After years of working in the interior design industry, two things became clear Diana Adams. The first was that decor and furniture makers, like interior designers themselves, were also artists. Second, many materials are often lost in the course of completing a project. “You are not taught in school that you can make a business out of art,” she says business of the house.
Courtesy of SampleHaus
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Adams always considered herself an artist. “I’ve been drawing since elementary school,” she says. “But when I got into college, I felt like I had to choose a degree that I could do for a living.”
For Adams, that meant studying biology at California State University in Dominguez Hills before deciding to follow her heart. “I remember walking to my car after class and walking past the art department. I really wanted to be there,” she says. “So I said fuck it and signed up for painting and pottery classes. When I first touched clay it just clicked – I bought a wheel and started practicing pottery at home.”
But her calling hadn’t arrived yet. After graduating, Adams took a day job at Apple, which left her feeling creatively unfulfilled, so she decided to pursue a master’s degree in interior design offered through a collaboration between the UCLA Extension and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The training led to a full-time job with a designer Michael Smith. “I became engrossed in materials — fabrics, stones, and woods — and began to see the artistic value of decoration,” she says. “Then it finally occurred to me: this is how you make a living with art.”
In 2019 she opened SampleHaus, the Hawthorne, California-based studio where she transforms discarded fabric swatches and showroom patterns into heirloom-worthy collages. “I started contacting local vendors to salvage their scrapped materials,” she explains. “Then I turned them into works of art, which I sold at various pop-up stores in the area.”
When she got her feet wet selling collages, Adams decided to turn her attention back to pottery. She enrolled in a pottery class at a local studio to brush up on her skills and fell head over heels in love with centuries-old tribal designs. “I love how different ceramic markings symbolize different cultures,” she says. “There is a universal pottery language conveyed through various engravings.”
More specifically, she was fascinated by African Zulu pottery, characterized by bold geometric lines and vibrant enamel surfaces, and began incorporating the motifs into her own hand-made ceramic creations. “I made lidded jars with markings modeled on those found on traditional tribal shields,” she explains. “And if possible, also integrated salvaged fabrics into the designs.”
When the pandemic struck, Adams said demand for her colorful ceramic confections skyrocketed. “All of a sudden, people started requesting planters, mugs, and other functional homewares,” she says. “So I shifted my focus to pottery and developing my Zulu collection.”
Courtesy of SampleHaus
Adams describes her process as intuitive, with no concrete sketches to guide her at the wheel – just her memory. “I throw objects at the wheel by heart,” she says. “I measure them so they’re a consistent size, then trim, carve, and underglaze them before they go into the kiln for the first firing.”
Her signature palette for the Zulu series consists of yellow, black and white finishes, with each respective glaze corresponding to a specific pattern. “Family members often help me paint, so it feels like a collaborative process,” she says.
Looking ahead, Adams plans to expand their popular Zulu line with new colorways, lighting and tableware designs. She’s also hoping to release a fresh crop of collages, made, of course, from materials once destined for landfill. “I want to continue making art that speaks to people,” she says, “but it’s also good for my soul.”
Homepage Photo: Diana Adams at work on the bike | Justin Galligher