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Fashion Plates : Outfitting the Well-Dressed Table With Hand-Painted Accessories

April 05, 1998|Barbara Thornburg

For ceramics designer Brenda Holzke, setting the table should be as much fun as getting dressed up. In fact, she likes to think of her oversized, hand-painted dishes in solids and fanciful patterns as a ready-to-wear wardrobe for the dining room. "I provide the basics, and you can mix them the way you like," she says. "It can be fun and funky or more traditional, depending on how you put them together."

Holzke, 37, an Art Center College of Design graduate and former advertising art director, began painting custom dishes for friends as a hobby in the early '90s. "I wanted to do something more creative, and I'd always loved the idea of functional art for the table," she recalls. Two years ago, she and her husbang, Harry, launched B. Ware Malibu, offering dishes, plus everything from teapots and cigar trays to candlesticks and bud vases. To keep up with her growing customer list (Paula Abdul, Janet and Wayne Gretzky, even Saudi Arabian royalty), the company recently moved to Westlake, where 15 young men and women (some of them graffiti taggers now gainfully employed) mold fruit and floral decorations and paint each piece individually.

Not surprisingly, Holzke draws her design inspiration from the fashion world. A '50s apron led to a set of dishes with daisies set against blue gingham and polka dots. Other motifs include a crocodile print based on a handbag in a mail-order catalog and a leopard-and-rose pattern sparked by a faux leopard coat she bought at an antique show. The newest collection features pieces in two prints and nine solid colors that are adorned with either a sculpted pansy or calla lily. "I was after luscious, yummy colors," Holzke says. "After the whole collection was together, it reminded me of a painting by Monet." Hence the line's name, "Monet's Garden."

So what's with the unusual name for her company? "People associate dishes with breaking," she explains with a smile, "and I thought B. Ware would be easy to remember, as in: Beware--they can break!"

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