WITH PEOPLE SPENDING MORE TIME AT home during the past few years, and so many new homes being built, outdoor landscaping has taken on even more importance.
One way to enhance this living space is to decorate it with beautiful yet sturdy art, just as homeowners select paintings and photography to adorn spaces inside their home.
From planters and fountains to benches and birdbaths, Pottery As Art in Bonita Springs has an abundance of colors, sizes and designs that provide accents for front yards, back yards and pool areas. Most of the items are durable high-fired ceramics, where clay is heated to an extremely high temperature and becomes non-porous. Glaz- ing makes the clay even stronger. There is also blown glass, metal wall art, and other assorted home décor accessories.
“We have an eclectic collection,” says Debbie Rose, an owner and manager of this location and the main Pottery Express in Punta Gorda. “We don’t necessarily buy what we want for our own homes. We buy what people are asking for. It’s up to us to have something they fall in love with and want to take home.”
People’s interests range from solid color planters to yard art shaped like turtles, fish, geckos, cats doing yoga, and even cowboy boots. “Every person comes in with a different taste and desire,” she says. The most popular colors are blues, aqua and white, with “ocean” colors and themes such as mermaids currently on-trend.
Pottery Express in Punta Gorda opened in 2004 and consists of five acres filled with garden décor as well as a tropical clumping bamboo farm. The operation offers wholesale and retail sales, whereas Pottery As Art, which opened in 2007, is just for retail purposes.
Gus Ortiz started working in the yard at Pottery Express during 2010 and soon was asked to help translate emails from vendors in Mexico by Dave Palmer, who founded the business. Mr. Ortiz helped the business grow and went to college to strengthen his business skills. Ms. Rose, who has a degree in accounting, started a month after Mr. Ortiz. Now Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Rose own the business together, with Mr. Ortiz functioning as COO and Ms. Rose as CFO.
Mr. Ortiz says Pottery Express in Punta Gorda sells a high volume of average-priced pots with about 40 percent of sales coming from higher-end pieces. About 80 percent of sales at Pottery As Art in Bonita Springs are higher-end large pots and unique luxury items better suited for larger home, he adds. “People want pots for their big entrances and in front of their garages,” he says. “They average three to five feet tall. Some pots are even taller and you wonder how they made them by hand.”
Mr. Ortiz says it’s not unusual for a customer from Naples to buy 10 planters. “The amount of turnover (at Pottery As Art) is amazing,” he says. “We send a truck (from Pottery Express, where inventory is delivered) two to three times a week.”
The company sources about 90 percent of its pottery from two families in Vietnam that produce handmade pottery.
“I tell people we have a relationship with everybody we buy from, that we’re loyal to them and they to us, and that’s a beautiful thing to be part of,” Ms. Rose says. She adds that all the pieces are handmade, unique and high quality.
“The Vietnamese pottery is one of the best potteries in the world for gardens,” Mr. Ortiz says. “The only way you can ruin it is by breaking it. We make water features from them and they last an eternity.” He recalls visiting one of the factories and the fifth-generation owner showing him a pot that was older than his grandfather. “It looked like it was new.”
Ms. Rose notes that the Vietnamese pottery, which is mostly solid colors, is the most durable made and holds up well in the Florida heat, sun and other elements. “You can put it out in the yard and forget about it.”
Pottery as Art also sells Mexican Talavera, which features more colorful designs. “Talavera is not for everybody,” Mr. Ortiz says. “There’s a lot going on, but the multicolor makes a beautiful statement piece.” Talavera tends to have fun character shapes and even themed pieces for holidays such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter. The pieces from Vietnam lean more toward snails, elephants and Buddhas.
Pottery As Art has purchased Talavera from the same family-owned factories in Mexico since 2004. “We’re one of their largest customers,” Mr. Ortiz says.
They have stayed with these artisans because of their attention to detail. “You see the artists painting, tracing, and taking their time,” he says. “Some pieces have intricate patterns that are tedious to make. There’s a lot of pride that goes into it.”
Ms. Rose works with a lot of landscape architects and interior designers who shop at Pottery As Art. “I always ask if they have a plant in mind, because that determines what kind of pot you get. A regular green plant can have a showier pot.”
While Pottery As Art doesn’t offer landscape design services, staff members are happy to look at pictures that customers bring of their yard or outdoor living space and help direct them to planters, birdbaths, and other décor that would complement their yard. They can turn planters into fountains and drill extra holes in the ceramics for drainage. They often recommend that people put filler such as mulch or crushed water bottles in large planters instead of needing to use a lot of dirt.
Pottery As Art also sells American made lines such as Woodstock wind chimes, Studio M flags and doormats, Hostetler poly lumber furniture, and Henri Stonecaster fountains and statuary.
Everything is selected to enhance the landscape. “They beautify our yards,” Mr. Ortiz says. ¦