Trailblazer: Kati von Lehman

Spinning ceramics for purpose and pleasure, this Oregonian is thinking "bigger, grander."

kati von lehman
Stuart Mullenberg

I just want to make things that are functional and feel good,” says Portland, Oregon–based ceramicist Kati von Lehman. Her work tends toward unfussy forms, like a rounded vase with large white polka dots, or her latest take on a mug, which has a “squished-in side” to leave extra room for the owner’s knuckles.

Von Lehman was drawn to furniture and woodworking while studying interior design but found clay to be a better fit after she had a baby. She bought a wheel, put it in her basement, and started throwing pots while her daughter slept. “Ceramics was an easier medium to work with in a more limited amount of space and time that would satisfy my desire to complete a project from concept to design to production to finished piece,” she says.

These days, von Lehman works out of her home studio, which includes a kiln in her garage and a room for throwing and glazing. An upside to this time at home has been teaching her now nine-year-old daughter her craft. “If school is going terribly, we just go into the studio,” she says. “It’s been great, because now she’s starting her own ceramics business.”

Von Lehman draws inspiration from nature (“I really like getting out of the city”), sculpture, and cookbooks, which she says provide other ways to think about the function of tableware. Piaule, a hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains set to open this spring, recently hired her to make the sconces and dishware. She’s also looking to expand beyond her wholesale work, which has remained happily consistent throughout the pandemic. “I want to dive into taller pieces that are more sculptural,” von Lehman says. “I’m definitely thinking of some bigger, grander things.”•

Julia Herbst is a senior staff editor at Fast Company.
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