Employing largely traditional techniques for working with clay and wood, Christien van Bussel is based at a remote, idyllic studio in Aughrim, a small village near Ireland's capital city Dublin. Her work caught the attention of Colin Harmon at 3FE. He was looking for a way to highlight an item on the 3FE coffee menu called “the set," which was designed as a way to reintroduce the idea of drinking espresso to his customers.
“I've always struggled with cups when it comes to coffee. It's important to have the right heat retention, aeration space, milk ratio, size, shape and texture,” explains Harmon. “Much of what was on offer was designed and made for mass consumption commodity coffee. I wanted something that was a better fit for what we are doing at 3FE.” Harmon and consultant Orlaith Ross collaborated on a set of cups with van Bussel. The idea was to develop a design of the classic cup that would help present coffee with and without milk in a balanced way. “The cup is too small for a traditional cappuccino however with the roast and flavor profiles that we prefer at 3FE, it's perfect,” said Harmon. “Conversely, the cup is too large for a traditional espresso, but it's perfect for cooling the espresso and enhancing the aromatics."
van Bussel studied ceramics in Holland at Minerva Art Academy with Geert Lap. Her process begins with creating her own plaster moulds. Each vessel is fashioned from clay-slips, the moulds are then fired in an electric kiln and glazed with a spray-gun to allow the possibility of air brushed designs. For the 3FE cups, a clean white glaze gives them a classic minimalist aesthetic.
van Bussel describes the process for making the new 3FE cups: “The model of the mug was made on the plaster-wheel. The mould is cast over the model to get the negative shape in which the clay slip is poured. It stays in the mould for about an hour. The porous plaster mould soaks up the water in the clay until a thin layer of clay gets stuck to the sides of the mould. After an hour, the wall thickness is right for the mug. The clay dries up quickly. After half an hour, the rim is trimmed. The mug can be taken out in a couple of hours after which the mould can be cast again. When the mugs are dry they are made smooth with a sponge, then they are ready to be fired and glazed."
“In my work I use strong and monumental shapes,” she says. “Geert Lap showed me how to keep shapes simple. I also learned from him the importance of fluent lines to obtain balanced pieces. In art college I came across the ceramics department where I discovered my preference to work in 3D—especially in clay. The shapes I made on the wheel and in moulds were easy to cut and put together to discover different shapes. I like the finish and the quality of a glazed piece."
While Lap was obviously an influence, Van Bussel also cites architecture as a large part of the shapes she creates. “I have always taken pictures of modern architecture like the buildings of Calatrava; the simple and strong shapes give me ideas for my designs,” she says. “The symmetric and monumental shapes of the Art Deco designs with sometimes the repetition of a shape in the decoration appeals to me." The picturesque land and Wicklow Mountains that surround her studio inform the work too. She tells us, “In the morning I feed the hens, donkeys and goats. After that I take the dogs for a walk up our cul-de-sac lane over the hills with beautiful views. The nature and silence of the surroundings make focusing on my work easy."
These handmade limited edition cups embody what 3FE aims to achieve with their coffee menu. To compliment the simple aesthetic of the cups, wood boxes were crafted by Mike and Fiona Snow of Snow. The Scandinavian beech box has been designed to be reminiscent of vintage coffee chests. The set are available from 3FE.
Studio images and tea set photo courtesy of Christien van Bussel, all others courtesy of 3FE