Catching up with Kimberly Huestis of Porcelain & Stone
A few years ago Laura gave me a pair of stud earrings from local jewelry designer Kimberly Huestis of Porcelain & Stone. Since then, I’ve been following Kimberly and her beautiful collection of ocean and earth-inspired jewelry. She recently launched a new collection inspired by a trip to Iceland. We caught up with Kimberly to learn more about the new pieces and what else she’s been up to…
Hi Kimberly! We have been long-time fans of your jewelry collection, Porcelain & Stone. Can you share a little bit about you and your background as a jewelry designer?
Thank you so much! I’m originally from Vermont and moved to Boston for school to study Architecture and French Cultural Studies. I had already begun rock carving while in high school, so continued in college in between classes at MIT and Wellesley. I would work late in the studio and literally bang out a sculpture in marble. My art and architecture studies brought about an attention to minute details that helped me to look at everything in an overall perspective, scaled, and spatial way. Architecture is very relatable to a lot of industries, which is perhaps why you run into so many of us former architect folks. We are taught to figure out a problem and design for scale and health of the occupant. Designing for beauty primarily isn’t the right way to achieve longevity or relevance, so comfort or experience is a big concern, and then visual pleasantries. Something can be beautiful because of how it interacts or relates to an object or person, not necessarily as an object form itself. In the case of jewelry, because I am self-taught, everything is test-worn, I observe over many months problems over time, and then go back to correct and improve the design. This process has helped inform my future design work.
I also have a huge nickel allergy problem in alloyed metals and can react to even the slightest found in surgical steel which folks don’t realize isn’t technically nickel-free. So, I test all of my metal sources for nickel and nickel reactions.
Your new black lava collection is stunning! What inspired you to make these designs?
Tell us a little bit about your trip to Iceland and how your time there inspired this collection?
I was inspired when I traveled to Iceland at the beginning of the new year in 2016. It wasn’t unlike Vermont, but of course in many ways it was strikingly different in terms of the natural landscape being influenced by volcanic activity and also still having receding glaciers and waterfalls. It left an impression on me, that I’m sure happens to a lot of folks that visit Iceland. But, I’m the type that mellows on these little things. Most especially, I love dirt. Not actually because of clay, but when I worked in Architecture, I got into photography and textures and grime were a big part of what made things very real in my work. So, I’m just always drawn to the old, weathered, or gritty things I spot. The black sands found on the southern coast of Iceland were so stunningly beautiful on closer inspection. The crushed basalt was like holding history in your hand.
With that visit stewing around in my brain for almost a year, a number of events and family happenings turned my emotions a bit heavier and dark in 2016. I wanted everyone to feel that darkness and embrace it because it was only human. I’m a big fan of recognizing how humans are special and uniquely un-special all at the same time. I allowed myself to undo my intentional design boundaries of designing with Porcelain and Stone, to just do something a bit for me.
I was curious about an idea I had and if it would work. After I think of something for a long time, I’ll eventually attempt it because I’m probably one of the more experimental type of ceramic humans. Being a ceramicist and jeweler, you definitely have to be experimental. I crave being different. It’s pretty much how I have been since I can remember. Growing up, I would wear whatever I wanted that my older sisters wouldn’t totally make-fun of me for! But, it was usually something new and Taiwanese that my mom brought back from visiting family. Quietly standing out is perhaps why some folks like to wear a brooch pin, or statement jewelry: it’s not loud, but just enough personality gathered up into an object form to bring them their outward sense of self.
So, I’m always okay with experimenting to mess up — while I’d rather not — I do enjoy understanding materials as a science. Their chemical reaction potential and preventing potential failure in respect to the lifetime of a piece. I aim to create artifacts. I try to mess up as fast as possible so I can figure out those material boundaries. Having gone over potential failures, I simply prepare myself for alternative outcomes. Beautifully, the timing of inspiration, emotions, and technique came together and created the Black Lava Collection. It took almost a full year to hone it in a more predictable method, but it represents a struggle, and the pieces really make me happy. I think that reflects in the gold light. This collection was a response to overwhelming sadness at a global level right down to a personal level, and it means more to me as it represents a hope and a beauty that is just hidden beneath the surface waiting at any moment to break free.
Any other trips / places that have really resonated with you?
Any time I travel I feel rather attentive and open to the natural landscape. I’m very much in favor of not staying in one place to get a new perspective. Like my love of Tafoni that is a coastal erosion found all over the world. I loved creating my interpretation of this textural goodness in a porcelain piece. Traveling allows me to be open at a broader level and makes me feel a bit more in touch with people from around the world. I have visited family in Japan and Taiwan since I was a kid, to going to India with one of my best friends to visit her family and be pleasantly surprised by the architecture in Bangalore and the day-to-day life in Coimbatore.
I did a road-trip across America this summer with my husband, Chester and our dog, Chloe and it left a huge impression. When we got to different regions in the US, there were distinct design lines and color palettes that called themselves out to me. You could perhaps look it up in a book, but how it makes you feel in that moment, completely immersed in your surroundings, that’s where the inspiration takes root. I could go all over the map with design inspiration, but in the end, designers all over know and tiredly laugh: just because you can do it, does it mean you should?
