Inside the Home of Ceramicist Layla Cluer
Images by Amelia Fullarton
This week we visit ceramicist Layla Cluer at the home she shares with her two housemates Avan and Marlee, and Avan’s Irish Wolfhound cross Archie. Over the past decade Layla has spent time in both Melbourne and abroad before returning home to the Northern Rivers to focus on her ceramics practice and establish her brand Softedge Studio. IN BED is thrilled to welcome Layla and Softedge to the stable of beautiful objects stocked at our Paddington flagship and online at INBEDstore.com.
“We have lived here almost a year now, it’s one of those early covid rental treasures. The young architect who designed it in the 90s was clearly influenced by his teacher and mentor Glen Murcutt––the honest use of materials and vernacular style of architecture are what initially attracted me to the house. Typically, the kitchen table is where I spend most of my time, but due to the configuration of the house I think it has been spending time around the fireplace in winter and on the deck in summer that we have most enjoyed.”
“Before leaving Melbourne, I was living in a 24sqm bedsit in the famed Cario flats, which I loved for its economy of design. Now my bedroom is bigger than that entire apartment and I really appreciate the luxury of having so much space. I love that it’s simultaneously expansive and cozy. There’s nothing better than sitting in bed on a cold winter day with a cup of tea in one hand, a book in the other, and the warm light of my Akari light sculpture.”
“My bedroom is definitely where my most precious objects live––family heirlooms, artworks by friends––so it's hard to choose favorites… but if I had to choose just one it would be the beaded maasai wall hanging beside my bed which belonged to my grandma. She was a great adventurer in her early life and later became a sociologist working in remote communities throughout Papua New Guinea and East Africa. She was always off to some far flung place yet had an incredibly grounding presence, I’m only now beginning to understand and appreciate her spiritual dimension. But as a kid I loved nothing more than going to her house, picking an object off her many shelves and asking about its origin. Inevitably a very long and tangential story would ensue and my imagination would carry me off in all sorts of directions.”
My bedroom is definitely where my most precious objects live––family heirlooms, artworks by friends––so it's hard to choose favorites.
“I’m very sentimental about the things I own. Perhaps the Persian silk kilim in my bedroom is one of the most special things I own despite not being particularly remarkable in design. It was given to me as a baby––I was born in the middle east, my Dad was working as a vet breeding racing camels for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed at the time––and has been in almost every room I've had since. The design features hundreds of abstract animal motifs yet the colours and the craftsmanship mean I've never outgrown it and I hope I never will.”
A selection of Soft Edge pieces including the ‘Conversation Cup’,’Cup with Curves’ and a side plate in Klein Blue, as seen in Layla’s kitchen.
“I’m also very attached to my Richard Sapper kettle. He designed it for Alessi in the 80s with the idea of taking the banal act of boiling water and making it a multi-sensorial experience. The gold plated whistle is not only an aesthetic feature, but contains two pitch pipes which sound at different temperatures and eventually harmonise. I probably let it boil a little too long because I like listening to it…”
“The abundance of pristine beaches and national parks is definitely what I enjoy most about Bundjalung country, and the east coast in general. I moved to Melbourne the minute I finished school and it wasn't until I was living in Scotland in 2015/6 where I spent every weekend hiking, that I realised just how much I wanted to return to this area. It took me a few years to build up the courage to quit my job and make the leap but every morning when I get to swim in the ocean I am glad. I have a few semi-secret walks I like to do regularly in places like Goonengerry and Broken Head. But even if all I manage on a normal day is a quick surf or swim at Wategos, I’m happy.”
The abundance of pristine beaches and national parks is definitely what I enjoy most about Bundjalung country.
“Softedge is a project about the sculptural possibilities of everyday, functional objects and the spongy edges of their disciplines. For now, at least, it takes form in a playful collection of ceramic objects intended to be used when we gather around the table. I’ve always had a tendency to speak in food metaphors, so when I picked up clay again it made sense to start playing and extending certain notions through sculptural form.”
“Softedge began when I returned to the Northern Rivers in late 2019, after more than a decade in Melbourne and overseas, I decided to take some time off and enroll in a 10-week studio access program at the Lismore TAFE. I had been working in the curatorial team at RMIT’s Design Hub Gallery and, as is common, my job became overly administrative so I wanted to take a break and to use my hands in a different way. It wasn’t the first time I’ve pushed clay around but this time it stuck! By the end of the 10-weeks I had learned so much about the ceramic process that I was hooked.”
“I feel it goes without saying that designers and makers should be employing the most sustainable practices and technologies possible––making things that will last a lifetime or else break down without harmful byproducts. That said, I don’t like to center the way I design around any form of eco-ideology because I find it can be very limiting and pushes me into a downward spiral. Instead, I just think of it as best practice. In the studio we spend a huge amount of time recycling clay and other materials. I have also developed all my work using midfire clays. So while my pieces are crafted from long lasting porcelain and stoneware, they have a lower energy input than you might expect and there is less kiln wear and tear.
Currently, I’m working towards my kilns running entirely on off-grid solar. And I’ve also had a project slowly simmering that would see softedge use an industrial byproduct in place of traditional clay bodies –– hopefully not just a pipe dream…”
I feel it goes without saying that designers and makers should be employing the most sustainable practices and technologies possible.
In terms of creative process, Layla says that the way she brings pieces to life is often a mix between being carefully planned and allowing herself the freedom to follow a vision that often evolves with each piece.
“I think it’s a bit of both. Largely my work plays on the function or use of everyday objects through the specific lens of slip casting. Each piece starts with a concept. Once that's been swirling around in my head for a while I might begin by making a few sketches or small maquettes, but often I’ll simply wedge a big block of clay together and begin carving. Over the course of a week or so the form is slowly refined until it’s ready to go through an initial casting process which translates it into a plaster ‘master’. From there I’ll continue working with surforms, caving tools and sandpaper until it’s ready to be made into a mould. Then it can be a good few months of problem-solving before I see the first piece come out of the kiln. Needless to say, the end product is rarely what I envisioned but rather an idea that has been translated through process and the specificities of my hand into a functional object.
Take the Ewer, for example, I wanted to make a jug that embodied the convivial atmosphere of a long lunch and also served to facilitate it. The potbellied vesele that eventuated is exceptionally lightweight and strong as it’s cast from a single piece of porcelain. So you can fill it to the brim (4.5L) and still pour from it with one hand, the jug itself weighing less than two kilos. Something I could only achieve through the process of slip casting.”
I wanted to make a jug that embodied the convivial atmosphere of a long lunch and also served to facilitate it.
“If I’m not in the studio, I’m most likely doing something outdoors, reading or sharing meals with friends. But I have to admit, I don’t have a great work life balance at the moment. Perhaps, when you get to call something you love doing work that's okay!?
There are a lot of great projects on the horizon but the one I’m the most excited about is designing and building a new studio. Architecture was my first career path but I stopped working in the field around five years ago, so it's been really nice to return to it in a small way.“