Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

Julius pot from Potted gets its groove back

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Pot-ted's JULIUS Pot

The Julius pot is back — and with it a tale about just how hard it’s becoming for California designers to manufacture their latest looks locally. 

In 2009 Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray, owners of Potted in Atwater Village, introduced the Julius — “a modern, sexy pot with a curve and a little pedestal,” Gutierrez said, and a tribute to the late architectural photographer Julius Shulman. Back then, Potted worked with a small, local ceramics factory to produce the planter. “We did a couple runs, and then he went out of business,” Gutierrez said.

In its short life, the retro planter was popular with landscape designers who liked how it graced the poolside and the patio. The Julius was used at the Geffen Playhouse and in the model residences at the W in Hollywood.

“It was our best seller, but suddenly we couldn’t find anyone locally to make it,” Gutierrez said.

Pot-ted's Circle Pot, inspired by a mid-century hanging ashtray!

So the Julius was shelved as Gutierrez and Gray looked for another local manufacturer who could turn out consistent colors and forms in small quantities. “Every year, the number of Los Angeles ceramics factories has dwindled,” Gutierrez said. “And because of its size, the larger Julius design doesn’t even fit into most local kilns, so that made it even more difficult.”

Potted recently teamed up with Steve Gainey to reintroduce the Julius in aqua, avocado and matte or glossy white ($149 for a 16-inch-diameter pot, $89 for a 12-inch). Gainey is a third-generation California ceramics maker and president of LaVerne-based Gainey Ceramics, a 60-year-old venture that is one of the last ceramics factories in Southern California. He said he recently changed his business strategy after losing a large percentage of his commercial customers.

“My established banking, real estate and shopping mall market has gone away, but we’re a versatile facility that’s able to change,” Gainey said. “I decided we needed to focus on consumer products and reach out to artists in the ceramics community who have no ability to produce their designs otherwise.”

The Potted partnership is one of several similar arrangements with local artists who appreciate that Gainey is high-quality and homegrown. Gainey said he also has started producing his own designs, including a vase called X-Factor, which the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona recently added to its permanent collection.

Gainey’s embrace of the consumer market follows the national success of Janek Boniecki, who in 1998 acquired the original Bauer Pottery facility in Highland, reissuing classic Bauer pieces for the tabletop and garden, as well as the work of other artists.

A rainbow of retro colors for the Circle Pot.

I am seriously in love with the Wedding Cake Planter!

Gainey Ceramics also produces Potted’s 12-inch Circle pot ($89), right, inspired by a 1960s hanging ashtray that Gray found at a flea market. Suspended from an 18-inch stainless-steel cable, “it’s perfect for displaying succulents like burrow tails, string-of-pearls or an echeveria,” Gutierrez says.

Earlier this year, Potted and Gainey introduced a matte-white Wedding Cake planter, a three-piece, stacking flowerpot, below. The bottom piece serves as a saucer, while the top and middle “layers” are deep enough to hold plants. The set ($125) measures 11 inches in diameter and is 9.25 inches tall.

“This is our take on the cake platter as a tabletop planter,” Gutierrez says. “Whenever you can lift something up slightly with a pedestal, it looks lighter and fresher.”

Potted plans to develop more products that will be produced by Gainey Ceramics. But Gutierrez is circumspect about the challenge of remaining local while facing the inevitable competition of less expensive knockoffs. “We can’t compete with China on price,” she said. “We can only compete with our originality.”

Potted, 3158 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 665-3801.

Gainey Ceramics retail operations, 1200 Arrow Highway, La Verne; (909) 593-3533 or (800) 451-8155.

Link to LA Times @Home story 
— Debra Prinzing

More spheres in my garden

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Tempest holds a stainless-steel Mesh orb in its arms. The piece measures 70 inches tall.

As a follow-up to my last post about round objects in the landscape, I thought I’d show off a few more of my spherical works of art, from my backyard. You can see how appealing it is to start with a shape and then repeat it often. Some of the orbs in my garden are more obvious than others. One of the round forms is quite subtle. It is part of a sculpture called “Tempest” by my friend Jennifer Asher and her collaborator-fabricator Mario Lopez.

Jennifer owns TerraSculpture with Karen Neill Tarnowski  and the two women never cease to amaze me at their innovation and talent. These pieces fill a void in the outdoor sculpture world – bringing contemporary sculpture to the residential setting at far below the huge price tags you usually see.

Tempest, closer up

TerraSculpture originally created Tempest in a powder-coated bright orange finish. My husband Bruce was interested in the piece but suggested that we have Jennifer and Mario make the base in weathered steel, which somehow fits our style better.

