The wall of shame

27th January 2016

By Paul OLeary

That’s Ed, our ceramicist’s name for this collection of failed attempts at making a Belfast sink. If you watched the recent pottery program “The Great British Throw-down” you will have seen that people get really emotional about things they create out of wet mud.



Robin and I were visiting the Art College degree shows in the summer and were taken by how helpful and polite this young man was and whilst we were looking round all the other departments, I said to Robin, can we go back into 3D design afterwards and if he is still there, let’s ask to see his work. That’s what we did and we liked his slip cast porcelain pendant lights and asked if he would consider becoming a kitchen designer. He was gracious but non-committal. I’m used to this; art graduates don’t know how tough it is to find a job that utilises any of the skills that have been put to use on their course. Often they are heading down to The New Designers exhibition in Islington and imagine that something amazing is just round the corner. It isn’t. So we bide our time and wait for the penny to drop. True to form Ed eventually rang and accepted the offer.


In the time it had taken him to think about it Helen and I had had yet another excitable evening imagining a whole new adventure with a new material. We had decided that we really liked the idea of making our own sinks. I’m a product designer and I’ve learnt a lot about wood and cabinet making in the 30 years since I graduated, but I’m still a product designer in my head and now that I have two underwear businesses too I have learnt a lot about fabric. Fabric is a tough material to design with, it’s floppy, it stretches, it shrinks, it rucks and the industry is in the dark ages. The average hosiery factory, the few that are left, are mayhem and their customer service leaves you dumbstruck. So as usual we end up making everything ourselves. Which is great, lots of new staff busily making underwear in the Mill house chatting away with the radio on. Yes, fabric was tricky, but it was fun.


The idea of getting to grips with a new material was exciting, I was going to relish the steep learning curve with never a doubt in my mind that our problem solving skills would conquer anything nature’s materials had to throw at us. Ed was way too confident; I had estimated 10 failures before a success, but Ed was pretty sure he’d crack it first or second time round. Well he was kind of right, if it wasn’t warped, it was cracked. Some didn’t even make the wall of shame because you would need 50 sticks for your glue gun to piece them back together. Ed has suffered, but it’s been good for him. He’s now a realist and now none of us underestimate just how hard it is to make a rectangular-ish sink.


Every time you open the kiln door you have to be prepared for complete failure, and we have learnt that any progress is something reassuring. I watched a great film recently,” I Origins” and one statement stuck in my mind: “Turning over rocks and finding nothing is progress”. I think it’s a good motto, mistakes are to be learnt from and accepting them and dissecting them leads you to your eventual goal.


So for me it isn’t a wall of shame, it’s a voyage of discovery, and with every rock turned over I understand that shady little world a bit more. Clay is the Gorgon of all of nature’s materials, and firing it in a gnarly old kiln off ebay is like being asked to cut off Medusa’s head with a rusty shield and a spatula. But we are on a mission and we are really nearly there. I think it’s about 12 or maybe 14 sinks down the road and here we are with a sink that would hold water and touch the worktop in at least 3 places. One thing’s for sure, when we finally announce the deVOL sink is for sale, you can guarantee you’ll be getting a sink which has plenty of character.


Of course, you can’t live with constant failure, so whilst we’re waiting for stuff to dry out, Ed gets on with something he absolutely excels at, throwing. His bowls are so lovely and Hannah’s tiles are going to be exquisite. We will have up to 4 ceramicists in our studio by this July and our customers can look forward to beautiful sinks, tiles, pots and kitchen jars.

Need any help?

Cotes Mill
01509 261000


St. John's
020 3879 7900

Tysoe Street
020 3837 5900


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New York
+1 212 210 6269

Need any help? Please email:

Cotes Mill 01509 261000

St. John's Square 020 3879 7900

Tysoe Street 020 3837 5900


US Showroom

New York  +1 212 210 6269

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Cotes Mill, Nottingham Road, Cotes,
Loughborough, LE12 5TL.