What These Teacups Reveal About The History Of British Design

The Reflect range of teacups, by Richard Brendon, are part old, part new, and very British.

“Over the course of 300 years of drinking tea, it’s just the case that people break cups more than saucers,” says British designer Richard Brendon, who noticed this while working on a design school problem, on sets. “There are thousands of saucers without cups. So I thought if I could reunite them with cups, it would make them useful again.”


Four years later, and that project evolved into Brendon’s Reflect line of tea cups. The saucers are all antiques that Brendon finds by scouring secondary markets and car boot sales (for the Americans reading: a car boot sale is like a yard sale, only you literally sell goods out of your car’s trunk). The cups in the Reflect collection are all new. Brendon realized that if he designed a simple cup, and gave it a reflective patina, the cup would seamlessly mirror the gorgeous handiwork of the saucers, and look aesthetically unified.

“I wanted the cup to be quiet, and just reflect the pattern,” Brendon tells Co.Design. His cups are a “bute shape” cup, a classic design modeled after Georgian ceramics that were popular from 1800 to 1850. They’re all manufactured in the region of Stoke-on-Trent, the historic site of the United Kingdom’s pottery industry.

Over the past few years Brendon has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of British china. His favorite period was during the peak of the British Empire, from about 1800 to 1830. The country was prosperous, so the china sets were too. “Some of the best artists of the day were working with manufacturers,” Brendon says. “Money wasn’t an issue, so it was all about making them as beautiful as possible.”

As for the Reflect series, the oldest pieces Brendon has found are from 1780; the newest are from around 1950. After World War II, he says, is when the industry leaders started shipping production overseas, and stopped working with designers to cut costs.

Right now, however, there’s a percolating interest among designers in bringing tried-and-true design back to life. It’s one reason classic chairs get reissued in new colors. And of his Moooi exhibit at this year’s Milan Design Week, Marcel Wanders said, “we should not accept the past as irrelevant; we should take it with us.” That sentiment is at the heart of the Reflect range, as well. “You should think really hard before you produce a really new thing, if there are alternatives.”

The Range saucer and cup sets go for £80.00 (about $135) each, and can be bought here.


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.