I love the shape of the base – three “arms” join together and then gradually open to cradle a stainless steel mesh ball. The weathered steel (some might call it “rust”) echoes the dark burgundy-rust blades of my garden’s New Zealand flax and Cordyline plants. There’s something really wonderful about the piece’s see-through quality, too. Upon seeing “Tempest” standing in our garden, visitors are likely to utter a gasp of delight, followed by the immediate question: Where did you find that awesome piece?

My weathered steel orb - a pretty object in the garden.

More steel – also rusted – appears in the 24-inch orb I purchased from my friends Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray of Pot-ted in Los Angeles. I’ve shown earlier pics of their tangerine and aqua-finished objects.

For me, the weathered steel works well with everything else in my garden. See how pretty this piece looks on the “California Gold” crushed gravel? On the other hand, if Annette and Mary ever decide to make their metal orb series in lime green, I will be the first in line to snag a small-medium-large trio!

The perennial bed is dotted with orbs, from Bauer Pottery

And what about those awesome Bauer balls? I think I have six of them (it’s an ever-changing number). Here are two of them, looking nice and settled-in at the base of a New Zealand flax. These Bauer glazes are called Lime Green (15 inch size) and French Blue (8-inch size).

The glossy finish and classic round forms add up to nothing short of stunning, especially when surrounded by foliage, flowers and ornamental grass plumes.

Colorful glass floats add a lot of character to this fountain.

I have a thing for floating glass balls, too. Here is a little cluster of them, floating in the fountain on our entry porch. There are several glass artists who make these decorative balls. You can usually find the artists and their wares at major flower shows.

One of my favorite sources is Glass Gardens NW. Owner-artist Barbara Sanderson makes a rainbow of glass floats and orbs, as well as larger sculpture pieces for the garden. Check her out!

Finally, the garden has curves of a more organic nature – and that is in the outline of two crescent-shaped perennial beds. With so much linear geometry in my backyard (the horizontal lines of the house, patio, pergola, wall and pathways) it’s nice to visually break up these forms with sinuous curves.

Circles, spheres, orbs, and globes in my garden

Monday, June 14th, 2010

In the July 2010 issue of Better Homes & Gardens, I wrote a short item for my “Debra’s Garden” column called “Curves Ahead.” It could also have been titled “Three Cheers for the Circle.”

I am obsessed with round shapes — balls, spheres and orbs — and I love to dot the garden with these forms. This design trick relates to one of those basic lessons anyone who studies the art of landscape design is taught: Choose an idea and repeat it frequently.

My eye is naturally drawn to orbs and globes. They are so pleasing to me – in fact, I wrote about this passion previously – in an earlier blog post, “Zen of the Circle.”

Ornamental globes, obelisks and balls have taken up residence here in my Southern California backyard — check out the photograph below.

And it’s not just the three-dimensional geometry that puts a smile on my face. Curved outlines, such as the edge of a perennial border, patch of lawn or a turn in the path echo the orbs and reappear as arcs or crescents in the garden.

My interest in the sexy, organic globe shape has come “full circle” (pun intended) from a single idea to a cohesive design theme and a nice way to use ornamentation. Look around your own garden. Wherever you see a bare spot, perhaps it’s calling out for an orb or two.

I included a post-script note in my BH&G piece, promising to share my gallery of rounded and curved design ideas with our readers. Here it is – enjoy! Please send me your own photos and I’ll include the best ideas here, too. Check the bottom of this post for some of my favorite shopping resources.

My cluster of orbs in a dreamy palette of green, blue, and teal - with a wonderful mosaic orb by Vashon Island, Wash., artist Clare Dohna

A stunning, cool blue ceramic globe in a Yakima, Wash., garden. You can tell it is mounted on a pedestal to elevate it above the foliage.

Yes, these awesome orbs are actually vintage bowling balls. Each one rests on a painted flowerpot and is stair-stepped outside the porch of Berkeley, Calif., artist Marcia Donohue.

A finely-carved spiral woodworking detail appears at the end of a beam that forms the roof of a dining pavilion in our book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

The open circle - a "moon window" or "dreamcatcher" - provides a beautiful perspective in my friend Mary-Kate Mackey's Eugene, Ore., garden. It is mounted beneath an arbor where a hard kiwi grows.

My friend Kathy Fries designed a square-in-a-circle knot garden in her Seattle area landscape.

Plants like these golden barrel cactuses are naturally orb-like. You can see these at Lotusland, an estate garden in the Santa Barbara area.

This graduated set of concrete orbs just knocked me out when I first saw it in Sun Valley, Idaho a few summer's back. Thanks to my friend Mary Ann Newcomer, I got to visit some pretty amazing landscapes there.

A visit to any well-stocked garden center is likely to showcase the myriad choices of balls. I spotted a rainbow of gazing balls at Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura, Calif.

Restful, zen-like. Three types of moss are sculpted into a gravel garden display designed by Southern California landscape architect Graham Stanley.

