling out almost before we had put them online. Now that we have two studios, we can literally offer twice as much of everything which is fantastic.
My vision for the space was to create an oasis that would give our students a break from the stresses of everyday life. Somewhere to come to connect with the clay, themselves and their hearts and recharge their batteries, surrounded by plants and good energy. One of my students jokingly calls SkandiHus for his "clay sanctuary" and I'm pretty chuffed with that label.
What does your creative process look like?
I consider myself very lucky that I have more ideas floating around in my head than I could possibly ever make. I used to write my ideas down a lot but I rarely go back to look at them if I am honest. I have a bit of a photographic memory so I don't sketch things down, I just visualise them and then make them. It might also be because I am self-taught that my creative process is so unstructured and messy; I like it this way though. I think some of the joy would get lost for me if I had to start being very structured about it. My favourite approach is to let the clay become what it wants to be, to just let things take shape between my hands.
You originally started off as a lawyer before finding your calling as a ceramicist. How do you think this background has shaped your current working environment?
Looking back to the person I was back in my lawyer days, I think that I was both feeling quite empty inside and living a rather detached life, always striving for more or something better - or more to the point, always feeling like I had to be something more or do better. I was on this endless exhausting search upwards (which I believe is a cultural tendency in our late capitalist industrial growth world).
Working with clay in my evening pottery classes allowed me to stop striving and to stay in the moment with what I was doing. I now understand that what was happening to me was that I stopped looking for something outside of me to fill the emptiness I was feeling inside. I slowly stopped striving and somehow started to believe that I was enough. Working with clay facilitated a reconnection for me, with myself, nature and the world around me - a sort of reconnection of my hands, heart and mind if you like. The psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi argues that crafts, like pottery, allow us to enter a "flow" state, a perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge.
In this sense, the ethos of the SkandiHus brand reflects the process that I’ve gone through in my own life to rid myself of ‘disturbance’. I’ve slowed down and am much more mindful of everything that I do and there is no doubt that the new studio has been influenced by this slower and less "busy" approach. I've kept the colours neutral, used natural materials as much as possible and designed a clutter-free space that facilitates the ability to enter a "flow" state.
What inspires you?
It took me a while to understand just how influenced I am by nature. My whole life I have spent a lot of time outside - in my youth, I was a Danish national champion sailor, and today I am an avid rock climber and hiker. Until recently, I had never really given much thought to how that influences my work. Now it is pretty obvious to me that a walk in the forest always leads to my head brimming with new ideas and that my designs almost scream "nature"! The colours that I use are reminiscent of the coastal region of Hellerup, near Copenhagen, where I grew up. I love the sea, it was my life and I spent a lot of my teenage years sailing. The sea influence is reflected in many of the colours that I use – natural whites, sea blues, lagoon, turquoise and deep blue.
You can clearly see this in the Wild Wave Platter because I use a mix of two different glazes to reflect the complex and changing colour of the sea from the white crest of the waves to the deep and dark blue seas underneath. The sea off Denmark is a very dark blue, particularly in the autumn and spring.
I also think that my need to ground and connect to the earth is reflected in my subconscious decision to leave a lot of my work unglazed in places, exposing the raw texture and colour of the fired clay.
You have some big culinary names using your ceramics, what has been your proudest achievement with SkandiHus?
I find this question very hard to answer. I often have the classic "overachiever" feelings of never doing well enough, so pride is not something I often feel. I had a moment recently where I stopped in the middle of a working day and looked at the new studio space, surrounded by my team all in their own version of a "flow" state. I felt so proud suddenly that I had created this, that it all started as an idea in my head and here I was standing in the middle of it, surrounded by positive vibes and good energy. Oh, and getting commissioned by Nigella Lawson to make plates for her private use was pretty awesome too...
What have you learnt is important for maintaining productivity and balance? Especially when your career is also your hobby?
I always thought "balance" was a funny way to think about it. Balance between what? Killing yourself with work and then taking time off to do self care because you have created a life that is so fast paced that it's not sustainable? For me, a really important thing is to remember to enjoy every step of the way instead of just focusing on where I want to get to or what I want to achieve. It's very easy to end up just working all the time without enjoying anything because you aren't present. I think "balance" can be achieved by being present no matter what you do. Obviously, this is not something that I always manage to achieve but it's something I am mindful of and seek to do. I really don't think "self care" or "balance" should not be something we do to escape our life because it has become so overwhelming and stressful that we need a break away from it. It should be part of everything we do and sometimes it takes the form of doing my VAT return so I can go for a walk in the forest the following morning (guilt free), sometimes it's doing that yoga class and other times, it's turning off the alarm in the morning so I can sleep an extra hour.
You have just got your hands on a Round Sign for your studio, aside from this, what is your favourite George and Willy tool?
Yes, I have and I am so in love with it. Hand on heart, I am finding it hard to pick just one favourite tool as I am genuinely so in love with all of your products. If I have to pick one, it would have to be the Studio Roller. It sings to my heart in terms of being both beautiful and functional.
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