Heath Ceramics pays tribute to the extraordinary vision of founder Edith Heath with a cozy, rentable cabin that puts the brand’s passion for craftsmanship on display.
Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic—partners and owners of Heath Ceramics—took a 1973 Lake Tahoe cabin "back to its roots," creating a year-round getaway that celebrates handicraft and authenticity. Now, the woodsy outpost is available to rent through Airbnb. Before we show you the home, however, it’s worth a look back at how the legendary California brand got its start.
It was the early 1940s, and Edith Heath was in search of clay.
At the time, the trailblazing ceramicist was deep in research on the technical properties of different clay bodies and glazes—she called the premixed, commercial white clay that was available "gutless." In her quest, she even appealed to the University of California Extension program to conduct a class on ceramics chemistry.
From their home in San Francisco—an apartment designed by architect Julia Morgan—Heath and husband Brian would drive to nearby clay pits, take samples, and bring them back to her makeshift kitchen studio for tests and study. "I was looking for a clay that nobody knew anything about, that had unique properties that I could utilize and develop, that would be expressive of the region," said Heath.
She found it in a clay pit in Lincoln, California, ultimately refining and shaping the clay mixture to her liking, formulating distinctive glazes, and creating the iconic look of Heath Ceramics, which officially opened in 1948 and has been in production ever since.
According to Catherine Bailey, the creative director at Heath Ceramics, "What was really unique about [Edith] and Heath Ceramics is the way she thought about it: she was capable of designing everything. Not just the form—she designed the clay, she designed the glazes, she and her husband designed the company, and built the machines."
Bailey started collecting pottery while studying industrial design in college. She knew the Heath name, but did not own a piece; then, she and partner Robin Petravic saw the sign for the Heath factory in Sausalito and stopped inside the store.
"It blew us away that there was a functioning old factory in our neighborhood, and we were really amazed at how self-sufficient the whole place was," says Bailey, who previously ran a design consultancy and worked with companies like Nike, Burton, and Microsoft.
"It was very much in contrast to the other kind of businesses we had been a part of, or worked for, because the entire process was in one building: from making the clay, to making ceramics, firing ceramics, and even selling them."
Just as Heath bucked tradition with her original designs and processes, Bailey and Petravic have also taken a different tact to running a 21st-century manufacturing business. Rather than outsourcing materials, labor, and production, which would denigrate the integrity of the design, the pair have kept the operation intact, shifting from wholesale to direct-to-consumer, slowly expanding across four California locations, and recently converting a portion of the company to employee-ownership through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
The pair have stayed true to Heath’s legacy of craftsmanship and the original, made-in-California ethos: the ceramics are still formed by the same clay from the pit that the Heaths discovered years ago; production maintains a human scale with locations in Sausalito and San Francisco; and regular factory tours connect the public with the making process.
Fans of Heath now have another opportunity to experience its rigorous standards for handcrafted design. In the past year, Bailey and Petravic have opened up their personal cabin in the Bear Creek neighborhood of Lake Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows Valley, making it available to rent via Airbnb. They spent years renovating it, with Bailey doing all the drawings for the contractor on "little graph paper." Their update prioritized warmth, authenticity, and a celebration of the handmade throughout.
The cabin had great bones when the couple purchased it eight years ago, but had suffered some unfortunate updates in the ’90s that involved a lot of forest green. "Everything was green. Wall-to-wall carpeting: green. Green kitchen. Green bathroom," remembers Bailey. "It was a Tahoe thing, I think, in the ’90s."
Bailey stripped out the jarring color scheme in order to let the cabin be more "true to its roots." She traded the carpeting for red oak flooring, and the bathroom now sports gray and ochre Heath tile. She reconfigured the sleeping arrangements, converting an office and laundry room into bedrooms, so multiple families can stay at the home together.
Built-in storage and furniture maximize the 1,500-square-footprint. For instance, cozy nooks in the bedrooms can be a single bed for a child, or provide a quiet alcove away from the activity of the main rooms. Bailey's favorite spot, the couch in the living room, can easily seat eight people. "I really hope that [visitors] connect with the people that they're with," says Bailey.