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



Here comes the Sun

That huge ball of incandescent plasma at the centre of our solar system that provides all the energy we need for life here on Earth – in the depths of winter, on cold and overcast days, we miss seeing the old sun shining down on us, stimulating our pineal gland deep in the brain, and generally making us feel good. So let’s hear it for big Helios (you could fit 1.3 million planets the size of Earth into the Sun, apparently) and think ahead to Spring and Summer in a practical way – just as everything in the solar system orbits around the Sun, so do belatrova’s ideas revolve around our clientele’s happiness.

image of cross section of brain showing Pineal brain

cross section of belatrova’s brain on a Friday evening showing Pineal gland.

As the days get longer and the promise of heat starts to become a reality it is easier to imagine yourself on your balcony, or terrace, or veranda, or in your garden, glass in hand, as you soak in the rays and relax. What will enhance this experience is something that is associated with warm Mediterranean cultures, something pleasing to the eye and to the touch, something we have seen in palaces, gardens and fountains. Imagine the heat of Cordoba, then imagine stepping into the shade of its courtyards and passing your fingers over the cool surface of the tiles that adorn the inner walls. We would like you to enjoy our tiles in the same way, except that we have incorporated them into a new range of tables that can be used both indoors and out. There is no better surface on which to put that cold gin and tonic, that cup of coffee or that glass of lemon juice.

close-up of tiles

cool belatrova tiles

The advantages of tiles? Well, they are scratch, fire and stain resistant, they will not fade in the sunlight, they are waterproof and easy to clean, and, for the tabletop dancers amongst you, slip resistant. The metal frame and legs make them sturdy enough to support the weight of, say, a large goat. The tiles are grouted and held in place on marine plywood, which, of course, is waterproof.

tiled tabletop

tiled tabletop with metal frame and legs


So if you find yourself oversleeping, gaining weight, craving sweets and starchy foods, lacking in energy and irritable, it could be the beginnings of Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, remember that Spring is around the corner and that belatrova is always here to help. Many of you are gardeners and will be thinking of what needs planting and doing, and being bird lovers (having no doubt fed them throughout Winter) you will be wondering about the springtime needs of our little feathered friends: a good bath, we say. And we do make beautiful birdbaths, a wonderful combination of ceramic and oak. The picture below shows you how the oak turns after four full seasons exposed to the elements.

birdbath in garden

a year ago

ceramic birdbath on oak plinth

one year on












Here is a picture of some snowdrops taken in belatrova’s garden, just to emphasize that Spring is nor far away. Don’t forget to visit our website and if you are on Pinterest have a look at our boards:

Give us a ring if you want to drop in: +44 (0) 1531 634082



To a snowdrop (William Wordsworth)

         LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they

         But hardier far, once more I see thee bend

         Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,

         Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,

         Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay

         The rising sun, and on the plains descend;

         Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend

         Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May

         Shall soon behold this border thickly set

         With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing

         On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;

         Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,

         Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,

          And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

Resilience (ελαστικότητα)

belatrova, art for living, and “a good half of the art of living is resilience” (Alain de Botton).

children playing around coffee table

coffee table resilience

With austerity uppermost on European minds our thoughts turned to contemporary Greece and the hard times its citizens are going through. And because our minds often drift in the workshop, we started thinking about ancient Greeks, and not just about their pottery and sculpture, nor about them going around in togas eating grapes, but about their influence on our thinking.

statue of Laocoon and sons

Greek struggle (Laocoon & sons)

Resilience – that chief weapon of the Stoic and Cynic philosophers who stated that much emotional suffering is caused by mistakenly assuming external things are directly under our control. However, if you remember that only your own actions are truly under your control and external things are not, then you will become emotionally resilient and achieve a kind of happiness. Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.

Resilience, that is what everyone needs as we face the year 2015.

painting by Waterhouse of Diogenes

Diogenes by Waterhouse (detail)

Which brings us to Diogenes of Sinope (c.400-c.325 BC) who denied pleasure and physical wealth for asceticism and had the nickname ‘the dog’ because of his shamelessness. He used to live in a wooden barrel with only possessions a robe to wear and a stick to walk.

