Kelley Burnett is a ceramicist whose ease and warmth are instantly translated through the simplicity of her home and pottery. Her functional creations seamlessly blend into her shady, plant filled home. Shared with her writer husband Dylan and their pup Otto, their space is ideal amidst such a sprawling city, providing immediate relief from the high energy of Los Angeles’ east side. Over coffee on a warm Sunday, the couple show us their home and Kelley sheds some light on the LA creative landscape.
Their space is ideal amidst such a sprawling city, providing immediate relief from the high energy of Los Angeles’ east side.
Your home is very much of the city while feeling tucked away. Can you tell us how you found such an ideal space?
Our home is a little upper unit on a hillside in Echo Park, right off of one of LA’s steepest streets. It’s been passed from friend to friend, I think, since the owners started renting it. Everyone that has lived here has had some connection to the next. My partner, Dylan, and I feel very lucky to look out our windows and be surrounded by so much greenery, and to start and end our days here.
How did you and Dylan first meet?
We met in a college writing class, and had a lot of classes together in Portland. We’ve been together more or less about nine years, from a bit after graduation. It’s pretty astounding to feel like I’ve grown and evolved so much since college, but we both are still finding that our partnership has also grown with us as individuals and together.
What do you love most about living in Echo Park?
I love this part of Echo Park because it feels like old Los Angeles – the houses are old and many of our neighbours have lived here for decades. Our street is nice because we have a view of downtown, but it’s up on a ridge, so it feels a little bit like we’re leaving the city every night. It helps strike a balance with time spent in cars on the freeway. Dylan likes to walk to the neighborhood grocery in the morning when we’re out of coffee. It feels very dense in a familiar neighborhood way, a nice sense in a city than can feel very sprawling.
What began your love and connection to pottery?
I’ve puzzled over this for a long time! I can’t remember what made me enroll in my first ceramics class in college, I guess aside from curiosity. I didn’t grow up in a creative or art-filled home at all, but I always wanted to draw or make things with my hands. We didn’t have a television, so I spent summers outside picking flowers and arranging them, or working in the garden. Maybe getting into pottery was the most tactile practice I could find.
More recently, I’ve realized the connection to pottery and the pieces I make certainly has been synonymous with my interest in plants and the natural world. I’ve always found myself with collections of small things, like pebbles, so making pottery was a way to create those myself.
I’ve also found that, especially when moving the last couple years, ceramic studios have been guides to the city I’m in; they are usually full of kind and helpful people, many of whom you may not have crossed paths with otherwise.
Beyond that, working with clay forces you not to take yourself too seriously, and certainly not to rush the process. It has ways of teaching and showing you to slow down and do it right. I was a terrible potter when I first learned. Something pushed me to stick with it, and after a few years of practice it began to feel like a part of my view of the world and existing.
Your creations feel refined yet approachable. What inspires you most?
Genuine simplicity. My goal is always to use the movement of the wheel and the material to create a single, simple true form without overworking it or fussing it up, or bringing to much of myself into it. Pottery is wonderful because it is vast; everyone can find their point of interest within it. I’ve come to realize more than colour or surface decoration, I am interested in form.
Can you tell us about your plant pairings?
Many refer to “functional” ceramics as being bowls, mugs, plates – food functional. I’ve always been interested in creating functional ceramics that can be defined by their use with elements of nature. The plant pairings are the culmination of that, in which the planters I make are designed specifically for the types of plants I put in them. Once combined, my hope is that they become one form; intertwined visually so that over time you aren’t able to see one without the other without it feeling incomplete. In this way, they become living sculptures that reflect the seasons around them.
How has moving from Portland to Los Angeles in the past year affected your lifestyle and creative process?
I’m also from Portland, a place I love very dearly, but it does have that hometown effect for me. I’m a creature of habit, especially in a place where I have very ingrained habits.
Los Angeles is such an expansive place, physically encompassing so much land; which can make it feel lonesome. But I’ve found that it’s also created a sense of freedom and exploration, especially in my creative process. I like that everything is wide open here, and there’s so much access to anything: from the most specific supply you might need to the most obscure citrus at the farmers market. With that, being in Los Angeles has shown me the need to define for myself the experience of living here, or of creating here.
Your home feels very thoughtful. How would you describe your approach to interiors?
We really try not acquire too many things, or things that can only exist well in this one space. I suppose though, we don’t tend to count books or ceramics as things.
In general, pieces that can disassemble or are made from hardware store supplies have served us so well. We’ve also moved a lot, which has given us the opportunity to acquire things slowly, and only bring in things we really have space or need for. A lot of the thoughtful feel may have been born out of necessity, we just didn’t want to move things that we’d end up having to disperse later.
Dylan and I also work a lot from our home, so it needs to be a place that can be shared by two creatives at work, but also at rest. He feels most comfortable and productive surrounded by books, moored by his big wooden desk. I feel most comfortable and productive when there’s empty space and a sense of sparseness. We’ve tried to balance this for the both of us.
How does working partly from home and having your studio nearby affect your process? Do you ever find it difficult to disconnect from work mode?
Having a workspace at home where I can make work is a relatively new experience, and one I’m still sorting out with my studio nearby. I’m prone to work all the time as it is, so It can be extra hard to interact with the more domestic side of home when I see my work just outside the door. Similarly for Dylan, his desk and computer are always there looking at him, waiting for him to sit and write.
Having a routine has helped us both, and it’s something that we are constantly needing to communicate about. I think of my little studio patio as where i can imagine prototypes and new shapes, and exercise a new idea with no pressure to objectively deem it good or bad; once I settle on something more refined I produce quantities at the studio I share nearby. It’s easier for me to go there, work, lose sense of time, and then return home to be present.
How do you move through creative blocks?
My impulse is to panic. Over time, I’ve had to rewire my brain not to panic, but to remember that I’ve had ideas before. Ideas will come again. I also have huge respect for the process of refinement in work. Going through old journals and notebooks where I’ve sketched shapes and ideas is usually very helpful, even if I don’t end up using them, for me personally sometimes going back to where you were helps you clarify where you want to be going.
Can you describe your ideal morning?
Because Dylan works at a bookstore some evenings, we try to make sure we get a few calm moments together in the morning. Ideally, this is: walking our dog, Otto, coffee, and breakfast. Usually then I work outside on the patio with the window open, and Dylan works at his desk. Otto likes to either bark or sleep near whoever is more interesting that day.
How do you ease into the evening?
Nothing much more than a glass of wine and quiet, Dylan reads every night before sleeping, even if it’s just one page.
What’s your studio soundtrack?
I’ve discovered the best part about the patio studio is that I don’t have to choose, Dylan picks the records! Right now, a lot of jazz albums from the 50’s and 60’s. And truthfully, that soundtrack is layered with barks from all the neighborhood dogs, including ours.
You have an impressive book collection. Can share with us what you’re both currently reading?
I’m reading Outline by Rachel Cusk, and enjoying looking through old books on Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture work. Dylan is reading, and very much enjoying, Evening in Paradise by Lucia Berlin and Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck.