Pack Your Bags for Heath Ceramics’ Lake Tahoe Cabin, Where Refined Doesn’t Mean Fussy

Pack Your Bags for Heath Ceramics’ Lake Tahoe Cabin, Where Refined Doesn’t Mean Fussy

By Melissa Dalton
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.  

As a child of the Depression era, Edith Heath watched as her family auctioned off their belongings, discovering that fine porcelain china couldn’t be sold because no one had the money to buy it. "She developed a disdain for useless or superfluous objects," says curator Jennifer Volland. 

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."  

Heath produced tableware that was in sharp contrast to the refined porcelain from Europe and China that was popular at the time. Rather than have two sets of china, Heath advocated, families should keep a single beautiful and durable set that could be used every day as well as the Sunday table. Edith Heath was "someone who really redefined modern ceramic dinnerware as we know it, but for a long time wasn't credited for it," says Bailey.

The original Sausalito factory was built in 1959, as Heath Ceramics expanded production. Bailey remembers her first visit to the factory in 2003: "There was this industrial hum, or rhythm, that ran through and changed tone as you went," she says.

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." 

Catherine Bailey, creative director, and Robin Petravic, managing director, bought Heath Ceramics in 2003, just two years before Edith Heath died in 2005.

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. 

"When you take people through the factory, I'm always amazed at how many have never thought about where products come from, or how they're made. It's just not something that's connected to their lives, and so their eyes open up," says Bailey.

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.

"This is not just machines pumping this out with robots. It's a very different type of setup that we're trying to preserve and support, and it makes a different kind of product," says Bailey.

Heath Ceramics opened a Los Angeles showroom in 2008. The bulk of the brand’s sales is the dishware, with the remaining 29 percent attributed to architectural tile, and 16 percent from select home goods.

In 2012, Heath opened a 60,000-square-foot urban manufacturing facility in San Francisco. It includes the tile manufacturing floor, a showroom, a newsstand, a soft-goods studio, the Clay Studio (a design lab), a collective of local designers, and the Tartine Manufactory. The Sausalito factory "is steeped in history, and this one is the next chapter of Heath," says Bailey.

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 was designed in 1973 by Charles O. Matcham Jr., a local Tahoe architect.

Access to skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, and swimming are all within walking distance of the cabin.

Bailey and Petravic bought the home for its proximity to nature, which they thought would be good for their son. "I wanted him to be able to spend more time in the woods, and I had this dream of the idyllic summer swim hole," says Bailey.

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."

Plenty of natural light comes in via the rear glass wall. 

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. 

The walnut dining table is handmade by Jacob May, and the wall art is a Heath tile sample board that used to hang in the L.A. showroom. The wall clock is the Stencil Clock in Campari Red from Heath + House Industries.

Bailey integrated red and yellow accents throughout the cabin in a nod to its ’70s origins. Paprika-colored Heath tile bedecks the backsplash. The matte-black, enamel cast iron pan is by Crane Cookware. 

Dishware from the Rim line is in the cupboards. The collection was designed in 1960 in response to the company’s growing restaurant business. The cabinets were painted Chelsea Gray by Benjamin Moore, and the existing wood counter was refinished.

The silverware is the Muir Flatware in Onyx, and the Multi-Stem Vase is available in a variety of colors.

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.

The built-in sofa anchors the living room and faces the existing fireplace. The Leather Oval Chair with a red steel base sits off to the side, and the coffee table was fashioned by attaching vintage steel legs to another tile sample board. 

The bathroom sports Heath tile in classic field sizes, in the Steam and Ochre glazes. 

A window seat in the bedroom is made cozier with the Isbjorn Throw in Grey Natural, which is produced in Norway by Roros Tweed.

Bailey better utilized the space in this bedroom by designing a built-in bunkbed and storage. There’s also a queen mattress, making it fit for a family.  

Bunk beds and built-in storage outfits the former laundry room. A stackable washer and dryer are in the closet. 

