When Martin Olinger visits the Bergs Potter workshops in Italy, he always stays at the same hotel, five minutes away. He says it’s like something out of a painting, with expansive views of rolling Tuscan fields and towering cypress trees. The hotel was opened by a Danish woman who married an Italian – a pairing Olinger and his business partner, Frits Kattrup, know well.
Bergs Potter was formed in 1942, when accountant Victor Berg inherited a small ceramics shop in Copenhagen and decided to also sell fresh flowers to lift the spirits of locals during WWII. The enterprise expanded, along with his family, and his children Steffen and Christine (Sysser) eventually took over, selling pots inspired by Danish royalty and their European travels, and importing select Italian pieces.
In 2012, the company passed to a third generation, Victor Berg Jr., and two family friends: Olinger and Kattrup. With backgrounds in business, the duo’s ceramics training was hands-on, packing orders in a converted greenhouse and bartering at the flower market. They also toured Tuscany in search of their dream supplier: a workshop that could wed Danish design and Italian pottery.
The family-run workshop in Tuscany. Photography courtesy of Bergs Potter
The results can be spied on the Bergs Potter site, where delightfully tactile videos show a family of Tuscan artisans at work against shots of wet clay, dirty aprons and dusty roads. It’s an unpretentious ode to Italian terracotta, mastered and handcrafted for generations (and, as the well-traveled pair points out, visible in the ruins of Pompeii).
“In Italy, if you turn over a pot you’ll find the year of production, the artisan’s name,” notes Olinger. With Berg Potter’s support, the family-run workshop has expanded into a second facility next door, where a new generation, plus cousins and family friends, are hard at work capturing the Tuscan sun in handcrafted terracotta pots made of dense, mineral-rich Galestro clay.
“The type of Galestro we use is, to my knowledge, the only certified clay that is frost-strong without being treated with chemicals,” says Olinger.
“At the same time the terracotta itself has the ability to breathe, so the water and air can pass through, supporting healthy plants.” Once the pots are finished, dried and fired, the pieces get packed and moved by train to Denmark, to a strawberry farm turned warehouse just north of Copenhagen (with head offices in the city proper, inside a converted pub).
“At the same time the terracotta itself has the ability to breathe, so the water and air can pass through, supporting healthy plants.” Photography courtesy of Bergs Potter
Though the Italians and Danes have a shared appreciation for pottery’s beauty and strength, some cultural expectations are occasionally, briefly, lost in translation. For example, when Bergs Potter asked about water-resistant saucers for raw earthenware pots, the Tuscans took a while to understand — to them, terracotta is an outdoor material, so water leakage is hardly an issue. Perhaps understandable when a Tuscan valley is your backyard. But things are a little different further North. “When it gets dark at 3 p.m. you really want to bring the outside in,” says Olinger.
In terms of aesthetics, the pots definitely err on the side of Scandi chic, rather than ornate Italian details, yet there are playful shapes and quietly luxurious touches in different models. The Copenhagen Pot was modeled after pieces at the Royal Danish Palace; the Simona was inspired by Montmartre flea markets. Plus several models have bright, glossy glaze options, emerald greens, bright yellows, pale roses.
Royal Danish Castle Fredensborg, 1880. By Theodor Siersted, source_ Forlagsbureauet i Kjøbenhavn 1895, via Bergs Potter
But perhaps the most covetable aesthetic is one that can’t be perfectly replicated – the patina raw terracotta gets over time. A piece someone can then pass on as an heirloom, hence the team’s nickname for them: “Generation Pots.”
While the Bergs Potter team has added accessories like candlesticks and Portuguese tableware to their collection, the pair says they mostly stay close to their roots. Not just creating durable, beautiful objects, but providing a small piece of two important global movements: The push back against throwaway culture and environmental preservation.
“From our perspective, everyone in the world should have a plant,” says Kattrup. “If everyone brought nature around where they live, it would be better for humans and for the planet.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a traditional garden,” adds Olinger. “You can have it on your windowsill, your balcony, just make your own green living space.”
They’ve both echoed a sentiment found on the Bergs Potter website, a quote from Danish author Hans Christian Andersen: “Just living is not enough – one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” A simple sentiment that translates across cultures.
Photography courtesy of Bergs Potter