Vin­tage plates el­e­vate the look of a ta­ble set­ting

The Buffalo News - - HOME STYLE -

ware made to look old or worn.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘grandma chic,’ but it was part of our de­sign con­cept,” said Nick Pi­men­tal, co-owner of Elle, a cozy Wash­ing­ton bistro, bak­ery and bar where the menu and decor were in­spired by his wife’s grand­mother Eleanor, who was known for her pies and vegetable gar­den. Eighty per­cent of the dishes are vin­tage, many with ca­sual, coun­try pat­terns. Some were picked up for less than a dol­lar apiece at thrift shops and an­tique stores; some were “dona­tions that came in from our friends and fam­ily.”

“We wanted to make it more warm, friendly, cozy and neigh­borly,” Pi­men­tal said, as op­posed to the “ster­ile or in­dus­trial feel” of nearby eater­ies.

Sets of for­mal china gen­er­ally haven’t been in de­mand re­cently, and, as for­mal en­ter­tain­ing has waned, many down­siz­ing baby boomers have got­ten rid of theirs. But ta­blescapes us­ing older dishes are mak­ing a come­back in homes as well.

Re­place­ments in North Carolina is a re­tailer of vin­tage and mod­ern table­ware, with more than 11 mil­lion pieces in its in­ven­tory. The “vin­tage” shop on its web­site is do­ing a brisk busi­ness. Ac­cord­ing to Julie Rob­bins, a Re­place­ments mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist, old china ar­rives at the fa­cil­ity ev­ery day. “There are a lot of new uses for it. Vin­tage plates el­e­vate the look of a ta­ble set­ting; it’s not generic yet is af­ford­able,” she said.

“It’s more homey to mix up your china, es­pe­cially if you have 10 peo­ple over for din­ner and you don’t have 10 of ev­ery­thing,” said Liz Cur­tis, chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Ta­ble + Tea­spoon, a na­tion­wide table­ware rental ser­vice. She is in­tro­duc­ing six new table­ware pack­ages in the next few months, and three will fo­cus on pat­tern play. “The ta­ble set­ting sets the tone for the evening,” said Cur­tis, who en­cour­ages cus­tomers to mix in fam­ily pieces with rentals. “If your guests walk in and it looks like you spent time cu­rat­ing the ta­ble, it makes them think they are hav­ing an el­e­vated ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Some restau­rants look­ing for vin­tage, how­ever, found that newer can be bet­ter. At Fancy Radish, a cock­tail mixed of bour­bon, sherry and chai called Wood­maze is served from the bar in a rose-pat­terned floral teacup and saucer. “We saw Wash­ing­ton as a bit of a fancier place, and our restau­rant wanted to cap­ture the feel­ing of a tea party in an English gar­den,” says co-owner Kate Ja­coby. They started with vin­tage teacups but found them a bit too frag­ile. Then they dis­cov­ered a new bold floral de­sign by Brew to A Tea on Amazon that was per­fect. Some­times patrons are sur­prised their cock­tail comes in a dainty cup. “It does look like tea and you ex­pect it to be hot, but it isn’t,” Ja­coby says. “To be drink­ing a boozy cock­tail out of a teacup is a cool change-up.”

At May­dan, one of Wash­ing­ton’s hottest eater­ies, the in­te­ri­ors are what co-owner Rose Pre­vite calls “mid­cen­tury mod­ern meets the Mid­dle East.” The mood ex­tends to the pre­vi­ously owned din­ner­ware culled from around the world and used in a crazy quilt of ta­ble set­tings. “With so­cial me­dia, you’re con­stantly look­ing for ways to make the food look pretty,” said Pre­vite, who searches for old ceramic tea pots, cop­per serv­ing plat­ters, and blue-and-white pot­tery at flea mar­kets and thrift shops when she trav­els. “The dishes ex­press who you are, whether at a restau­rant or your home.”

Pre­vite also is a big fan of re­pur­pos­ing. “I like things that come with good en­ergy,” she says. “The plates come in here with their own story.”

Rob­bins, of Re­place­ments, ad­vises that you not be hasty about dump­ing an heir­loom china set. “Peo­ple are mov­ing back in the di­rec­tion of keep­ing some­thing in­her­ited from fam­ily. The chal­lenge is that they are spend­ing longer parts of their adult­hood in small quar­ters, so it’s hard to keep the whole set of china,” she said.

Her sug­ges­tion: Keep a few pieces you know you’ll use; do­nate or sell the rest. This al­lows you to en­joy the mem­o­ries the pat­tern evokes, yet “no longer re­sent the space the whole set takes up in your closet.”

Pho­tos by Wash­ing­ton Post

As as­sort­ment of china at May­dan, top, and St. Anselm, above, both in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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