Dubai is, undeniably, impressive. It’s a city that glistens and gleams, one that proudly showcases the possibilities of human ingenuity, of audacious engineering, of physics-bending technology.

But it wasn’t until Dubai local Tanvi Arora arrived on Canada’s West Coast that she truly felt her own design inspiration blossom. “I fell in love with clay here,” says the ceramicist and winner of our 2023 WL Maker of the Year. “In Dubai, everything is new and shiny. It’s a city built on superlatives: the tallest, the biggest, the longest. But it’s artificial. In Vancouver, I started to feel a connection to nature for the first time.”

Photo by Kyoko Fierro

Arora had been working as an interior designer in Dubai (where she grew up in an arts-minded family: her mom is a talented painter; her brother studied engineering drawing) when she started to feel burned out from all the desk work the role required. “It’s a creative job, but I was looking for something to do with my hands,” she recalls. She found that something at Dubai’s lone pottery studio, and fell head over heels in love with the art form. (“I never wanted to leave,” she says with a laugh.)

Stone Collection: Set of mugs. Photo by Iulia Agnew.

Arora bought a wheel and set up her own kiln at home, and happily puttered away, occasionally selling pieces to local shops. But then, when she and her husband decamped to Canada five years ago, she made the leap into full-time ceramics. And in her 400-square-foot Tav Ceramics studio in East Vancouver, the influence of her new home started to creep into her work.

“It’s changed immensely,” Arora says. “With my work in Dubai, it was hard for me to place value in the handmade. Here, I glaze my work far, far less so you can actually feel the clay when you’re using it.”

The Beacon lamp is Arora’s first lighting design. “It’s a culmination of everything I’ve learned about ceramics at this point,” she says. At two feet tall, the Beacon is available in either a lime-wash-like finish, reminiscent of the walls of Italy, or a lava-rock-inspired gritty black clay. Photo by Tanvi Arora

Her Stone and Anthracite collection might be the most reflective of her time in Vancouver. “I wanted the touch and feel of the clay to be clear,” she says. “I wanted to find clays so beautiful that they become the hero of the product.” The timeless dinnerware pieces are each unique—a little lighter or darker, depending on where they sat in the kiln.

Large Vase: Anthracite Collection. Photo by Kris Atendido LeBoeuf.

Arora’s experience as an interior designer comes into play with everything she does. “I see things from the perspective of how they’re used in actual spaces—from where they would be placed to ergonomics,” she says. “I think about how heavy a piece is, how comfortable it is to hold, how it feels as it comes to your mouth.” Designer of the Year judge and industrial designer Diego Olivero appreciated this attention to detail: “Art meets function [in Arora’s work], with proportions playing a vital role,” he said.

Photo by When They Find Us.
Tipalti—Installation in Progress. Architecture firm M Moser commissioned Arora to help with an installation at financial-software company Tipalti’s downtown office. She crafted 300 beads for a partition intended to look like an abacus. “There were technical challenges, but I have so much fun problem solving,” she says. Photo by When They Find Us.
Judge and IDS Vancouver director Bronwyn Gourley was “delighted by the innovation and fresh approach to [Arora’s] body of work.” Photo by When They Find Us.

Even as Arora takes on more design-y, less functional projects—slip-casting ceramic beads for an installation at a software company, or crafting sculptural lamps out of clay—she’s constantly thinking about the end user.

“I want to create something that could be an heirloom,” she says of her timeless Stone and Anthracite dinnerware collection. Photo by Iulia Agnew.

“I want to create pieces that can stand the test of time in your home; pieces that aren’t trendy, that don’t follow any design rules,” she says. It’s a philosophy that, intentionally or not, honours the timeless impact and inspiration of the West Coast forest, seascapes and backlit mountain ranges. And in each of Arora’s designs, where earth and mud and dirt are celebrated and treasured, you can feel it all with your own two hands—it’s no billion-dollar skyscraper, but it’s undeniably impressive all the same. “Living in this place,” says Arora, “I’ve seen my work come into its true potential.”

Photo by Kyoko Fierro

Q&A with Western Living’s 2023 Maker of the Year Tanvi Arora

Who do you admire most as a designer?

I’m quite taken with Brooklyn-based ceramicist Danny Kaplan’s work at the moment. His balance of forms and symmetry is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Any podcasts you follow?

I love Domino’s Design Time. Host Julie Vadnal is such a good interviewer and the guests are all truly the masters of their field. Some others I follow are The Maker’s Playbook by Rebecca Ickes Carra and Business Babes Collective by Danielle Wiebe.

If you weren’t a designer, what job would you be doing?

I’ve always been fascinated with neurology and almost went down that road in high school, although I quickly realized I loved art and architecture much more and switched majors. But I still wonder sometimes what it would’ve been like to be in the medical field.

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READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Awards