Couple Joel and Helena Haran on creating artisan furniture and ceramics

On a farm in rural Cornwall, husband and wife duo Joel and Helena Haran are handcrafting contemporary ceramics and furniture with a nod to age-old techniques

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Surrounded by sprawling fields and rugged coastline, the Studio Haran workshop is a haven of cool minimalism. While Helena heads up the production of the ceramic lighting, planters and tableware, Joel is in charge of the simple yet elegant furniture – but the couple often work in collaboration. When asked if they enjoy working together, the pair laugh. ‘Meeting at university was a good coincidence,’ explains Helena. ‘Quite helpful in the end!’

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What’s your background?
JH: My dad was a bit of a project person, so growing up I tried to make the most of his messy shed. I first got into making furniture while studying product design at school, and I then went on to study Sustainable Product Design at Falmouth University. The course was really broad, with a great focus on designing ethical furniture.
HH: Similarly to Joel, I loved making things when I was young and I was forever cooking and baking in the kitchen. Joel and I met on the same course at university and we got married in our second year. From then onwards we knew that we wanted to work together. We focused on woodwork to begin with and then, after graduating, I decided to do evening courses in ceramics.

How do you work together?
JH: From a design point of view, each and every decision goes through both of us. We’re always asking each other questions and for advice.
HH: We’ve tried to teach each other skills, so we’re quite multi-disciplined now. We’re currently collaborating to bring the texture of woodgrain to our ceramics. It’s lovely: the effect looks just like ripples in sand dunes.

How important is sustainability for you?
HH: We create pieces with end-of-life disassembly in mind, so we’re often thinking about how things can be broken down and recycled.
JH: We like to create items that can be kept, cherished and passed on to the next generation. We never scrimp on materials and, although our designs take longer to make than some, we hope that they’ll last for years longer.

Helena Haran pours slip into a mould to create a ceramic planter

What inspires you?
JH: I find a lot of my inspiration when I’m away from work and have time to switch of from the day-to-day tasks. It’s when I can find space in my mind to get excited about new ideas.
HH: For me, a huge influence on my designs is Cornwall’s landscape. I’m always trying to mirror Cornish colours, such as the grey tones in the slate rocks. We both take so much inspiration from the outdoors and love swimming and surfing together.

How would you describe your workshop?
HH: We’re based in an old cattle shed, surrounded by farmland, so it’s not unusual to hear cows giving birth outside!
JH: Yesterday, the farmer needed help rounding up a herd, so we both dashed out to assist. We’re so lucky: we step out of the workshop and are encircled by fields and the countryside. We’ve painted the space entirely white, so it’s like a blank canvas filled with light. It might sound uninspiring to some, but it works for us.

Why do you choose to use traditional techniques?
JH: We like age-old processes that have lasted through the centuries. Back in the day, people really knew how to make things! We’re carving our own style by using established methods to craft timeless and minimal pieces.

Joel Haran uses tools to carve a wooden table leg

What is your design process?
HH: Before I even touch any clay, Joel and I make a mould together. Joel turns a wooden form on the lathe, which we make a plaster mould from. I pour liquid slip into the mould, tip out the excess and leave it to dry. I then turn the mould upside down and the piece pops out – it’s just like making a sandcastle. It’s then left to dry and finished of with sponging and sanding before going into the kiln.
JH: Designs often start with a pencil sketch on paper. I always have to think beyond how a piece of furniture will look to how each individual element will ft together. I then make lots of prototypes using scrap wood to check strength and proportions, before creating an accurate computer design to refer back to. I can then build a piece of furniture from the actual timber.

What are your plans for the future?
HH: We’d love to take on apprentices and work experience placements at our studio. A chance to keep traditional skills alive.

See more designs from Studio Haran at shop.studioharan.co.uk

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This interview was first published in the Art Issue 2018 of Homes & Antiques.