Servings from South Africa

The Upper Crust on El Paseo features distinctive tabletop items, kitchenware, and gifts by South African artist and designer Carrol Boyes
Story By: Lisa Marie Hart
Photography by The Upper Crust

Anyone unfamiliar with the work of South African artist and designer Carrol Boyes when they walk into The Upper Crust on El Paseo will know her playful, prominently displayed work by the time they finish browsing. Amid the shop’s distinctive tabletop items, kitchenware, gifts, home décor, and gourmet food, Boyes’ eye-catching conversation pieces prevail as functional pieces of art.

Owners Steve Rohlin and Doug Lawellin say her pieces put a smile on visitors’ faces and have become the shop’s best-selling line. First-time buyers fast become collectors.

Whether reclining, lifting, lounging, balancing, or stretching, the human form inspires the figural works. From appetizer trays to pitchers and pedestal bowls, Boyes’ works delight everyone gathered around the table. “These unique pieces stand on their own,” as works of art, Rohlin says, “but each is functional and can be used for serving” everyday or on special occasions.

The Upper Crust

Though shown with a botanical arrangement, the Backbend Concierge is highly flexible in its uses, often favored as a fruit bowl.

Customers initially attracted to their style eventually prize them for their usability and ease of care. Made of lead-free pewter, aluminum, chrome, or stainless steel, they gleam on a table or shelf and require almost no polishing or special care. Some are even dishwasher safe.

The Upper Crust

A sculptural figure made of cast aluminum bears a decadent length of sustainable American Oak for Boyes' In Touch Serving Board.

With the owners as personal fans, The Upper Crust has become Boyes’ No. 1 independent retail store for U.S. sales, garnering them the leverage to place substantial orders of new and beloved designs while they’re still in production. Demand for the Carrol Boyes brand combined with limited shipments from South Africa over the past year has made the shop one of the few that continues to receive product. Rohlin has been taking pre-orders for a large shipment due in this month.

“We’ve already sold 25 percent of what we have coming in because people don’t want to miss the opportunity,” he says. “Another shipment may not arrive until late in the year.” so holiday shoppers might want to get a jump ahead of the season. The store makes it easy with summer hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

The familiar Upper Crust name and logo have represented this home-centric destination on El Paseo for longer than 30 years. It gained cult status when the current owners took over in 2007. Rohlin and Lawellin began stocking more of Boyes’ unmistakable pieces. They also freshened the interior, quadrupled the inventory, and reopened with a polished look and feel signifying the store had come into its own. Last year, they wowed clients again by moving to a shiny, 2,700-square-foot showplace at The Shops on El Paseo.

The Carroll Boyes brand is also celebrating its milestone 30th year. Boyes, who was a sculpture major before becoming an English teacher, pursued her dream of being an artist at age 35. From her home in a seaside suburb of Cape Town, she began creating functional art objects, never imagining that collectors around the world would seek out her work.

The Upper Crust

Emanating a spirit of teamwork and perseverance, the Men At Work Mandarin Dish has endured in popularity since its inception.

Though Boyes died in 2019, a team of artists whom she mentored carry on her legacy. It’s easy to see her creative spirit in the new creations, which align with her original artistic vision and commitment to exceptional quality. Her work continues to attract new admirers and collectors in 30 countries.

A perfect complement to Boyes’ pieces are The Upper Crusts’ private label cheese spreads, which Rohlin says has contributed to the shop’s popularity. “When snowbirds leave for summer,” he says, “they buy it by the case to take home or we ship it to them all over the country.” The white cheddar horseradish is top seller of the seven flavors.

The Upper Crust

An outstanding red wine receives an appropriately dramatic presentation with Boyes' On the Brink Decanter set.

In addition to Carrol Boyes, the store is the exclusive local representative of Jan Barboglio’s rustic serveware and décor inspired by the romance of Old World Mexico. The shop’s giant wall of dinnerware includes Casafina, Costa Nova, Jars, Skyros Designs featuring Cantaria, Mary Jurek, and gilded pieces by Tamara Childs. Rounding out this international bazaar of good taste and fine tableware are French flatware by Alain Saint-Jonais, Turkish linens by Bodrum, pewter and porcelain from Match made by artisans in Northern Italy, Chekari hand-painted ceramics from Africa, Calaisio’s hand-woven pieces fashioned in the remote villages of the South Pacific, and Simon Pearce glass and pottery handmade in the United States.

“Carrol Boyes is our easy favorite though,” Rohlin says. “I love her Laid Back Chip and Dip. We’ve probably sold 200 since it was introduced six or seven years ago. I ordered a dozen this time and am only getting eight. Of those, I’ve pre-sold four. People see them and fall in love.”

73199 El Paseo, Suite K, Palm Desert, 760-568-1998