Sophie Edwards of Villa Bologna Pottery

The Villa Bologna Pottery shop on Portland Road, W11 just opened this week. We talk to the co-founder, Sophie Edwards, about the business, her top tips for eating out and shopping in Malta and how she manages it all with two small children.

A Little Bird Villa Bologna Pottery

All your ceramics are made by hand in Malta at a pottery founded in 1924. Please can you tell us how you and your husband became involved?

I lived in Malta until I was 6 years old.  Then my parents moved back to London, where I grew up, to open up The Rug Company in Notting Hill.  My husband and I spent 4 years living in East Africa, in South Sudan and Rwanda, before relocating to Malta 3 years ago. It was very easy to move back to Malta as we have lots of friends and family here.  Jasper and his wife Fleur de Trafford who own Villa Bologna  (below), have had the house in the family for over 100 years and are great friends of ours.  The pottery is in the stables of the house and Jasper was talking about how it was difficult for him to run both the pottery and the villa.  So my husband and I thought, ‘Why don’t we take over the running of it?’  We were looking for a business to do on the island.`

A Little Bird Villa Bologna
A Little Bird Villa Bologna Pottery

Did you have any experience in ceramics before you took over the business?

No! And I really didn’t appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into ceramics.  Each one of our pieces takes 2 weeks to make. But Jasper grew up with the pottery and before him his father ran it.  So we’ve been lucky that he was able to pass on a lot of advice such as where to source the clay (it still comes from Stoke on Trent as does the glaze) and the suppliers.  Forty years ago, for example, Jasper’s father decided it was too expensive to fire everything twice but then when they only did it once, everything ended up being seconds.  So in many ways, they’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t.  We are also hugely lucky with our staff – most of them have been working here for 30 to 50 years.  We’ve increased production and have brought on some new artists who are in training learning from the older designers.

What prompted you to open the shop in Holland Park?

The Holland Park/Ladbroke Grove is an area that I know really well from growing up there.  We used to spend our weekends jumping on piles of rugs at the shop with my parents whilst they were working.  My mother loved The Cross which is just opposite the new shop so I also spent a lot of time there whilst she was shopping!

A Little Bird Villa Bologna Pottery

You are in business with your husband – how did that come about and how does it work?

It works really well because we share roles – both with the kids and work.  We are lucky to have a full time nanny who helps look after our son, Rocco who is 3 and our daughter Zadie, who is 1.  Rowley and I work as a team so at 3pm, we take it in turns to go and pick up Rocco and go spend time on the beach or something fun.  Then at 7pm, once the kids are in bed, we both get back to work.  We’ve been working on building our website (which will be up and running in about 2-3 weeks) with a team of brilliant Ukrainian engineers so that’s been taking up a lot of our time.

A Little Bird Villa Bologna Pottery Malta

You live between London and Malta.  Please tell us which are your favourite shops and restaurants in Malta?

In the capital of Malta, Valetta, there is an amazing gin bar called The Gin Bar which you can go for pre or post supper drinks and they have over 200 types of gin.  Trabuxu is a lovely restaurant and wine bar around the corner.  Ghar Lapsi is fishing cove and there you’ll find the restaurant Carmens which sells delicious seafood.  It’s very popular so you have to book.  The beaches always get really crowded so I’d recommend going to the rocks and seeking out the seapools instead.

For shops, they sell lovely gold necklaces and charms in Melitta Street.  It’s very old fashioned and all the owners stand outside chatting.  Also on Gozo, an island off Malta, there are these lovely little shops selling the most beautiful lace.

And in London?

I love the Portobello Road market and Golborne Road.  I love looking for antiques and also The Cross and Fez, the Moroccan shop. Essenza on Kensington Park Road is where we always go for a family Saturday or Sunday lunch.  I love The Cow for beer and prawns and The Charcoal Grill off Harrow Road to eat with friends.

A Little Bird The Cross

Do you collect ceramics?  

I collect plates and have done for 8 years.  I’ve got a growing plate wall in my kitchen!  I love one off pieces and for our wedding, our friend Christabel painted a whole set of plates for us which are really beautiful.

A Little Bird Villa Bologna Pottery

What is your favourite piece from VBP?

Our Pineapple and Dolphin lamps are hugely popular.  In fact, usually when you go to someone’s home on the island, they will have one of these lamps.  They are very Maltese – you’ll find lots of door handles around Malta are dolphins.  The Dolphin lamp was designed in the 50s and we still use the same mould.  It never goes out of fashion and comes in 4 different colours.  The Pineapple lamps was designed in the 80s.  They are both such classics.

What do you do to ensure your business is sustainable as possible?

We spent a lot of time ensuring that all our packaging is sustainable.  When you ship ceramics, there is a lot of packaging so we really had to make sure that it worked on a sustainable level.  We use recycled brown paper and then rather than normal bubble wrap, we use these big green bubble wraps that are compostable.

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Fortnum's Easter

It’s goodbye for now…

The team at A Little Bird are taking a break to recharge and make some exciting changes behind-the-scenes. We look forward to seeing you again soon.


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