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SETTING THE STANDARD

An easy guide to buying dinnerware

 

Few things excite me as much as having friends over for a meal – the more the merrier. Centre stage is, of course, reserved for the food and wine, although I like to believe that the occasion is most often only as fine as the table we sit around – the cutlery, dinnerware, flowers, napkins and everything else that takes up a place with us.

JAN | Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen | SETTING THE STANDARD

It’s been quite difficult to pull off a showstopper of a dinner party with all the lockdown regulations over the past few months, but that shouldn’t stop you from using your finest dinnerware – even for a quick, midweek meal. A beautiful dinnerplate and linen napkin can turn any old dish into a royal feast!

Whether you’re looking at acquiring a few more pieces or starting your own collection, these five things are great to keep in mind when buying dinnerware:

1.     Assessing your space
The first thing you need to consider before you head off to the shops (or brocante market) is the amount of storage space you have for dinnerware at home. You may love the look of that big, beautiful plate that caught your eye, but love will soon turn to frustration when the cupboard door won’t close, or if it doesn’t fit into your dishwasher. Buy dinnerware that is space efficient, can be stacked and, of course, looks nice on your shelves.

 

2.     Buy open stock
Now that you know what your space allows for, what should you be purchasing? A place setting, dinnerware set or open stock? More often than not, formal dinnerware is sold as place settings, which means that it comes in the number of pieces one person would need to have a decent time around the table. Most place settings include a dinner plate, a dessert, salad or bread plate, a soup bowl and a teacup and saucer. Place settings are perfect for individuals or couples.

Dinnerware sets include a number of place settings to take care of a bigger table. Most come in 20-piece sets (ideal for a four-person place setting) and include just about everything you need, same as the place setting collection, but are made for families or a larger group of people who share one table.

My favourite and preferred option is open stock. This is dinnerware that is sold piece-by-piece. It’s perfect if you only need a few pieces to add to your collection, or you want to mix and match to create a picture-perfect setting. If you know that you’re only looking to buy a few more soup bowls or dinner plates, then open stock is the way to go. It allows you to pick and choose pieces that fit (or don’t!), and the best part is that you can easily replace a piece if it’s broken or chipped.

3.     Choose the right material
Before you start pondering the colours and patterns you’re going for, think about the kind of material you admire in dinnerware – think durability and weight. My favourites include bone china, porcelain and stoneware.

Bone china is great for everyday use, as well as for those special occasions. It’s durable, lightweight and elegant – and usually chip resistant. Unlike fine china, bone china is also typically microwave and dishwasher safe.

Porcelain is a versatile material that has a non-porous surface and incredible durability resulting from high firing temperatures. Porcelain pieces are typically dishwasher, microwave and oven safe. Some porcelain dinnerware pieces contain metallic accents, so be aware this makes a microwave a no-go-zone.

Stoneware sets have a special finishing glaze that gives a smooth look to the material and an impermeable finish, making it ideal for everyday use and little hands. If you’re opting for stoneware, make sure that you maintain even temperatures – extreme heat or freezing temperatures can cause it to crack. And bear in mind that hand-painted plates may require hand washing.

4.     Everyday and formal dining
If you’re just starting out, buy dinnerware that’s perfect for informal and formal dining – you really don’t have to buy two sets of dinnerware. Invest in a nice one that can work for both family dinners and the queen’s visit. It’s easy to dress it up or down with accessories, such as fancy napkins, tablecloths and flowers. The sky is the limit.

As for colours and patterns, you can never go wrong with white dinnerware – it’s classic, versatile and timeless – and it’s much easier to replace a white piece than any other colour. White is a great base to work from, adding elements of colours, patterns and textures to elevate the table. If you want something more exciting, why not choose white dinnerware with a beautiful but elegant pattern?

5.     Buy enough pieces – it’s worth the spend
You might not plan to host the Brady Bunch any time soon, but I like to think big, always. Soon we’ll be celebrating around the table again, so plan for bigger families, parties and gatherings. You’ll thank me later!

If you have the storage space (see point one above) and can afford it, get at least enough for the biggest dinner party you can imagine yourself hosting soon – then add a few more pieces. Always add in even numbers, just because, I don’t know…?

And that’s that, you’re ready to head out and start searching. With these easy-to-remember tips, your dinner party is going to be the talk of the town – as soon as it’s safe to host again, of course. And remember, there really are no rules when it comes to these kinds of things: bring your own style to the party, mix and match colours, patterns and textures. The food might even have to give up centre stage.

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