written by:
photos by:
August 17, 2010
Originally published in Bright Ideas

Ask anybody who has held so much as a bud vase from Heath Ceramics about the pottery’s charms, and you’re likely to encounter the kind of adoration reserved for treasured family heirlooms. So great is the ubiquitous enthusiasm for Heath that one is left wondering if something more than pigment is baked into its signature glazes. Its popularity may stem from its timeless, unfussy quality—–a Heath piece looks equally at home alongside decor of any epoch. But more likely it is due to the fact that in an era dominated by the rise of machines, this small company has honed a homespun, handcrafted approach to stoneware that’s tangible in each tile, serving bowl, and pitcher that comes out of its Sausalito, California, kilns.

Heath’s Sausalito factory was purpose-built for Edith Heath. The original kilns and equipment are still being used at the behest of owners Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic.
Heath’s Sausalito factory was purpose-built for Edith Heath. The original kilns and equipment are still being used at the behest of owners Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic.
Photo by 
1 / 12
Stacks of unglazed dishware line the shelves at the Heath factory in Sausalito.
Stacks of unglazed dishware line the shelves at the Heath factory in Sausalito.
Photo by 
2 / 12
A short ferry ride across the Bay, the San Francisco Ferry Building is the latest location for Heath to display its colorful wares.
A short ferry ride across the Bay, the San Francisco Ferry Building is the latest location for Heath to display its colorful wares.
Photo by 
3 / 12
Tableware shares space with a curated collection of books, tea towels, and treasures for the home.
Tableware shares space with a curated collection of books, tea towels, and treasures for the home.
Photo by 
4 / 12
The Ferry Building shop displays seasonal goods as well as items from some of Heath’s most popular collections. The top shelf here features serve bowls, platters, modern cups, bud vases, and a pitcher from this year’s Summer line in aqua/zest and ocean pa
The Ferry Building shop displays seasonal goods as well as items from some of Heath’s most popular collections. The top shelf here features serve bowls, platters, modern cups, bud vases, and a pitcher from this year’s Summer line in aqua/zest and ocean pacific. Heath worked with chef Alice Waters and designer Christina Kim to create the Chez Panisse line, named after the famed Berkeley restaurant, which is seen here on the second shelf: side bowls, mugs, and café bowls in Jicama, Cardoon, and Forrest. The backsplash is Heath dual glaze tile.
Photo by 
5 / 12
A tableau of tableware at the Ferry Building location shows the range of glaze options and styles of stoneware available. This year’s summer collection is featured on the top shelf, above platters, mugs, bowls, and a small teapot from the traditional Coup
A tableau of tableware at the Ferry Building location shows the range of glaze options and styles of stoneware available. This year’s summer collection is featured on the top shelf, above platters, mugs, bowls, and a small teapot from the traditional Coupe line on the second shelf from the top. Dessert bowls, salt and pepper shakers, pitchers, pasta bowls and more round out the display.
Photo by 
6 / 12
A close-up of cream & sugar in aqua and moonstone, salt & pepper in moonstone, and bowls in matte brown and burch.
A close-up of cream & sugar in aqua and moonstone, salt & pepper in moonstone, and bowls in matte brown and burch.
Photo by 
7 / 12
A multi-hued sea of serve bowls in the San Francisco Ferry Building shop.
A multi-hued sea of serve bowls in the San Francisco Ferry Building shop.
Photo by 
8 / 12
The Sausalito factory store has shelves full of tile samples, so visitors can check out the wide variety of glazing options available.
The Sausalito factory store has shelves full of tile samples, so visitors can check out the wide variety of glazing options available.
Photo by 
9 / 12
Racks of bisque dinnerware in the Sausalito factory before they become the bright and beautiful pieces that line the shop shelves.
Racks of bisque dinnerware in the Sausalito factory before they become the bright and beautiful pieces that line the shop shelves.
Photo by 
10 / 12
Like an archaeological site, remains of stoneware can be found in the recycled clay from the Sausalito factory.
Like an archaeological site, remains of stoneware can be found in the recycled clay from the Sausalito factory.
Photo by 
11 / 12
A cart full of recycled clay.
A cart full of recycled clay.
Photo by 
12 / 12
Heath’s Sausalito factory was purpose-built for Edith Heath. The original kilns and equipment are still being used at the behest of owners Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic.
Heath’s Sausalito factory was purpose-built for Edith Heath. The original kilns and equipment are still being used at the behest of owners Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic.

