Interview: Shelley Simpson of MUD Australia
Shelley Simpson is the founder of MUD Australia — a handmade porcelain company that combines craft, color, clean lines, palette and functionality. The end result is a collection of kitchenware, housewares and accessories that neatly intersects a minimalist aesthetic with an artisan finish while making a timeless alternative to mass produced ceramic design.
MUD Australia just landed in Los Angeles, with their first West Coast outpost and their second U.S. store after New York City. We spoke to Simpson about the inspiration behind the new space and why she decided to come to LA from Down Under.
Tell us about MUD – when did it launch and what inspired you to start the brand?
I started making ceramics in the early 1990s at home in the garden shed. I’ve always created and wanted to design functional dinnerware and objects that fitted my lifestyle and design aesthetic. In Australia at the time there was very little opportunity to work with ethical and well organized manufacturers so I did it myself. I started small, made lots of mistakes and learnt a lot! The range was initially all earthenware and surface glazed. We sold through markets and local retailers and trade. At the same time, I listened and took on feedback from chefs and stylists as to what pieces they needed. Around 2005 I transitioned all the designs to porcelain – for its material and aesthetic qualities.
Tell us about the name – what is the meaning and significance behind it?
Our porcelain starts as mud. Initially the name was “Common as Mud” which was then simplified to Mud Australia … to make the company sound a little more serious.
How does Australia play into the brand? Aside from the name, how is the country represented in your product offerings?
All of our porcelain products are still handmade in Australia. We are passionate about Australian manufacturing, it’s the foundation of our business.
The Australian lifestyle is very similar to the West Coast lifestyle – relaxed, outdoors and healthy with splashes of colour. Our range really embraces this way of life. The product range is visually classic and elegant while being practical and easy to use, being dishwasher and oven safe.
Finally, the colour palette feels very Australian – the colours are based off a ‘milk’ base clay, not a bright white so they all feel familiar and connected like colours that occur in nature. Soft gum greys and pinks; bold reds and natural sand are all very Australian colour stories.
Who is your audience? Who are your customers?
Mud Australia appeals to such a range of people – with 80 shapes and 19 colors there’s something different for everyone.
What makes MUD unique from other brands in the marketplace?
People are drawn to our product because it’s got a real honesty to it which you can’t replicate with machines and you can’t manage from afar. By keeping production under one roof we’ve been able to stay consistent to our making processes and the visual identity of the product. Each piece is worked on by 10 sets of hands, each piece feels as unique as the people who made it.
What are some misconceptions people have about porcelain ware?
People presume porcelain is fragile because it’s fine; they’re afraid to enjoy it every day. Mud Australia porcelain is vitrified, meaning it’s fired to 2282, making it safe to use in your mircrowave, dishwasher and oven. You can bake in Mud, making it perfect for oven to table presentation. In store, we often refer to our mortar and pestle – you can grind spices with porcelain!
What are some tips to taking care of your porcelain ware, to make sure it stays in good condition?
Sudden changes in temperature (eg. from freezer to oven ~ from oven to cold bench) is likely to cause thermal shock, which will damage your porcelain. Always place very hot items onto either wood or cloth. And don’t drop it.
To avoid glaze scratches, ideally your mud porcelain will be stored in plate racks or with linen/felt between each item.
Why did you decide to open up on West 3rd Street?
West 3rd appealed to us because of the pedestrian activity – we love designing a great window display!, it’s got a good mix of independent retailers and a great sense of community.
Aside from MUD, what are some of your favorite places in the neighborhood?
So many! We love that in one strip you can have so many delicious meals (Sweetgreens, Toast and Joan’s), pamper yourself (Benefit Brow Bar), grab a good coffee (Verve Coffee), shop (Area Bedding & Aesop) and enjoy art (LACMA).
MUD Australia Los Angeles is now open at 8216 West 3rd Street (between Sweetzer Ave and La Jolla Ave). Get more info here.