These Cool, Contemporary Planters Have Midcentury Modern Roots

Informed by California’s Case Study Houses, the spare ceramic planters from Monstruosus have a personality of their own.

Monstruosus, which takes its name from a genetically deformed species of cactus, creates pared-down planters that act as stages for the natural drama of their floral occupants. Before founding the company last year, Herman Miller alum Sam Bigio was obsessed with the pottery he saw in photographs of California’s Case Study Houses—specifically, with how the soft clay and lush greenery complemented the architecture’s stark lines and cool materials. Today, at his Portland, Oregon–based studio, a team of 12 artisans make Monstruosus’s slip-cast earthenware planters by hand. While the vessels are informed by their midcentury progenitors, they take a shape of their own: Three spare, geometric versions are available in a matte black or white glaze. Surface talked to Bigio about Monstruosus’s roots, process, and plans to introduce an all-new species to its collection.

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Model 1 planter with white glaze.

Tell us about how Monstruosus came about. 
I moved to New York in 2012 to pursue a Master’s degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons School of Design and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. A few weeks after my move, I was hired by [modern furniture manufacturer] Herman Miller as its global styling manager and worked on both in tandem. Monstruosus was born out of my unsuccessful search for simple yet beautifully crafted ceramic planters for my projects. After years of working in the design industry, I realized the planter was an object that had been sort of left behind, and decided it was time to reincorporate it into the design conversation—and let it tell some stories of its own.

What are the driving forces behind your work?  
Monstruosus is driven by a passion for design and an obsession with ceramics. We create simple, well-designed, affordable earthenware planters for the discerning eye. From living spaces to workspaces, you will find us wherever there is room for individuality. 

An artisan pours pure clay into a cast at Monstruosus's Portland, Oregon, studio.
An artisan shelves a kiln-fired Model 3 planter.

What does good design mean to you?
Design should stand the test of time. It should be as inspirational as it is accessible. Monstruosus was originally inspired by the planters seen in the homes of Arts & Architecture Magazine’s Case Study Houses Program (1945–1966), sponsored by its then-editor John Entenza. [Like those houses,] our planters and designed to be relevant to today and tomorrow.

What projects do you currently have in the works?
We have a few more pieces we’ve started to develop as part of our core collection; those will hopefully be available by the middle of next year. Also, we’ve started conversations with two of our favorite industrial designers about developing our new Studio collection, which will be a collaboration with a select group of designers and artists.

Model 2 with white glaze.
Model 3 with white glaze.
Model 3 with white glaze.
Model 2 with white glaze.
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