Meet the Olive Boat, a Party Essential That Solves an Age-Old Problem

A Brooklyn ceramicist known for her jewelry has made a foray into housewares with a brilliant idea.

Solving the age-old problem of discarded pits. Photo courtesy Corico.

No one knows what to do with the olive pits. It’s an age-old problem. You either covertly stuff them into your napkin, waiting to get near a trash can, or you add them to a designated pit dish, where we all have to look at gnawed-on, saliva-covered garbage. That’s not too appetizing, is it? Thankfully, Brooklyn-based ceramicist Claire Alba, who’s behind the jewelry line Corico, saw this as an opportunity to get into the housewares game. Her olive boat creation has a port structure in its center where you toss your unsightly pits so that they disappear until they’re easily cleared away all at once. She’s also making wine bottle coasters, perfect for those of you who are prone to drippy pours. Here, we talk to Alba about her foray into housewares and the inspiration for this olive boat.

When did you get into making ceramics? 
I got into ceramic art about nine years ago. I wanted to recreate a necklace I had seen and went to a bead store to shop with my mom. She leaned over and whispered in my ear that I should “just” make my own beads. Since I had dabbled in ceramics a little before (school? summer camp?), I knew that “just” meant not only creating the beads, but firing them once so that I could glaze them (which was itself another obstacle) and then firing them a second time. That whole process was overwhelming to me and I’m pretty sure I even covered my ears when my mom suggested it. I suppose I was protesting too much, because by the time I got home I decided it couldn’t hurt to get some some clay and play around a little. Before I knew it I was purchasing glazes online and, shortly thereafter, shopping for a kiln.

Where do you work?
I work from my home studio in Brooklyn—from my kitchen, to be exact. When I started out, we were a family of four in a one-bedroom apartment. The only place it made sense to fire my kiln was in the bathtub, completely out of the way, behind a closed door, with ventilation. The tradition had staying power and although we’ve moved to a bigger space, I still do that today.

Why, if your focus is on jewelry, were you inspired to create some home goods? What are the differences and/or similarities between designing the two?
My husband at the time worked in the wine industry and I thought it would be fun to make some wine charms. They made great gifts. Those were my first home goods items. I enjoy the process of designing no matter what I’m making. The versatility of clay, the varieties of glaze, and myriad of ways in which the glaze can be applied, really allows for endless creativity. So in that sense making jewelry and home goods is similar. The jewelry does afford more imagination. There’s only so much one can do with a wine charm.

What made you want to create the olive boat, and how did you decide on the design of it? Were there any trials there? 
I was with a group of good friends at a dinner party when we just got to chatting about olives and it dawned on us that there was nowhere to put the pits so you didn’t have to look at them. I wish I could remember the progression of the conversation, because there was one—and it was funny—but I can’t remember it. I blame it on the wine.

I did get right to work, though, and that was about seven years ago. This first design had two separate pieces, the olive “boat” and the pit “port.” It was cute, but time-consuming to make. Also, you had to shake, shake, shake the pit port to get the pits out. This new design also has two piece, but this time the “port” that sits in the middle of the “boat.” The “port” is bottomless, so it is easily lifted and the pits can be simply swept off the plate. It’s sleek and functional and can be glazed any which way.

I make a gift version for home use, and I also make a restaurant-grade version for heavier use. The restaurant version is made with stoneware and fired at a higher temperature to make it more durable. The glazes I use for each version are different. All beautiful.

Do you have any other home goods projects in the works?
Wine bottles inevitably drip, so I designed a wine bottle coaster to protect the table or tablecloth. It’s like jewelry for the table. I make little picture holders that can also be used as a place card holder.  They are a cute way to show off smaller pics.

I have also made wall art. I took photographs of places that were special to me and reinterpreted the landscape with clay and glaze. The result is impressionistic and interesting—surprising, often, since I’m experimenting with several different colors and textures and how they react with one another. It’s a lot of fun and a unique way to remember a special place and time.

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Alicia is the associate editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn.