Drive down West Woodstock Road in rural Vermont and you’ll come upon Farmhouse Pottery just off the street, the Ottauquechee River babbling in the backyard and wooded hills rising softly in the distance. Pull in for a visit and there might be a dog on the front stoop, some chickens clucking about out front, perhaps two adorable little blonde girls chasing them about. The building, formerly the Lewis Bible Bindery, was vacant for a decade before it was revived as the company’s headquarters.
It’s a fitting tableau for the brand begun by Zoe and James Zilian (their daughters, Ava and Mia, are most likely chasing the chickens). In a short five years, Farmhouse Pottery has established itself as a heritage maker of stoneware (and much more), and is now partnering with Food52 on an exclusive collection of kitchen and home items like handcrafted wooden bowls, ceramic spoon rests, candles, and more. For the couple, it’s all about authenticity, legacy, and an all-American spirit. As they state on their site: “We are America’s studio pottery and this is our American Dream.”
For James, the dream began when he was a young child: “I always tell people it was the 6th grade. Mr. Burrows’ art class was the first time I sat at the wheel and I was just enamored and drawn in,” he says. “It was like the most exciting thing I had ever done. And the excitement for me never really went away.” That creative spirit led him to pursue a degree in fine art from the Maine College of Art, where he met his wife and co-founder, Zoe.
They were both quite taken with pottery from the get-go, selling their wares at farmers markets. But it wasn’t until 2012 that Zoe began Farmhouse Pottery, creating their first website from the basement of their Vermont home. James would throw pots in his spare time, and Zoe would do the rest. By 2014, thanks to their meteoric success, it was time to move out of their basement and into the 30,000-square-foot workshop and storefront they occupy today.
Visitors will find a sublime retail space full of their wares, which go far beyond their signature stoneware; there’s also enamelware, wood furniture, Vermont honey, linens, and so much more. But the star is their stoneware and its 200-some different designs, from serving bowls to soup mugs, cheese stones to match strikers. And though the options are many, they’re all unmistakably Farmhouse Pottery creations: simple, utilitarian, partially dipped in an ever-so-slightly translucent organic milk glaze, the “raw” hand-formed clay peeking through, stamped with their laurel leaf logo. “We have a love of natural materials and I think that’s really key,” says James. “So whether it’s wood or stone, that’s the beginnings of the inspiration, and then it’s about simple design. A lot of it is about utility.”
The pieces may appear simple, but the process of designing and creating them is anything but. The Zilians say that each stoneware item is touched about 25 times before completion. It begins when their proprietary mix of clay arrives at the workshop on one-ton pallets. The resident potters then get to work in the serene, light-filled studio that abuts the shop, with galvanized buckets of water and American-made potters’ wheels at each workstation; the earthy smell of wet clay hanging in the air; the whir of wheels, heavy thuds of clay being kneaded, the convivial chatter of the craftsmen. After each piece is made, it stays overnight in a humidity-controlled room before being left for seven days in the studio to dry. Two rounds of kiln firing—one to cure the piece and the second for the glaze—finish the job. (Curious visitors can tour the workshop and even take a class.)
“She’s the minimalist, you know. I’m sort of the maker,” says James. “We end up being this really neat combination and we make things that we like, things that we live with. It’s not so much about having a lot of them.” Indeed, the pieces are meant to be used, not just displayed on a shelf. In fact, according to the co-owner of a local Woodstock restaurant, after continuous hard use, only one of their 36 Farmhouse Pottery mugs has broken; a true testament to the sturdy design and the Zilians’ particularly durable blend of clay. “The idea is that these pieces are for a lifetime,” says James. “So you’re not going to really get tired of them. You’re going to wanna live with them and pass them down.”
Watch our video celebrating the Food52 x Farmhouse Pottery collection up at the top, and check out the full assortment of Farmhouse Pottery goods in the Food52 Shop here.