baby asleep in basket on coffee table

Spring Open (or a brief history of the coffee table)


T.A.M. and belatrova

A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of low table designed to be placed in front of a sofa, to support drinks, magazines, books, specially coffee table books, and other small items to be used while sitting, such as babies.

coffee table with soaf in background

knee-high vantage point

Tomás Aventín Martinez is a recently born resident of Barcelona, a small person of exquisite taste who prefers to take his naps at knee height to keep an eye on his parents sitting on the nearby sofa. He also appreciates the stability offered by the four tapering “Sputnik” legs of the belatrova coffee table, but above all else it is the unique quality of the paintwork on the tabletop that most appeals.

coffee table

good on wood

The idea of a table specifically used for serving hot drinks or putting down one’s cup between sips predates the coffee table in Europe by some time. In Britain in the mid 1800s tea drinking was at the height of fashion and there was increasing demand for tea tables. Other forms of tables in use at this time were called occasional tables, end tables, and centre tables.

painted tabletop

looking down on a belatrova coffee table

coffee table top

like going to a gallery










The Egyptians made use of small tables and elevated playing boards, the Chinese created tables in order to write and paint. The Greeks and Romans made more frequent use of tables, notably for eating. And the English?  Well, in England towards the end of the 19th century, when boredom set in after dinner, some upper class Victorians decided to turn their dining room tables into miniature versions of the lawn tennis court. Anything at hand was used: a line of books became the net and rackets were lids from empty cigar boxes. The ball would be either a ball of string or a champagne cork or rubber ball. This is how table tennis was born.

With the increasing availability of television sets from the 1950s onwards coffee tables came into their own since they are low enough, even with stacks of pizza boxes on them, not to obstruct the view of the television.

patio table with green tiles inlaid

robust and elegant

tiled table with bowl of strawberries

Spring – patio table with strawberries











belatrova’s coffee tables are robust enough to take anything, and they are beautiful to look at too. As for our tiled tables for the patio, they can withstand rain and rust, and can take a whole stack of baby baskets (with babies inside) without any bending under the weight.

Bring a baby and try it out this weekend. You will also be able see our new range of wave bowls and planters, as well as the new scooped bowls just out of the kiln.

We are open from 10 to 5 on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd April.

Tea, coffee, cake and feeding bottles available

Bankside Studios, Little Marcle Road, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 2DR

tel: 01531 634082



Over the moon, on the crest of a wave.


close-up of table top by belatrova

moon power

Gazing at the Full Moon last night belatrova was filled by the wonder of the night sky. Somebody told us it was a Wolf Moon, and it turns out that full moon names reflect the goings on of that time of year, and this one is so called by American Indians because it is the animal’s hungry month, so February’s is the Snow Moon because it is the month most snow falls, Harvest Moon in August, Hunters’ Moon, and so on. And to top it all, five planets in the solar system are visible in a line this month: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – a fabulous quirk of the Universe.

image of 5 aligned planets

planetary alignment

Possibly as a result of this magical alignment belatrova has won ‘Best of Customer Service’ on Houzz®, the leading platform for home renovation and design ( The ‘Best of Houzz’ is awarded annually in three categories – Design, Customer Service, and Photography. Houzz ‘Best of Customer Service’ honours are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews received in 2015. A ‘Best of Houzz 2016’ badge will appear on belatrova’s Houzz profile as a sign of its commitment to excellence and these badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals.

Houzz Customer Award 2016 badge

So, a huge thank you is due to our customers who reviewed us on Houzz. We were chosen by the Houzz* community from among more than one million active home building, renovating, and design industry professionals.

