What do Shoreditch House, Panzo pizzeria on Exmouth Market, and a homeware shop in Hong Kong have in common? They’re all home to Falcon Enamelware, the old-fashioned British kitchen brand enjoying a cult revival.
You know Falcon, even if you don’t know you know it. Those white pie dishes with a blue trim? That’s Falcon Enamelware. Once a staple of the British kitchen, the brand faded into relative obscurity before a small band of designers decided to give it a modern update in 2011. In 2015 they opened a tiny showroom on Rosebery Avenue, where your granny’s favourite pie dishes now lure buyers from the world’s most stylish stores and restaurant groups.
Falcon Enamelware was established in the 1920s by an entrepreneur called Joe Kleiner. The dishes were made in the West Midlands. Not much is known about Kleiner, or the early days of the brand, but he wasn’t the first to produce enamel cookware. “It first became popular in the 19th Century, when pots and pans manufacturers developed the enamelling process: coating cast iron and lighter-weight steel with the enamel glaze, which made it more sanitary and easier to clean,” explains Falcon director, Peter Hames.
Enamelware is tough. It’s oven-safe up to 270°C, can be used on both gas and electric hobs without burning, and – admittedly not a concern in the 19th Century – it’s dishwasher safe. If you drop it, it will only chip, not break. For fans and collectors, this is all part of its charm. By the time Kleiner set up Falcon in the 1920s, many countries had their own colourway for enamelware. Falcon’s famous white with a blue trim was the British combination.
During the Second World War, enamelware was used in hospitals because of its durability and chemical-resistant glaze. Falcon enamelware was passed down through families, but its popularity waned in the latter half of the 20th Century, as newfangled kitchen gadgets like non-stick and stainless steel pans came into vogue. It was still made, albeit in smaller quantities, and production moved to the Far East in the 1970s.
Fast-forward to 2011. A band of like-minded designers, Kiwi & Pom, Morse Studio and Peter Hames, decided that Falcon Enamelware, with its utilitarian design, was due a revival. In collaboration with the manufacturer, they revived the brand, with a few tweaks. The edges of its dishes and cups are now smoother (so you won’t cut your lip having a cuppa), and they’ve added some new colourways alongside the famous white and blue.
At the showroom, a former antiques shop, you can see the new hues: Pillarbox Red, Pigeon Grey and Coal Black. Two more shades, in sage and forest green, are planned for 2017. “It makes sense for our showroom to be in Clerkenwell,” says Falcon’s GM Rebecca Lucraft. “It’s such a design-led area, and a foodie one too – and our brand is all about food and cooking.” Falcon 2.0 formed in Clerkenwell, says Lucraft, with several of its directors based in the area. They decided to open the showroom “to make things more official”. The white room, its open shelves lined with Falcon dishes, and hooks hung with its aprons and tea towels, is a minimal, modern showcase for the brand.
Buyers from the world’s coolest home stores (including Liberty and Heal’s) and hotels can pay a visit. Giving Falcon a 21st Century makeover hasn’t made fans – or the Falcon team – immune to the charms of the original. Lucraft inherited her grandmother’s enamelware, and the team “collect the odd bits” when they spot them at vintage fairs, as they are “good for reference”. If they’ve got a few chips, then so much the better. “It’s all part of enamelware’s beauty,” she adds.