It is unlikely Diogenes would ever have been a belatrova customer but we like to think that he might have approved of our use of that humble material, wood, a material that has evolved over millions of years to withstand the worst that weather can throw at it, with the possible exception of lightning. He would have spent time gazing at the beauty of our oak birdbath plinths as he undoubtedly did his own wooden home as it changed in appearance after years of exposure to all sorts of weather, because oak is extremely resilient and can be easily left outside both during strong sun and rain, and even snow and hail. See what a difference a year has already made to this belatrova “blackbird” bath:


ceramic birdbath on oak plinth

new birdbath


birdbath after a year's exposure

weathered by time


On the other hand, when it comes to our tables, though we use robust beech legs, and though we know external factors are beyond our control, we do improve the odds by making decisions that minimize any unforeseen impact. We do not use oak or beech for the tabletops but rather medium-density fibreboard (MDF), an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high temperature and pressure. MDF is isotropic; its properties are the same in all directions as a result of no grain, so no tendency to split. It is consistent in strength and size, flexible, it shapes well and has stable dimensions, so won’t expand or contract like wood.

All this makes it the ideal material to seal, prime, paint and varnish – and thus more resilient. Two tables left our workshop over the Open Christmas Weekends at No 9 and went to good homes:


coffee table

Kleescape coffee table


coffee table

Kleescape on rug


coffee table



painted coffee table

Roseburgh on blue


There are a few coffee tables still awaiting the right owner, each one a true original:

a row of tabletops

a row of coffee table tops

Come and see us in 2015. Happy New Year.

Best wishes:

Ziggy, Thelonius, Peter, Stuart, Roger, Wendy and Fleen

belatrova Christmas opening times

brick viaduct in Ledbury

Ledbury viaduct

belatrovians may well want to know what the Ledbury viaduct has in common with our Christmas opening, and the answer is: clay.

Built in 1860, the viaduct was constructed using 5 million bricks made on site from the clay dug out for the foundations; and clay is what brings together a cluster of Ledbury ceramicists.

Wendy Houghton’s delicate abstract sculpture can be seen next to husband Stuart Houghton’s robust hand-thrown tableware, Fleen Doran’s alluring salt-glazed pots next to belatrova’s beautifuly painted slab pots and lamps. It is an exhibition of contrast and style, as well as a chance to buy a unique Christmas gift.

picture of four ceramicists

meet the ceramicists…


Yes, four ceramicists in one venue, and the ideal Christmas present.

Look out for the red h Art signs. Parking is available, as is disabled access.

Tea, coffee and mince pies will be served.

We look forward to seeing you.


belatrova at the Panto

Leading figures from the world of design and fashion are coming together to raise money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) by performing in “Peter Pan and the Designers of the Caribbean” at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre, who describe the story as follows:

London is grey and drab. All the interior designers have fled to Never Never Land to escape their client’s bad taste and endless complaints. But with Captain Hook on the loose, how long before the Designers realise they must return colour to London and save the secret to design from Hook’s evil clutches?

If you would like to join Wendy, Tinkerbell and Peter do click here to buy a ticket. You will rub shoulders with leading figures from the world of interior design and see costumes designed by the most illustrious fashion designers in the world: Vivienne Westwood, Anya Hindmarch, Zandra Rhodes, Thomaz Starzewski, Bruce Oldfield and Anna Valentine.

belatrova will also be there having contributed a striking hand painted designer coffee table (750mm diameter) for the auction that will be held there as part of the fund raising appeal for the NSPCC. It was created in our workshop in Ledbury. It is practical – pull it up to the sofa with a book or a cup of tea on it, or it is low enough for children to draw, paint or write on, and easy to wipe clean. And it is beautiful – see it in a different way each day depending on the light outside or else it might be a particular object on the surface itself that sets off a combination of colours (our coasters tend to do that, but more about our coasters in the next blog).

hand painted coffee table by belatrova

hand painted coffee table (roseburgh)


To quote Ziggy the workshop spider (see previous blog) ” Looking at this piece of art from above (the ceiling in my case) is different from having something to admire on the wall. The colours, whether loosely stippled, daubed or brushed on loosely, are all contained within squares, rectangles or triangles, and so invoke architecture rather than nature … in my opinion.”

Thelonius says there is a hint of Paul Klee about it.

Dear belatrovians, we know many of you will not be able to visit the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, so we are offering you the opportunity to win a prize as consolation. Guess the amount the table will raise at the auction before Sunday 6pm and you will win a lovely pair of cutting tiles or trivets in the Brushstroke Blues range. Just post it in the “leave a comment” section of the blog and we’ll get in touch. Or if you would rather, send an email to

blue tile by belatrova

belatrova cutting tile

Toodle – loo.