Andrew Small, Managing Director of Houzz UK commented, “anyone building, renovating, or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals, and we are very pleased to recognise belatrova with our ‘Best of Customer Service’ award.

close-up of wave bowl edge

ceramic wave

Aware that all sorts of things happen during a Full Moon (arson attacks increase by 100% at the time of the Full Moon, murders treble around that time and passengers on flights are more difficult to handle, say harassed air hostesses) we at belatrova would rather let our minds float in all the apparently miraculous stuff associated with it. For example, the link between the Lunar Cycle and the tides is well established but still mysterious, but may well explain why we have started making large wave bowls this new year. We think you will like them: they are a perfect centrepiece for any dining table, and practical as fruit bowls or tureens.

belatrova ceramic wave bowl

blue undulations

ceramic bowl with blue brushstrokes

more blue waviness

We have used the oxides of the Brushstroke Blues range to hand paint the wavy brushstrokes onto the undulating surface, which in turn has wave-like marks scratched in with a peineta or Spanish Flamenco comb. This last element, as you belatrovians instinctively know, is essential.

Spanish comb



close-up of ceramic scratchwork

porcelain comb-over


5 wave bowls out of the kiln

straight out of the kiln

These wave bowls measure about 40cms x 30 cms, and weigh 6 lbs (2.7 kls), so they are robust as well as beautiful. Don’t let February’s Full Moon be a Blue one, cheer yourself up with a belatrova bowl and wave goodbye to the blues.

*About Houzz (

Houzz is the leading platform for home renovation and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world.


With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality.


Peter Arscott, Director of belatrova said, “we are delighted to receive this accolade from such a prestigious enterprise as Houzz. We work hard to ensure that everyone inquiring about our products enjoys dealing with us, and that those who buy a belatrova product are completely satisfied with it and enjoy having it in their home or commercial environment.”


another close-up of mural


complete head-on view of mural

Adaptable as ever, belatrova, as well as designing and making handmade ceramic birdbaths, lamps, bowls and tables, has developed another skill that uses clay to great effect – we also make ceramic murals. A mural, from the Latin murus meaning wall, is any piece of artwork applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface.
view of ceramic mural lo<a href=

This particular mural uses the idea of “juggling” as its departure point; the house in Spain for which it was commissioned is named after an area of southern India, and it is a word that in Spanish is associated with jugglers and juggling. A happy convergence of imagery to get the ball rolling, and which can be seen in the final design with the still central figure at the bottom from which two circular movements flow, one counter clockwise, the other clockwise, co
ntaining the various elements and shapes which are being “juggled” – all presided over by the sun at the very top. Some of the shapes are purely abstract to accentuate the flowing lines, other more recognizable things are there because they are right (even if ultimately inexplicable to most people- cacti, skulls, vases and jugs, ashtrays?).

another close-up of mural


ceramic cactus

The rectangle of space within which the piece was designed measures 2300mm x 3126mm, and each piece is made from grogged stoneware, a clay that contains tiny fragments of molochite to strengthen the material when it has to be shaped and cut, slab rolled and then biscuited to 1000°, after which, as a lot of you may remember from previous blogs, the surfaces are painted with oxides and stains, dipped in a transparent glaze and then fired to 1275° in the belatrova kiln.

view of ceramic mural from ground floor
The challenge was always to produce shapes that stayed flat and did not crack, and there were five “skulls” made before the sixth and final one that you see in the images. Here is a picture of skull No 4, already biscuited, with a fine crack going from eye to jaw. It makes quite a good cheese board, specially when you need to hurry guests away from the table.

close-up of cracked ceramic piece

ceramic skull as cheese board

We were very pleased with the way the two flying legs turned out, considering their awkward shape and length. The belatrova team member who modeled for them wishes to remain anonymous, but we think he has a future with Tommy Hilfiger or Adidas.

ceramic legs in mural

The other challenge facing belatrova was the height of the scaffolding, about three metres off the ground, but, thankfully, any vertigo was kept at bay by our perfect hosts who supplied belatrova with a steady source of cold Spanish beer sothat in the end any lingering acrophobia was gently dispelled.


The first step upon arrival was to measure out the rectangle above the doorway in the hall and then to stick templates of the ceramic pieces (which had previously been cut out in card) onto the wall. When, after a great deal of tweaking, the templates were all blue-tacked in their place, a pencil mark was drawn around the contours and the card templates removed to allow the actual ceramic shapes to be bonded to the wall in their correct positions.

carboard templates of ceramic shapes for mural

Murals do vary from simple tiled works to huge installations by contemporary ceramic artists; depending on context, they can enhance large or small spaces, but belatrova thinks ceramic murals are the perfect solution for those who enjoy sculpture but have no space, or for those who have a large space that needs to resonate more with its surroundings. Murals fulfill the same function as a picture while often being much more dynamic and three-dimensional.

stylized ceramic skull

The technique of slab-rolling and shaping, which was used for this mural, is one also applied to most of belatrova’s production, and if any of you have not already seen our video showing how it is done, please click here.

