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Designer Talks: Jono Pandolfi

For ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi, the clay tells the story. "The inspiration behind so many of my designs is in the ceramic process," he says. "Ceramics often comes down to a negotiation between you and the clay. That concept is underlying in everything that I do." Against the back-drop of the Manhattan skyline, Pandolfi works out of his studio and production facility in the last-standing industrial building in Union City, New Jersey. There he creates art for the table that evokes a delicate balance between bold, spontaneous design and meticulous craftsmanship. Pandolfi is well-recognized in the design and culinary communities for his high-profile dinner-ware collaborations with notable chefs. A faculty member in the Product Design department at Parsons the New School for Design, Pandolfi believes in letting the materials speak for them-selves. "I like to keep the design as simple as possible," he says. "Simple lines, simple surfaces. Think of a design as a recipe - use the best materials available, practice it over and over, and eventually you'll get it right."

We started out creating bud vases and chopstick holders for the cafes at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2004. On that project, we discovered an untapped niche for creating custom tabletop design for chefs and restaurateurs. Since then, we have de-veloped the business, working with chefs to assess the needs of their restaurants, to create pieces that will highlight their cuisine in new ways, and to provide versatility and functionality throughout the seasons.

We have worked on dozens of high-profile collaborations with chefs including Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park), April Bloomfield (Tosca Cafe), and Wylie Dufresne (WD~50) learning how to optimize our forming and firing techniques to produce better consistency and quality for our clients.

The Geode collection with Arc was a really cool project, because they are such an authority on glass, and they are looking to up their dinnerware game. I appreciate their dedication to original design and innovative manufacturing. So much design is so derivative these days, it's a privilege to work with a company that has true integrity there.

Do you have a greatest career moment? If so, what was it?

So far, I'd have to say it was being selected to design and produce the dinnerware for the NoMad. That was the game-changer for me.

What was your most challenging career moment?

There have been many. Probably struggling to finish up a huge order of dinnerware for Eleven Madison Park. Problems with kilns, glazes, everything seemed to be going wrong, but I had no choice but to press on through it.

What is the basis of your design strategy?

I design with the production process in mind. Form follows function.

What do you consider to be your design expertise?

I think I have a knack for blending the handmade with the more industrial processes and making it all work together in the end.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

Take a step back and get some distance from a project. Let it "marinate". Come back in a day or two and the solution will often be right there.

I design with the production process in mind. Form follows function.

How do you know when to stick it out and when to let go of an idea?

It's hard to know when you cross over the line into the territory where you're wasting time and money, but you just need to know. Trust your gut.

How would you define your personal design aesthetic?

Minimal and it's all about the materials. Let the materials speak for themselves.

Do you have any rules regarding design?

Integrity. I can't stand companies that knock off designs and anything new that they come across.

Do you ever fear you will not be able to top your last product success?

Not really, I just focus on moving forward because the world has an insatiable appetite for new things. And I can provide that.

If you were not a designer, is there another career path that intrigues you?

Yes, geology. And engineering. Put those two together and you wind up somewhere within ceramics

Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design?

I wouldn't say one - I would say that I am a dinnerware manufacturer and I draw most of my inspiration as an artist from the greater pottery community. Artists like Peter Volkous, Toshiko Takaezu, Shoji Hamada, they guide my aesthetic.

What advice would you give to young designers who are just starting out in a commercial marketplace?

Figure out what you are good at and do that. Work hard and don't get worn down by the layers of defeat and intimidation that await someone young trying to figure out their way. Forge on. Also, we have grown as a company because we try to sell direct to our end user in as many situations as we can. So, we concentrate on hospitality and our online retail. We stay away from the reps and distributors and wholesale world, but as our production capacity grows, we will find a way to make those types of relationships work.

Is there something you would like to reveal about yourself that no one really knows?

I really love enameling and I have been working on a new collection of earrings. Looking forward to sharing that soon.

What do you use on your table?

Lots of my own dinnerware, and we also have Butterfly Garden by Versace/ Rosenthal. I love candlesticks and we have a nice collection of Tiffany crystal candlesticks.