Azure, sky blue, ultramarine and cobalt – who says Britain is the land of rain?

photo of blue sky over Tresco island

a view from Tresco

We live in a land of contrasts in the UK – there is so much diversity. Take the Lake District and Berkshire Downs, the Scottish Highlands and the Norfolk Broads, the wild Jurassic coast of Southern England and the sedimentary London basin, Fingal’s Cave, Salisbury Plain, Cheddar Gorge, and yes, there is even a touch of the Caribbean to be found 30 miles from the Cornish mainland. You don’t believe us?

image of ferry to Isle of Scilly


Lucky belatrova took a boat from Penzance and went to a very small place in a beautiful archipelago. Tresco is a small island measuring about two and a half miles long by a mile wide, and it is one of the five inhabited islands which, together with 200 or so islands, islets and rocks, form the Isles of Scilly.

Augustus Smith


In 1834, the Duchy of Cornwall leased the Isles of Scilly to a liberal-minded squire, Augustus Smith, who became the Lord Proprietor of the

Sub tropical plants at Tresco Gardens

Tresco Abbey Gardens

islands. He built his home, Tresco Abbey, alongside the ruins of an old priory and set about creating a garden containing plants from all over the world. Tresco Abbey Garden is internationally renowned as having one of the finest sub-tropical flora and fauna collections in the Northern Hemisphere. The family still run the business as the Tresco Estate, and own Tresco island.


angry bird

As there are no predators or grey squirrels, the red squirrel was introduced recently and there is now a thriving colony of about 30. One was spotted in the Abbey Gardens, a flash of dark red moving amongst the Echium and Pelargonium. And being a birdwatcher of sorts, Mr b got very excited and spotted Oyster Catchers, Grey Heron, Terns, Ibis, Egrets and Godwits. He was also mobbed by angry sea gulls.

plate full of cooked shrimps

shrimps from Ruin Beach

Later that evening with the tide slowly rising a shrimping party netted a generous catch which was cooked and then eaten at a picnic overlooking the harbour. As you can see, there are no half measures here: one carries tables and chairs to the top of a hill to get the most out of an occasion like this.

red squirrel

nice one, Squirrel

table and chairs set out for picnic



image of sailboat


A sailing trip to the smaller island of Samson was a symphony of azure and greens, gentle wavesand distant bird cries, white sand and clear water. What an experience it was, tacking back to Tresco harbour – a commemorative ceramic is called for, and here it is, just out of the kiln:

rectangular ceramic dish

belatresco dish

Back at the workshop after this idyllic break, the sun, sea and clean air, combined with the walking, cycling and (ahem) swimming, meant that cobwebs were swept away and a desire to use Tresco blues came surging out of the belatrovian brush and onto one of our coffee tables.

coffee table with blue brush marks

Tresco-inspired coffee table


low coffee table with blue colours

coffee table

Of course, like everywhere else in the UK, Tresco can be grey, battered and windy, but it was hard to imagine while we were there.

seawater off Tresco

water off Samson Flats






Languid June

image of two feet resting on a table

belatrova feet up

The newly refurbished workshop space has come into its own, specially when the days have been hot and sultry and the cooler corners away from the kiln became more inviting. June highlights have been many and varied, both within the workshop and away.

close-up of bird bath

cool for birds

Non-belatrova activities include Stuart’s exhibition at Nantgarw, a museum on the site of an old porcelain works. Entitled “White Gold” (Aur Gwyn) it includes fifteen different potters using porcelain, and can be visited until 17th August. Stuart (Mr Dynamo) is also showing at Abbey Dore  from 20 – 26 July along with other artists as part of a mini Arts Festival there. It is open daily from 9.30 to 6.15 and admission is free.


terracota figures of the Apostles by sculptor Nick Pope

Nick Pope’s Apostles

And we all went down to Salisbury to the opening of Nick Pope’s wonderful sculptures of the Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps in the Cathedral; a grouping of 33 terracotta figures, each one identified by his personal character and attributes. Exhibited some years ago at the Tate, they have “come home” in this new setting, and look as if they had been there from the beginning. Still, rather than talk about it, belatrova urges anyone to pay them a visit when they are in the area, and to be there when the lamps are lit.

image of two legs on a magic carpet

magic carpet at the R.A.

Those of you who are interested can also drop into the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy to see “Flying Carpet“, painted by Peter and selected by the panel – there is also some engaging ceramic artwork to be seen.