The sauna was also updated.

Heath Ceramics Multi-Stem Vase
A stunning still life piece with or without flowers. Display vases as a family, mixed and matched, or on its own — we’ll leave that up to you. At once versatile and understated, it makes a beautiful addition to any room. 9" H, 3.5" dia.
Heath Ceramics Muir Flatware in Onyx (5 Piece Setting)
Simple, satisfying to hold, and usable every day, for any occasion — just like our dinnerware. The first flatware pattern, start to finish, made in the US in almost a decade. Design-led in San Francisco by Heath, and hand-tooled and crafted in New York by Sherrill Manufacturing.
Heath Ceramics DG3 Paprika Blend Tile
Fire, warmth, and the art of attraction. This Dual Glaze blend comprises six tiles. The sample pack includes six tiles, one of each style.
Heath Ceramics Vegetable Bowl
Perfect for serving vegetables, large salads, pastas, sides, main courses — you name it. It’s beautiful enough to stand alone as decoration, but can also be nested with the Large Serving Bowl, Shallow Salad Bowl, and Deep Serving Bowl. Together they make a truly wonderful gift.
Heath Ceramics Pasta Bowl
Our pasta bowl works with any of our dinnerware lines. We suggest it for anything and everything — pasta, salad, soup, or main dishes. Expect lovely variation in our Moonstone, Redwood.
Heath Ceramics Café Bowl
Designed in collaboration with Christina Kim and Alice Waters, our Café Bowl was designed exclusively for Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant in 2006. This line takes cues from classic French porcelain restaurant ware, with a Heath twist. A perfect bowl for everyday use.
Heath Ceramics Camellia Opaque White Dinnerware Set
Our large-scale Camellia pattern, named for the Alabama state flower, is the highlight of this 5-piece place setting, inspired by Natalie Chanin.
Heath Ceramics Large Covered Serving Dish
Functional as it is beautiful. Keep your dishes warm, serve in style, and store leftovers in one fell swoop. Unconventional use: flip the lid over and use it as a cake plate! Expect lovely variation in our Moonstone and Redwood glazes. 5" H, 11" Dia.
Heath Ceramics Large Teapot
An iconic Heath piece — this beautiful and functional teapot was originally created by Edith Heath in the 1940s. Designed to work with any of our dinnerware lines, it’s not only functional but stands alone as a stunning display piece. A must-have for the tea drinker.
Heath Ceramics Pitcher
A classic Edith Heath design from the 1940s. Perfect for both hot and cold liquids — fill it with your favorite lemonade or use it to serve soup to your guests. The elegantly ergonomic handle makes for effortless pouring. Expect lovely variation in our Moonstone and Redwood glazes. 4.5" Diam.
Heath Ceramics Bud Vase
An Edith Heath classic, designed in the 1940s. Our Bud Vase makes for a stunning still life piece with or without flowers. Display it as a family, mixed and matched, or on its own — we’ll leave that up to you. At once versatile and understated, it's a beautiful addition to any room.
Heath Ceramics Candle
Our signature scent, made exclusively for Heath by Scents of San Francisco. Perfect for the kitchen and around the home. Hand-poured with soy wax and scented with 100% pure essential oils — fresh notes of herbs, citrus, mint, and ginger.
Heath Ceramics Muir Flatware in Tumbled (5 Piece Setting)
Simple, satisfying to hold, and usable everyday, for any occasion. The first flatware pattern, start to finish, made in the US in almost a decade. Design-led by Heath, and hand-tooled and crafted by Sherrill Manufacturing. Features a tumbled, matte finish and an industrial, galvanized look.

Related: Listen to Rosalie Wild of Heath Ceramics on Dwell’s podcast Raw Materials 3 Ways: Dirt.

Project Credits:

Designer: Catherine Bailey of Heath Ceramics (@heathceramics)

Builder (including cabinetry and millwork): Lindsay Construction


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