Great love stories often start with a glance. Alison Altman was a Harvard student studying abroad in Beijing; Bo Jia was a native working as a professional artist. As fate would have it, East met West at a U.S. Embassy event. “Our eyes locked and that was it,” says Alison. “Bo was interested in everything Western and I was interested in everything Eastern, so we met in the middle.” Today, the Washington, D.C., couple’s porcelain company, Middle Kingdom, combines her love of Chinese history and his passion for traditional Chinese arts. “I was underwhelmed by what most people know about the genre and I wanted to correct the misconceptions,” says Bo. “The idea,” explains Alison, “was to take a conventional Chinese material, like porcelain, and give it a new voice.” And that they did, with traditionally shaped bowls and vases updated with out-of-the-box glazes and finishes. “The work is classic yet contemporary and completely rooted in tradition,” says Alison, “which is an accurate description of the two of us, as well.”
LX: We got started...
AJ: By walking up and down every alley in Jingdezhen, China, looking for inspiration, and potters and artists who could translate our ideas. It’s now the town where we keep all of our kilns.
LX: What’s inspiring you now?
BJ: Natural form and pulling away from the things we’re known for, like exacting dimension and lines. We’re excited about letting loose.
LX: Neighborhood design shops:
AJ: We both love Cady’s Alley in Georgetown. It’s become a mini design district with high-end furniture, upscale kitchen and bath shops, great jewelers and cafés.
LX: Design icons:
BJ: Barbara Barry, for the peaceful beauty of her work, and Kelly Wearstler, for her ruthlessness in design. She recently did a home in Seattle that knocked me over. The craftsmanship in the installation is unparalleled, but the audacity is what makes it truly stunning.