Meet the couple behind People Will Always Need Plates, who have been serving up witty, original designs for more than a decade. This September, the brand will exhibit a special collection of enamelware at the Vessel Gallery as part of the London Design Festival

In contemporary design, it’s very easy for practitioners to become introspective, and to refuse to identify with the modern world. All too often, the temptation is to become seduced by one’s own rhetoric of genius and to produce the kind of products that very few people would ever want at home, or anywhere else for that matter, even if they could afford the often absurd prices.

This is where the People Will Always Need Plates duo, Robin Farquhar and Hannah Dipper, have carved out a niche for themselves. Specialising in high-quality ceramics design that have been commissioned by many of the country’s leading museums and galleries, their work is accessible, interesting and hugely accomplished, marking them out as two of the design world’s most distinctive and exciting talents.    

They work closely with Notting Hill’s Vessel gallery, a relationship that they describe as ‘a big part of our lives for a long time now, due to our knowing Nadia and Angel for many years; Hannah and Angel were contemporaries at the RCA and Vessel were the first stockists of Hannah’s work in 2001.  They were then our first stockist of architectural plates after the V&A. We’re thrilled and hugely proud that the gallery is to launch our newest project – it’s the perfect place for us.’

Their own relationship has been an important part of their collaboration (they initially met through a mutual friend at a party, and then re-encountered each other 12 years ago), but claim that they had ‘barely’ begun dating before discovering that they could collaborate together, something that they describe as ‘quite a big deal for both of us.’

They come from different artistic backgrounds; Hannah’s ceramics, glass education and craft training ensures that she’s interested in materials and process, and is hugely concerned with the suitability of material to function, whereas Robin’s engineering past helps things work better. Nonetheless, as they say, ‘years of work in the branding and exhibitions industry ensures that there’s always a clear idea of what we do and how we present that in our work.’ The impetus behind People Will Always Need Plates came from the V&A Village Fete, where they developed an idea for a quiz of architecture and plates. One of the V&A shop buyers was at the fete and suggested that they stock their wares there, and thus the company was born, initially from evenings and weekends from a tiny Battersea studio flat, until Hannah quit her full-time role at Conran and Partners and ‘the endless juggle of consultancy’ with their own brand began.

They reject any suggestions that their work’s witty, perhaps mindful of the associations with tweeness, which they certainly aren’t. ‘You could call it quirky perhaps, if you don’t much love concrete – we try and celebrate the stuff that other people find banal, ugly or just invisible. When we see Brutalist architecture in London, we see past the rain-stained grey to the monumental geometry and cohesive beauty of late Modernist brilliance – in our eyes, the Barbican is utterly fabulous.’ While they agree about the importance of humour in design, they also point out that ‘it can lead to products becoming one-liners and then quickly landfill’ so they approach wit with great caution.


Robin and Hannah founders of People Will Always Need Plates

Their aims in design are  ‘function and joy, along with a sense of timelessness over fashion and understanding the value of carefully-considered colour. We don’t take it all too seriously, but aim to create useful products that are used and enjoyed, not thrown away.’

The best praise that they ever received was when a customer said that he bought their work, much as he’d buy an Eames chair or Aalto vase. Eames and Aalto are big inspirations for them, along with Hannah’s architectural hero Ernö Goldfinger (‘I was delighted when Goldfinger’s home Willow Road asked us for wares’), she’s also a Jasper Morrison admirer.

Buildings and their contents play a central role in their work – as they say, ‘museums and galleries seem to love what we do – it’s become a good chunk of our business as museum shops remain popular, even more since the recession and funding cuts.’ 

They have numerous plans for the future, after the current Ten by Two project with the Vessel Gallery, including launching an entirely new tableware range, which they describe as ‘still architectural, but covering all bowls, plates, tea sets, pitchers and so on, that we’ve not been able to do before. Then, more of what we’re doing – consultancy work with interesting clients to pay the mortgage, allowing us the time to indulge ourselves with self-motivated projects.’

With their integrity, intelligence and quirky sensibilities, there can be little doubt that whatever the talented Robin and Hannah come up with next will be as groundbreaking as their earlier work.

 Ten by Two, an exhibition of limited edition works marking the 10th anniversary of People Will Always Need Plates will be on display at the Vessel Gallery, 11th Sept to 11th Oct 2014;


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