Iconoclast Edith Heath founded the company in 1948 and opened up shop in 1959, and her hands-on production line remains safely intact more than a half-century later. This is largely thanks to husband-and-wife team Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey who purchased Heath in 2003, saving the factory, production techniques, archives, and brand from inevitable extinction. They have since expanded the business to new shops in Los Angeles and most recently in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The formula for success, they say, is not complicated. “It’s about doing simple things well,” Petravic explains. “A dinner plate and a coffee mug will make you happy three times a day. Those are the things that make your life better.”

What’s at the heart of Heath’s appeal?
Robin Petravic: People build a relationship with these products that have a simple purpose. Heath is like a farmers’ market for ceramics on the small scale of an artisan bakery—–it’s as if pieces come out of the kiln and go right into the hands of the customer. The whole process is very transparent.

Stacks of unglazed dishware line the shelves at the Heath factory in Sausalito.
Stacks of unglazed dishware line the shelves at the Heath factory in Sausalito.

Why is that transparency important to convey?
RP: Ultimately it’s about design intent. There’s a lot of care and skill that goes into these pieces.
Cathy Bailey: Edith Heath wanted her products to look like there was craftsmanship involved. Every piece is not identical; the basic gesture and shape is the same, but very slight trim or glaze changes show up because there are hands making everything.
What makes your workplace unique?
RP: There are few places where you have this amazing studio and factory a couple hundred yards from the bay. Our workers can sit by the window—–feel the sunlight, hear when the seagulls fly by—–while they’re making pottery. It’s great.
Where do you find the items you aren’t making yourselves?
RP: Anywhere we can.
CB: I’m a searcher, always hunting. Sometimes it’s just following a lead online; I met Andy [Cruz, owner and founder of type foundry House Industries] because he blogged about his trip to the factory, and now we’re doing a project together.
Sounds like a perfect match. What can we expect from that collaboration?
CB: We’re working on modular tile numbers in a new House typeface, which will be available in fall of this year.
CB: We’re working on modular tile numbers in a new House typeface, which will be available in fall of this year.
How does a piece go from conception to production?
RP: And she understands technique, down to the mold-making.
CB: We have one product designer, Christina Zamora, who is amazing. She really makes it all happen. I hired her as an intern, so she’s been here almost the whole time that we have, and she really gets that Heath items are really about materials.
Tableware shares space with a curated collection of books, tea towels, and treasures for the home.
Tableware shares space with a curated collection of books, tea towels, and treasures for the home.

How do you update and modernize a classic collection?
RP: We look at what was interesting about previous methods and see if we can push that somehow. Every year it gets better; we learn a little more each time we do it.
CB: Every summer and every winter we introduce new things, but they don’t stay with us forever. So we’ll experiment—–play around with color, change the shape, or add a new item—–and then we move on.
Who is your ideal customer?
RP: We don’t focus on anyone in particular. Instead, we make sure we do things well, and that focus has widespread appeal. Often we’ll have three generations of people shopping together, which is something I’ve loved about Heath from the first day we had
A tableau of tableware at the Ferry Building location shows the range of glaze options and styles of stoneware available. This year’s summer collection is featured on the top shelf, above platters, mugs, bowls, and a small teapot from the traditional Coup
A tableau of tableware at the Ferry Building location shows the range of glaze options and styles of stoneware available. This year’s summer collection is featured on the top shelf, above platters, mugs, bowls, and a small teapot from the traditional Coupe line on the second shelf from the top. Dessert bowls, salt and pepper shakers, pitchers, pasta bowls and more round out the display.
What’s next for Heath?

CB: Our annual sale and open studios are both huge events now. We open up the whole factory, and the guys in production work on the weekends making stuff. It’s fun, but a complete madhouse.
RP: We’re searching for really good-quality—–and hopefully American-made—–stemware, which is hard to find. If we can’t find it, we’d love to try to figure out how to make it ourselves. It’s a long-term goal.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016