Lastly, please remember that we have two pre-Christmas Open Weekends: 28 and 29 November, and 6 and 7 December, when we will be open from 10am to 5pm. Do drop in.

Art Nouveau, hospital hygiene and ceramic spotlessness

Sant Pau hospital

hospital corridor or ceramic glory

It was not because of excessive drinking and dining that belatrova paid a visit to a hospital only a few blocks from Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, but as a result of our unquenchable thirst for cultural knowledge and beauty. It is yet another surprise on offer in the city of Barcelona that a masterpiece of Catalan Art Nouveau, built between 1902 and 1930, happens to have played a significant part in the evolution of medicine as well becoming a World Heritage Site.


ceiling at Sant Pau

ribbed ceramic ceiling


ceramic ceiling with green motifs

looking up from the patient’s trolley


lobby entrance at Sant Pau

main lobby entrance


The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau was founded in 1401 with the merging of six hospitals. Santa Creu, the Hospital of the Holy Cross, was right in the centre of the city but by the late nineteenth century, due to the rapid growth of Barcelona’s population and rapid advances in medicine, it became too small and thanks to the bequest of the Catalan banker Pau Gil, the first stone of the new hospital, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, was laid on 15 January 1902. In 2009 it moved to new premises built in the north-east of the precinct and the Art Nouveau site was reopened to the public, after refurbishment, in 2014.

ceramic roofs at Sant Pau

ceramic roofs of pavilion at Sant Pau

This city within a city contains twenty seven pavilions, each one assigned a specific medical speciality and linked to the others by means of underground galleries and tunnels. Muntaner assigned an area of 145 m to each patient, including the landscaped grounds.

ceramic motif on wall

restful motif

What grabbed belatrova’s attention was the care taken in choosing the materials in order to create the best natural surroundings for the patients, primarily ceramics with which to clad domes, roofs, ventilation shafts, the decorative pieces and walls inside and outside the pavilions. Inside, the ceramics serve a hygienic purpose, tiles make disinfection easier, and also function as a therapeutic element. The colours of the many motifs used in the panels and mosaics combine harmoniously and convey a feeling of quiet tranquillity.

ceramic tunnel link to pavilions

ceramic-clad tunnel link

Thanks also to the extremely high thermal stability of ceramics, which belatrovians know can be fired at a temperature of approximately 1280°C, this results in extremely solid products; and the hygienically smooth surface glaze is wear and scratch-resistant and is thus resilient to the abrasive cleaning agents that are frequently used in the sanitary facilities of public areas. Even concentrated hydrochloric acid fails to leave a mark on ceramic, but please do not try that at home.


orange tree in Sant Pau

the garden in Sant Pau


view of the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia from Sant Pau


main entrance to hospital

clock tower and facade


Ceramic is even resistant to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, which is why we at belatrova use it for our birdbaths so that, combined with a resilient oak plinth, they can withstand British winters or Mediterranean summers.

belatrova birdbath

resilient but beautiful

Resistant to extreme temperatures, water resistant, easy to keep clean, colourful, ceramic tiles are perfect for outdoor tables.

tiled tabletop

detail of belatrova outdoor tiled table.

To reinforce our message that belatrova products are safe, hygienic, tough and practical here is a picture of a large coiled platter with some gilt headed bream about to be prepared for belatrova’s signature dish: “Besugo al horno con patatas. Click on the left and you will be taken to a video recipe – and you can practice your Spanish at the same time.

