A recent visit cemented my impression of a brand that has stayed true to its original creative vision and artisan roots. Founded in 1971 in Kilkenny, Ireland, the Simon Pearce brand focuses on simple, elegant, timeless design. His original creations are as appealing and attractive today as as they were then.
I imagine newer designs like the white porcelain Stowe vase, whose layered look is reminiscent of Vermont’s Stowe mountains, will be equally as appealing 40 years from now. In fact, I purchased one at the mill as a wedding gift and hope it will provide many years of decorative enjoyment to the recipients.
Ireland to Vermont
Pearce moved his operation across the Atlantic in 1981 to Vermont, where he set up his studio in a 200-year-old restored post-and-beam former woolen mill on the Ottauquechee River.
In keeping with the brand’s promise of respect for nature, the river provides hydroelectricity that powers the glassblowing furnaces and the entire mill.
Visitors are encouraged to see the glassblowers at work in the studio. Rather than mass-production, Simon Pearce and his team craft each piece individually using the time-honored artisan techniques he learned in Europe.
Today, as an established brand, the company employs 300, including 30 glassblowers and nine potters.
On the day I visited, the studio was producing goblets and glass Christmas trees. The glassblower, whom a phone representative playfully said “might even smile” for the camera when I asked if photos were permitted, graciously offered to answer questions while working.
He noted a fan helps him stay comfortable despite the intense heat required for making glass. He also indicated the multi-tiered glass tree he was working on was a more difficult piece to produce than a goblet.
The glassblowers work in shifts to accommodate the workshop’s daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule, which offers great flexibility to a customer timing a visit.
Dining in the mill’s restaurant enhances a visitor’s brand experience. The restaurant’s chef, Joshua Duda, and his team use seasonal, local ingredients that reflect the brand’s high quality. Meals are served on the company’s pottery dishes, accompanied by beverages served in handmade glasses.
Among the menu’s simple but delicious selections are local Vermont cheeses, salads with field greens, rock crab cakes, soups, a grilled chicken sandwich and a cheddar quiche. Your meal starts with an irresistible selection of “Irish-accented” breads.
If you go, save room for dessert. Among your choices are vanilla bean crème brûlée, Strafford Organic Creamery ice cream, Blue Moon sorbet and a chocolate mocha whoopie pie, which was large enough to be shared by four.
Inspired by my visit to Vermont with its outstanding cheddar cheese, I’ve decided to recreate my luncheon dish at home soon. In another homage to New England’s bounty,
perhaps I’ll also mix up a cranberry fizz, whose recipe I picked up at the mill.
After visiting the studio and eating a relaxing meal, you can also walk across the street to the Gallery at Simon Pearce, which features the work of craftspeople and artists in various media, including painting, photography, collage and textiles.
Vignettes throughout the showroom inspire browsers to imagine the possibilities of particular pieces in their own homes.
Although I don’t have the luxury of frequent travel to Quechee, when I need decorative inspiration, there’s a solution close at hand. Today, Simon Pearce sells his upscale products through retail outlets nationwide, as well as through an online store.
Common wisdom holds that art doesn’t mesh well with commerce. Don’t believe it. Simon Pearce has proven that letting your creative talent lead can be the foundation of a successful and enduring brand.