Say hello to Laura Wolfgang of Wolfgang Ceramics.
Welcome to My Life at Home, where we slow down for just a minute to share a glimpse into the lives of food lovers we'd love to get to know better. Kick off your shoes and get comfy!
Here at Food52, we work closely with multiple people across multiple teams, all at once. For a small but growing company, this arrangement helps create camaraderie among us. It also introduces us to the various talents working in our midst, whom we wouldn't otherwise get to know.
Laura Wolfgang is just one of those superstars. When we think of the term "girl crush," Laura immediately comes to mind. Not only does she kill it in her role as our senior product manager with her get-it-done attitude, she possesses the calm, laid-back kind of demeanor we all dream of having. And just when you think she couldn't get cooler, you learn this California girl casually plays on an amateur pool team (!) and is an incredible ceramicist on the side. What?!
Yes, when she's not working her day gig, Laura is throwing things down on the wheel for Wolfgang Ceramics out of a communal studio in Brooklyn. She focuses, foremost, on functional vessels while striving for simple elegance.
"I’m less interested in creating decorative work that remains untouched in people’s homes," Laura tells me. "I love the idea that each piece I make will move from my own hands, starting as a formless lump of clay and eventually transforming into a glazed vessel, to someone else’s hands as they enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal at home."
Tour through her warm and inviting Bed-Stuy apartment below, and read on find out how pottery helped Laura learn how to let go.
HANA ASBRINK: Hi, Laura, please tell us about yourself.
LAURA WOLFGANG: I grew up in San Ysidro, the district of San Diego just north of the U.S.–Mexico border, which happens to be the busiest land-border crossing in the world. It’s not the San Diego that people generally think about or visit, but I credit it for teaching me the importance of openness, inclusivity, and diversity; the privilege of opportunity; and of course, my deep appreciation for Mexican food. I left home to get my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, and spent the next few years bouncing around the Bay Area before finally moving to N.Y.C. seven years ago.
HA: What do you like most about your Brooklyn home?
LW: My fiancé and I have lived in our apartment in Bed-Stuy for the last two years. I love that our space is such a reflection of our interests, priorities, and values. It may not be particularly well-designed and we certainly don’t know the life-changing magic of decluttering firsthand, but it’s comfortable and lived in and is such a perfect representation of our relationship.
Somewhat unintentionally, we’ve assembled a rather eclectic and delightful mix of artifacts from throughout our lives, both together and separate (including loads of pottery experiments!). The result is an inviting and intimate little space that’s perfect for nights in and casual hangouts with friends.
HA: How did you first get into pottery?
LW: While I took some pottery classes in high school and college, I didn’t get into wheel-throwing until fairly recently. I had just quit an amateur pool team, which I’d loved for many reasons, but I was interested in replacing its role in my life with something that was less competitive, provided more of a creative and productive outlet, and didn’t require spending four-plus hours in a bar every week.
Like so many others, especially in recent years, I instantly fell in love with pottery for its tactility and the satisfaction of creating something with my hands. For someone who works in digital media and e-commerce and spends admittedly too much time immersed in online distractions, ceramics is a really wonderful contrast. It’s distinctly physical, requiring all of my senses to read the clay, and intuit every movement and action that goes into shaping the piece. And time and temperature are as critical to the process as the clay itself.
I realize this must sound cheesy and overly dramatic, but I love how pottery allows me to exercise my humanness in a way that I can’t when I’m looking at a screen. In turn, each handmade piece bears the marks of our humanity in the form of unpredictable nuances and beautiful imperfections.
HA: Form vs. function: Who wins?
LW: With the exception of art, I believe that an object’s form should be principally dictated by its function. At this point in my ceramics journey, I’m primarily interested in creating functional pieces that end up in people’s kitchens, on their tables, and most importantly, in their hands.
I considered this interaction a lot when I was deciding on the form my Food52 mugs would take. I wanted to create something that was keenly functional—a mug that held a good amount of volume, was narrow enough to minimize sloshing liquids and retain heat, and a handle designed for comfortable holding—while striving for a simple elegance and a weight, texture, and overall feel that was pleasant to hold and drink from. I’ve had the enormous benefit of working with incredible designers who’ve taught me that form and design should be in the service of function and I try to practice this with every piece I make.
HA: Describe your decorating style. What (and who) are you influenced by?
LW: I wouldn’t say that my approach to decorating is especially deliberate. I value the feeling of coziness and the utility of working spaces more than any particular look. I’ll often admire beautifully sparse or otherwise well-decorated interiors on Instagram and in magazines, but I know that those looks are simply not my style.
