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Royal Delft’s delicate designs


One of the world’s most famous porcelain makers has opened its doors to the public. A visit to Royal Delft is a fascinating experience, Isabel Dexter discovers

Isabel Dexter ,

The recent homeware trend for ‘contemporary nostalgia’ is making a new generation take notice of Dutch porcelain experts Royal Delft. Established in 1653 in Delft, Royal Delft is the largest and most important producer of Delft Blue porcelain and nowadays is known for its classically beautiful pieces of porcelain and glassware with a touch of modern aesthetic. Although at one time 32 potteries operated in the area, Royal Delft is the only one remaining.

‘We are the last Delftware factory from the 17th century,’ explains Royal Delft product manager Jessica Wallien-van Erkel. ‘The world-famous Royal Delftware is still entirely hand-painted according to our centuries-old tradition, which makes it unique.’

Delft Blue
During the 1600s, the Dutch East India Company brought back vast quantities of Chinese porcelain from the Far East, making the blue and white designs fashionable. Dutch potters began to recreate Chinese porcelain using local clay and also developed their own designs, known as Delft Blue. In 1653 David Anthonisz van der Pieth founded a factory in Delft called De Porceleyne Fles (the porcelain jar).

During the 18th century the factory was owned by Marcelis de Vlugt, who used his business expertise to grow the business. He hired Jan Sixtus van der Hoeck, a master painter who was famous for his exquisite designs, to inject a new artistic energy into the porcelain. In 1876 Joost Thooft took over, understanding that the new generation of customers no longer craved the older, fragile earthenware. He changed the technique and created a mixture of clay that resembled the stronger, white English earthenware. The results were arresting and modern, and the porcelain went on to obtain worldwide fame. In 1919 the Dutch royal family formally recognised the company for the work it had done to raise the profile of the region and the ceramics industry, and the company became known as Royal Delft.

Royal Delft high tea
Today, Royal Delft makes a wide range including plates, cups, jewellery, children’s items, figurines and Christmas decorations.  Enthusiasts are welcome to visit Royal Delft and to take part in the fascinating Royal Delft Experience. Guided tours around the workshops are available and visitors can spend time learning about the brand’s past in the museum. The atmospheric restaurant serves light dishes such as baguettes with cheese, walnuts and honey, along with cakes. There is also the Dutch Royal Family chamber and the Vermeer dining room (the painter was born in Delft). For those who want to make their own mark, the option of taking part in a workshop and hand-painting a Royal Delft item is available.

‘We offer a large selection of tailor-made workshops too, for businesses and for large parties, as it's a fun way to bond with colleagues and friends,’ says Wallien-van Erkel. ‘In the last few months we have also become an official wedding location, but even before that our historical inner garden was a popular place for pretty wedding pictures.’ The beautiful historical gardens with its lush, green courtyard is also the ideal spot for enjoying a Royal Delft high tea, comprising petit fours, cakes, English scones and a selection of teas, all served, naturally, on Royal Delft porcelain.

Delicate yet contemporary
Despite its rich and proud history, this is a brand that is intent on looking forward. ‘As well as the Royal Delft Experience in Delft, we are also planning on opening a smaller Royal Delft Experience in Amsterdam soon, in the same vein,’ says Wallien-van Erkel. In addition a new product line has recently been launched that combines all the beauty and classicism of original Delft Blue with a forward-thinking, fresh design. Blue D1653 is a clean, uncluttered collection of tableware, including an Eastern-inspired tea pot and Japanese-style containers. Mostly white with a smattering of exquisite blue floral and fauna design motifs, it has a delicate yet contemporary air.

‘The name Blue D is a light-hearted reference to Delft Blue, and adding the year 1653 places its roots in the history of the brand,’ explains Marly Oosterwijk, brand manager for Blue D1653.  ‘The assortment varies from classic to modern design and tradition is the binding factor. Blue D1653 gives the ancient craft of Delft Blue a contemporary stage for a new audience.’

Find out where to shop Royal Delft tax free here

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