For many of us, growing up meant having two sets of dishes: the everyday plates and bowls that went from cupboard to table to dishwasher without a second thought, and the “good” dishes that were kept in the china cabinet and brought out for special occasions only. And, if that wasn’t the case in your home, it was probably your grandma who had fancy china stowed away, waiting for holidays and celebrations to come around.
Judging by the care that was taken to set the table, the hand wash and return the dishes to the safety of the china cabinet, it’s fair to say that the fear of having nice things sometimes outweighed the pleasure of using them.
In fact, if you’ve ever browsed antique china at an estate sale or thrift store, you can’t help but wonder how many times those pieces made it to the table. Two, three, or four times a year? No wonder they’re in such good shape! We wonder, too, if the owners of that pretty china would have used and enjoyed it more often, knowing that one day it would be stacked up on a folding table and priced to sell. To avoid possible regret later in life, we are here to say go ahead and use your good stuff!
Set it Up It’s less common now to have two full sets of dishes, but if you already have a special set that you bought, inherited or received as a gift, you’re good to go! If you don’t have any yet, but love the look, we recommend checking thrift and antique stores or online buy-and-sell sites to start your collection.
If you’re setting out to buy china, keep in mind that vintage sets will be missing a few plates or bowls, so check with local or online sellers that specialize in selling single pieces to complete your set or keep an eye out for mix and match options (more on that later). And, remember, you don’t have to go all-in at once. Even just a couple pretty plates and a pair of teacups and saucers is enough to set up for a special breakfast for two.
Dress it Down Just like pairing a beautiful blouse with broken-in jeans, you can dress-down your fancy dishes by skipping the tablecloth and setting your plates on a simple placemat or runner, or right on the bare tabletop. The Grindleburg table, with its substantial trestle base and a rustic, reclaimed pine top that’s just too beautiful to cover up, is the perfect choice for achieving an effortless, elegant look every day of the week. Keep the casual vibe going with rustic or mismatched flatware and glassware, simple cotton or paper napkins, and chunky candles or a shallow bowl of succulents.
Mix it Up One thing that makes china sets seem more formal is that EVERYTHING matches. So, to un-fancy your fancy dishes just mix them up! Volumes have been written on how to mix china patterns, but we say the number one rule is to go with what you think looks good, even if that means breaking a few of the other rules, like mixing silver and gold accents. Don’t be afraid to combine old with new—mix your fancy stuff with pieces from your everyday set, rustic pottery or even wood or bamboo for a fun, boho look.
The same strategy applies to your tabletop; if you want to dress down your good china for every day, skip the white tablecloth and let the natural wood grain of your table serve as your backdrop, or use a simple placemat or charger under your dinner plate.
Add a Pop of Colour Formal place settings take themselves a little less serious when paired with a table runner or accessories in a bright, unexpected hue like chartreuse or hot pink. If your dishes are patterned, or an all over colour besides cream or white, try to pick up one of the colours in the pattern or go bold with a contrasting shade. We love this look against a casual, easy going table like the Skempton. Its light brown top and distressed white base make it the perfect neutral background to make your bright colours pop.
For another surprise touch, trade your stainless or silverplate flatware for a yellow gold, rose gold, matte metallic pastel, or even black set. The best part about this look is you don’t have to invest a lot to be right on-trend—we’ve seen 20-piece sets for under $50
Make Every Day More Special We have a friend whose daily self-care ritual is to sit and slowly drink a cup of tea out of one of her many vintage cup and saucer sets. Her collection started when she inherited her mother’s teacup collection and has grown in the years since, thanks to birthday gifts and lucky thrift store finds, and the ritual of using her good cups is so important to her she even packs a set when she travels.
As far as self-care goes, this is something we can get behind. It’s inexpensive, easy to do, and your might even have everything you need on hand: a pretty cup and saucer, your favourite blend of tea (or coffee, we won’t tell), and a comfortable, quiet place to sit and enjoy a few minutes to yourself. You’ll be surprised at how good you feel afterward—especially if you resist the urge to check your phone.
If a weekday tea break isn’t your thing, you can get the same good feeling from setting the table with your prettiest dishes and enjoying a leisurely weekend breakfast. Since you’re putting the effort into creating a beautiful table, take it easy on yourself and order breakfast in, or slip out and pick-up fresh bagels or pastries from your favourite local bakery.
Remember, it’s not about what you serve or when, it’s about making every day a little bit more extraordinary. Just think about how you feel eating off the “fancy plates” at a special family dinner—why can’t you feel like that on a regular Wednesday night? Even if it’s just grilled cheese and tomato soup, we guarantee it’ll seem like a much bigger deal. And we think Nana will approve.
Whether your style is traditional, modern, or rustic, you can create a beautiful focal point for your home and a comfortable place to enjoy meals with family from our wide selection of dining furniture.