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The craft of making china takes a long time to learn. You must be patient. Porcelain is fragile like sand cake. It crumbles and breaks easily, but it is very refined, like no other material”, say Antonina Kiliś and Agata Klimkowska, graduates of SWPS University’s School of Form, their love for porcelain audible in every sentence. The words echo around their Fenek studio, where they create one-of-a-kind objects for everyday use.

Cosy Corner

People tend to stop in front of Fenek's shop window, even those that are in a hurry. They look with admiration at the unique cups and bowls. Finally, they succumb to the temptation, open the door...and find themselves in the world of porcelain. They are greeted by the warmth of the kiln, where new batches of ceramic masterpieces are being fired. Visitors gravitate towards wooden shelves laden with delicate dishes. If they are lucky, they will see Agata and Tosia polishing their new creations or decorating unfired dishes with intricate patterns. Finally, the accidental customers leave the studio with a newly purchased, one-of-a-kind dish and a feeling that they will return to Fenek studio - the world of handmade china.

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Photos: property of Fenek Studio | Designers: Antonina Kiliś and Agata Klimkowska

It Began with a Flower Pot

Antonina (Tosia) Kiliś i Agata Klimkowska opened Fenek studio in 2015. Tosia applied to School of Form right after high school. Agata took longer to find her passion. She studied environmental protection, anthropology, and cultural management, before she came to School of Form.

Everything began with a flower pot. During their third year of studies at School of Form, Tosia and Agata attended a pottery workshop at Zagroda Garncarska, a pottery center in Medynia Głogowska, where potters from all over Poland gather to make their ceramic fantasies come true. In an old shed, Tosia and Agata came across a long-forgotten flower pot that was at least 30 years old. It looked like a small trough with rounded edges and legs. The pattern on the pot was so beautiful that they could not stop looking at it. They could not leave this beautiful piece of pottery to deteriorate in the corner of the rundown shed, so they bought it. At that moment, the students realized that they should start making beautiful ceramics, since pieces like that were so hard to find in the stores.

Tosia and Agata produced their first ceramic dishes at School of Form, under the guidance of Arkadiusz Szwed. They planted cacti, their favorite plants, in the newly made flower pots. It was just as well, because more delicate plants probably would have not survived the trip from Poznań to Warsaw, where they showed their wares at the Przetwory craft show, for the very first time. They were excited and nervous, but then several people bought their creations and a daring thought - “maybe we should become professional potters” - was triggered by this experience.

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Photos: property of Fenek Studio | Designers: Antonina Kiliś and Agata Klimkowska

From Munitions Factory to Their Own Studio

They began their pottery adventure on the right bank of the Vistula River, opposite to where Fenek studio is currently located. They leased a work space in a former munitions factory, at Podskarbińska Street in the old Praga district of Warsaw. The postindustrial space had been adapted for art studios and all kinds of workshops. Apart from having tons of enthusiasm and a strong belief in their abilities, Tosia and Agata were broke. “We began with nothing and we built our work space from scratch. We found a few old plunks of wood and turned them into shelves. One of the neighbors cut them to size, while another one helped us to put them up on the wall. We all helped each other at Podskarbińska. It was a barter system. We exchanged favor for favor and kindness for kindness."

At the time, they did not have their own kiln. So they used to drive from Warsaw to Grodzisk Mazowiecki, where they could fire their china in a kiln owned by their friend. “I don’t want to remember how many mugs broke during those travels”, laughs Tosia and she quickly adds: “but I am proud that our hard work paid off and we have been able to create a professional pottery studio”.

Porcelain - Challenging Material

Tosia and Agata decided on porcelain as their main material, although it is a challenging medium. “The craft of making china takes a long time to learn. You must be patient. Porcelain is fragile like sand cake. It crumbles and breaks easily. Do you know that it remembers human touch? If you remove a dish from the mold too early, your touch will affect its shape. The changes might be microscopic, invisible to the human eye at that stage, but they will show once the dish is fired in high temperature. It is not the only difficulty of working with porcelain. Sometimes a dish falls apart, while it is being painted. This is porcelain for you”, says Tosia. “However, it more than compensates for these difficulties by being very refined, like no other material.”

Although china is fragile and dainty, the production process is hard physical work. A plaster mold filled with porcelain may weigh up to 50 kilograms.

Tosia and Agata are inspired by Japanese esthetic and by the Polish design school of the 1960s. Of course, they also follow the current trends and sometimes they incorporate novel ideas in their designs. However, they remain firmly rooted in minimalism, because they believe that functionality of objects is as important as their esthetic value. Their bestselling mug fulfills both criteria.

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Photos: property of Fenek Studio

Tosia and Agata are happy when their customers come back, which happens more and more often. The studio gives the artisans financial independence. Could they produce more? Probably yes. There were times, when they were working in the studio from dawn to dusk, but one day they realized that they were not running a factory. Working long hours did not leave any time for creativity and planning of new designs. They slowed down. They were afraid that the non-stop work would result in burnout, dislike of their craft and the loss of everything they had achieved. Mostly, they did not want to lose the freedom to decide what to do and how to run their business.

Luckily the risk of losing steam has already passed. They are planning new product lines, such as lamps and teapots. They are considering experimenting with layered porcelain and colorful glazes. For now, they enjoy moments when someone stops by their shop window and admires their handmaid dishes. One-of-a-kind objects for everyday use.

Designers

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Antonina Kiliś and Agata Klimkowska, graduates of the Domestic Design program at SWPS University's School of Form. Founders of Fenek (www.fenek.info), a successful porcelain design and production studio in Warsaw, which has been in operation since 2015. Their products are available at numerous showrooms and craft fairs in Poland. They are interested in various pottery techniques, although currently they are focusing mainly on the production of porcelain.