Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Great Wall of China: Getting the Look For Less

So, let’s talk China. And I don’t mean East Asia/most populace country in the world. I’m talking fine china. First off, I don’t have any, and I’m really ok with that. I’ve seen patterns I like, and ones I could stand to see collecting dust in the china cabinet between dinner parties. However, in all honesty, I, like many folks, reserve the selection of china patterns and purchases for wedded “bliss.” I do think it would be kind of funny to roll up in Macy’s or Tiffany & Co. to pick out my own china pattern….Bitter, party of one….Bitter, party of one. However, I think I’ll save myself for marriage. Do you think I’m giving up the chance to go around Crate & Barrel and point a price gun at things I think I want, need/may never use? Hell No. They always say the registry price gun is for the groom, because apparently we like guns and gadgets. But 2 grooms? I don’t know if we’d fight more over who gets the price gun or if we’d fight over lemon zesters, stainless steel mandolines, and pastry wheels. Maybe both. Don't worry, I'll let you know what he and I argue about once we finally meet. It will probably be in 2071, in a nursing home, so we'll argue over things like what color Rascal Scooter to buy or about who peed on the sofa. Joy.

While I didn’t intend to get on a registry tangent, this reminds me of comforting words from my good friend Sarah Jean. Sarah (who’s an amazing hostess, by the way) trying to help me see my bachelor glass half full (of Makers Mark, of course), reminded me that if I get married later in life, she and all of my friends will be more established in their careers, will have more money, and will be willing to buy nicer wedding presents. Hooray for silver linings. Married tomorrow in this cluster of an economy? You’re getting the toilet brush and dish towels. Married in 20 years? We’ll talk Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixers. (I’m totally kidding. I’m actually pretty anti-registry when it comes to giving gifts. I’d much rather find something unique I think the couple would love/maybe didn’t think of. Favorite gifts have been arranging a nice picnic basket, packed with dishes, napkins, a blanket, wine, etc for one couple and a silver party ice bucket, packed and ready for a summer shin-dig (Lilly Pulitzer cookbook, margarita glasses, personalized cocktail napkins, etc.) for another. I think I’m noticing a theme. Baskets and buckets packed for a party. Good. If you’re one of my friends who are getting married this year, act surprised when you get a picnic basket or party bucket. Ok, great, thanks.

Ok, so where were we? Ah, yes…the road to China. Let’s face it, we all have the set of Correll Corning Ware in the cabinet, and that’s a beautiful thing. We throw it in the microwave, we throw it in the dishwasher, we throw it against the wall when our boyfriend tells us he’s leaving us for someone he met online…wait, what? The everyday dishes are a beautiful thing in their own place. However, we turn to the china cabinet or the box in the storage room for those special holiday gatherings, dinner with the spouses’ boss, and when we’re trying to show off and one up Miss Town & Country Lockjaw 2009 who was running her mouth about her new subzero freezer at the Junior League last week. But what about me? Am I supposed to serve my guests on paper plates at the next dinner party? I think not. What do I do? I get the look for less. How do I know I pulled it off? When a dinner guest complimented me on my “china pattern”…deception at it’s finest. If you start to look at a lot of major retailers, you’ll start to really see that it’s not just delicate china, dense Corning Ware/Crockery or bust. There are a lot of great, affordable, happy medium options in between. When we think of fine china, we think of our Mothers or Grandmothers trying to delicately and carefully remove these elegant, thin plates with silver or gold leaf details and intricate patterns from the china cabinet (it’s especially fun to watch after they’ve had a few Manhattans). So that is what I look for: quality dishes that will last a while, but have a lighter, thinner feel, a flat rim, and a smooth texture like fine china. You can find a lot of nice boxed sets (typically service for 4; 16 pieces) that will more than do the job, still give your table an elegant look, and leave a little green in your pocket.

