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Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics

by Lauren Chorpening

Helen Levi’s ceramics are truly something to behold. The finished products are so refined, smooth and beautiful that you almost forget that a real person went through all of the steps and work to create it. Helen’s eye for detail and talented hands have crafted thousands of artisanal pieces out of clay and even beeswax. Her ability to produce so many pieces is helped by her corner-lot studio in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Helen’s decision to move wasn’t completely out of necessity but when she came across this space for rent, she knew she had to make it happen. “When I saw the studio, and it was on a corner with so many windows, and the price per square foot was significantly less than I was paying for my last space, I knew I had to take it. I wasn’t really ready to move out of my previous studio, but I had to get ready quick!” With the help of family and friends, Helen quickly set up her new space and got it running.

Outfitted with kilns, a throwing wheel, tables for creative development and shelving, Helen has made a blank slate studio into a hardworking and inspiring space where she can create. “Function was absolutely my number one priority when setting up my studio. The kilns had to go by a window so they could be vented, but also as close to the power supply as possible, so that determined their location,” Helen explains. “Then it made the most sense to have the glazing area next to the kilns, and then I just worked backwards from there in terms of steps in the ceramics process to figure out the layout.” The natural light, painted brick walls, incredibly tall ceilings, and large, open floor plan give Helen’s studio life. Some parts about the studio won’t ever be a perfect fit for ceramics: The space doesn’t have running water so Helen has rigged a recycled water system by using pumps and buckets, and the hardwood floors make it difficult to clean up clay dust so she has put linoleum down in areas that get messiest. Even so, her beautiful studio has given Helen’s business room to grow in a city with a high demand (and price tag) for space. –Lauren

Photography by Andrea Gentl & Martin Hyers

Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen Levi's pieces from her Beach Series after they have been glazed and fired.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen pulling finished pieces from the kiln.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen's ceramics line ranges in clay types, vessel function and sizes.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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"Besides me and my dog Billy, I have an amazing assistant who's worked with me part-time for about a year. She's the glue that holds all my moving parts together," Helen shares.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen's approach to her space has been all about functionality and practicality. Inevitably, however, she has given it life and beauty with her work.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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"I was eager to get my space up and running as soon as possible. I'm pretty fortunate to have Ariele Alasko as a friend, and she spent a whole day with me, building my main worktable and extending the workbench that's at the back of the room. I have zero woodworking skills and was on a tight budget to move in so I leaned heavily on my friends and family to help me out," Helen says.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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"I love Red Hook! It feels like its own small town. Very quiet, sleepy vibe around here. Coming from Sunset Park which was much more industrial, and being in a factory building there, I'm amazed by how quiet this neighborhood is," Helen shares.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen at her wheel with a view of her beautiful studio.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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"I have no running water in my space, so the sink is actually a system that recycles water with pumps and buckets. Clay naturally sinks to the bottom of a bucket of water, and so the water gets filtered and comes back out of the faucet! Not potable, of course, but it works great for cleaning off tools," Helen says.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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Helen shares her studio with her part-time assistant and her pup Billy. Billy has a spot in the sun that he's claimed since they moved in.
Studio Tour: Helen Levi Ceramics | Design*Sponge
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A few perfectly formed bowls and pitcher ready to use.
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"I'm most thankful to have a spacious studio," Helen shares. "Real estate is the hardest thing about living in NYC and I feel so lucky to have room to grow!"

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