Have I mentioned I adore dishes? Porcelain, Stoneware, Transferware, Pressed Glass, Depression Glass, Bone China…floral, embossed, fluted, scalloped, pierced…I REALLY cannot resist those last two categories…but I rationalize my addiction by entertaining. Quite a lot. Today, we are writing about how to mix and match your dishes for a uniquely beautiful table that evokes the colors and mood of the occasion. This is Part 3 in a series on Elegant Entertaining Made Easy. If you missed Part 2: The Essential Basics, you can find that post from October 11, 2016. If you missed Part 1: The Key Ingredients, you can find that post from October 6, 2016.
Once you have the basics, flatware, stemware, white linens, and white dishes,
you can create endless variations by mixing in some more colorful dishes and charger plates. Ahhhh – an excuse to shop for more dishes!
But really, you don’t need whole additional sets of dishes…aside from the storage issues, it is much more interesting to mix different patterns together. You can get just a handful of salad plates or bread plates or soup bowls or shallow pasta bowls in a fun design that catches your attention and mix them with each other and with your basic sets.
Just like in decorating a room or styling a vignette or shelf, layers are key. Building in layers with contrasting but compatible colors or textures is what can take a place setting from ordinary to special and up the EQ (elegance quotient).
The bottom layer will be your placemat or tablecloth, but the next layer I recommend is a charger. No, not that kind of charger…One of my children’s friends was dining with us one evening and he picked up the charger plate as we were clearing the table and said – “What are these called again? Blasters?” – charger…blaster…close - aaahh the video game generation! This conversation prompted me to look up the term, which I learned is from the Middle English word chargeour, which was a sort of platter. Charger plates are also sometime referred to as service plates or chop plates and generally remain on the table throughout the meal until dessert is served. Charger plates are larger than dinner plates and therefore, beyond their aesthetic value, have the added practical benefit of protecting the table and the diner from hot dishes, and the tablecloth from becoming soiled by food escaping the plate.
Charger plates can be found at any number of department, specialty, and discount stores and are available in all sorts of colors, shapes, and materials.
Changing JUST the charger plate can change the whole character of the place setting...these floral salad plates came as a set of 6 with 3 designs - but they set a different mood when grounded with a scallop-edged colored charger than when on a casual wicker charger.
The next layer, directly on the charger plate, is a dinner plate – usually my white everyday dishes, but sometimes the red Transferware dinner plates that a downsizing friend just bequeathed to me (thank you Nancy!), or for more formal occasions, the floral china I found while antiquing in Plymouth last summer.
The top layer(s) is where I most often mix it up – top the dinner plate with a salad plate (sometimes, I’ll layer the folded napkin between the two), or a pasta/soup bowl, or sometimes both, depending on the menu.
I like some variation of the casual combination shown below, for the "red, white, and blue" holidays (Memorial Day/4th of July/Labor Day).
I’ll also add a bread plate to the side of the place setting unless we are pushing the limits of our seating capacity. Since I love bread almost as much as I love dishes, I think it deserves a place of honor where it won’t accidentally get soggy from an encroaching adjacent dressing or sauce!
The pasta bowl shown below is part of a set from Williams-Sonoma that I have had for years...there are 4 different herb designs in the set...these have seen a LOT of wonderful pasta and risotto dishes! The pretty fruit plates being used as bread plates were a gift from a much cherished friend.
Here are a few other combinations I have tried …
These soup crocks were unearthed in my parents basement years ago, and the floral plates came from a discount store more recently. All are set atop our basic white dinner plates on top of brown wicker chargers that match the color and informality of the soup crocks.
These gorgeous red china soup cups were scored at one of the first auctions I attended - the gold embellishment in the pattern is echoed with the gold charger plate and the red works beautifully with the Transferware plate ... the salad plate is from our basic white dinnerware.
I happened upon this pretty china while antiquing on vacation last summer. The set happened to match the colors in my dining room curtains and was too good of a deal to pass up! With 12 each dinner, salad, and bread plates, 10 soup bowls, a sugar and creamer and two teacups and a saucer ... since I also collect antique teacups and have amassed dozens of them, the lack of matching teacups didn't bother me in the least! The curvy pink charger plates are a perfect complement to the scalloped floral china.
Same china ... this time paired with antique glass salad plates and gold chargers.
Not only are dishes wonderful, practical art, they also often invoke memories of where and with whom they were found, or the friends and family that gifted them to me. Such a lovely and delicious way to be reminded of the blessings in my life!
The next post in this series will focus on tips for creating a standout buffet table.