Nathaniel Mell’s perspective on how to style tableware is expertly built from the inside out as he saw the importance of dining presentation through the eyes of a server. Mell became an experienced server working in different restaurants to pay the bills while completing art school. The last restaurant Mell worked at as a server, under the talented chef Eli Kulp, ultimately led him to create the ceramic design and manufacturing company, Felt+Fat.
“While we still cater to professional chefs, our vision gradually shifted more toward the home cook over the past years and then dramatically in 2020 when the hospitality orders slowed, and at-home orders went through the roof. Now the ever-growing Felt and Fat team produces many thousands of pieces per month,” said Nathaniel Mell.
According to Mell, the modern-day culinary consumer sees food beyond just the flavor it delivers. When Mell worked under Eli Kulp, Kulp came to Mell with a new restaurant concept, asked Mell to produce a line of custom tableware. Mell, at the time, was also working in Philadelphia’s world-renowned Clay Studio in their exchange program. Kulp’s idea turned into a success because he understood how necessary a whole sensory experience was for consumers to continue to want to dine at his table.
When dining out or attending a dinner party, the moment someone walks through a restaurant or home door, the sensory experience begins. Eyes fall on details around the room. Hands touch plates, cups, silverware, napkins, and food. Taste buds ignite with the taste of what is for dinner. Tableware contributes to an individual’s overall sensory experience and can influence the atmosphere of a dining encounter.
According to Mell, “Felt and Fat is about helping people slow down and enjoy the little details around some of the most fundamental things we have in common: hospitality and sharing a good meal.”
Mell’s insight reflects the importance of displaying pieces that draw guests at the table to a time of presence. Tableware has the unique capability to create a mood and set a dining area’s tone based on various factors such as shape, color, and material. The name Felt+Fat was inspired by the different materials used by mid-century artist Joseph Beuys.
The uniquely handmade crafted pieces Felt+Fat produces are created from the studio’s proprietary porcelain clay mixed in-house. The clay is then cast in molds and finished with Felt+Fat’s custom line of glazes.
Styling a dining table at home does not necessarily mean ordering everything new. Sometimes, when trying to find what best fits a room, it is good to start with a few changes to see what materials, colors, and shapes accent it. A great piece to begin with when changing tableware style is a vase. A centered vase on a dining table, especially with flowers, twigs, or any other decretive touch in the vase, can help un-dull an eating space.
Another excellent tableware piece to invest in is a serving or sharing bowl. A serving bowl will add to a sensory experience as guests will have to hold the bowl to serve themselves before passing at a buffet-style meal.
About Nathaniel Mell
Nathaniel Mell is the founder and CEO of Felt+Fat, a ceramic design and manufacturing studio serving both professional and at-home chefs. Mell started the Philadelphia-based company in 2014 after graduating from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and working at the world-renowned Philadelphia Clay Studio.