We love how unique your pieces are, and that they feel so connected to the earth. Have you always been drawn to natural elements? Do you prefer the coast or mountains?
I definitely have always been drawn to natural elements. Perhaps it’s human nature? I like wood, it provides a textural warmth. I like stones, for their strength and color. Even shiny stones provide a different palette and overall impression, and can be found polished naturally by nature, or be polished using other stones found in nature. Do I prefer the coast or mountains? I will say both! I grew up near Lake Champlain in Vermont. We’re surrounded by the nice little mountains of The Adirondacks and The Green Mountains, so this creates a valley of low area where the water sits. I have a love for places like Vancouver, Canada — a city I have been obsessed with since my days in 3D design and animation. It’s all mountains and ocean. Seattle, WA… or Iceland, Scotland, Taiwan! Mountains meeting a water coastline is essentially where I was born. I haven’t traveled the world yet, but places like Slovenia, Italy, it tells me you can have both… but just not in Boston. It really needs mountains, the one thing I’ve always said it was missing!
Tell us a little bit about your design process. Do you sketch first? How long does it take you to create a new piece from idea to creation?
Tricky good question! You know from the Black Lava Collection that really took some time to manifest and get the experimenting right… if I were to have a perfect idea, with no testing flaws, etc. I could probably do it in three to five days. But, that’s not the reality of work that I’m proud of making. I have to vet it and know all the things about it. I make pieces that are incredibly strong, to pieces that I suggest be cared for similar to pearls (even though porcelain is similar in strength to sapphires). It’s not just my background in knowing how to carve and break rocks that helps me test, but also gravity and life experiences like going out dancing or swinging up to a bar table. The length of a piece and the weight change the comfort and potential longevity of my jewelry. I also recognize that my wearers come in all different shapes and styles. I want my pieces to find the right woman who recognizes these things about herself because she is conscientious. She is intentional. To be safe and on the short side without wear-testing, I would say roughly, three weeks to go from idea-to-sketch, then sketch-to-clay-sketch, and finally move towards a finished piece.
What is your studio like? Do you listen to music while you work? Paint the picture for us!
My studio is in constant flux! I have been doing so many shows away from the studio that it’s rather an explosive mess right now, but generally, I have stations setup for the jewelry/soldering area, a glaze area, a clay recycling area, finished pieces section, etc. I love to listen to music during the day, sometimes dance because I’m happy in what I’m doing and like to bother my dog. I also enjoy listening to podcasts but my husband and I have to agree on that now-a-days since we are both working from home and the studio. He runs a start-up helping high-growth product-based businesses to manage their growth.
As we approach the holidays, what are your favorite pieces (from your collection) to gift? Do you have any other locally-made gifts that you like to give to friends or family?
My favorite pieces! That’s like, do I have a favorite ice cream flavor… and the answer is I like all ice cream. I like. Ice cream.
But, the best thing for gifts? It’s always going to be earrings if I don’t want to outfit a person in my style. Studs are a great gift that will usually find a place on someone’s earlobes. I personally adore necklaces and rings, but those are very stylized gifts to give. My top two if I knew someone’s finger size and money was no concern would be the Marbled Ring with the new Marbled Heritage Studs. Because, maybe you keep one for yourself! But one thing that can pretty much work with any outfit from preppy to edgy are the Harbor Chains (I prefer my navy ones to dress up or down, many folks like the white porcelain). They are classic, coastal, and real. They are an affordable luxury not made out of plastic and I can always make them work with what I’m wearing. They would be more of a personal gift or for someone you love like a best friend.
When you aren’t making jewelry, where can we find you? What do you do with a free day?
I love to work and create so I’ll pretend I’m not in the studio at all random hours of the day. My family and I love to go out and run. I think my husband seriously loves to grocery shop, he denies this, but we like Wilson Farm for seasonal local vegetables. You would most likely find us around Charles River between Cambridge and Watertown.
What are the five things you always have in your bag?
One permanent marker, sketch book with a folded paper towel inside, watercolors with a water pen hidden inside, phone, chapstick… oh and a doggy bag ;)
Something we might be surprised to know about you?
– I have over a decade of martial arts training and can thus fall really well (when awake… I sleep walk) and pin someone to the ground with basic body ergonomics.
– I was a lead saxophone player and jazz soloist, but I also play the piano and have really great internal rhythm and have picked up the set drums, but could never play in a band as a drummer. I cannot do a drum roll! I cannot play the guitar but love the bass and classic (nylon string) guitars… but I do own a guitar to stare at.
– I figured being a rock climber (2007 MIT climbing wall comp winner!) would help me play the guitar, but no. I’m a wimp when it comes to strings on my fingers.
And a few favorites:
Restaurant: Row 34 (been going since re-branding to PS in 2012)
Beach: rocky shored ones
Boston neighborhood to wander: West Cambridge, so old and fancy
Favorite getaway: The Forks, Maine, where no one can hear my cries because there is no reception
Season: shoulders (fall and spring)