Touring Heath Ceramics | Centsational Style

When I enter retail stores or boutique shops I often find myself drawn to ceramic vessels in beautiful colors, patterns, or shapes. Ceramics are an integral part of design for their practical use and beautiful aesthetic, and the craft dates back thousands of years. Each vessel we see or purchase was once just a lump of clay until a single or group of artisans transformed it into a thing of purpose and beauty.

I took up ceramics two years ago and fell in love with the process and learned about all the stages. I started with hand building then moved to the wheel and I’ve experimented with various clay bodies, glazes, and tools to bring my ideas to life. As a result I have great respect and admiration for ceramicists and the industry and I will geek out when I talk to anyone who knows anything about ceramics.

On Sunday I took a tour of Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, famous throughout the design world for their craftsmanship and quality. The company has recognizable patterns such as their 1940s Coupe line and Plaza line, and has collaborated with chef Alice Waters for their Chez Panisse line of dinnerware.

How cool it was to be shown the insides of the organization where the magic happens! If you’re a fan of learning how things are made, here’s a glimpse inside and also a summary of what goes into the making of decorative and functional ceramics created and sold by Heath.

Concept & Experimentation

Heath Ceramics was founded by Edith Heath in 1948 when she began doing pottery on a small scale, throwing on a wheel to create original designs that were the beginning of forms that are still sold to this day (see the historical catalog here). She founded her company in the post war era and in a time when a woman running her own company was rare.

Many of the vessels and dinnerware pieces that are sold to this day were created by Edith Heath. In house, the team at Heath is still testing new designs, glaze colors, and finishing techniques for their ceramic lines.

The sister San Francisco location hosts the Heath Clay Studio where even more experimentation occurs for new designs and glaze colors and techniques are tested.

Creating Forms: Slip Casting & Jigger and Jolley

The clay body is made in house and sourced from a local quarry. In a large tub like machine, the clay is mixed with water to form slip which is a medley of clay and water that is the consistency of thin cake mix. Plaster molds are made in house and the slip is carefully poured into the molds. After a short passage of time the remaining slip is poured out of the mold and the shape of vessel is formed.

Plaster molds allow the company to maintain consistency of size and shape for each piece that is formed in the facility. Plaster molds have a limited shelf life and use, so they are marked with black tic marks to indicate how many times that mold has been used before it’s retired.

Other popular shapes for dinnerware and tableware are created through the jigger and jolly machinery. A jigger is a shaped tool is slowly brought down onto a clay body on a rotating plaster mold. This technique is used to make hollowed out plates and bowls.


Fine Tuning

Once pieces are shaped, they are set aside on shelves to allow moisture to evaporate, next they are trimmed and sanded for uniformity. Instead of a low heat bisque firing common in most ceramics studios, Heath skips that step an allows the slip casted pieces to become bone dry then they are rotated to the glazing stations.


The Glazing Process

For ceramics to be waterproof and non porous, they must be vitrified through the application of glaze and a subsequent high firing process. Glazes are applied to the surface of a tile or vessel that give it its final color and finish. Glazes are hand sprayed individually in small booths by skilled craftsmen then carefully measured by weight for consistency of application.

Glazes are made of a variety of chemical formulas and an opaque color before firing which is not indicative of the final color and finish of any pieces.

Because glaze becomes a glass like substance when fired at a high temperature, it’s important to remove just enough from the base of the piece so it doesn’t stick to a kiln shelf. Belt sander machinery removes just enough glaze from the bottom of vessels so that it can be fired successfully in a kiln and easily removed when cooled.

If you turn any ceramic piece upside down you’ll notice there’s a portion of the base where glaze is removed and the clay body is exposed, this is done so that the pieces don’t stick to kiln shelves!


The final step in the creation of their modern ceramics happens in a kiln. It takes skill to load these just right. At Heath they use top hat gas kilns for larger production.

Glazed pieces are carefully loaded on kiln shelves then the kilns are fired up to 2000 degrees where the glazes melt and become matte or glassy in the heating and cooling process which takes up to eight hours.

Quality Control

Once cooled, the pieces go through quality control. Unusable or pieces deemed imperfect are labeled and separated and often sold at a discount as “seconds”. You can buy the slightly imperfect seconds in the local shop.


It’s fascinating to see the process go from a gray clay body to a slip casted piece then to the fine tuning stage, glazed, then fired in a kiln. Making ceramics is very hands on and time consuming but yields a beautiful result!


Heath is a vertically integrated employee owned company, they design, make, and sell all in house. They are also a certified B corporation with a showroom open to the public to shop.

Heath also sells their dinnerware, decorative ceramics, and gifts on their website.  Visit the Heath Ceramics San Francisco location Monday–Friday 10am–6pm and Saturday–Sunday 10am–5pm. The Sausalito factory and showroom is open to the public everyday from 10 – 5 p.m.


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