For example, if you’ve been outside of your house/bomb shelter in the last few years or receive one of many design catalogs in the mail, you may have noticed coral has made a comeback. Who knew it was possible for marine colonial polyps to be chic and fashionable? Well, they are. We see hints of red coral on pillows, prints, upholstery, and coffee table books giving a shout out to the “Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.” I have to be honest, I’m a fan. I like a little pop of coral here and there, but that’s just me, and not surprising for a beach bum at heart. I came across a gorgeous, coral china pattern while “shopping” (I’m using the term shopping very loosely) at Caspari, on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. I loved the bold, graphic pattern. I figure I have the rest of my life to eat off of white plates, why not have fun now? Don’t get me wrong, I love Caspari, I’d like to live inside of it, and I’ve had dreams where Heaven has been decorated similarly. I have a cocktail napkin fetish (similar to my lamp fetish) that makes my going inside, highly dangerous. It doesn’t help that I live 2 blocks from the Downtown Mall. Seriously, I’ve considered moving because of this. It’s the kind of beautiful place that you remember your mother nervously taking you into as a child, and begging you to please not touch anything. Mostly because if you broke something, she would owe both you and her next-born to the store owners. While the coral china was gorgeous, I couldn’t justify spending a week’s grocery money on one charger. I mean, what’s the good in having nice china if you can’t afford to buy food to eat off of it? “Could I offer anyone more hot water and saltines on this $75.00 plate?” No? So, I set out on a mission to find an affordable alternative.

After a bit of searching, I stumbled across the solution at Belk (I literally stumbled…like I almost knocked the display over. I’m not kidding.) I found a 16 piece, serving set for 4 by Oneida, in a pattern called “Island Hues.” The plates and mugs feature a bright coral pattern in shades of “orangey” red and chocolate brown. The brown bowls feature a piece of red coral depicted inside, and I love them all. I’ve even been able to mix and match pieces with plates from a white and blue china-esque collection I purchased a few years ago. You might look at these pictures, and say Ed, these are not the same plate or even the same colors. First off, no crap, Nancy Drew. These plates aren’t meant to confuse folks in a police line-up, they are meant to achieve the feeling and the idea of the Caspari plates. They are by no means a dead ringer, but they provide that same fun, yet elegant pop of color on the dining room table.

This is the Caspari Coral Pattern. This isn't a picture of an actual plate, but I found the pattern online. I'll be damned if I'm going in there and risking the possibility of buying more cocktail napkins, just to get a photo of a plate I won't be buying. (Photo lifted from Caspari Showcase Online)

Update: So, I was in Caspari with a friend to buy some napkins (I know, I told you I have a problem) so I snagged this photo of the coral china. I think my plates are an even better match than I remembered! Especially the cup/saucer.

And these are my plates. I dig them, in a big way. I hope you do too. The first picture is mixed with a plate from another set of dishes I purchased from Bed, Bath, & Beyond a few years ago.

The icing on the cake for me: They were 60% off. I paid $37.00 for service for 4, considerably less than I would have paid for one charger at the aforementioned specialty store. I mean, who doesn’t get gratification and satisfaction from a receipt that says Thank you, Ed. You saved $58.00 on your purchase? The icing on the cake for you: I was in Belk picking up a wedding gift last night (from a registry…I know, contradiction. Work has been busy, don’t judge me. I’ll start making picnic baskets again soon) and the whole set is still 60% off! So, if you love this look for less, it can still be yours in a heartbeat.

So remember, if you want the look of fine china but not the commitment or the cost, look for plates with a smooth texture, thinner body, and a flat rim. These aren’t the dishes you’re going to pass on to your grandchildren’s grandchildren, but that’s not the point, so keep that in mind. Shake it up, find a fun pattern that meets your design style, suits your entertaining needs, and don’t be upset when one of your guests has a few too many Tangueray and tonics and breaks a plate. That’s actually the sign of a successful party.

Just because you aren’t ready to go to China, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to China Town.


The Look For Less. How Can You Beat That?


  1. Well those are completely darling. I myself (getting married during a recession and all) only recieved half of my for parties larger than 6, I alternate with some mismatched vintage pieces I picked up in downtown Fred. Much more colorful and super cheap might I add.

    I miss you Ed. Come visit us sometime :)

  2. You are more than welcome to come over and eat on my fine china. And this is why I do not go to Caspari, because they sell it, and like, I cannot afford it.