Look for circular forms in public gardens - you'll find them. The arches of a lovely stone bridge are reflected in this pond to create an almost perfect circle. This bridge is at the classical Chinese Garden, recently opened at the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Garden in San Marino, Calif.

Artist Robert Irwin sculpted flowering azalea shrubs into a circular maze at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The clipped, concentric circles bloom in white, pink and magenta flowers.

The pebbles in a path detail, arranged on edge and curved into an eye-pleasing pattern.

A round "carpet" laid with sand-set concrete cobble-style pavers. Designed for my Seattle friends Rand Babcock and Tony Nahra by Daniel Lowery of Queen Anne Gardens.

If stone isn't your thing, try turf. This tiny grass "throw-rug" appears in the Seattle backyard of landscape architect Erik Wood and designer Carina Langstraat

Wow! Metal obelisks - powdercoated in orange (or turquoise), designed by Annette Guttierez and Mary Gray from Potted, in Los Angeles (see ordering details below)

Best resources for spherical garden ornamentation:

Pot-ted Store: Three graduated sizes of balls made from steel strapping will lend a lovely moment of architecture to the landscape. I have the medium-sized one in weathered steel (my preferred material). Annette and Mary, owners of Los Angeles-based Pot-ted, now sell a series finished with bright orange and turquoise powder-coating – their fav hues. Oops – I mean “aqua” and “tangerine.” Inquire about custom colors! Prices: $98 (18-inches); $139 (24-inches); and $169 (30 inches). Shipping available.

Bauer Pottery Garden Orbs: My friend Janek Boniecki has revived the classic California earthenware known as Bauer Pottery. In addition to making reproduction urns, dishes and serving pieces (in that awesome, sun-drenched palette), Janek and crew also create ceramic garden orbs glazed in Bauer colors. Yellow, dove gray, French blue, Federal blue, chartreuse, lime green, midnight blue, parrot green, turquoise, white, black and aqua (for some reason, the Bauer orange pieces are slightly more expensive, perhaps because of the glazing involved).

I am a bit addicted to these “globally admired” orbs, thanks to the company’s occasional factory outlet sales in Los Angeles. I have five or six of these gumball-shaped objects, which look tres-bien in and among foliage, flowers, blades and stems. Prices: $75-$82 (8-inch); $100-$110 (12-inch); and $150-$165 (15-inch). If you think you’ll be in the Los Angeles area sometime, make sure to check the Bauer web site to see the warehouse sale schedule. You will definitely find great prices and maybe even an orb or two (if I don’t get there first!).

Clare Dohna, Mosaic Artist:  Based on Vashon Island, Wash., artist Clare Dohna makes vibrant mosaic tiles in dazzling botanical shapes (flowers, bugs, leaves and more). She uses these tiles to adorn the surfaces of all sorts of wonderful garden sculpture and art, such as bird baths, bird houses, egg shapes and — my favorite – mosaic spheres. You can see one of her pieces at the top of this page; it plays nicely with the solid-colored Bauer orbs. Contact Clare directly (from her web site) to inquire about color schemes and prices.

A garden pottery field trip

Saturday, September 12th, 2009
Bauer Pottery Company, Los Angeles

Bauer Pottery Company, Los Angeles

Thanks to my friend Cristi Walden and her “Merry Band of L.A. Archivists,” Wednesday added up to a very big Design Adventure. It meant putting a few hundred miles on the Volvo, but that’s part of life here. And anyway, I have NPR and my catch-up calls to friends in Seattle (with a head-set – I’m safe) to keep me company.

We arrived at 11 a.m. in a dusty town waaaaay east of me. Down a vintage lane called Main Street, where stood an ancient wood-and-galvanized metal warehouse. I later learned it was once a citrus fruit-packing plant when communities like Redlands and Highland grew oranges for the rest of the U.S. (we’re talking late 19th century).

This is the worldwide headquarters of Bauer Pottery, the colorful, joy-inducing collection of dishes, bowls, platters and all kinds of awesome outdoor pottery pieces for the landscape (flowerpots, urns, orbs, bowls and much, much more). It was very hard not to hyperventilate.

Janek Boniecki, president of Bauer Pottery California, greeted us. He was incredibly gracious and spent two hours showing our group of five all that he has accomplished since purchasing the factory and reissueing hundreds of Bauer pieces for grateful folks like me.  Manufactured in California since 1910, the highly-collectible vintage Bauer pieces are hard to find and all but the most serious aficionados are starting to feel priced out of the market. Unless you’re a seasoned collector, it’s really hard to discern the difference between an original Bauer piece and one of Janek’s reissues unless you flip it over and look on the back. The words “Bauer California 2000” are stencilled on the bottom of each new piece.

