The First Attempt
In 1999, Pandolfi is teaching ceramics at the Millbrook School. One night at the dining hall, a colleague mentions that her “sister’s roommate” works in the corporate office of Crate & Barrel. The roommate gives him the name of the tabletop buyer, and he nervously makes the call. She listens. He sends over his latest: “Chinese lantern” mugs with accordion-like grooves. No response.
Craigslist to the Rescue
Five years later, he’s making $800 a month working part-time at Bodanna, a nonprofit on East 7th Street for aspiring potters. He calls the Crate & Barrel buyer again. Still no bite, but she doesn’t say no. He sees a Craigslist posting for his “perfect job.” Penn South, the co-op complex on Eighth Avenue, needs someone to run its ceramics studio and teach fiftysomething ladies who take pottery very seriously. Meanwhile, Crate & Barrel asks for samples of a Chinese lantern–style dinner plate.
The Big Break
A former bandmate gets a job managing Terrace 5, one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants at MoMA. Pandolfi offers to custom-design pieces—for free, even. He meets with the floral designer, comes up with a bud vase, and gets an order for 40, at $20 apiece. A “chocolate box” and funky vertical chopstick stands are next.
The museum’s design store wants to sell the Terrace 5 forms. The chopstick holders ($45 for a set of four) are reordered three times (manufacturing cost: 25 cents per holder). He opens a studio in Long Island City. Rent in the shared space is $600 a month. He splurges on an L&L kiln for $2,500, buys a second one (used) for $150, and gets a third for free. The Crate & Barrel buyer says she’s taking his dinner plate to Thailand for sourcing.
Suddenly in Business
Café 2, another Meyer restaurant in the museum, commissions an oak charcuterie board with an olive bowl sunken into a corner; the Core Club orders butter dishes and “trio bowls” for its bar nuts; Clio in Soho picks up his one-of-a-kind horseshoe vases and teapots—his favorite object to produce. “It’s funny, I don’t really drink tea and I was actually afraid to make my first,” he says of the complex form, “but once I did, I got hooked.” Daniel Humm, the new chef at Eleven Madison Park, visits Pandolfi’s studio to discuss unconventional serving designs. Pandolfi makes tiny porcelain pillows.
And Finally ...
Crate & Barrel calls. His line is being produced; it’s called Kona. His take: an $1,800 advance against a fraction of the production cost of each piece. (A mug costs $1.50 to make; there are twelve pieces total.) “Everyone is so flipped out,” he says. “My wife sent out a mass e-mail.”
Clay, glaze, electricity . . . . $3
Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 hour
Wholesale price . . . . . . . . . $75