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Gustavsberg Ceramics Center Offers Bargains

July 19, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

STOCKHOLM — In Sweden, Gustavsberg porcelain means tradition.

The company was founded in 1825, and its Ceramics Center occupies the original site--on the island of Varmdo in the scenic Swedish archipelago just 20 kilometers from the center of Stockholm.

Gustavsberg produces distinctive top-quality china and stoneware, with traditional and modern patterns, as well as fabulous one-of-a-kind porcelain objets d'art, designed and handmade by the company's fine ceramists.

The Ceramics Center is open to the public all year, but the best time to visit is summer, when Scandinavian days last late into the night and mild weather gently transforms the countryside into picture-post card landscapes. Visiting the Gustavsberg factory, porcelain museum and shop is a favorite day trip from Stockholm for residents and tourists alike.

The Ceramics Center has an appealing atmosphere. The place is positively quaint. There is a large, red-brick, Victorian building, with the date 1898 proudly built into the facade, and several small, white, barn-like structures attached to it.

The area is landscaped with colorful flower gardens, made more accommodating by a generous supply of dark-red picnic benches.

The Ceramics Center is built on the waterfront (swans frequently cruise by and you can feed them from the pier), and is surrounded by the small town of Gustavsberg, inhabited mostly by factory employees. A visit is relaxing, cheerful and even educational.

Best advice for shoppers: Prices at the well-stocked factory outlet are lower than those offered by retailers in Stockholm or abroad. In addition, some items are sold exclusively at the Ceramics Center.

Admission to the Ceramics Center is free. There is no formal guided tour to rush visitors through. Instead, guests are given brochures and allowed to amble at their own pace. There is plenty to engage everyone's interests.

The beautiful museum display covers Gustavsberg's complete historical development, with sample porcelain table service dating from 1825 to the present.

There also are magnificent special production items, including a seven-foot candelabrum (dated 1890) and beautiful large ceramic urns decorated with painted nymphs and cupids. The exhibition is well-labeled and absolutely elegant.

Gustavsberg's earliest tableware is blue floral on white, similar to pieces produced by contemporary English potteries. But through the years, Gustavsberg has developed a series of distinctive patterns that have made the company world-famous.

These include the well-known "Blue Flower," with its delicate blue blooms (they look like tiny clusters of grapes) on a white background, manufactured since 1870, and the charming "Allmoge," countryish with its cheerful border blue-and-red flowers, designed in 1905 and now sold exclusively at the Ceramics Center.

The Allmoge tableware is displayed in an old-fashioned kitchen, a replica of the turn-of-the-century Swedish working-class home, complete with antique stove and furniture. You can also walk into another replica room that shows how the offices and work studios at Gustavsberg used to be around the turn of the century. Antique pottery molds and other items used in manufacturing the porcelain are also exhibited.

The museum also displays Gustavsberg's more than three dozen contemporary tableware patterns, including the modernistic New York (white, with a gold asymmetrical triangle on the border), Kyoto (white, with two overlapping gold brush strokes on the border) and Caprifolium (a recent and delightfully cheerful pink-and-green floral), as well as artist Paul Hoff's decorative annual plate series featuring endangered wildlife species painted in gold on white.

There are one-of-a-kind studio pieces, including vases, decorative bowls and sculptures by famous Gustavsberg ceramists.

Many items exhibited in the museum are sold in the shop, an enormous supermarket with a vast array of porcelain and stoneware items displayed on open shelves.

One section has studio pieces: a Sven Westfeldt vase sells for about $300, Karen Borquist's beautiful bowls are about $230 and her whimsical star-shaped porcelain boxes are $79. A large and exquisitely elegant ceramic swan by Paul Hoff costs $445. Prices are high, but these works of art really are priceless.

Tableware, including many popular patterns, is a great buy. Seconds (marked with a yellow tag) with barely perceptible flaws sell for 30% less than first-quality pieces.

Some prices for New York, Kyoto and Caprifolium patterns: dinner plates $17, or $12 for seconds; salad plates $12, or $9 for seconds; soup bowl $17, or $12 for seconds; cup and saucer $18, or $12 for seconds; large serving bowl $46, or $33 for seconds, and serving platter $47, or $34 for seconds. An angularly attractive white porcelain candlestick holder makes a lovely centerpiece for $37.

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