In the Studio with Virginia Sin

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Brooklyn-based ceramicist Virginia Sin creates serious design pieces infused with an undeniable playfulness. Within her SIN brand, you’ll find porcelain dinnerware cleverly made to look like misshapen paper plates, small planters in the form of ice cream cones. The lines she prefers are gentle and imperfect, rarely sharp and precise. Whether it’s her pronged fruit bowls or her naturally dyed aprons, there is always the feel of the maker once at work. And the maker, it seems, is having a fine time.

Though you have likely seen Sin’s tabletop pieces in stores like ABC Carpet & Home in New York and MOCA in Los Angeles, her work extends well into the home. Her most ambitious creation to date is her Cylinder Shelving System, which serves as a sort of homage to the functional stilts and posts that have historically allowed for the physical structure found within kilns. Her elongated cages of ceramic serve as bases for glass tops, which can then be stacked upon one another as desired. Her Truss Coffee Table, too, challenges the perceived structural limitations of clay. It’s not, as the first impression might lead you to believe, all fun and games here. Sin’s creations come from academic thought.

Collectors of some consequence have found themselves seated at the proverbial table with Sin. Her Gluttony Collection, the first she produced, back in 2006, was acquired by the New York Historical Society Museum and incorporated into objects collections from the 20th and 21st centuries. Eleven Madison Park, one of the best restaurants in the world, serves their picnic prix fixe on Sin’s aforementioned porcelain paper plates. Her work continues to be recognized by publications of note, including Architectural Digest, Domino, and the New York Times. Below, Sin carved away some time for us to talk early experiments, California influences, and undoing the past with beautiful things.

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

I had a decade-long career working in advertising as an art director then creative director. My most notable memory was when we shot a commercial for our microwaveable CPG brand (consumer packaged goods). A giant microwave was built as our set. The floor was rotating like the microwave’s glass turntable. It was pretty weird. I miss dreaming up the crazy ideas and having the million-dollar budgets to bring them to life.

Your first experience with art/design as a child:

There’s a photo of me when I was five, glazing a giant ceramic turtle—its fin spanned the width of the head. Who knew I would come back to ceramics one day.

Were your parents interested in art/design? What did they do for work?

My mom was a senior pro doubles tennis player and homemaker. My dad owned a fine jewelry small-business serving the South Bay area of Southern California. Because I had a “tiger mom,” her dream was for me to either be a concert pianist, lawyer, surgeon, or engineer… I was terrible at all of those things. I would say my grandpa was my creative inspiration. He was a dumpster-diving hipster before it was a thing, an inventor, carpenter, farmer… an old-school “maker,” if you want to call it that.

What did your childhood bedroom look like—and what was your favorite item/piece of furniture in there?

The decor was hideous. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of say there. Aesthetics were not a consideration in my household growing up. Functionality and frugality set the tone. To this day, I have a theory that it’s a huge reason as to why I own a homegoods brand. Perhaps I am still trying to undo the past. There’s a lot to uncover there. Maybe I’ll save that for another day.

Does your California upbringing influence your work at all?

I would say 72 degrees and sunshine will always run deep in my bloodstream. Yes, I think I gravitate towards natural colors, materials, processes because of my upbringing. Furthermore, I studied at Art Center College of Design, where I was heavily influenced by Bauhaus design. Then living in Copenhagen further opened my eyes—that’s where I fell in love with Scandinavian design. But after 13-plus years in New York City, I think I’ve got a healthy mix of hustle, grit, design, and laidback Cali.

First piece that really sent you on your way:

The Porcelain Paper Plate was first acknowledged by Design Within Reach in one of their design competitions back in 2008. That really jumpstarted the business. I was working full-time in advertising until only two years ago. SIN was my side-hustle, passion-project business for quite some time. I worked nights and weekends.

What is the most appealing and most difficult part of working with clay?

Clay will forever keep you humble. Even after so many years working in this medium, I am still surprised by its results and am constantly learning from mistakes. It allows you to experiment; I enjoy nothing more than testing clay’s limits and pushing the boundaries of how it can be used. The transformation from a completely malleable state to a solid form gets me every time. I acknowledge that I’ve become a total clay nerd.

What do you hope a SIN piece brings to a home?

Our mission at SIN is to bring warmth and happiness to every home in the world by putting the fun in the functional.

I ready you do a lot of research at NYPL Art & Architecture Room. Who introduced you to the space or did you come across it yourself?

During my “Mad Woman” days, I worked on Madison Avenue, which is very close to the library. I would use it to “brainstorm off-site” and ditch work. I’d lose myself for hours. It’s beyond magical in there. I love the smell of old books and the idea that after you’ve made your selections, someone has to locate them in their massive collection which spans blocks and avenues underground—and then bring them to you at your reading table!

What do you eat for breakfast?

A few cups of coffee. I’m a night owl, so eating in the morning feels way too soon.

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

I started meditating in the morning. It’s been very helpful to clear my mind before I drink my coffee. I also try not to look at my phone until I’m done with my morning routine. Then I drive to my studio. That’s probably the most L.A. thing about me. It’s only a 10-minute drive from Williamsburg to Greenpoint—I know—but I love driving. I commuted into Midtown by subway for so long, the first thing I did when I left my advertising career was to purchase a used car, as I convinced myself that I would need it for my new lifestyle. Best purchase I’ve ever made!

Once I get to work, I check in with my team and do a quick status meeting before I start my work day. My work day, however, looks different every single day. It ranges from a list of these activities: prototyping, product development, emailing, designing our brand collateral, managing my team, traveling to visit vendors for sourcing, photo shoots, working on marketing content. The list goes on!

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I’ve been really into this Afro Psychedelica as of late.

Least favorite question people ask you as a designer:

What’s your creative inspiration?

What are you currently working on?

Developing some new textiles and designing some new products for a licensing opportunity.

virginia-sin

What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?

Lighting. I find the warm glow of a lamp so satisfying and cozy.

Color you are most attracted to at the moment:

Pale fiberglass green.

What material do you go through the most of?

We go through about one ton of clay every two months.

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Once I’m done with that, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is next on my list.

Best advice you’ve ever received:

Your emotions are information. If you listen to your authentic self, it will lead you to happiness. Easier said than done.

Home is ____________.

SIN’s vision statement: To create happier homes in hopes that it reflects the happiness you feel inside.

Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels

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