The new facade of Louisville Stoneware. All photos by the author.
The new facade of Louisville Stoneware. All photos by the author.

Sleek. Modern. Industrial.

Not words you’d expect to describe Louisville Stoneware pottery or its factory location. For almost 200 years, the company has made its mark on American pottery with country patterns like “Bachelor Button” on thick, heavy, neutral stoneware.

Not anymore.

Recently, Louisville Stoneware completed its first major renovation since 1988 and marked the occasion by releasing its first new line since the early ’80s, the Mercantile line. Both the renovation and the Mercantile line are indeed sleek, modern and industrial.

The showroom used to “feel like a factory store,” says Nancy Stephen, ‎director of Communications and Tourism Development at Louisville Stoneware. Now it feels more like a bright and roomy Williams & Sonoma — all pale wood, granite, marble and steel. The expanded and rearranged 2,500-square-foot retail space includes a new sales counter, merchandise displays and modernized restrooms. 

There’s also a GE Monogram Experience kitchen in the showroom. There they will host events and tastings to allow their customers to “see the stoneware in action.” All of Stoneware’s table and cooking pieces are microwave, dishwasher, freezer and oven safe.

The Mercantile line.
The Mercantile line

The Mercantile line features a four-piece place setting, two baking dishes, three serving bowls and an antipasta platter available in nine different colors. The line is much lighter than your typical stoneware and devoid of pattern or texture.

Don’t worry, you can still get all your favorite patterns, and you can still order custom-painted stoneware. Although this fresh new look allows Louisville Stoneware to look to the future, they still very much honor their past.

Louisville Stoneware can trace its roots all the way back to 1815, the year the steamboat The Enterprise made the first trip from New Orleans to Louisville. That year Louisville became “the Gateway to the West,” and the city suddenly needed stoneware manufacturers.

Why? Turns out stoneware was the Tupperware of the 1800s. In order to safely transport foods, dry goods and beverages up and down the river in the often dirty, vermin-ridden riverboats, merchants would store stuff in stoneware crocks or jugs and seal the covers airtight with wax.

What is today known as Louisville Stoneware changed names several times over the years; in 1938, J.B. Taylor acquired the business and formed the J.B. Taylor Pottery Company.

The GE Monogram Experience kitchen.
The GE Monogram Experience kitchen.

Mary Alice Hadley worked at J.B. Taylor where she started her career as one of the most popular designers in American stoneware history. But Hadley and Taylor got into a fight and did not part ways amicably. Hadley started her own company, M.A. Hadley Pottery, in 1940 in Butchertown, where it still operates today.

Following Taylor’s death in 1970, John Robertson took over the company and renamed it Louisville Stoneware. Christy Lee Brown bought it in 1997 and collaborated with David Mahoney to create several new patterns, including Augusta (in honor of her daughter’s marriage to Gill Holland), Flora and Graffiti. She also built a partnership with 21c Hotels, and Stoneware developed a “Proof” line (which is being discontinued and is currently 30 percent off in the store). Later Louisville Stoneware started creating stoneware Red Penguins for the museum hotel.

Behind the sales counter.
Behind the sales counter.

Steve Smith took over the company in 2007 with his business partner and Chief Concept Officer Lisa Mullins Masters. The two-century-old business has been located in the former Klotz Confectionery building at 731 Brent St. since 1972.

In addition to the renovation and the new line, Louisville Stoneware has begun offering Kentucky products in their store. They have a private label brand of cocoa, jams, honey, dessert drops and soaps called 1815 Mercantile. They’re also offering products from Bourbon Barrel Foods, Three Toad Farms (Wincester, Ky.), Spring Valley Farms (Caneyville, Ky.) and Quill’s Coffee.

(Dessert drops are frozen batter drops meant to be baked in the Mercantile four-ounce dessert bowl. The cookies, brownies and such are done in less than 30 minutes.)

Louisville Stoneware also has launched a “Meet the Makers” Lifestyle Style Series, which is held from 5-7 p.m. every third Thursday of the month. The event is free.

  • June 19: Kentucky Proud wine and chocolate tasting with Old 502 Winery and Cellar Door Chocolates
  • July 17: Potting Succulents in Stoneware by Valerie Schirmer, Three Toads Farms
  • Aug. 21: GE Monogram Experience Kitchen Demonstration
  • Sep. 18: Forcing Bulbs for the Holidays by Valerie Schirmer, Three Toads Farms
  • Oct. 16: Baking with Stoneware by Najla Aswad, Najla’s Specialty Foods, Inc.