The timeless, iconic vessels of Heath Ceramics have held all manner of American food and drink since the company was founded in 1948. Today, their fine ceramics are experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity, especially amongst the high-end food and coffee crowd. It could be argued that Blue Bottle Coffee helped start the trend by using the custom-designed Heath Espresso Cup in their SFMoMa cafe (currently under renovation), and building a whole cafe inside Heath Ceramic’s flagship store, tile factory and studio workspace in San Francisco’s Mission District. You can also find the cups at fine cafes like Linea Caffé in SF, Weekend Coffee in Dallas, and Highwire in Oakland, to name just a few.
With a compelling midcentury design aesthetic and detailed craftsmanship, it’s not surprising that pieces like the Studio Mug are finding their way behind more and more contemporary coffee bars. Classic design is part of it, but Heath’s renaissance in the 21st century can be credited to Catherine Bailey and Robert Petravic, who bought the company a decade ago. Under their stewardship and guidance, with a healthy dose of smart decisions, the Heath brand is more vibrant than ever.
Sprudge recently spent a few days experiencing all things Heath, beginning with a photo tour of the original Sausalito Factory and showroom in Marin County, then exploring the new San Francisco tile factory and Blue Bottle cafe, and shopping at the Heath Store in SF’s Ferry Building. In the midst of myriad projects, Catherine Bailey also took some time out to talk to Sprudge about the Heath connection to Blue Bottle Coffee, Heath’s place in the modern coffee scene, and how little updates–larger mugs! bigger handles!–are helping keep Heath current while retaining a timeless midcentury sense of design.
What new espresso cups and coffee mugs have been added to the Heath line in the last decade?
One of our first designs after taking on Heath in 2003 was the Heath Large Mug. The Studio and Stack mugs had been in the collection for many years, but we were hearing that people were drinking coffee differently–namely, more of it! We wanted to design a mug that could hold more liquid, but that also fit in with the character of the original Heath designs. We carefully designed a taller cup, but not much wider. The height fit in and looked natural with the other pieces of the Coupe line when they were placed together. Though the cup was more closely aligned with the original Coupe language, we designed it to be simple enough that it looked at home with any other Heath products. The cup also had to be comfortable, and effortless to hold, so we designed a taller, wider handle, though carefully proportioned to fit in with the other shapes. The handle took some inspiration from the 1948 Heath Pitcher.
Have you been adding specific sizes by request from coffee companies?
No. Over the past 60 years Heath has created a lot of great cup shapes, so interested accounts and cafes choose from our many shapes, though one fun fact is that we’re seeing more people using our tea cups to serve cappuccinos in!
How did the connection between Blue Bottle and Heath originally come about?
We connected initially on a project to design a Heath Espresso cup, something that James Freeman was looking to have in their Rooftop Garden cafe at the SFMoMA. He wanted all the cups served to be Heath, but we didn’t make an appropriate espresso cup. We had been wanting to have a suitable espresso cup in our line, but it took this project to help us prioritize the design and have something for the cafe opening.
Edith Heath had designed a demitasse cup in the 1940s and the basic shape and proportion of the cup was fitting, but it was about 15% too large, and the handle wasn’t appropriate. We used that cup shape as a starting point, studied lots of the existing espresso handles out there and then started designing the new cup with an integrated handle. In the end, we all chose the current design because it fit well in your hand, and the shape had a character that fit in with the existing products, while feeling a bit more modern.
What was the process for planning the new Mission District location, with a Blue Bottle cafe inside it?
Our idea all along for the SF location was to have a real community feel and to share the space with people who were making and creating. We had a perfect space that would work for a coffee cart or kiosk, and because of our past partnership with Blue Bottle, it was a natural fit. We worked on the design together, so that it felt very integrated–representing the Heath aesthetic we had created with Commune, and also representing Blue Bottle’s brand and experience. Between our showroom and the coffee area, we designed a space for community gathering and viewing into the working tile factory. It’s a really great space, with good light and great energy.
Do you have any more espresso cup, mug, or other coffee related products launching?
Not yet, but you never know!
Photos by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com.