Searching for a new and authentic way to incorporate artisan products into her own home, Queenstown based interior and graphic designer Jo Ruthven set up an innovative homeware and textile business that sees her travelling the world seeking goods direct from the source.
“I was struggling to find pieces that were reasonably priced and authentic here in New Zealand that started my research on homewares,” says Jo. “In the process, I uncovered some not so great truths on how cushions covers, rugs, ceramics are largely mass-produced, made using toxins and produced in faceless factories. That pointed me in the direction of ‘artisan-made homewares’ and questioning why couldn’t we buy beautiful quality pieces here that supported small communities around the world.”
Ruthven+Co, is primarily an online business, with a small studio space in Industrial Place in Queenstown where local customers and visitors can view and purchase artisan products.
“Ethically produced, environmentally friendly home décor, textiles, tableware, and lighting made by friendly artists are our key criteria.”
“We have partnered with artists in Morocco, Tunisia, Greece, and Italy who have honed their skills over generations, creating pieces from their own culture with a touch of contemporary design.”
With a passion for ancient history and travel, Jo enjoys visiting countries where the products originate from and recently went to Tunisia to meet artists.
“It was amazing and heartfelt visiting the women who make the seagrass pendants, the guys crafting beautiful organic olive wood timber bowls and platters and also the woven Foutas (Tunisian towels). I also met a very talented artist in Northern Italy who handmakes pendant lights from leaves and lampshades from natural salt crystals blended rose petals.”
The ethical side of the global homewares industry forms part of Ruthven + Co’s mantra, and Jo says we should all question where our ‘stuff’ is made.
“Most of us don’t think about it. We might question our food origins, but what about clothing and furniture. Is it organic and naturally made, and who is benefiting from the purchase? Buying less and buying quality over quantity is the way forward.”
The Ruthven + Co collection currently has Portuguese cushions, Moroccan handmade metal and glass lanterns, Tunisian seagrass pendants, and a range of Greek ceramics.
“Following us on the Ruthven + Co Instagram and Facebook pages is a great way to see what we are up to and the new homewares that are continually arriving. Our studio in Industrial Place is open by appointment during the week and on Saturday from 1 pm until 5pm, throughout summer.”
On a sweltering hot day in the middle of June, Jo and her daughter Eva went to visit ceramicists Artemi Peiou and Dimitri Pratikakis on the island of Crete.
“Their pottery studio was located down narrow cobbled streets in the old part of Heraklion. The first thing you notice is the studio’s stark white walls and tables covered with plates, jugs, cups, and bowls in beautiful Mediterranean colours of azure, cobalt, cerulean, teal, emerald green.”
“Dimitri welcomed us with water and homemade cake in typical Greek hospitality and showed us around his workshop. Artemi is a second-generation potter and Dimitri an ex-engineer, and together, they have experimented with forms, glazes, and different types of clay and techniques. Their use of traditional craft and new ideas has resulted in stunning contemporary ceramics for everyday use.”
Jo says every piece is made using local clay and hand thrown on the pairs potter’s wheel.
“Their style is truly unique. I struggled to find anything else similar on my travels. They are passionate about their trade, and you can see their enthusiasm when they show what they have been making. Dimitri even gave Eva an impromptu pottery lesson which she loved.”