Pottery never felt like a hobby to Jono Pandolfi. The first time the Union City, New Jersey–based ceramist stepped behind a pottery wheel, he knew he had found his calling. “Once I stumbled into the medium of clay in high school, it felt like a perfect fit because ceramics are so elemental,” he tells Business of Home. “You create everlasting pieces from a material that comes out of the ground, and through the use of fire, you transform that material—what could be cooler?”
After teaching high school pottery courses for several years, he launched his namesake studio in 2004. The company’s big break came later that year when restaurateur Will Guidara approached Pandolfi to create bespoke porcelain pieces for the newly renovated Café 2 at the Museum of Modern Art. Working with Guidara, he says, “gave rise to the idea of custom and hand-made tabletop design.”
Other restaurateurs quickly wanted in, and by 2007, his studio started selling directly to the trade. “Chefs were discovering for the first time the difference between what food looks like on a stoneware plate versus a porcelain plate,” says Pandolfi.
His tablescapes soon became a staple throughout New York’s fine dining scene and, naturally, big-name brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel and Calvin Klein Home began selling his work soon after. “The look translates across the board,” Pandolfi says of his ceramics. “They’re not just for special occasions—they’re designed to elevate the everyday.”
The bulk of his designs begin with a clay model he either throws on the wheel or sculpts by hand. Inspiration for new shapes typically comes from a specific request from a chef—like Missy Robbins’s desire for a deeper pasta bowl, which resulted in the Union design. “In other cases, it might be a custom shape for one course or a particular dish at a restaurant, such as the very small plates we made for carrot tartare at Eleven Madison Park this year,” explains Pandolfi. “From there, the idea is developed further to accommodate whichever production method will allow [our] artisans to consistently re-create pieces at a very high-quality level.”
Although form reigns supreme in his work, the ceramist appreciates surface beauty too. He recently introduced a handful of fresh muted colorways into the brand’s previously monochrome palette. “By and large, white dinnerware still rules the land, but many of our clients also love bold accent colors because of the energy they bring to a tablescape or a room,” he says. “Our new neutral options are a nice middle ground—they have a little bit more of an understated feel, and they really make food look great.”
Today, after nearly 20 years in business, Jono Pandolfi Designs has grown from a one-man operation to a team of nearly 30 that fires up to 1,000 ceramic pieces a day. Each design undergoes its own unique production process, which can entail as many as 15 individual steps and methods, ranging from slip casting to jiggering and ram pressing. “Our studio is equipped with 10 kilns and six wheels,” says Pandolfi.
Looking ahead, he plans to continue experimenting with shapes and glazes for future collections while exploring the possibility of launching new product categories. “I love the challenge of designing pieces that are both beautiful and functional,” he says. “At top-tier restaurants, it really can’t be one or the other, and I aim to fill the niche of delivering on both.”