The legacy of the Case Study House Program – a series of homes built by iconic architects, including Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and A. Quincy Jones between 1945 and 1966 in California – is the crux of much of the stylistic associations with the now-ubiquitous term midcentury modern. With natural materials and open floor plans, the group of homes forever changed American architecture. The Walter Bailey House (or Case Study House number 21), by Pierre Koenig, is an example that has stuck with Sam Bigio for decades. The home’s striking combination of steel and glass was softened with an overflow of greenery cultivated in curved earthenware planters – a recurring theme that was captured in historical images from the design experiment.
“I was always infatuated with the Case Study House interiors shot by Julius Schulman and Ezra Stoller,” says Bigio, founder of ceramic company Monstruosus. “And finally I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I find those beautiful planters today?’” While studying the history of decorative arts at Parsons in New York City, Bigio worked as the styling manager for furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, with one of his main responsibilities being sourcing plants and other decorative objects for the showroom. “I had difficulty finding really beautiful yet simple planters for the showroom,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to do fiberglass or concrete – it seemed too harsh for that kind of environment.”
After taking his search for handmade earthenware pots to their native California, Bigio was disappointed to discover that the factories that formerly produced the midcentury wonders had moved on to other endeavors. So, Bigio started Monstruosus, which adopts the pottery of the 1950s and ‘60s as inspiration for new, contemporary designs. “We respect the material and cleanliness of the lines of past ceramics without copying their structure verbatim,” Bigio explains.
Simple forms and monochrome glaze keep the focus on the ceramics’ craftsmanship.