Gifts Today magazine

Spotlight on… tableware designer Billy Lloyd

Currently working with The Conran Shop and Monno Ceramic, among others, Billy Lloyd is a rising design star in the tableware industry. We talk to Billy in this issue of Tableware International

Potter and designer Billy Lloyd is a rising star on the tableware scene.

Having completed a four-year apprenticeship with esteemed potter and writer Julian Stair, during which he began making porcelain tableware on a potter’s wheel, in 2011, Billy won the Cockpit Arts Award, enabling him to set up his first studio at Cockpit Arts.

Early champions of his work included design visionary Priscilla Carluccio and Sir Terence and Lady Vicki Conran, which helped him establish himself as a prominent figure in the UK’s designer-maker generation. It was a meeting with Robin Levien in 2013 convinced Billy to commit to a future as an industrial designer as opposed to a potter.

Billy has worked with a number of clients over the year spanning both hospitality and retail, including producing a bespoke range of coffee cups for cycling/apparel brand, Rapha; teaware for London-based luxury tea brand, Lalani & Co.; five bone china mugs for The Conran Shop; and fermentation vinegar vases for Cult Vinegar.

Billy has also collaborated with interior designers and architectural practices to create candleholders and stunning retail displays, including the RIBA Regent Street Windows Project for Brooks Brothers with Conran and Partners; and is currently developing a bone china pendant for The Conran Shop.

Billy’s latest clients include two new collections for Monno Ceramic (Modular range, pictured); a bone china tea service for Bamford (UK); a range of serveware items for CheForward (USA); and a new line of Terrastone tableware for Borralheira (PT).

Here, we talk to Billy about his job in tableware design and discuss good design and the current state of the tableware industry.

Billy, what exactly do you do?
Once a potter, now a designer, I work from a studio in southeast London with two part-time assistants. My studio is a predominantly a place to prototype products and because of my craft-based education I have a hands-do approach to design, design-through-making, which means that once we have devised a concept in response to the client brief, we make 1:1 scale models of the products (in high density foam, plaster, card or sometimes ceramic).

The models are then presented to the client to evaluate and subsequently resolve the design detailing before engaging the factory with technical drawings. Other duties involve meeting current and prospective clients, pitching for new work, writing proposals and project timelines, maintaining social media.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I naturally lean towards a geometric aesthetic; however, I’m currently working on a couple of projects, which have a softer more curvaceous feel to them. First and foremost, I consider myself a shape designer and I think my understanding of different materials’ characteristics means I can also apply my eye for line and proportion to designing for glass, metal, wood and plastic.  

My design process often starts by thinking about the silhouette or footprint of the product, exploring this notion by carefully cutting out shapes in coloured or textured card, simplifying them, and repeating in order to investigate the shapes’ various compositional traits.

What are the main elements of good design?
My intention is to allow the function of a product to inform its shape, and let the material speak for itself, while creating an object that is comfortable to use and easy to live with. This is more often than not achieved through excellent communication of a well-researched idea between designer, client and manufacturer – a team effort.  

A few years ago, Robin Levien advised me that one of the most important things in design is to exercise restraint and with that in mind, I borrow a quote from another hero of mine, the late sculptor Constantin Brancusi: ‘Simplicity is complexity resolved’.

What are your career highlights?
I was thrilled when Vicki Conran bought my Edition Of Fifty Mugs (a handmade collection of mugs each of unique design) for Sir Terence Conran’s Christmas present in 2011; the experience has encouraged me to work hard at maintaining a level of high achievement. My QEST Scholarship has had a positive impact on every project I have developed since and my first overseas manufactured product was for Rapha (made by Dankotuwa with Portmeirion) and remains a significant landmark for my career. 

Being awarded a place in the Talents exhibition at Ambiente 2017 was an encouraging endorsement of my design work to date and launching William, my first collaboration with Monno Ceramic, at Ambiente 2018 further established me on an international stage.

From a creative perspective, what are your views on the tableware industry at present?
There will always be trends, leaders and followers. I’m a bit suspicious of the quest to mimic other materials in ceramic. I appreciate this is mainly due to market demand, however, there are so many beautiful clay and glaze combinations, I think it’s important that the result, whether texture, colour or pattern, feels inherent to the material and not an applied finish.

Working with a factory such as Monno is very exciting for me due to their versatility and willing to innovate; they can produce porcelain, bone china and fine china all under one roof. Furthermore, they also have in-house decal and packaging production, so I’m looking forward to getting hands-on and exploring new possibilities within their manufacturing facilities during my forthcoming visit. In a few weeks, I’ll be flying out to Dhaka to work on two new projects with Monno for launch at Ambiente 2019.

I have also learnt the importance of quickly establishing a new range of tableware as a brand in its own right, as well as within a larger company of products, if it is to be successful in the long-term. Consumers buy into authentic stories as much as they demand innovative products - this is a fascinating prospect.

What particular designs are favourites?
Those that are under-styled – I am fond of the aesthetic Jasper Morrison appies to his designs, while Thomas by Rosenthal is one of my favourite brands. I’m also always impressed with the commitment to quality and affordability of design John Lewis brings to the UK high street.

What’s so exciting about being in tableware today?
Design is not only about products, but people too. For me, the most exciting aspect of the tableware industry is the variety of people I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with. It’s a great feeling when someone expresses their belief in your ability by investing their time and expertise in you. 
Over the course of the past two years, for example, I have built a close relationship with Valda and Paul Goodfellow of G&G Goodfellows. Initially thanks to a mentoring grant from the UK Crafts Council, Valda and I met once a month to discuss my business objectives. Although the grant soon expired, Valda kindly offered to continue mentoring me and thanks to her advice and support she has furthered my knowledge of the tableware industry from a leading distributor’s perspective and helped to firmly establish myself within it.

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