Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dishing the Dish

Reading ChrisAnn's post about tableware led me to reflect on my own non-collection. My house is a typical 1950s brick townhouse with a knotty pine-paneled basement and ridiculously small closets. Although there are two ugly colonial-style corner cabinets in the dining room, there isn't all that much room to store dishes and glassware and other niceties for the table. For that reason, my table settings tend to be rather plain. But I come from a tradition of plainness.

Ugly corner cabinets, stuffed with stuff. Click images to enlarge. You may notice sundry items such as Noh masks, netsukes, a giant Mah Jongg tile, and Chinese dolls amongst the fancy martini glasses, pasta bowls, and mishmash of dishes.

When I was a kid, we ate off of cheap melamine plates. After a few years, they became discolored and the once-blue pattern printed on them rubbed off, so we bought another set of cheap melamine plates. Mom had "nice china" that was carefully packed in quilted, zippered cases and "good silver" that was also packed away. Both were from her wedding, and if she ever used them it was before I was born.

The house I lived in before I got married had two pantries, one for food, and one for plates, glassware, etc. The kitchen also had built-in cabinets to the ceiling on one wall. All were full. You see, over the nearly 40 years of my parents' marriage, my mother collected tons of tableware, mostly antique - chocolate sets, fancy platters, etched stemware, Haviland china. She never did entertain, so the collection was only that - a collection. And never did her "good china" see the light of day in my lifetime.

Once I hit my 20s, I decided that I *loved* to throw parties, and Guilford House was the perfect venue. Because I didn't want to ruin any of my mom's good stuff, I either used paper plates (as big as that kitchen was, we didn't have a dishwasher), or dishes from a set that was a grocery store giveaway in the 70s.

Grocery store giveaway plates.

Now that I'm married and have a (tiny) house, I have my own "good china" (Mikasa Royal Glimmer) and silver (Wallace King Christian). I also have a few random other plates - a Chinese tea set in celadon, some blue willow from Mr Minx's family, random Corelle. And the set of grocery store giveaway dishes.

Royal Glimmer

I don't really entertain at all (for a very specific reason that I will not go into here) except when the family comes over for holidays, so my nice plates stay in the cupboard. And that's ok. I'm not a fussy person when it comes to my dinner table - all I ask is that the food be good.

Sterling Spoons and Salt Cellar

Lest you think I am a total slob with no taste for the finer things in life, I do have a collection of fancy Sterling teaspoons, should I ever have a fancy tea party, and a wee salt cellar with two equally wee salt spoons. The likelihood of my ever using either of them is pretty slim, but sometimes it's fun to open up the china cabinet and play with the fancier odds and ends.

China Cabinet

All of my china and sundry glassware are housed in a Chinoserie cabinet with a lovely carved pagoda scene. It's not particularly big, so it's fairly bursting at the seams. So much so that most new tableware I acquire (via well-meaning but misguided gifts) is usually stored in boxes under this cabinet. Currently living under there are a set of completely useless Waterford crystal tumblers, a Waterford bowl, a Mikasa crystal bowl, and a trifle bowl. The tumblers would make a great wedding gift, if any of my friends saw fit to marry....

My Mom died in 2001, a few months after my wedding. At that point, Dad decided the house was too big for one person and put it on the market. It took a small battalion of people to clear the house of furniture and tchotchkes, and most of Mom's collections of china and glassware was sold or donated. Except, of course, for her "good china" and "good silver." When I finally unzipped those precious padded cases that were hidden away in a closet for the 20 or so years we lived in that house, I found they contained a set of rather plain Corelle. The "silver?" Stainless. I was vastly disappointed, but yet relieved that I did not have the burden of finding a place to keep the family heirlooms. So we put  that stuff in storage, for my brother to use if he buys a house, or for me, if ever I manage to ruin our current collection of nigh-unbreakable everyday dinnerware (which of course is...more Corelle).

So what kind of tableware do you use on a regular basis? Do you like to make a pretty table with fancy serving platters, or are you plain and simple like me? 


Kristine said...

Plain and simple. I have the blue willow from my mom, but am currently using a mish mash for everyday. I kind of like the color of that grocery store giveaway china.

Unknown said...

Our everday stuff is a combination of what hubby and I owned before we married. We can serve several people without mismatching anything, but tomorrow's dishes and flatware might bear no resemblance to today's. It's all the kind of inexpensive stuff people just starting out might buy, or receive, along with a set of dishware we bought at Ikea.

Our "good" dinnerware consists of nicer stainless flatware, nicer china (also from Ikea), and crystal from Woodward & Lothrop. We received some of the crystal as a wedding gift, and completed the set ourselves. When we bought it, the sales clerk smiled and commented that it was nice to have some crystal you wouldn't cry over if it broke. We smiled back and didn't mention that this would be our good stuff. And it usually sees the light of day only when one couple visits. I guess they're our best friends - we socialize regularly and even go on vacations together. We almost never have anyone else over for a meal. Even our families generally prefer that we do the driving to see them.