From one girl boss to another meet Elizabeth Macneal, founder and one-woman-band behind Limehouse Ceramics – the independent south east London-based ceramics company you and your home need to know about. I discovered Elizabeth on Instagram (where so many relationships seem to be built nowadays!) and have been totally enamoured with her gorgeous handmade creations since; from divine gold-leaf bowls to bud vases and geometric mugs, I want ALL of it. I caught up with Elizabeth in the midst of writing her book to discuss the perks of working for yourself and the best spots in East London to enjoy some good grub.
You worked in the city for several years before launching Limehouse Ceramics, what was your initial inspiration to launch your own business?
I’d love to say that there was a very organised strategy in place, but it all happened slightly accidentally – I always planned to leave management consulting after a few years, and I did so for writing; but pottery very happily coincided with leaving my job. I’ve always wanted to run my own business, and it seemed the perfect match – the creativity of ceramics coupled with the rigour of being a small business owner.
What is it about clay and pottery that you love so much?
I love the combination of aesthetic appeal and functionality – I’ll never get over the thrill of being able to drink out a mug which I made. I don’t make any sculptures – I always have function in mind.
You’ve deliberately resisted growing beyond a one-woman band, what are the core values at the heart of your business?
That everything is made with care and with love; it is very important to me that I enjoy what I’m doing and that it never becomes mass-produced. I think there’s a real charm and magic to handmade work, whether it’s a mug or a table or a dress.
Where do you find inspiration for new designs?
I know some potters who produce beautiful pen and ink drawings with exact measurements, but I don’t have a strict design process. I like the freedom of making things up as I go along, while always keeping practicality in mind.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting your business?
The biggest challenge has been working out a way to run it myself without burning out. I am keen in principle to cap my growth, but I often find myself saying ‘yes’ to everything. In the run-up to Christmas I found myself working 16 hour days for two months without a day off, which just wasn’t sustainable. Since then, I’ve forced myself to think more strategically and am doing my best to stick to this!
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
It’s definitely been feedback from customers. I have a wonderful Instagram following, and it’s so encouraging to hear people say that they are happy with something they bought from me. That’s all I want, really: to make things which people treasure and enjoy using.
From one girl boss to another, what advice would you give you other women wanting to start their own business?
I would say, go for it! Plan carefully before committing and make sure that this is something that you want to be working on in two, five, ten years. Before I took the plunge and bought all of the expensive equipment (wheel, kiln etc.), I joined an open access studio to be sure that I really did have the commitment and energy for it.
What is your favourite part of working for yourself?
I love choosing my own hours and working for myself. While I work harder than I ever did before, I find a real satisfaction in the fact that I have built my business myself – and that I see a pot through from a lump of clay to a mug I drink tea out of. I also like that I can decide if I will have a haircut in the afternoon, even if I’ll work late to make up for it. Plus, I really care about what I do, whereas I wasn’t very interested in management consulting or asset management before!
With writing a book and running your business, how do you find the balance between work/home life?
This can be really difficult – I find that it’s very hard to switch off. Before, I used to live for the holidays and weekends, but I enjoy my work so much that I often work seven days a week, and I’ve only taken one holiday in the last eighteen months. It’s definitely something I need to improve on, but the best part is that I love every day of my life, not 2/7ths of it!
What are your future goals for Limehouse Ceramics?
Now that I’ve signed a publishing contract for my first novel (The Doll Factory will be published in the UK by Picador in Spring 2019, and the US and other internationals are offering as we speak – which is so exciting!), my aim is to be much more strategic in what I do. I need to find a way to compartmentalise my writing and pottery a little, so I will probably be switching my website to monthly shop updates rather than continuous. If I sell more online, this also means that I have a lot of fun and freedom in making – so I want to keep experimenting with form and creating lots of unique, one-off pieces.
What do you enjoy doing to relax after a stressful day?
I usually catch up with friends over dinner or drinks. As my days are solitary, I love socialising in the evening – it keeps me sane!
Talk me through your day in food: do you have time for breakfast in the morning?
I ALWAYS have time for breakfast – I am incredibly prone to hangriness so I think I’d be smashing pots by about 8:30 if I didn’t have breakfast! I’m not the healthiest person on earth but I do always cook for myself. I’ll have scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, and then if I’m potting I’m usually so carried away that I don’t eat lunch until about 3 – which is usually pasta with chilli and prawns or similar. I often have friends over for dinner – last night I cooked a roast chicken, carrots and mash.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
So many places! Rawduck in Hackney for brunch; BiBimBap for a cheap eat; Tonkotsu in Clapton or Kanada-ya in Soho for ramen; Smoking Goat in Shoreditch for the best Thai on earth; St John’s Bread & Wine for a swanky dinner.
If I came over for dinner, what would you serve and why?
I’m currently addicted to the Persiana cookbook as I love middle-eastern food. I’d probably cook lamb cutlets with cumin and chilli, spicy roast potatoes, and then their absolutely divine roast carrots with honey, cumin and goats cheese. Yum. It’s my Sunday go-to meal at the moment – I’m quite boring when I find something I love.