There’s something romantic about the idea of something that’s one-of-a-kind in today’s world of predictable uniformity. The idea of embracing imperfections harkens back to a time before mass-production, when things were made meticulously by hand. Artist Courtney Hamill, one of the very first makers in the West Elm LOCAL program, deeply understands the allure.
After developing an intense love-hate with clay at ceramics course in college, it wasn’t until Courtney was well into her career in non-profits that she decided to pivot and dedicate herself to the craft. In 2012, she started Honeycomb Studio out of her backyard studio in Atlanta. As a small-batch, handmade porcelain shop, Courtney touches each and every piece, carefully crafting small sculptures with lots of love.
Honeycomb Studio has seen much success since 2012, and was named by Huffington Post as one of the Top 15 Home Decor Trendsetters from the South. Since Courtney joined West Elm LOCAL, she’s been able to scale her business up and sell her products nationally.
We recently caught up with Courtney in her home studio in Atlanta. Read on below!
Photography by Kathryn McCrary.
Hi! I’m Courtney Hamill of Honeycomb Studio.
I currently work from a studio in Atlanta’s West Midtown district where I design and execute small-scale porcelain sculptures by hand. Each Honeycomb Studio piece has been hand-made, either on the wheel or cast from an original mold, one-at-a-time so that no two pieces are ever exactly alike.
I discovered ceramics later than most. On a whim, I signed up for an introductory ceramics class on the wheel my junior year in college and, during that semester, developed an intense love-hate relationship with clay. Over the course of many late nights in the studio, the hate melted away and was replaced by a life-long passion for pottery.
After college, I moved to Floyd, Virginia to live in an old farmhouse and work as an apprentice to Donna Polseno and Rick Hensley on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 2012, after a brief hiatus from ceramics, I walked away from my career in non-profit fundraising and haven’t been looked back. Honeycomb Studio opened its doors in 2012 with petite bud vases but has since expanded to include a full range of artfully-designed utilitarian and decorative pieces, including additional vases, tableware, barware, vessels, jewelry, decorative antlers, lamps, and holiday heirlooms.
Can you describe why you had a love-hate relationship with clay? How did it then turn into your lifelong passion?
When you watch someone with experience do pottery on the wheel, it looks graceful and effortless. It looks like they simply touched their finger to the clay and the clay bends to their will and intention. But when you try to do it for the first time, it truly feels like an epic battle between you and the clay. It’s frustrating, physical work! I specifically remember being in the studio until 2:30 a.m. for my Pottery on the Wheel 101 class – an elective that I’d chosen on a whim – and being so mad about it. That’s when I hated clay.
On the flip side, clay is addictive. When I figured out how to make the clay do what I wanted with it, I was immediately hooked on the touch, feel and result.
Tell us about your studio space.
The front portion of the studio is lined with shelves that house our finished designs, and then another wall of shelves where we keep all of the drying and in-process work. In the middle of the space is a work table where we focus on the production and glazing processes. The back of the studio holds two large kilns that are firing in near-constant rotation.
You’ve been a local maker with us since the very beginning! How has the West Elm local program helped you grow as a business?
I was a part of the very first West Elm Local pilot program because Atlanta was one of the test markets. It’s been fun to watch Honeycomb Studio evolve at the same time as the West Elm program has grown and become more robust. We started at one West Elm Atlanta store, then expanded to all Atlanta stores, and now have gone national with the program.
Being a part of the program has really helped me to push boundaries and forced me to think about how to scale and work in a way that allows us to offer our product to a nationwide audience, especially when the Honeycomb Studio and West Elm aesthetics are a match made in heaven. It’s such a natural fit, that it’s felt like a really organic partnership.
What was the first ceramics creation that you were really proud of?
The first line I created that gave me the confidence to make a business out of ceramics was my Antler Collection, which is funny because I’ve really moved away from it (although I do still sell it on my website). I created it back when the antler craze was a thing. Antlers are so sculptural and beautiful, but until the Honeycomb Studio Antler line launched, all antlers on the market were either real bone antlers which gave me a taxidermy vibe (yuck) or were made out of cheaper materials like resin and plastic. I was excited about creating an option made out of porcelain as it is such a beautiful material that I felt would really do justice to the antler’s sculptural aspects.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about growing and sustaining your own business?
I’ve learned that one of the hardest things that any business deals with is when and how to invest in its own growth. I read somewhere that figuring out what you want your business to look like in the long run and slowly laying the sustainable groundwork in that direction is a good place to start – and I agree with that. By hiring multiple employees and pursuing a more production-minded method of working. I have set Honeycomb Studio up with a very different model than most of my fellow small batch ceramicists. I’ve made some major investments in those areas at the expense of my own income, but it’s because I ultimately want to focus on product design and have my work in as many homes as possible without working 23 hours a day. I think every business needs to have at least a loose vision of where it wants to end up to help guide those investments.
What does a typical Saturday look like for you?
I work hard to keep regular Monday-to-Friday business hours in the studio so that (barring a crisis) I can spend the weekends with my family. I have two small children — Leo is 3 and Lillian is 2 — so Saturdays are for toddler wrangling and general family time. I’m usually up early and spend as much time with the kids as possible. Now that the weather is nice, we do a lot of gardening and playing outside.
What do you love most about living + working in Atlanta?
I love that Atlanta is small and accessible enough to make your mark in whatever industry you choose, but also large enough that you have access to world-class food, culture and amenities. I also love that the different neighborhoods have their own personalities and you can choose the one that appeals most to you. The food is good, the people are friendly, and the winters are mild. What’s not to like?
What’s next for Honeycomb Studio?
This May, we will be launching a limited capsule collection with Atlanta fine artist Renee Bouchon. The collection will feature 15 of Honeycomb Studio’s white porcelain decorative plates cast with Renee Bouchon’s popular “Relic” series in various shades of blues and greens, a mix of paint and paper on thick, textured paper finished with deckle. It was a really interesting and challenging cross-disciple collaboration, and I’m really excited about it.