Hasta Luego.

fish on platter



ceramic coaster with blue oxide

moon coaster

Coasters, specially ceramic coasters, have become desirable designer acquisitions in recent months, partly in response to the growth in interest for cocktails – something in which we at belatrova have had a hand (you need only go back to earlier blogs to see our recipe for the perfect Dry Martini, and others). Of course, you may not have been aware of all this, which is why belatrova, always in the vanguard of taste and style, thinks it is important to bring this to the notice of all belatrovians and help them solve the annual dilemma faced by so many: “where can I find that special Christmas gift that is both uniquely attractive yet practical?”

hogarth print of revelry

men behaving badly – William Hogarth

Why are they called “coasters“? According to our research, coasters were originally called sliders in the 1700s and were used as a stand to prevent moisture damage to a tabletop and for sliding the bottle of wine along a tabletop from guest to guest after supper when the table cloth was removed and the servants dismissed, leaving the diners (usually men) to fend for themselves. Cue drunk and unseemly male behaviour. These sliders later became known as coasters in allusion to their circulation around the edge of the table. Early ones were made of silver, china or glass, and some were fitted with wheels or with baize-covered wood bases to reduce friction on bare tables.

variety of ceramic coasters

coaster cornucopia


Some coasters are collectible items. Tegestology is a term coined from Latin (teges, a small covering or mat) defined as the practice of collecting beer mats or coasters. Consider, then, becoming a tegestologist by acquiring belatrova’s ceramic coasters and thus simultaneously easing your Christmas shopping experience.


At £5 a coaster belatrova is offering sets of six for the price of five, plus a delivery charge of £5.95, making it a very affordable £30.95. There are three choices: Brushstroke Blues, Valencia or the Selection (a combination of both).

set of ceramic coasters

set of brushstroke blue


six ceramic coasters

set of Valencia cioasters


six different coasters








You can ring us on +44 (0) 1531 634082 and order over the ‘phone.

Or visit us during our Christmas weekend openings (28 – 30 Nov, 5 – 7 Dec)

Or pay us a visit on any day – just ring us beforehand to make sure we are not out delivering.

Or visit the Studio Gallery in Ross-on-Wye

This is how we make our coasters:

biscuited costers

biscuited coaster awaiting oxides


coasters painted with oxides

oxides painted onto coasters

coaster dipped in clear glaze

coaster dipped in glaze


cork adhesive on back of coaster

cork backing













In order to give you some idea of size we have placed a coaster next to a familiar eveyday object:

plastic toy anteater with ceramic coaster

ant eater


plastic toy monster with coaster

Leech Man


We know we are way ahead of ourselves but were thinking of recommending a new cocktail for you to drink on Christmas morning, something called Marmalade Fizz invented by the London Cocktail Club, but in the end decided to be traditional and went for that mellow but elegant drink: Black Velvet. It is guaranteed to get you in the mood for the day


Ingredients: a bottle of cold Champagne, a bottle of cold Guiness

Method: fill a Champagne flute halfway with the Guiness then top it off very gently with

glass of Black Velvet


Champagne so that it lingers atop the Guiness as a separate layer. Try pouring the Champagne over the back of a spoon to prevent it from plunging straight into the stout. This ephemeral separation is fleeting but satisfying. The drink is smooth and effervescent, just like belatrova.


And finally we would like to announce the winner of the “guess the NSPCC panto auction price of the belatrova table” competition (see previous blog):

L.H of Malvern will be getting a pair of ceramic trivets.

Perfidious Albion in Barcelona

Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, is going through hard times. Unemployment is on the rise, specially among the young, many of whom are leaving for jobs abroad if they can get any.

Paseo de Gracia and Diagonal with Pedrera building in backgropund

The distinctive roof of Casa Milá in the background

It is also a vibrant city associated with art, architecture and design, not least with Gaudi’s Parque Guell that overlooks the entire city and the sea beyond, and his “Casa Milá” with its singular rooftop – you can see it in the background in the photo taken from the top of Paseo de Gracia.

The capital of a culture that has produced Miró, Dalí, Casals, that nurtured the young Picasso, that gave us Catalan Modernism, that developed its own distinctive cuisine and arguably the best football team ever, is unlikely to take things lying down.

Four red bars on a yellow background represent Catalunya

Catalan flag

Next year is the 300th anniversary of Catalunya’s loss of independence to Spain after the Treaty of Utrech and so I was reminded that this culture and language have had to survive many difficulties, and the growing feeling among many in the city is for separation and independence – the Catalan flag was everywhere we went.

