Q+A with Ali Miller: the creator of our whimsical afternoon tea sets
Your designs transport people into a magical world. Where does your inspiration come from?
I grew up in London and my childhood was all about stories such as Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins, and roaming the city’s green spaces like Hampstead Heath. I was swept up in the fun and fantasy of it all – and this is what inspires me to this day. My childhood comes across in my designs, mixed in with a little quintessentially British humour! Ideas of mortality, memories and domestic life are all important themes to me too. I use images from my family home and from magazines dating back to the 1960s and 70s that my father owned.
How did you discover your love of ceramics?
A defining moment for me was when I was given a wonderful opportunity to have an exhibition at John Jones – the fabulous family-run framing company. My art was heavily focused on making vintage collages on objects such as tables and chairs. I created some of these collages on plates using PVA glue too – and someone suggested I fire my designs on instead. This was a turning point for me and led me to a number of wonderful opportunities.
Tell us more…
I went on to sell one-off vintage pieces at the former Paul Smith antiques store in Mayfair, and I still sell my core range at Paul Smith. My cups and saucers were used on the BBC series Sherlock – which led to a really fun global cult following of Sherlock Holmes fans! My cups and saucers were also used on Stephen Fry’s Great Britain campaign advert. I’ve had the great privilege to sell my work at Selfridges and Liberty London, and I’ve worked with the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery too – especially exciting for me given my art background.
Which of your designs are used for afternoon tea at The Athenaeum?
For me, The Athenaeum is all about its family-run credentials, together with its location next to Green Park. The feeling in the hotel makes it hard to believe you’re in the centre of London, so I chose my most nature-inspired designs. The Hampstead Heath design is inspired by my childhood growing up near one of London’s incredible green spaces. Growing is a collection depicting frogs and butterflies, with an English garden feeling. Alice in Wonderland and Home Sweet Home both have a sense of classical Britishness about them. Together, I think they reflect the best of The Athenaeum.
Are you a fan of afternoon tea yourself?
Absolutely! Not just because it’s a scrummy treat, but because at the core of my work is the importance of memories. Afternoon tea – when people sit down together – is all about creating memories. When people stay at The Athenaeum, they are going for an experience, for escape and to be taken on a journey. Afternoon tea at the hotel encapsulates this perfectly!
Hear, hear! And what’s your favourite part of afternoon tea?
Where English Breakfast tea makes a good start to the day, I think afternoon tea is best accompanied with a yummy Earl Grey tea. It’s a little lighter for that time of day, plus it makes for a soft accompaniment to all the sweet food you eat at the same time. I take mine with a dash of milk of course – because I’m English!
Where do you think is the best bit of The Athenaeum?
I love the fact there’s something different around every corner in The Athenaeum, especially because of all the lovely artwork in the hotel. But it’s The Bar at The Athenaeum that feels like a true haven in the centre of London. I love the fact the green Living Wall that lines the outer wall of The Athenaeum feels like it drips into the bar area too, because you can see it from the inside of the window. You get the feeling that Green Park is almost filtering into the hotel. That’s one of my top gemmy spots in the heart of London!
Have you got any other secret London hideaways?
On Piccadilly just up the road from The Athenaeum is a store called Maison Assouline. It’s an unassuming but beautiful bookshop with a lovely restaurant in it as well – a brilliant London hideaway!
What’s next for the Ali Miller collection?
I’ve just launched new gift boxes which I hope will be the perfect pick for gifting. They come with either a teapot, milk jug and sugar pot in a box, or a teapot, two tea cups and two saucers. All the boxes are made in the UK and are 100% recyclable and eco-friendly – which is really important to me. I also have some new designs coming out in the new year with a more ‘gentlemanly’ feel!
To see Ali Miller’s delightfully whimsical crockery here at The Athenaeum, enjoy our award-winning afternoon tea. Click here to book now.