KLACHIM, southern Israel — The most surprising element of Yaara Nir Kachlon’s line of creamy white ceramic bowls, dishes, vases and drinkware is their utter weightlessness. There’s none of the familiar heft and weight so common in most handmade ceramics, that substantial gravity that necessitates careful handling of most fired clay pieces.
“People go crazy about the weight,” said Nir Kachlon. “After all the ceramics that I’ve seen, people are just shocked by that.”
It’s one of the main reasons why Yaara’s ceramics make the journey from her home studio in a tiny moshav in the northwestern Negev to the exclusive environs of New York’s ABC Carpet & Home, a well-known purveyor of fine housewares and furnishings.
Nir Kachlon’s handiwork is also found at Anthropologie, the American retail chain that specializes in a carefully curated selection of clothing, housewares and accessories, as well as in select shops and stores throughout Israel.
“It’s what I try to explain all the time to buyers, who just expect each shipment to be huge and heavy,” said Nir Kachlon.
There are, of course, other characteristics of the ceramics, like the soft whites of the delicate-looking serving pieces, bakeware, vases and cups, a pleasing monotone that looks good against any salad, pie or vegetable. The porcelain feel of these plates belies a sturdiness that withstands the oven, microwave and dishwasher.
This is contemporary ceramic art that is as functional as it gets.
It’s an element that the Bezalel-trained ceramicist figured out by chance years ago, when she was still experimenting with what would become her line of products.
“I was looking for a clay that would be thin, because I loved that look,” said Nir Kachlon. “I wanted something delicate, reminiscent of a fruit peel, and through that I happened upon this lightweight clay.”
Nir Kachlon makes her ceramics using a casting process that molds each piece. She’s not the first to create these kind of lightweight ceramics, but still only figured it out through a process of trial and error. She makes her own clay, mixing the powder and water in giant vats at the back of her home studio in Klachim, a sleepy rural town a few kilometers from Gaza. She controls the thickness of the clay, using her own visual sense to gauge the depth of each piece.
Yaara works regularly with a technologist, who helps her measure the water type and consistency, while her husband, a commercial farmer who grows vegetables in the winter and melons in the summer, is ever-helpful with the tremendous job of mixing the clay. He also built her studio at their moshav home.
Their fields and those of their neighbors are the backdrop to Nir Kachlon’s rambling farmhouse and studio, the brown and green grasses waving in the wind beyond her backyard that is strewn with her kids’ bicycles and skateboards.
Nir Kachlon didn’t work with ceramics until she was in her 20s, after her army service, when a chance ceramics workshop demonstrated her natural skills with clay. She then studied ceramics at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and also spent a year at the Parsons School in New York.
It was during those earlier years that Nir Kachlon’s aesthetic sensibilities developed, particularly in New York, when “the city was my museum,” and stores like ABC and Anthropologie were her lab for seeing what people liked to buy.
At the time, she created the first five basic pieces of this line, a salad bowl in three sizes, a cup and saucer, and a plate.
Back home in Israel, she worked briefly as a window designer at Tollman’s, the high-end furniture chain that once had stores in several Israeli cities, and then settled down to work at a studio in Mazkeret Batya, the small town in central Israel where she was raised.
“I had a mix of colors in those days,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine now, but back then, no one understood whites. Everything was turquoise and blue and decorated with fish. That’s what was in style. Everyone waited for me to draw something on these white dishes.”
At first, Nir Kachlon taught workshops while trying out different ceramic styles. She began making a line of dishes that sold to stores, focusing primarily on the shapes as the decorative aspect of the monotone line of kitchenware. She sometimes add light pastels to the mix, and sometimes carved idioms and sayings into the upper rim of some bowls, a practice she continues until today.
“I thought if I decorated it or painted it, it would take more time,” she said. “I wanted it to be completely functional first and foremost, and then it has to receive food and hold food and so that made the most sense.”
Working only in white simplifies the work process, said Nir Kachlon, who describes herself as a practical person.
The clay that she mixes is the eggshell white of the ceramic ware, brushed with a clear glaze. The shade of white does shift because it’s a natural material, and the whites of the dishes can also shift depending on the water used, or their location in the kiln.
“It’s very functional,” said Nir Kachlon, who began selling her work throughout Israel. “But they’re not perfect, because I want it to look like someone made it.”
It wasn’t until a chance trip to New York that she tried selling her wares at ABC, where she showed up with a carry-on suitcase packed with a catalog and ten of her pieces.
After being turned down by the burly store security guard who told her they did not take walk-ins, she wandered around the housewares department. It was there that a friendly salesman agreed to put her work on the head buyer’s desk.
Later the same day, they called her and ordered their first shipment.
That was seven years ago, and ABC still carries Yaara ceramics charging $50 a plate, which is relatively inexpensive for the pricey housewares store.
“it’s pretty wild to see your stuff there and in the catalog,” said Nir Kachlon.
The first ABC order was for 1,000 items and she worked day and night for two months to fulfill the order. A trade fair several years later brought two Anthropologie buyers to her booth, and they began ordering bakeware for several stores. Domino, a formerly Condé Nast-founded print and online home magazine that now functions as an e-commerce platform also carries the Yaara line.
Nir Kachlon credits her success to her father, who taught her how to follow her dreams and her mother, who always made ceramics and has a great aesthetic sense. It helps that she’s fluent in English, thanks to several years spent in the US with her family, when she was still a child.
“You go and do what you need to do, without fear,” said Nir Kachlon. “What the worst that could happen? You go to the top and don’t be afraid of being told ‘no.'”