Founded in 1994 in Sydney, Australia by Shelley Simpson, Mud Australia is a range of handmade porcelain tableware and lighting known for an elegant handmade process that incorporates clean lines, a sophisticated color palette, and sensual functionality. Wholly one-of-a-kind and with a durability that defies the collection’s delicate appearance – design fanatics everywhere just can’t get enough of this treasured brand! Here we ask Simpson some questions about her process, and the day-to-day down under:
Mud Australia launched in 1994 but with a bit of a different look and feel. Tell us how you began and the journey to get the brand to where it is now:
I first picked up clay in 1994 after moving into a shared house with a friend. Our house had a tiny pottery shed in the garden and my roommate encouraged me to try it out one day… I discovered an instant connection with it that completely changed my life. A year later, I began selling products at local markets on Bondi beach. At this time, everything we made was hand thrown and decorated. It was incredibly labor intensive, but it gave me a platform to have direct contact with my buyers and to fully understand their wants and needs. I used to make all of the products in one location, which meant driving (fragile) greenware to a hire kiln, firing it, and then picking it up at the end of the week.
We love the fact that your products are at once ethereal and useable, classic and yet so modern. …what you think are the hallmarks of your product range and how they came to be?
Throughout our 25 years as a business we’ve maintained a simple and minimalist aesthetic, along with only using the highest quality porcelain sourced from Limoges, France. While our business has grown into a globally-renowned brand, we still craft each piece from hand in our Sydney studio. I had previously worked in earthenware using a beautiful matte-satin glaze inside and out, which people loved prior to the porcelain work. There were no commercial glazes that allowed a matte finish when I started working with porcelain so I started experimenting with unglazed elements, adding the glaze to the interior for purely aesthetic and tactile reasons. My goal was to replicate the color pallete from the earthenware range, while avoiding the labor-intensive process of applying multiple levels of glaze. It was so exciting to add pigment to the body of the clay and experiment with color intensity. That color intensity is now one of our key differentiators as a brand and something that our customers truly love to experiment with when it comes to plating and picking out a dinner set.
What part of your process do you get lost in, or never tire of?
I love seeing the end result with the kilns full of product. Communicating with the end users and getting feedback on what’s missing from the range are the light bulb, ah-ha moments that I always find satisfying!
How do you decide to add to your lovely color range?
We typically like to add new colors and shapes to fit our personal needs, which can be seen through our bakeware and lighting range. However, I’m typically inspired by my travels and everyday life when adding to our range. I recently took a spontaneous trip to Morocco with my daughter and was inspired to add a deep blue color, “Ink”.
Five things inspiring or influencing your design and creation process right now:
Capturing colors in different cities around the world, like the neon of Tokyo or the palette of Venice.
The Getty Museum in Los Angeles – more so for the architecture than the art. The shadows and visuals of that space are extraordinary.
MoMA and the Whitney in NYC for their collections.
The Rothko Room at the Tate Modern in London.
Musee de L’Orangerie in Paris, where Monet’s Water Lilies are displayed.
What does a typical day look like for you?
An early start with Pilates before the studio opens. I like to touch base with our dispatch, production, and kilns as I come through the studio. I often enjoy lunch at our local café – 2 Chaps in Marrickville. Afternoons are spent checking in with my team in the office across finance, marketing, retail, and production. Each afternoon we review the fresh stock that has come out of the kilns and allocate it to open orders. I’ve recently got a new puppy, Molly, who is a great part of my day!
Tell us about the importance of your line being exclusively handmade in Australia:
As a craft-based business, it’s always been important to me for us to remain handcrafted. We like to allow the clay to speak for itself by embracing the uniqueness of each piece. Every Mud Australia piece is different from one another in that it has been passed around numerous hands of the talented artisans in our Sydney-based studio.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed, underwhelmed, or run-down creatively? How do you manage stress and balance wellness?
Yes to all of the above! Mini breaks up or down the coast with my partner who loves to surf is always a good way. We offer weekly yoga and monthly massages at Mud. Eating well and making time to exercise helps me feel balanced and nourished. Spending time with family and friends, sharing a meal. Enjoying the city I live in. And my new puppy!
What’s the best gift you ever received?
Apart from my children? My beautiful Ted Muehling earrings for my 50th Birthday from my husband are a treasured possession.