With their line of unique and colorful glazes, Studio Arhoj ceramics always bring a special pop to the shop. From signature slurp cups to one-of-a-kind objects, each piece feels extra special as it's nestled in your hand or your home. Studio Arhoj (pronounced Ahh-hoi) is the creation of Anders Arhoj, a Scandinavian ceramicist with an eye for minimalist design and Japanese culture. We were curious about how Studio Arhoj formed, how they come up with such beautiful glazes, and what it's like running a small business with such high demand.
KC: For people not familiar with your brand, how would you describe the Studio Arhoj style?
AH: Scandinavian playfulness, Japanese inspired lines and shapes - and never too serious, ha!
KC: You used to study interior design and then graphic design before making the jump to ceramics. What led to your interest in ceramics and how did you learn to throw, fire, and glaze?
AH: When I was living in Japan and studying the country’s language at school I started to build an interest in traditional Japanese crafts and hand-thrown ceramics. I loved the rustic surfaces and more honest approach to the materials used. So when I moved home to Copenhagen, Denmark I started to hang out and collaborate with different artist and ceramic friends and do different projects just for fun in order to explore my designs in other materials. I was tired of working in front of a screen - digging my hands into clay and seeing the opportunities it can yield was exciting. So I started to buy books, take some evening courses and learn from my friends. But most of all just explore and play.
KC: Studio Arhoj is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, but seems to have close ties to Japanese culture - as with your Tokyo Series. How does Scandinavian and Japanese culture influence your designs?
AH: 2017 was actually the official 150 year anniversary of Danish-Japanese diplomacy. Our countries have a long history of cultural exchange, especially in arts and design. We share common aesthetic ground in a love for clean lines, a democratic design using natural materials such as clay, wood, rocks, straw, etc, etc. A lot of mid-century furniture designers from Denmark are still the hottest item in Japan! Personally, I love Japanese pop culture - I feel it’s quite emotional and nostalgic and full of weird humor and story writing that is strange and unknown to a Westerner. I love the contrast between odd pop character design and old crafts and rustic ceramics. And the respect and very hard work you observe in the Japanese ceramic and potter tradition.
KC: The Familia series consists of small figurines in various shapes with the human feature of eyes. How did Japanese Shinto ghosts/spirits come to be an inspiration for the Familia series?
AH: The Japanese Shinto religion believes everything around you is spirited; an old tree, a rock in the river bed etc. When taking a walk in the forest I sometimes have a feeling that reminds me of this belief - that the trees are ancient creatures and every flower in the field has a soul. And so as a character designer by trade and lover of odd vintage paraphernalia I was inspired to blow life into small lumps of clay. I love painting eyes on stuff and see it come alive. And with 12+ different shapes and a gazillion variations in color, glaze, and texture each little Familia character is unique and actually has a soul, I believe.
KC: With over 200 stockists around the world, I envision Studio Arhoj being a large scale operation, yet you only have 12 employees. How do you manage to keep up with the demand while remaining creative?
AH: Yeah, we try to run fast without breaking too much stuff. We honor being organized, do forecasting, thinking many months ahead and trying to keep all cogs in the machine well oiled. I visit museums on my days off or take long walks. Usually, the fun ideas aren’t a product of a team brainstorm but instead something that just enters your mind while in you’re in the supermarket line. But yes, you have to keep an eye on everything every day to avoid mistakes, exploding kilns, and bottlenecks in the production. I think the creativity and the fun ideas are the fuel that runs the company deep underneath it all though. Doing something else than sitting behind a desk all day long. And create beautiful objects with our hands every day.
KC: Knowing that you have 12 employees, I’m curious to know what is your own personal day to day like at the studio? What roles do you play in your company?
AH: Yes, it can be a little energy consuming sometimes actually, haha. Being a CEO, an HR person, accountant, advertising agent, purchasing dude, creative director, clay craftsman, kiln technician, glaze chemist, business strategist, packshot photographer, online webshop programmer, inspiring boss and more can be a little hard sometimes. And those are just my own daily roles in the company. But that’s just how it has to be.
A normal day starts at 7.30-8.00 am when I come into the studio, air out the rooms, prepare the kilns for emptying. Then I check in with the team when they come in at 09.00 to see how the kiln fires went and the result of our work. We discuss experiments and quality. Then I might have some management meetings in the office (daily tasks, strategy, new projects etc) and reply to some emails. At 12.30 we all stop for lunch for half an hour. Afternoons I often spend in the studio maybe sculpting some stuff, shooting pics for Instagram, customer meetings, meetings with the design team and so on. My day stops around 6-7 pm and I bike home and go to bed early as I suffer from insomnia so need to get as many hours of sleep as possible.
I work in average 12 hours each day including weekends as 12 employees in Denmark is expensive - we need to keep the machine running. But that’s how it is in ceramics. We all work super hard and rarely ever make big bucks, ha!
KC: One thing I really enjoy about your pieces is the bright and unusual glazes that encompass each final piece. I know from my own personal experience with ceramics that glazes can often be unpredictable. Do you have someone dedicated to creating and testing new glazes? Do you create your own glaze recipes?
AH: Thank you! Yes, in our design team we have at least 1-2 nerds who like to experiment and develop new stuff. But experimenting has just always been part of the DNA of the company, so everyone joins in if they have a good idea to try something new. We often experience kiln disasters, exploding items or running glazes that just didn’t work out.
KC: Have any of your glaze combinations been a result of happy accidents?
AH: Yes, very often actually. Predicting is hard, even for the most experienced glaze chemist. So we work in the dark a lot. A recipe is not just a recipe. The final look also depends on the components in the clay/porcelain material, the heat work (amount of time the firing schedule takes), temperature and cooling schedules and much more.
KC: Are you currently working on any new projects or excited about any future plans?
AH: Yes, always! We usually have some new stuff in the pipeline because we can’t help ourselves. I am a very impatient designer, I move at a fast pace in order not to get bored.
We are currently doing a mural for Facebook for their new Danish data center consisting of 606 Pearls each individually glazed and unique. And also a new bunch of items for the SS19 season. I also finished the follow-up to FIND ME, a children’s book for San Francisc-based Chronicle Books which will be out on March 1st 2019.
You can purchase Studio Arhoj ceramics at both of our brick and mortar locations on Divisadero and in Noe Valley.