Two decades after founding the Annieglass house of designer glass tableware, Ann Morhauser still shapes every facet of her business. A quick tour of her fabrication studio/plant in Watsonville renews my appreciation for Morhauser’s attention to both craft and detail. From sheets of architectural glass—delivered in two-ton batches—the future-bowls and plates are cut into manageable sizes, then cut again by hand or by water jet pressure into Morhauser’s various custom shapes.
Before heading into the main production room for heating, the cut-glass pieces are beveled smooth to make them chip-resistant. After careful washing, each piece moves into the next room, where skilled artisans hand-paint platinum and 24-karat gold onto the edges.
The best-selling items? “The ripply glass,” Morhauser reveals. “It’s especially popular in the South and the Northeast. Santa Cruz loves the aquatic theme, the blue-green glass lines.” She nods toward towering racks of teal glass shaped into shells, waves and even dolphins.
Morhauser bought the huge industrial building in 1996, filled it with racks, work tables, precision computer-regulated equipment, and 30 electric ovens. The production is housed under a single high ceiling, and one of the new line of Edgey ruffled bowls can begin life as a sheet of glass, be cut, detailed, gilded, then slumped and fired, detailed a final time, packed, and shipped just by moving through a series of adjoining rooms. “We used to be busy primarily in the first and fourth quarters,” Morhauser tells me as we continue through tall racks of shimmering glass pieces. “Now it’s year-round.”
About 200 to 300 pieces are shipped out each day. Morhauser runs her hand along a two-foot green glass leaf, part of an upcoming line that needs more fine-tuning. “We change the product every three months,” she says.
Morhauser’s team helps manage her glass empire. “Eighteen people work on the glass here, and there’s a national sales manager, 60 road reps and six major showrooms in L.A., Vegas, Dallas, Seattle, New York, and Atlanta—our biggest wholesale site,” she says. One of her deeply fluted sculptural bowls has even been used for a private baptism.
“I make the clay molds myself,” Morhauser says, patting the cast of an oblong serving dish. Masters are then made from the molds. The cut and gilded glass piece will be placed on the master mold, then fired until the flat glass “slumps,” relaxing into the desired curved shape. Giant clam shells? Who uses these? I wonder out loud. “The Marriott see-through buffet uses these,” she calls back over her shoulder, leopard-print heels clicking toward the packing tables. Packing is crucial, she says: “It doesn’t matter how much work goes into a piece—if it isn’t packed well, it can be ruined.”
Morhauser affectionately pats a gigantic roll of green bubble wrap suspended over countless flats of cardboard. And it all ships out through the doors at the back of the huge facility.
Annieglass’ biggest account? “Bloomingdale’s online is our biggest single account. Then Nieman, and Gumps. We’re in most of the big stores,” she says. And the Smithsonian.
A New Jersey native, Morhauser came west for college. “My oldest brother was out here. I was always into art,” she says. It was a raku party at Waddell Beach that ignited Morhauser’s destiny. “Somebody showed up with a propane glass furnace and that was that,” she remembers. At San Francisco State, “we had to learn to build furnaces—anything to do with it fascinated me,” she says. At Cal Arts & Crafts, she did glass blowing. Encouraged by her professor and mentor “to express my own vision,” Morhauser responded by working “300 percent.”
In Santa Cruz, she got a studio and finally her first employee. “Santa Cruz Glass Company gave me their scrap glass,” she says. Morhauser went from museum shops to trade shows. “I marketed my own product for a long time. It was all men in those days, and they wouldn’t let me in,” she says. She persisted, learned retail, and Annieglass was born in July 1989. “I knew it was working when I had a big story in the New York Times. It was a total thrill,” she says, her eyes gleaming.
“I’m busy introducing the South Bay to Annieglass now,” she says. Her daughter Ava runs the new Santana Row store. “At Santana Row here’s Tesla, Gucci, and now Annieglass,” she smiles. “I’m still an entrepreneur. I make most of the prototypes, new ones twice a year. It all has to work, I have to test every phase of it—that’s my primary job.”
There are so many technical issues, she says, scrutinizing a shimmering bowl the size of a wading pool. And yes, she does dine on Annieglass plates. annieglass.com.