Tea Kettle Philosophy — Form vs. Function

Another pot of tea needed, which means another filling of the kettle and serving as “kettle sitter” while it boils. An opportune time to reflect on some deep and noteworthy topic. This one is a natural for tea drinkers: form vs. function. Should your teawares be primarily functional or stretch the boundaries of the unusual? Well, actually, that’s a personal decision that I couldn’t even begin to counsel you on, but I can point out some of the teawares I’ve seen out there that not only stretch those boundaries but make them cry “Uncle!” loud and clear!

As an artist, I have always ping-ponged between form (the inner Muse leading my brush or pencil) and function (something that appeals to the marketplace out there). I do a watercolor painting, about 2 feet by 3 feet in dimension, of the interior of a cathedral bell tower in Freiberg Germany; while it’s visually inspiring to me and an award-winner in a Parisian art competition, it hangs on my wall unsold. I do quick little drawings of simple still lifes with fruits and flowers, and they sell like hotcakes. See what I mean?

However, as a tea drinker, I go for function first, then form. The Muse is kept under control. Some potters, though, follow their Muse, stretching those boundaries like the pizza maker stretches the dough from a ball to a thin, round, flat crust.

What do you need in your teawares? Well, a teapot has a function: it must be able to hold and pour tea while doing a reasonable job of keeping the tea from growing cold too fast. Tea cups and mugs must hold the tea and allow you to drink from it; that’s their basic function. Some of the creations I have seen seem capable of performing these functions, while others are totally focused on the form, from the whimsical to the silly to the bizarre to the very artistic.

One example of form being stretched a bit but maintaining function is a teacup with a pointed bottom designed to fit into its own special wooden base. Created by Steve Watson, the cup and base are meant to be an illustration of the idea that flat-based cups sitting on saucers are not the only option.

Teapot designs a bit out of the ordinary that I’ve seen, while stretching the boundaries of form, keep some degree of function. They have ranged from one shaped like a swan and made of stainless steel with a red-enamel coating and a black bendable neck, to a ceramic one shaped like a purse, to one of blown glass that looks like smoke or a spaceship. They all still manage to perform their function of holding and pouring tea. Don’t want to go quite that far afield? Go for the Nantucket Teapot, then, with a lobster on one side and a crab on the other.

Nantucket Teapot, crab side
Nantucket Teapot, crab side

When you drink your tea from the cup, do you dread the cup’s bottom eventually staring back at you when the tea is gone? Or, worse yet, are you faced with a clump of cookie crumbs or tea dregs? Wouldn’t it be better to see a cute critter staring up at you? No, I haven’t gone bonkers — at least, not yet! Ange-Line Tetrault, a Toronto-based designer, created cups that have a fox, owl or bear peeking up at you from the bottom of the cup. (At present, these cups are only available in Japan.) The cups still serve their function as holders of tea from which you can drink while adding a whimsical touch to their form.

Lots more designs abound, including ladybugs, flowers, cats, frogs, horse heads, mermaids, and so on. It seems that they still include proper tea time functionality, despite the form variations. The potter’s Muse must have been in a very practical frame of mind.

Whatever the case, we can make our tea time a bit more “out there” by contemplating and then giving in to a bit of form over function!

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2 thoughts on “Tea Kettle Philosophy — Form vs. Function

  1. Hi A.C cargill,

    I have come to disover through your article that there are various unique tea kettle designs and Nantucket Teapot stands out from the pack. You even made me realise that despiste the crab design above, there are still Lots more designs abound, including ladybugs, flowers, cats, frogs, horse heads, mermaids, and so on. It seems that they still include proper tea time functionality, despite the form varations.

    I really love this.

  2. Pingback: Deal Grater » Afternoon Tea for Two with Four Cocktails

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