Lifetimes: Dish Harmony

When my husband and I registered for wedding gifts more than two years ago, nothing was more intimidating than the great wall of china. Out of a sense of obligation more than any real enthusiasm, we chose a dinnerware pattern neither of us objected to (but neither of us loved). And when we received two of the eight place settings on our registry, we promptly traded them in for a smoothie blender and a deluxe coffee machine. Today, we still don’t have formal dishes. If only I had known then what I know now: Choosing dinnerware gives you the chance to express your style as a couple so you can entertain for a lifetime.

Pattern Perfect
“First and foremost, couples should consider their personal style,” says Denise Dinyon, bridal and special events manager for Lenox, which has a retail store in Marlton. “Make sure the table matches what else is going on in your life.” Typically, dishes fall into one of three categories: formal china, everyday dishes and intermediate dinnerware. Formal china is traditionally made of precious porcelain or bone china with a gold or platinum border, according to Barry Terris, owner of Manor Home & Gifts in Philadelphia. Everyday dishes are usually ceramic, which makes them more durable and less expensive. Intermediate dishes range from casual-looking china to high-end everyday lines.

Formal china was once a must-have on every bridal registry, but those days are gone. Now dinnerware reflects how, and how often, you entertain. “We have brides today who are registering for two casual sets: one a little dressier for guests and one for every day,” says Kathy Nye, director of the bridal registry at Everything but the Kitchen Sink in Hockessin. She likes Villeroy & Boch for durable, easy care china in fun, bright colors. For a more formal look, Nye recommends Vera Wang for Wedgwood or the more ornate patterns by Marc Blackwell.

A line of ceramic dishes with pewter trim has been turning heads in Terris’ store. Italian-made Convivio by Match comes in white, gold, blue and green, and is dishwasher safe. Dress it up with linens and stemware for a sophisticated table. A similar line, the pewter and ceramic collection by Arte Italica, is a top seller at the Pink Daisy in Yardley, according to owner Linda Tabas.

Because you’ll be living with your china for a long time, and maybe even passing it down to your own children, Maureen Tompkins, co-owner of FX Dougherty Home & Gift in Doylestown, advises couples to think long-term. Time-honored French Limoges dishware and lines by Royal Crown Derby transcend trends—but their classic patterns also easily adapt to other styles. “There are ways to pick a more traditional pattern and mix it with accessories for an updated look,” says Tompkins.

Mix and Match
Mixing and matching lets you pick a theme and set your table creatively. Don’t be afraid to mix brands and patterns for a customized look. Terris knew one bride who registered for 12 different patterns of place settings. “She tied it together with a solid gold charger and gold bands,” he says. Not quite that daring? For some of its lines, Villeroy & Boch offers four sub-patterns within a pattern. “It gives you choices when you’re setting your table, and it doesn’t look the same all the time,” says Nye.

Many brides stick with one pattern for the basic place setting and choose serving pieces—platters, vegetable bowls, cream and sugar servers, gravy boats—in a different but complementary pattern or material. “You can accent your formal or everyday [dishware] with fun, colorful pottery pieces,” says Nye. Metal is another popular choice, and pewter and aluminum alloy pieces don’t require polishing the way good silver does. Both Mariposa and Lancaster County-based Wilton Armetale make timeless metal serving pieces, says Nye.

Mixing in different-shaped dishes—Zen-like square and rectangular plates or even polygons—is another new take on the table. “Interesting shapes are very in right now,” says Tabas. Villeroy & Boch’s New Wave line and E. Motion by Rosenthal both offer a lesson in dish geometry.

Even the pieces you choose are up for grabs. A typical formal place setting consists of five pieces: dinner, salad and bread-and-butter plates, teacup and saucer. For everyday, Tabas suggests a four-piece setting that includes dinner and luncheon plates, soup/cereal bowl, and mug. But you can skip the bread-and-butter plate in favor of pasta bowls, or add soup bowls and chargers to formal place settings.

In the Details
As a newlywed, you may be tempted to think small, predicting that six or eight place settings will be plenty. But you should consider how many people would be at a get-together for both sides of your new family, says Dinyon. “Start with 12 place settings,” she says. “If you have a large family, you can add [extra] dinner plates for buffet-style meals.”

China will last a lifetime if you take care of it. “People don’t need to wash their china by hand anymore,” says Tompkins, but use a non-citrus liquid detergent and skip the heated dry cycle in the dishwasher. When storing china, never stack teacups more than two high, and place dividers, such as coffee filters, between plates.

Each place setting is an expression of your style as a couple. “When girls ask me ‘What are the rules?’ … well, there are no rules,” says Nye. “There are endless things you can do.”