Editor’s note: Every other month, we will profile a local artisan who makes items by hand for the home or garden.
Down a long gravel driveway, past small farms and fields of wildflowers, is where Mark Warren and Chris Pence, owners of Haand, have their ceramics workshop in Eli Whitney, an unincorporated area in Alamance County.
Inside, the workshop is full of pottery at various stages of production, peppered in among stacks of molds for slip casting, buckets of glaze and finished items. Despite the heat still emanating from the kiln, which had been opened the day before, and the North Carolina summer, workers are checking pieces and tidying up the workshop along to the jangly indie rock playing on the stereo. Small individual workstations are mixed in with long tables and shelves filled with items cooling from the kiln.
The pieces are covered with warm-colored glazes and shaped with soft-rounded edges so that they feel both substantial and cozy in your hand. Their product line, filled with cups, bowls and vases, is as utilitarian as it is easy on the eye. Warren describes their aim as “our way of communicating with people on a daily basis, in a quiet kind of way.”
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Warren, 31, and Pence, 32, met in high school in Florida and have enjoyed a “no friction” friendship built on trust ever since. Such a solid base has led them to become successful business partners who movetheir business forward by focusing on their individual strengths. Warren takes care of Haand’s creative duties, having studied ceramics at the Penland School of Crafts. Pence, a former corporate accountant, is in charge of the business side of things. When Warren says, “It’s a fallacy to think you can…,” Pence finishes his thought, adding, “do it all.”
The combination of Warren finding a place to live and work in a $60-a-month N.C. farmhouse, and Pence working a few tax seasons to fund things, led to Haand’s origins in 2012. The men showed their work at Dwell on Design LA, a show coordinated by the editors of Dwell magazine, in June 2012, which led to the start of publicity. Garden & Gun wrote of their “relaxed elegance.” A post on the blog Design*Sponge called their work “exquisite.”
Looking at their designs, it’s clear to see how Haand has received such high accolades, by focusing on the trifecta of form, function and creativity. They call their style “farmhouse futuristic,” evoking both Haand’s geographic history and Warren’s interest in science fiction. As for form, Warren notes that while reading sci-fi books, “they would mention things in passing. You think, ‘Well, what kind of bowl are they eating out of?’ … That’s what gets me going more than most things.” Function is found in pieces like their ice-cream bowls, which have a spout from which to drink the last melted drops. Their work is rounded out by creativity, such as the dishware for James Beard-award-winning chef Ashley Christensen’s newest restaurant, Death & Taxes; the dishes’ glazes contain ashes from the restaurant’s wood fire grills.
The two men started out making 20 pots a week in a rural farmhouse without running water or electricity. Now they’ve added four employees, make 500 pots a week and sell to some national retailers. By building and perfecting a manufacturing base out of their workshop, they have paved a way to grow both in terms of pieces produced and one-off installations. They have just finished all of the bathroom accessories for The Durham Hotel, a boutique hotel that opened earlier this month in Durham.
This move away from automation was on purpose, as Warren says, so they “can produce things on a large scale but also maintain the handmade quality of it.” It’s a more rewarding process for the owners and employees. Creating a positive workplace culture was important to Warren and Pence. “It’s how we’re making it and how the people feel while they’re making it that is what is most important to me,” Pence said.
What is also important to Haand’s owners is the experience for the user. Pence explains: “Communicating through objects is such a uniquely human, insane thing. It’s what we’re trying to do.”
Betsy Greer is a Durham-based writer who writes about craft and activism at craftivism.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the maker
Haand: A ceramics company dedicated to both traditional manufacturing processes and craftsmanship, which sells highly functional heirloom items for the home. Prices range from $5 to $350.
Where sold: Light Art + Design, 601 W. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill; Palette & Parlor, 2160 Environ Way, Chapel Hill; Southern Season, 201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill; and Ramble Supply Co. 123 E. Martin St., Raleigh.