Selecting china, crystal, and silver patterns may seem like an old-fashioned, out-moded tradition in an era of take out and frozen meals. That flowery Limoges you inherited from your great great grandmother might be great for the holidays, but what about all those other days? Choosing objects for use in your daily dining rituals is a chance to assert your style, bring great joy into the small spaces in your life, and to support your favorite artists and green living. Whether you are planning your big day or want to set up your bachellorette pad, please read on for tips and good humor stemming from a stint as a bridal consultant and my personal experience with gift registry.
The Bridal Consultant
At 24, my life took a quick turn from working as a studio artist while living with a long-term boyfriend I was pretty convinced I would marry to needing a "real" job, and fast. Even though I had woken up one morning knowing that I shouldn't follow my beau cross-country for grad school, I was pretty heartbroken over the relationship ending. I never anticipated landing a job helping happy young couples create their gift registries only a few weeks later! Going to work was hard at first, but I found soon that I enjoyed working with people and helping them choose patterns that coordinated with one another and their personalities.
The most important pattern you choose will be your china, so I recommend that this be your first choice. Unless you are inheriting crystal or silver, you can then choose your flatware and stemware to complement your china pattern. If you are choosing modern, minimalist china, it makes sense that your flatware and stemware should be a similar style; likewise with choosing something more traditional. It is important to remember that if you are choosing ornate designs that at least one of your three patterns should be simple so as not to create a visually overwhelming place setting.
After a few months on the job, I decided that I was more interested in presents than marriage. So I created a gift registry called "Married to Me" and proceeded to buy myself china, crystal, and stainless flatware, taking advantage of a two-year, interest-free credit plan to get the (expensive) stuff I really wanted – sometimes all a girl needs in life is a little credit! While this may seem rash to the practical among you, this is a decision I have relished rather than regretted while using my beautiful dishes for the past six years. They have made we want to cook healthy and delicious food, to bake decadent desserts, to entertain friends.
The patterns I ultimately selected - Raphael by Gien for my china, Country French by Reed and Barton for my flatware, and Albi by Christofle for my stemware - were not choices I would have anticipated myself making only a few months earlier. I loved the color and intricacy of the china, the echoes of the china design I saw in the flatware, and the simple elegance of the stemware. I knew that the stemware and flatware would also go well with some antique china waiting in my parents' basement for me to get more settled.
How many place settings?
While I only purchased four place settings, knowing that I would ultimately acquire more, for a couple eight place settings should be the minimum, with twelve preferred. Anticipate that you may not always live in a tiny city apartment, that you may someday entertain large numbers of family and friends, and that you will probably lose a few pieces to breakage over the years which may prove difficult to replace.
Don't forget the handmade!
Next came the challenge of marrying my love of the handmade with my beautiful but mass-produced goods. Working within the color palette of my china - easy thanks to the wide range of colors in its design - I began to acquire handmade serving pieces and drinking vessels which I use interchangeably based on my mood. When feeling sweet I might use Jen Mecca's tea bowl for an infusion. For my espresso, I choose Rebecca Lesnick's panty mug if feeling coy or Tom Spleth's profanity cup if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. And I love Michael Holland's candy-colored, hand-blown glasses with retro underwear models for all-day hydration. I store my fruit in the large bowl Kelly O'Briant made using my china as inspiration.
Knowing most of these artists made acquiring these handmade goods easy for me. If you are interested in incorporating handmade into your registry, I offer you a couple of suggestions. The first is to pick a very minimalist china pattern – white or a solid color – and accentuate with handmade bowls, serving pieces, salad plates, mugs and/or glasses.
The second is to form a relationship with a local potter whose work you admire. If you find someone who creates a design you like, you may approach them about producing a set all at once to have available for your wedding guests to purchase with the understanding that you will buy any unpurchased items after the wedding. You might also work with the artist to have a set custom designed for you.
NewNew team ceramist May Luk, who creates a number of whimsical designs perfect for the contemporary bride, will customize platters and vases to include a couple's names and wedding dates. She also varies her Brooklyn chinoiserie dishes to feature special places – like the location of a first date or kiss – upon request.
Start Planning Now
With all the decisions going into a wedding, it is easy to put off making a gift registry until the last minute. I encourage you instead to plan early so you have time to research and choose pieces that fit your taste and lifestyle. Creating a registry removes the anxiety from gift giving and allows every couple the chance to select objects to cherish through a lifetime of use (what better way to be green than picking patterns that you will use for decades and then pass along?). Look for on-line registry options which will allow you to cull your favorite items from stores across the web – including Etsy – such as myregistry.com.
Happy searching and gifting!