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When Alison met Alice

We’re celebrating 150 years since Lewis Carroll first published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When it came to creating a limited edition tea set to mark the occasion in style, we knew exactly who to call…

Alison Appleton is one of Britain’s leading designers of tableware, and we’ve been delighted to work with her to create our new 150 years of Alice Collection. Since establishing her British Ceramic Design Studio in 1998 she’s worked with a number of international brands and fashion houses, and she draws her influences from all across the world – from the artisan techniques of ceramicists in China, Taiwan and Japan to childhood memories of her grandmother’s tea set. We met Alison over a cuppa to discuss her latest work. 

It was a real treat to collaborate with you on the Alice 150 year’s limited edition collection. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspirations behind the collection?

Whittard were very keen to keep the spirit of the original illustrations by John Tenniel so it was really a case of choosing the characters that best evoke a tea party and colouring them in a fresh new pastel palette.

The collection is absolutely perfect for afternoon tea – by the banks of a river, on a roof terrace, around the kitchen table… Where’s your ideal place to stage afternoon tea?

I am in the process of having a fabulous garden canopy made, exactly for this purpose. We are designing and making the frame from bamboo and covering it with swathes of sumptuous silky fabrics.  Inspired by historic garden parties, it will provide shade in the summer for afternoon tea.

Until that is done Sunday afternoons in the garden is the perfect place for us to indulge in one of our favourite treats.

Do you remember the first piece of tableware or ceramics you really fell in love with? A childhood mug, or perhaps a teapot kept for special occasions?

That is easy, my grandmother was a great cook and very hospitable, she also had lots of children so her house was always full and she was always making pots of tea, served in very pretty bone china cups. I was enchanted!

Can you tell me about your influences from other countries? Are there any particular techniques you’ve learnt abroad or any styles you’ve applied to your own work?

Apart from being in love with our own tea ceremony I have also been most influenced by China, Taiwan and Japan. I have great respect for the tea ceremonies from these areas and have designed teapots and accessories with this in mind. Much of my work is a fusion of East West culture. I have used a clay very similar to Yixing and combined it with contemporary Western glazes and shapes.

Can you give our readers a sense of your studio space? How many people are there in your team and what different roles do they play?

My studio is part of a factory conversion in the Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool; it is a short walk from the city centre and the Albert Dock. It is glass fronted and has a mezzanine office upstairs; we use it as a creative space, a showroom, meeting place and sales office.  My eldest daughter Helena looks after sales and marketing, Michael and Tom take care of our website, Mary and Jean do the accounts and Mimi looks after the dispatches.

Do you have a favourite book?

I am a voracious reader of a very eclectic range of books, this year I went to the Oxford and Hay literary festivals. I bought a new book called ‘On the Wilder Shores of Love a Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch. Lesley was born in London in 1904 and died in the South of France 103 years later. Her story is full of funny, engaging tales from her very extraordinary life. I also loved that she carried her teapot and cups with her across Afghanistan, on the Trans Siberian railway, everywhere. It was typical of her uncompromising style that tea must always be brewed and served properly. I absolutely agree!

What is your morning routine before getting down to work?

I don’t have a big breakfast, I usually have a pink grapefruit and a light tea, at the moment I am working my way through a large bag on Dung Ting oolong from Taiwan.

I try to walk to work, through the park but often end up driving!

Where would you like to live if you had the choice of anywhere in the world?

I love beaches and city centres so I think the ideal would be East Hampton on Long Island, New York.

We know you’re a big fan of loose-leaf tea. Do you have a preference of teas for different times of day?

As I said on Monday to Friday I have Oolong for breakfast, generally a variety of green teas during the day, in the evening, after supper I like Mint, Camomile or Ayurvedic herbal infusions. At the weekend when I have more time for breakfast I love a tasty black blend with fresh bread, butter and home made marmalade.

What’s your mug of the moment?

I mostly use one of my Camellia mugs, at the weekend, Darcy.

Do you have a favourite artwork or piece of music?

Music will signpost a sentimental journey through all our lives, my favourites tunes are far too many to mention. At the moment I am enjoying Zaz and her new album Paris.

We know you have an expert eye for interior design. Do you have a favourite room in your house, and how would you describe it?

I decorated my bedroom with Neisha Crosland’s Opal Caravan wallpaper years ago. I love it so much; it creates just the right mix of splendour and appeals to the romantic traveller in me. I have an antique wood and cane French bed, two giant armoire wardrobes a pale wooden floor and a cupboard full of gorgeous linens that I collect on my travels. The latest find was made last weekend in a flea market in Portugal.

We find that tea drinkers tend to have a good head on their shoulders – perhaps it’s about taking the time for reflection. How would you describe the good life?

Being happy is about people and happy, joyful relationships everything else is secondary. Sharing a lovingly made cup of tea with friends and loved ones is something we have done for hundreds of years, long may it continue!

And finally… What tea are you drinking right now?

Just treated myself to a cup of Badamtam First Flush Darjeeling.  Its delicious!

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