Bumper crop of tableware Design: Summer colors and the fanciful spirit of the season brighten mealtimes.

July 26, 1998|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Summertime, and the living is easy - and it's generously colored: bright, like a Gerbera daisy; pastel, like sorbets; or shaded in hues as cool as a lake or pool.

Summer entertaining - indoors or out - is less formal than in years past. Still, the season inspires us to create romantic moods with picnic-like spreads that evoke images of Tuscany or Provence. Some floral and fruit themes are so luscious that you won't be able to resist using them year-round.

This year, there's a bumper crop of new designs, many of them on melamine, a rugged plastic hybrid. It's dishwasher-safe, of course, but improved methods of fusing colors to the melamine mean the patterns won't chip or scratch in the dishwasher, either. And the designs run the gamut from fanciful to elegant.

Pretty ivy-laced white plates, for example, look like fine china when settled in a picnic basket, but they're actually unbreakable plastic. Crisp and cool, the ivy motif is reminiscent of wallpaper you might find in a quaint country cottage. The hand-applied design, inspired by the lush greenery of Winterthur Gardens in Delaware, has an exquisite crackled effect.

Solid-color plastics have not been forgotten, either. Stacks of bright melamine plates give the table a lift, as do single-hued bowls, especially when they're filled with ripe fruit or fresh flowers.

Solids and patterns make a nice combination on any table. Giant poppies blooming on a tray look great with bright, solid-colored plates and bowls. Colored bowls take on a sophisticated look when the interiors are a contrasting hue.

Highball-sized clear acrylic coolers decorated with flowers offer another pleasant surprise, especially when you lift one to make a toast and find that it's not glass. Translucent acrylic is another super summer look when it's colored. It's available in many forms, including oversized square plates, glasses shaped like tumblers and even fancy goblets.

Accessories such as pitchers and salt and pepper shakers, serving bowls and platters also are available. Some of the tableware looks like frosted glass. Check out Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and Pier I Imports for a good selection.

There are no rules against using plastic with earthenware or other ceramic pieces, either. For an attractive tabletop, vary shapes, colors and patterns on simple white plates that you might already own. Spiegel's summer catalog shows such a treatment - a lime-and-white polka-dotted dish, topped with a sunflower yellow triangular plate, both standouts on a white ground. A hot-pink place mat (reverses to black) and apple-green napkins add pizazz. The dishes are hand-painted ceramic, safe for microwave as well as dishwasher. But the drink-ware, clear on top with flower-shaped colored feet, is acrylic.

When flower, herb and vegetable gardens are in full bloom, nature themes on the table draw the eye as they echo the real bounty. Sometimes the organic theme is minimal, as it is with the Pfaltzgraff Co.'s new casual dinnerware called Choices. One of those patterns, Wyngate, features a soft, stylized green vine with rose-pink berries meandering between blue bands on its salad plate. On the larger plate, the banding becomes a bold graphic design, with the blue creating a striped effect, broken up by a skinny green line on the white in between. But as bold as the effect is, the blue is quiet, applied in a spongy, rather than solid, manner.

Some renderings are true to life, while others exaggerate, lending a contemporary touch. Vietri's Fresh Fruit dinnerware, for example, features boldly hand-painted large-scale images of grapes, cherries, peaches and strawberries. The festive hues are set off by white bands decorated with graphic punctuation - dots, dashes, stars - in black. Set on solid coordinating colored charger plates, the dishes provide a sizzle that also would warm a cold winter day.

Even more explosive color dominates Vietri's Vivace collection. The Italian hand-crafted ceramics feature lots of mix-and-match possibilities, with solid-color plates in pimiento, cobalt, lime and marine blue, each edged in the companion contrasting colors. The collection suits fiesta fare and summons images of spicy Southwest cuisine laced with salsas.

Other options in the Vivace collection include salad plates fancifully hand-painted with a choice of individual motifs: two different fish, a lobster and a flower missing some petals, as if someone plucked them while playing "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not." Roosters are another choice that introduces a rustic country note. Such a table setting can't help but bring a smile, especially when it's accompanied by a pitcher in the shape of the rooster.

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