The shimmering, rectangular tray by Mary Jurek Design has a shallow lip and clean lines, with a nice heft and an appealing, subtly hand-hammered glossy surface. It’s a piece that can be mixed with anything from vintage to modern. Care? No hand washing, no need to polish. Just toss in the dishwasher. It’s made from durable, 18/8 stainless steel.
The hand-wrought tray, like other Mary Jurek Design products—including tableware such as bowls, platters, serving pieces, tongs, ice buckets, pitchers and more—while gorgeous and sculptural, is not meant to be saved for special occasions. It’s created to be an everyday luxury, no fuss required.
Melding elegant lines with practicality is a philosophy espoused by designer Mary Jurek, who combined her background in jewelry-making and fine art with a passion for metalwork when she founded her eponymous, Los Angeles-based company in 1996.
“I want our products to be inclusive,” says Jurek. “Our tableware items are not precious. They’re meant to be part of someone’s daily life.”
A native of Detroit who knew from a young age that art would be her life’s path, Jurek cites her father as one of her strongest design influences. “My father was an architectural engineer who worked for GM designing buildings and facilities,” she explains. “His work was both practical and elegant. Growing up in that mid-century, 1960s and ‘70s era, I lived in a house that my father filled with classic furnishings by the likes of Knoll—the pieces were timeless, always in style.”
After getting her degree in fine art from Wayne State University, Jurek found her way to New York, where she worked for a jeweler who was a subcontractor for Tiffany & Co, Harry Winston and other prestigious retailers. Using her educational experience in metal work, Jurek became a “bench jeweler,” meaning someone who crafts the pieces—and one of the few women doing so during the 1970s in what was then in a male-dominated profession.
Marriage took her to Switzerland, where she soon found work as a freelance designer for the watchmaker Piaget and for Gübelin, a storied jeweler and watchmaker based in Lucerne, for whom Jurek created award-winning designs.
Eventually, Jurek relocated to Los Angeles, where—ever the restless artist—she changed her trajectory to study interior design, and worked at a Christofle boutique, the French firm known for its sterling silver flatware and holloware. “Each morning,” Jurek recalls, “we had to polish the silver before opening.”
It was there, though, that she developed an interest in tableware and an itch to do her own thing. “I spent years in the diamond and fine jewelry business,” she explains. “There, you’re really creating something exclusively for one client, one person. Tableware, on the other hand, is inclusive. It’s about people coming together to share their lives over a meal. That appealed to me.”
She started out with one flatware pattern, but soon buyers were clamoring for more. Today, Mary Jurek Design has some 300 items in its oeuvre. “We edit our collections carefully,” Jurek says. “Each piece has to relate to the others. Our customers expect a certain look from us, and we stay true to that.”
Jurek designs each piece, and the items reflect her fine art influences, her days as a jeweler and her father’s modernist taste. The pieces are hand-made in Asia, where Jurek works with female-owned factories in Thailand and family-owned facilities in India. “Companies and their products should be accountable,” she says. “I love my factories. We’re also environmentally conscious. Our products last forever—the designs are timeless—and they are food safe.”
For Jurek, simplicity and elegance are the key factors in her designs; they’re subtle, not overwrought. The pieces are meant to be used all the time, whether you’re serving microwave popcorn or caviar and toast points. “Stainless steel is like denim,” she says of her products’ material. “You can dress it up or dress it down.”
And, at Jurek’s house, what are her go-to pieces? “I use my bowls all the time. There’s a stack of them in my cupboard, and I have some on the counter, filled with salt and peppercorns. They never look old or out of date.”
Mary Jurek Designs are available at Amusespot.com