Laura Butler and her partner Aman Braich are the makers behind Mennt, a brand new Sydney design studio creating simple tableware for the detail-oriented.
As their very first stockist, we at Mr and Mrs White are so excited about the future of Mennt. Recently, Molly sat down with Laura to chat about all things process, perfectionism, and starting a new business.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Honestly, I can never remember putting much thought into it. I grew up in rural Western Australia, so I didn’t experience the diversity in careers that you see in the city. After high school I studied primary education; my Mum was a teacher and it felt familiar. After completing my degree I moved to Sydney, and two years into teaching I realised that I needed a more creative career path.
How was Mennt birthed? Tell us the story!
Growing up on a fairly remote farm, I learnt the ‘make or make do’ approach. This empowered me to make things for myself that I felt the market was lacking. When others may compromise and buy what is available, I would make it.
Mennt was birthed from this approach – I couldn’t find anything that was simple enough or affordable enough on the market, so I decided to make it myself.
What is your personal or professional motto?
While I don’t live by one specific motto, there are design philosophies which have stuck with me since the beginning and guided my process to date. Dieter Rams taught me that design should be honest. Its purpose should be clear and not deceptive. His philosophy also taught me that good design is unobtrusive. Neither decorative or a work of art, but always leaves room for the user’s self-expression.
What is your fail-safe strategy for when you need creative inspiration?
I find my inspiration mainly through architecture. I naturally turn to books and websites like Leibal or Dezeen. Looking through pictures and learning about the process and considerations may engross me for an entire day, however, I find ideas will just come to me in the days following. I think removing myself from my own practice for a day allows my mind to wander and when I return, I see things with a new perspective.
Your ceramics are delightfully simple. In your opinion, what is the value of minimalism in design?
We are so bombarded with colour and loud design, that I find minimalism refreshing – it allows the owner to choose how they use an item, without being stifled by the designer’s intent. My simple ceramics allow the food to be the hero. In a world where everything seems to scream for attention, I believe this emphasis on minimalism is important. I also believe that simplicity doesn’t date, which is why I use high-quality materials that with care, will last for many years.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
After breakfast, I will walk our dog Annie, and then head into my studio in Marrickville. I’ll spend the mornings pouring and trimming all my moulds, and the afternoons sanding dry work from the previous week, or glazing. By the time I’ve loaded the kiln, Annie is wanting her afternoon walk. After dinner, I’ll de-mould everything I poured that morning and stamp our logo into the base of each item.
What is the biggest overall lesson you’ve learnt in business?
Having only launched in April this year, I’m still finding my feet. However, I think it’s important to always return to your original values, in order to keep questioning yourself and the direction your business is taking.
Being hand-poured, each one of your porcelain pieces are unique – how does perfectionism play into this process?
We often joke about this, because one of the phrases we use to describe our designs is “imperfect ceramics made by two perfectionists”. To answer truthfully, it is a constant struggle. It took us two years to even feel remotely ready to launch the business, and even now I feel like there’s still space to improve. Our slip casting process allows us to maintain consistency in design, whilst stamping, sanding and glazing by hand leaves room for the details which make each piece unique.
Tell us about your process when designing a new range of pieces. Where do you start?
I first think about what I need when entertaining. A simple platter, a large bowl. Throughout the design process, I continuously strip back unnecessary details and embellishments. From here, I will begin to throw the form in clay, making subtle changes until I am happy with the shape. I then create a plaster mold, and wait around three weeks for the mold to dry before testing the design. This process is often repeated several times before the ideal form is created, as was the case with my bowl.
I make sure to carve out a day each week to focus on what isn’t working and how I can improve, as I believe innovation is so important regardless of what design discipline you’re a part of.
How would you describe the relationship between your pieces and the day to day rituals that shape our homes and our lives?
When designing my first range, I focused on how modern people live and use these objects. People shouldn’t have to change the way they live to suit my tableware – I wanted forms that were functional and reflected the meals people are now cooking. I wanted to design ceramics that wouldn’t sit in a cupboard awaiting that special occasion, but would instead be used daily, and seamlessly.
It seems like a small thing, but creating something dishwasher-safe was critical to a successful product. There’s no point to creating something elegant and beautiful if it isn’t functional.
What do you see for the future of Mennt?
I wanted to kick off the business with just the essentials. Plates, cups and bowls to eat and drink to your heart’s content. It wasn’t long till I began seeing a need for additional products focused on sharing – there’s only so much leafy salad you can fit in a small bowl. I’m currently working on our next range, which will focus on this.
As for the future, my dream is for Mennt to eventually move into different areas of the home. I have many Moleskines full of ideas and designs which I hope to materialise. No matter the future, our designs will always be simple, designed for longevity, using quality Australian materials.
The complete range of Mennt ceramics are available in store at Mr and Mrs White Manly.
Photos by Joshua White