Janek shows us the reissued Rebekah vase in Bauer crimson

Janek shows us the reissued Rebekah vase in Bauer crimson

Here’s a bit of history that Janek shared with us:

The Bauer Pottery Company of Los Angeles (1882-1962) started in Louisville, Kentucky, and then moved to LA, where it flourished. J.A. Bauer created simple, yet beautiful stoneware from the late 1880s to the early 1960s, with lines ranging from redware flowerpots to brilliantly colored dinnerware. Bauer Pottery was a staple in American homes for many decades.

Inspired by the weather and the lifestylesof Southern California, Bauer Pottery created many different lines for the home and garden. These new styles and rich colors were introduced soon after the Depression, and it wasn’t long before all the major pottery companies in the United States began to follow with their own interpretation of Bauer’s vision.

Today the work of J.A. Bauer has been reintroduced to the home by a ceramics studio based again in Los Angeles. Just minutes away from the site of the original plant, the new Bauer line is being reproduced using some of the original pieces and models, with an emphasis on items that were manufactured by Bauer during the 1930s and ’40s.

The broken rim and top portion of an original Bauer urn

The broken rim and top portion of an original Bauer urn

"Ali Baba" jar, in satin white, inspired by Terry's broken urn

"Ali Baba" jar, in satin white, inspired by Terry's broken urn

The story of how Janek saved Bauer begins in 1996 when he had a candle-making business. He was working in the film industry and wanted to start a business of his own.

“I started making candles in my basement – in a tiny, little 200-square-foot space,” he explains. Janek used colorful, inexpensive flowerpots to contain his candles. He ordered the pots from California Design Works in Highland, housed in the 36,000-square-foot fruit factory on historic Main Street, where Bauer now resides. 

According to Cristi’s friend Terry Freed (who was part of our group), he urged Janek to stop making pottery in Bauer colors and instead reissue the original designs. Terry used to own an L.A. shop called Fiesta Specialties. “Janek brought me a ceramic planter with a candle in it and I said, ‘forget the candle,’ make the pottery,” Terry says.

Janek shows how the stackable bowls can mix-and-match

Janek shows how the stackable bowls can mix-and-match

Two years ago, the owners, Debbie and Marty, sold their factory – building, machines, kiln and operations – to Janek. They worked with him for several years to develop the Bauer reissues and stills show up three days a week at the factory, which is a pretty cool business transition model. 

Cristi and Terry have befriended and supported Janek by lending him some of their original Bauer pieces as the basis for reissues. We saw the broken shard from a once-gorgeous Bauer oil jar that inspired a wonderful new pot (Terry’s partner Michael broke it accidentally, so they made lemonade out of that lemon and let Janek study and copy it).  The original pots might sell for $800-$1,000, but the reissued ones are $300-$600, depending on the size. Similarly, collector Linda Roberts, another one of our Merry Band, lent Janek a tall, slender Rebekah vase as the model for his new ones. The 22-inch reissued vase is $250.

It’s pretty mind-boggling what this tiny company is doing. Janek says there are 110 styles made in 15 different colors (classic Bauer colors, including Bauer Orange, Bauer Yellow, Turquoise, Federal Blue, Lime Green, Midnight Blue, Mango, Crimson, Teal Blue and Chocolate Brown – and all content to mingle, mix, and match with one another, plus a few new ones that I’m sure I’ve forgotten to list here).

We followed Janek downstairs to see where much of the ceramic casting and molding takes place. To get there, he led us into a freight elevator original to the century-old building. The lift is powered by water, making it the oldest water-operated elevator in California. It wasn’t fast, but it was a smooth ride.

The bottom of every piece has Bauer 2000 on it

The bottom of every piece has Bauer 2000 on it

Downstairs, we saw shelves and tables and stacked with the unfired pieces. When you observe the “blanks,” without color added, you really can appreciate the graceful shapes and lines of Bauer’s original designs.

Terry showed me one large planter that he remembers seeing in Desi Arnaz’s nightclub on old “I Love Lucy” television programs. Actually, there were two of them because on the set, one planter was turned upside down as a base for the one containing a plant. That reference to “I Love Lucy” gives me a perfect mental picture of the Bauer pottery vibe – then, and now.

My little Bauer-and-Mosaic installation

My little Bauer-and-Mosaic installation

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, here is the best news. Janek holds occasional sales of factory seconds and samples. He started them last year and when news got out, there were 500 people lined up to buy the cheerful pottery. If you’re wondering whether I got my Bauer fix, the answer is YES. I didn’t leave empty-handed. In fact, I came home with a trio of garden orbs in Bauer colors. These orbs are new from Janek. They were never part of the original Bauer line, but are fired in several colors from the Bauer palette. So the large, 15-inch orb is lime green; the medium, 12-inch is pale blue; and the small, 8-inch is turquoise. I have them grouped in the garden with my lovely mosaic orb by Vashon Island, Wash.-based artist Clare Dohna. The effect is quite pleasing to my eyes!

And finally, a gallery of our visit: