Maarten Baas Brews A Delightful Tea Set With Ear-Like Handles

The Dutch designer creates a limited-edition series of ceramic vessels made of interlocking circles for the green tea and matcha company Sorate.

Maarten Baas has teamed up with the Japanese tea collective Sorate to craft a special-edition set of light grey ceramic cups and a teapot made for drinking ceremony-grade green tea and matcha. Dubbed “Inner Circle,” the set both conceptually and literally references the circle of people one shares over intimate conversations with tea, as well as the vessels’ concentric circular shape. Baas took symmetrical forms and toyed with the notion of fashioning tableware entirely out of imperfect shapes that almost resemble circles. Like all of his works, the set falls somewhere between art and design—his theoretical approach lent itself not only to beauty, but also a highly functional design. 

Founded by the Italian-born, New York–based entrepreneur Silvia Mella, Sorate offers teas and matcha sourced from Ujitawara—the Uji region of Kyoto, Japan—from a family-owned farm run by renowned sencha tea creator, Nagatani Soenon. Baas imbued the spirit of tea making—considering Soenon’s knowledge of hundreds of years of brewing—in this delightful limited-edition tea set. We caught up with Baas to learn about the collaboration, his creative process, and how the pandemic affected his work. 

Photo by Kenton Thatcher

What have you been up to during the pandemic? 

When the lockdown was kicking in, I thought “I’m not going to work in a way it wasn’t meant to be: keeping distance, working with fewer people, no traveling, no events to work for, and continuously changing plans according to changing regulations.” 2020 was like a party where you think, “this is not my evening, I better go home early.” I took advantage of it: to have a long hibernation, and to do other things.

How do you stay creative during these difficult times?

Creativity means not depending on circumstances, so it’s never hard to be creative. The more limited you are, the more creative you need to be. In my case, the choice to stop working was very creative. It’s very uncreative to keep on pushing in the way you did before coronavirus happened. Of course, people adapt to the circumstances, but they still do the same. I think you should let go all the ideas you had and rebuild it from scratch.

I try to think: what if the world would have been in the lockdown situation since I was born, what would I do? Would I have done the same job? Would I have done it in the same way? Like that, you really take the problem by the roots, rather than the symptoms. 

This set of tableware seems more formally “useful” than some of your other works. 

I’m very proud of the clocks I made for Carpenters Workshop Gallery. I’m also happy with much smaller objects, such as the tableware for Valerie Objects, which were adapted for Sorate. Finally, something I can use every day myself!

In your opinion, what makes good tableware? 

I never define “what makes a good…” Everyone should decide that for themselves. There are no rules. 

What research and development was done to develop the tea sets? 

First, I made drawings. A cup, a plate, a saucer, and so on, are basically all circles that relate to each other. Simply drawing circles can be the base of a whole set. The eye catcher of the series is the solid ears of the cups. My intern made 3-D models, and she made the ears closed because it was easier. But that was exactly the unique touch it should have—it was a happy coincidence. 

What inspired you to make circles the primary design element?

I discovered that all tableware items consist of circles within circles. At the same time, the circle is considered the most perfect symmetric shape. I played with that notion and drew spontaneous, far-from-perfect circles with a pencil. 

How long did the process take from conception to creation? 

It took one year from the start to the final product. It first starts with sketches and 3-D renderings, then mock up models, after that testing the material, the glazes, and the color. I’m very happy with the dark grey color of the porcelain. It’s the color of the clay, so all through the material, rather than the glaze. That makes it pure and serene.

The tea sets are available online through Sorate’s website and select retailers worldwide.

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