There are certain brands which are so iconic, so well known and global in their reach with such a rich history that it doesn’t matter who you talk to, everyone has heard of them. Established in 1748, Villeroy & Boch is one such brand and a few weeks ago I spent a wonderful couple of days at the home of V&B in Germany with Jen from Love Chic Living and Lottie from Oyster and Pearl as we were given a two-day masterclass in the company’s incredible history and how they remain relevant nearly 300 years later.
Although based at Mettlach in Germany, it’s just over the border from Luxembourg and so we flew from London City Airport to Luxembourg before being collected by our Villeroy & Boch driver who took us to our home for the evening, the beautiful Schloss Saareck which has been the family home of the von Bochs since 1903. On arrival we were treated to a delicious lunch (of course served on V&B tableware) and were joined by LG von Boch, born in the castle and now 80 years old but still as energetic and full of passion for the brand that his family has been partly responsible for building across generations. Engaging and articulate with fantastic English, he talked us through the history of the brand and the struggles it faced during major global upheaval in the form of World Wars but how in a sense this also contributed to their resilience in the face of adversity.
After lunch, we were driven just across the River Saar to have a tour of the Villeroy & Boch Discovery Centre housed in the Baroque Benedictine “Old Abbey” which was both information and sensory overload in a wonderful way! We saw life-styled products set in their original eras and revolving tables with full dining layout. It’s really impossible to grasp the enormity of what a company like V&B have achieved until you see it laid out in front of you. Of course for me the most famous element of what they produce is tableware but I could never have begun to imagine just how many collections there were and continue to be produced including the iconic “Old Luxembourg” in simple blue and white and still the most requested and produced design.
Some of the extensive tableware collections were modelled in a fun market square recreation, showcasing everything from gift ranges, collections for children and their new outdoor tableware concept which was one of my favourites. I’m a huge fan of modern, minimal and simplistic but stylish design and prior to the trip had only seen V&B has a heritage, traditional brand. However the outdoor tableware demonstration was outstanding, showcasing a way of practical and sociable dining, items such as pasta bowls elongated on either side so they can be rested comfortably on your lap as you perch on a sofa or outdoors with huge deep pasta bowls and serving spoons which can loop over the rim of the bowl so they don’t sink into the pasta dish. Or small BBQ dishes which are resistant to heat and can be placed directly onto the BBQ with a heat-proof detachable handle. Or removable segmented pizza stones which guide the pizza cutting into perfect quarters before being lifted out on a ceramic quarter-pizza shaped plate – the list of innovative and modern design was endless.
We followed this with a tour of the Museum of Ceramics with products on display from the earliest manufacturing to the present day including my favourite plate which depicts Napoleon’s grave and if you look very carefully you can see his ghost watching over. Do you spot him?
There were samples on show of specific dining sets which have been bespoke made for royal families all over the world as well as collaborative projects done with design students in the 90s – of course only produced in limited editions but V&B can literally produce anything that is designed/required and the attention to detail and quality control is simply unrivalled which is why they are the brand of choice for the prestigious and wealthy.
Our next stop was the bathroom showroom and with a main bathroom and en-suite that need to be completely renovated, I’m a bit obsessed with bathroom ideas at the moment. In contrast to the sense of history we had seen at the museum and discovery centre, it was modern all the way in the showroom and I must have sent Pete at least 50 photos by What’s App telling him I wanted everything. The finishes were exceptional, the design exquisite and again for someone who loves modern style and design as I do, my wish-list was expanding with each piece I saw. I especially love the clever under-sink storage which features drawers rather than cupboards which are more typically found in the UK. The soft closing, the under-counter lighting – all so beautiful.
By this point in the afternoon, most of the V&B team and indeed most of Germany it felt like had made their way to televisions for the latest German group stage game in EURO 2016 – it was interesting to see how much more a family-focused event international football is compared to the UK. Literally every single person was watching it, so we had a little bit of down time to ourselves before reconvening for dinner at the castle with some of our V&B hosts. As someone who is relatively new to blogging it was a great opportunity to spend time with Lottie and Jen, talking about social media, working with brands and hearing more about the history of V&B.
Our second and final day saw an early start and another jam-packed schedule as we headed away from Mettlach to the actual factories where we could see first hand the products being made and this was so eye-popping. What became apparent over the two days is just how passionate people are about the brand and working for them – some of the ladies we saw carefully hand-painting a single stripe onto the handles of the Old Luxembourg cups had been working in the factories for between 30 and 40 years (and I thought that I’d been in my job for a long time after 13 years, I’ve got some way to go!) Clearly they enjoy their work and whilst much of it is of of course machine-made these days, the quality control and final finishing inspections are all done by hand.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos inside the factories but our tour took in first of all the tableware factory followed by the sanitary one, in both cases we were taken through the entire production process step-by-step and saw the robots busy at work. In some cases, up to 300 units of a particular item would be produced/finished per shift which is just incredible to think of the output. The factories are in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the factory workers have two weeks off in summer and two weeks off in Christmas. A dedication and passion is most definitely required to maintain that level of worth ethic.
After the factory tour we headed onto Luxembourg where we met with the utterly charming blogger Anne of Anne’s Kitchen. From Luxembourg and living there now, she spent several years in the UK which is where she started her blog and still has a sincere passion for London life. She was bubbly, bright and inspiring and we sat down together for lunch at Rotondes, a quirky arts and cultural venue with outdoor dining space and incredible burgers courtesy of Betty Buvette. I tucked into a gluten-free falafel base topped with chicken burger and fried egg – so delicious but beyond filling.
Our last stop of our trip was another Villeroy & Boch events venue, this time Chateau de Septfontaines in Luxembourg where we were treated to afternoon tea in the most divine surroundings. From elegant entrance halls with a huge clock on the ceiling to the aptly named “Blue Room” I think we would all be in agreement that it would be nearly impossible to find a more perfect space to end our stunning trip. It felt almost too decadent to be reclining on the sofas, sipping tea and (in my case anyway) gazing at cake.
As I came away from Germany and in the days and weeks that have followed since, my overriding feeling is one of having my mind completely changed – I’d previously viewed Villeroy & Boch as being “not for me” simply because I saw them as so traditional and weighted with a sense of aristocracy. Now however I realise that they offer something for everyone, no matter your tastes or budget and it will be interesting to see how they continue to innovate in future.
Thank you so much to Villeroy & Boch for inviting me on this trip. All words, opinions and images are my own unless otherwise stated.