Back at the workshop we had fun making a batch of birdbaths and a couple of new coffee tables to match the Valencia and Manhattan ranges. As a result, in-house spray varnishing is now being mastered and the protective gear and mask required induce a great deal of sweating and panting which can only be assuaged by a cold drink, usually water but often something a little more interesting if it is towards the end of the day. We have discovered a new Friday evening cocktail: the Negroni.

ceramic birdbath

birdbath just made


manhattan range coffee table

manhattan table

Oh, and one of the junior belatrovas made a memorable cake for her father, using a belatrova platter to serve it in, of course.

strawberry cheesecake on platter

Dad’s birthday cake



So much to do, so little time. Roll on July

Whistle while you work

Being a naturally harmonious workplace, belatrova’s workshop is a temple of productivity and foot-tapping enjoyment. Yes, music wafts through our workspace every day, and is shared by all – no headphones or earplugs to be seen. We know that those who listen to music complete their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who don’t, because, as we all know, music improves our mood.

image of dopamine


We went online to see what explanations there may be and found out that in biological terms, melodious sounds help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain. Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine systems, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine in the brain: music, chocolate, sunshine, massages, coffee.

When glazing is the priority and we want our dopamines stroked in the best manner, the BrushstrokeBlues range benefits from the cool tonal subtlety of Miles Davis trumpet. The best-selling Jazz album of all time is Kind of Blue“, and it is played at No9 Bankside at least once a week; it slows down the pulse rate and the brushstrokes flow.

brushstroke blues range

brushstroke blues

ceramics in manhattan range

manhattan range

The Manhattan range belongs to the pugmill’s namesake Thelonius Monk, whose improvisations are full of dissonances and melodic surprises, and strange but wonderful gaps or hesitations. Try listening to “Round Midnight” or “Ruby, my dear” if you haven’t already.

And the Allegro range goes so well with the sensual playing Stan Getz’s saxophone and Astrud Gilberto‘s bossa nova voice (you know, “Girl from Ipanema“, “Fly me to the Moon“, “Corcovado“).

allegro range of ceramics


Which leaves us with the Valencia series. Warm, full of light…it’s samba and rumba – Peregoyo y su Combo Vacana floats our boat, but any Latin American dance music seems right.

valencia range


So far there is general consensus with the music played, and others that get a look-in are Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Steely Dan, David Bowie, John Surman, Oscar Peterson, with only some ructions reserved for the occasional playing of Tom Waites (“Rain Dogs”).

miles davis portrait

miles davis

jazz pianist thelonius monk

thelonius monk

bossa nova singer astrud gilberto

astrud gilberto

colombian singer peregoyo


We even have fabulous supporters and clients of belatrova who give us recordings they have made; one fine person even left us five CDs of Miles Davis late recordings. If he is reading this we would like to say “thanks” and tell him that “Aura” is growing on us.

By the way, even if you are a small business, if music is ever played on your premises for customers or staff, through radio, TV, CD, MP3 this is considered a “public performance”. A music licence grants you permission to do this, and the fees generated ensure that songwriters, composers and music publishers are paid when their music is used.

silhouette of dancers

belatrova unwinding (Friday evenings)

Goodbye for now.

the great Paul Klee’s never ending reach

a line of hand painted belatrova tables

belatrova conga at the Open Day

So many of you came to our Open Days on Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December, that we ran out of coffee, white wine and mince pies.  Although Unit 9 Bankside is a workshop, please feel free to drop by at any time, though a ‘phone call beforehand is a good idea, just in case.

two lines of belatrova coffee tables

belatrova squad

Those of you who came were able to see the exhibition of table  paintings which we set up just for the two days, and this proved very popular. These tabletops are all hand painted, each one a painting in acrylic and then varnished over with a heat resistant lacquer.

With a big space dedicated to the tables only, most viewers took their own time to look at each individual piece and enjoyed the experience of a gallery-like atmosphere and the pleasure of looking down at paintings and walking around them. Try it at home, it’s so much more comfortable than looking up at paintings on walls. And you can put hot mugs of tea on them too.

One or two of you, having been to the Paul Klee exhibition at the Tate Modern, noted a connection between his painting and some of the tables. Well spotted. Klee is a particular hero of belatrova’s and every now and again surfaces in our work. Here are some Klee-like examples:

belatrova paul klee table painting

paul klee table

klee reference on belatrova table

a bit more klee

The Klee exhibition is one of the best to be held anywhere, and even if you are not familiar with his work, belatrova recommends a visit (we’ve been twice already); he was innovative and always trying out new ways to make marks on a surface, and, seventy three years after his death, you can see how much he has influenced artists.

belatrova is not sure that Klee ever made any ceramics, but had he done so the results would have been as engaging as Picasso’s, though gentler. Here are two we made earlier with P.K. in mind:

two pots in the Klee style

two Klee pots by belatrova