Instead, my home is full of crowded bookcases and stacks of books, comfortable seating and warm lighting, colorful textiles and vintage rugs, big, leafy plants, artwork from friends, and random tchotchkes on every available surface. This all amounts to a rather cluttered, but homey aesthetic that feels more genuinely me.
HA: What are your hobbies?
LW: Haha, pottery! I also really enjoy cooking, listening to podcasts, and reading. Lately, I’ve been on a real sci-fi/fantasy kick and will read anything from N.K. Jemisin that you put in front of me.
HA: If your walls could talk, what would they say?
LW: “You should probably donate that to Goodwill.”
HA: Do you have a signature drink or dinner party fare?
LW: I absolutely love beans. They’re without a doubt my favorite food. I was thrilled when I finally got off of the waitlist for the Rancho Gordo Bean Club and started receiving quarterly shipments of their delicious heirloom beans, each variety so pretty and nuanced. Because of their freshness, they cook much faster than ordinary dried beans (especially with the help of an Instant Pot!) and it’s so easy to bring together a simple and delightful meal with beans, greens, a little Parmesan, and crusty sourdough.
HA: Where will we find you on any given weeknight?
LW: I really love to come home after work, briefly catch up with my fiancé, and then relocate to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I’ll often pour a glass of wine, put on an audiobook or podcast, and poke around the fridge and pantry until an idea strikes me. For a long time, cooking often felt like a semi-stressful and often unpredictable burden, but over the years I’ve really come to appreciate it as a way to center myself, especially during the week.
Preparing dinner is a really wonderful opportunity to be alone, experiment in a relatively controlled environment, and prepare something nourishing to share. I consider this time a bit sacred, and unless I have company over, I generally don’t accept help because I prefer to spend this time in solitude.
HA: What is your ultimate comfort food?
LW: White rice, scrambled eggs, tocino (Filipino cured pork), and sliced mango, prepared by my mom. Just thinking about it makes me homesick!
HA: What do you always keep in your fridge?
LW: Ever since I got a Vitamix a few months ago, we’ve kept a fresh batch of homemade nut milk in our fridge. We’ll blend together almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts with a few cups of water, a date or two for a little sweetness, and maybe a handful of coconut flakes or a dash of vanilla extract. It’s a great addition to granola, coffee, and smoothies.
HA: What is your favorite way to relax after a long week at the studio?
LW: Since I have a day job and spend a lot of my free time at the studio, I end up working pretty continuously. But when I have a night off, I confess that my fiancé and I will spend arguably too much time perusing the horror movie selection available on our various streaming TV services before picking one and posting up on the sofa for the night. Horror movies are often really terrible, so finding good ones is both challenging and rewarding!
HA: How do you juggle pottery and your day job? What does self-care look like for you? (I know making ceramics but also be pretty meditative, but it also requires a lot of focus and attention!)
LW: In general, I try not to put too much pressure on myself, which can be difficult because it goes against my nature. I tend to be rather critical and demanding of myself. I set high expectations and I constantly scrutinize my performance. Pottery has actually been an excellent teacher in this regard. Because I can spend weeks on a piece that develops a crack in its final firing, or some other mishap that instantly obliterates so much time and effort, it’s a real lesson in letting go and moving on.
It’s an excellent reminder that it’s not always necessary to be in total control or to take things too seriously, and that I can still learn from my experiences and mistakes without wallowing in defeat or indulging in self-criticism. In short, I’ve been working on chilling out and being kinder to myself.
HA: What's on your playlist right now? What do you like to listen to while you're making your wares?
LW: I’ll usually alternate between podcasts and audiobooks while I’m in the studio. I recently finished listening to all seven Harry Potter audiobooks, narrated by the inimitable Jim Dale, and have recommended them to anyone who’ll stop and listen to me. They were truly a bright spot in my life over the last couple months. I’ve got a few podcasts in my rotation right now, including NYT’s The Daily, Heavyweight, Reply All, Every Little Thing, and Levar Burton Reads. I generally don’t listen to much music while I work, but just today I listened to the new Robyn album three times in a row!
HA: Do you have favorite Food52 recipe?
LW: I recently made this recipe for Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Parmesan and absolutely loved it. And perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m also a huge fan of Merrill’s Brothy, Garlicky Beans.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Be sure to catch Laura in action in the video above. What are your favorite ways to unwind after a long week? Are you a podcast/audio book fan like Laura? Let us know!