A Big Helping of Style

Colorful plates are one of the home's hottest fashion accessories.

Focus On Tableware

July 10, 2005|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Bringing a little spice to the table traditionally has meant choosing a colorful tablecloth and centerpiece of flowers or kicking up the menu's seasonings a notch or two.

But the tables have turned. And the flashy new stars are fashion plates.

From the runways in Paris, Milan and New York, apparel styles are coming to a table near you. Dishes have emerged as one of the home's hottest fashion accessories. Think of them as the main course of a wardrobe for the table.

Besides punchy colors that mime our most up-to-date attire, there are upbeat patterns such as stripes, polka dots, paisleys and retro-look geometrics that might as easily adorn shirts or skirts. Some fresh interpretations of florals have a sketchy quality, like a child's drawing with crayon or pastel.

Translucent glass and ceramic plates in sherbet pastels are reminiscent of sheer, gauzy fabrics. Pewter bands bordering dishes suggest trendy metal cuffs popular in jewelry. Some plates are edged with beading like strings of pearls. Embossed detailing mimics quilting and embroidering.

This may be distressing news to food purists who like their entrees to be the focal points on white or off-white plates. But for aficionados of color, a salsa's happy hues may invite a complementary canvas, perhaps a tweedy texture exploding against an orange plate with red and skinny blue stripes like those on serapes. These earthenware dessert plates are in the summer Williams Sonoma Home catalog, $54 for a set of four slightly different stripe designs.

The color burst isn't limited to casual patterns. The Avington collection of dinnerware by noted British furnishings designer William Yeoward comes in what Neiman Marcus describes as "ravishing" hues: rich orchid, persimmon, apple green and Aegean blue, all rimmed with simple gold bands. A 13-inch charger is pricey at $275 a plate.

Global influences are apparent in the Byzance dinnerware available through Horchow. It features four bright shades: peony, blue, apricot and papaya. The plates have borders or embellishments similar to the stamped designs on Indian saris. Decoration on the plate is 12-karat gold.

A craving for colorful dinnerware seems to reflect the times.

"It's just a response to what's happening in the world," says Amy Stavis, editor and publisher of Tableware Today, a bimonthly trade magazine that reports on the tabletop and gift industries. Stavis is referring particularly to the "neon, hot colors" that have been prevalent the last couple of years.

"People need something bright, festive" to counter what's negative in the world, she says.

But not only do consumers want to celebrate life and be happy, they've reached a new comfort level with color, says Melanie Wood, a color and design consultant to the home fashion industry. "Magazines are exploding with color," Wood says. "Consumers want it."

Affordability has instigated some of the trend. A stylish tropical pattern -- for example, a bright green palm frond clinging to the left side of a squarish white plate -- was a recent offering at Target for only $21.24 for 16 pieces.

Then, too, there has been a shift in attitudes about the way we entertain. Bridal registries of the past almost always listed two sets of china -- one fancy, one for every day. Preferences now favor casual dining, and in recent years, that's been underscored by more simplicity in lifestyles, home design, food and presentation.

"A lot of brides are registering for more funky pieces," says Carla Fratto, a spokesperson for Vietri, a company that imports Italian dinnerware. Fratto says fashion hues can be integrated with more traditional patterns, such as Vietri's own Bianco, simple terra-cotta-edged, white-glazed dinnerware like those originally produced in the 1300s by Tuscan peasants.

Colored plates, of course, are not new. Cobalt, red, yellow, light green and aqua remain in the palette of Fiestaware, which the Homer Laughlin Co. launched in the mid-1930s. In fact, the company's newest hue, peacock blue, introduced in January at the International Home & Housewares show in Chicago, was credited by film critic Roger Ebert with inspiring the palette for the animated movie Robots.

What is different now is the direct connect between fashion and home, one that keeps trends from Europe on speed dial. Got an apple-green iPod? Get an apple-green plate, handbag or pillow.

Fashion-based hues are the result of improved glazes, which also are capable of more light reflection, allowing depth and unusual combinations.

"The consumer wants that almost chameleon complexity of color," says Wood, the color consultant.

Even more unusual twinnings, such as icy blue with chocolate (a key part of California designer Barbara Barry's new Henredon furniture collection), have counterparts for the table. And gender-bending pink, which started popping up in the home a couple of years ago, graces the tabletop in pale blush or hot variations that send it into peach tones.

"Quite often you can't go re-cover your sofa, paint your walls, change your draperies," Wood says. "But putting a splash of color on the table is not a major expenditure -- and you can completely change the look of a room."

SOURCES

Horchow

800-456-7000

www.horchow.com

Neiman Marcus

800-825-8000

www.neiman marcus.com

The Zrike Co.

201-651-5158

www.zrike.com

Vietri

800-277-5933

www.vietri.com

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