By the way, we Brits can hang our heads in shame; despite an agreement with the Catalans we abandoned them in 1714 to the tender mercies of their foes while we got Gibraltar and Menorca in return.…perfidious Albion.

Anyway, enough history.

belatrova  walked everywhere, visited galleries and design outlets, and used the efficient and smooth metro and buses to go further afield. We really liked the Room Service Design Gallery, run the day we visited by Jordi, and which displays furniture by the Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek – sustainability, efficiency and social responsibility are his guiding principles, and his stuff is visibly hand made, using mainly recycled material.

hand made furniture

Piet Hein Eek chair at Room Service Design

The gallery also takes seriously the promotion of young designers and has a section for graduates to show their work. Drop in when and if you’re there; the MACBA  (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) is a block away and the neighbourhood is part of the city in which anybody could easily spend a day walking, drinking, snacking and rubber necking. Which is what we did.

table displayed at Room Service Design Gallery

ceramic table by Piet Hein Eek

Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona

the MACBA building

By the way, watch out for skate boarders zipping past as they are encouraged to use the open area in front of the building.

Here are two close-up shots of tapas that we thought might inspire some new colour combinations in our ceramics. Or perhaps not.

close-up of egg salad

yellow white red and black

close-up of sea food salad

black white green red

Monumental window, part of an early 20th century building on the Diagonal, where we went to see how our tables looked away from home and asked two of our customers to allow us into their homes to take a snap or two.

Large stone window and balcony

Monumental window with balcony on the Diagonal Avenue

belatrov table in Barcelona flat
Victoria and Josep Maria’s table

Victoria and Josep Maria keep theirs in a space filled with greenery and the effect is lush and fresh. Veronica and Alberto have theirs nicely set off by the dark floorboards and deep green of the furniture.

Both tables are getting a lot of TLC from their owners.

belatrova table

Veronica and Alberto’s table

belatrova’s top 6 favourite things to do in Barcelona:

Go up onto the roof of Casa Milá (also called “La Pedrera”)

Visit the geese in Barcelona Cathedral’s cloisters

Have a coffee at Meson del Café off St Jaume’s Square

Take the No 14 bus from Calvet/Fransesc Maciá down to Siete Puertas

Eat stuffed squid at the Bar Neutral (Ganduxer 26, Barcelona)

Visit the Fundació Miró – a quick trip inspired belatrova to make a tripod ceramic bowl.

tripod ceramic bowl

hint of Miró?

Good Design is…

belatrova is a collaboration between a painter, a potter and a musician, so each one of us brings his particular slant to any discussion during the Tuesday morning meetings. To our surprise, we often agree on a number of issues, and this week we ended up in general agreement about “good design”.

hand painted belatrove table

table / painting

Good design (we three nodded) has to strike a balance between commercial imperatives and aesthetic ones. A customer buys the product in order to use it, its design clear and understandable, and good design points to this whilst also highlighting the product’s aesthetic value. And design must be honest, in the sense that the product should “do what it says” and not be weighed down by details that only confuse. Another more recent definition has become part of the debate, and that is that good design ensures a product achieves positive results for all involved, while having as little impact on the planet as possible.

Personally I have always had a soft spot for the Coca Cola bottle: its shape is the perfect invitation to grip it, and it shows its content openly. When it first came out in 1916 it must have been perceived as futuristic, its contours a contrast to the straight-sided bottles that preceded it.

coca cola bottle


Nowadays, of course, it is considered a “classic” and probably associated with the 50s more than any other decade. Unless it is recycled after use, though, I am not sure that it fully fits into our description of good design.

I naturally assumed that Josh of Josh Thomas Design House ( would agree with me, specially since he favours the fifties look. But I was surprised when he told me what summed it all up for him: the Bic pen. Why? Because it hides nothing. It says to the customer: “I am for writing, I am easy to hold, I am cheap, you need not worry about loosing me, you can throw me away”.

image of bic pen


By the way, is there a way to recycle the Bic?

And what product design does it for you?