The distinctive marbled pottery known as faience d’Apt, or Aptware, evokes the spirit of Provence as surely as fragrant fields of lavender. “A centuries-old maison without faience d’Apt is just an empty house,” says Parisian Eric Goujou, proprietor of the shop La Tuile à Loup. He has helped reignite interest in this quintessential French country tableware. Vintage or freshly crafted, “Apt gives character to a room and to a house, no matter where you live,” he says.
French faience lover Eric Goujou is the elegant proprietor of La Tuile à Loup, a favorite destination for designers in search of Aptware.
Goujou isn’t the only one dazzled by the pulsating patterns and delicate marzipan-like detailing. French fashion icons Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy dressed their own dining tables with the luscious swirling earthen-ware as did artist Marc Chagall. American designers Carolyne Roehm, Alexa Hampton, and Alex Papachristidis, among others, snap it up today.
Designer Carolyne Roehm sets her table with handmade Aptware trimmed in white vine handles. Contemporary French ceramicists conjure up the beautiful blue marble look with colored clay not glaze.
The glassy glaze plays up the tightly knit swirl-and-flow pattern. “It looks like Venetian marbled papers, and I adore the white trim shaped into branches, leaves, and flowers,” says Roehm, author of A Passion for Blue & White, who can’t get enough of the radiant blue, natch.
Hampton is similarly smitten but by a different color. “I think there must be some dog brain involvement. It looks like chocolate swirls—delicious.”
Alexa Hampton scored this octagonal Aptware dish from Goujou’s shop.
The tiny town in southern France where Aptware was first made some 300 years ago, Apt (and the surrounding environs of the Luberon) is still home to skilled artisans devoted to the region’s ochre-rich soil and traditional techniques for making the mixed-clay designs. “But Apt artisans can also live anywhere today,” Goujou says.
Unlike Burgundy wine, which comes only from the region where the grapes are grown, Aptware today is defined by the tightly marbled pattern, not the location of the maker or clay deposits.
In contrast to other ceramics, Aptware is never painted. The marbled effect is achieved through pressing different colored clays into a plaster mold rather than turning it on a wheel. “Their clay recipes are family secrets,” Goujou says.
A vintage blue vase in a flamed design by Joseph Bernard.
Aptware also requires a difficult double firing. “A lot can and does go wrong during the firing process,” says Goujou, who works directly with master artisans, commissioning eye-popping platters, tureens, and center-pieces that attract global style setters.
Besides the marbled patterns, another sought-after mixed-clay design, flammé, became popular during the Art Deco period. The dynamic zigzag flammé, with wide veins of flaming color, was developed by master craftsman Léon Sagy and evolved by the Bernard-Faucon family, seven generations of Apt ceramicists who closed shop in 2002. Faience by this atelier pops up online (1stdibs.com and rubylane.com), but not often.
A vintage mixed-clay round dish in a flamed design by Joseph Bernard.
Today’s fresh looks are bold shapes (some echoing neoclassical silverware) and daring color combos, such as glorious greens and robust cobalt blues. Still, French traditionalists reach for warm, earthy tones, such as nougatine, subtle umbers, and creams, Goujou says. Americans prefer the punchier palette.
Whether tight or loose curls and trimmed in leafy branches or pruned, mixed-clay faience appears on effortlessly stylish tables. “The looser marbles look more modern today,” notes Goujou, who himself owns both. “But true faience d’Apt is timeless and people treat it like gold.”
An Insider Look
Aptware consists of different colored clays pressed tightly together in a mold. The surface is then scraped to expose veins of color. There are many iterations of terres mêlées, the general term for mixed clays, but purists like Goujou make a point of defining Aptware as only the tightly marbled pieces often trimmed with white decoration. Looser, roomier patterns (think marbled cheesecake) are referred to as terres mêlées or as a specific design such as flammé, meaning flame.