Join Our Email List


The High End/ Unique Homes Blog

Not Your Grandmother’s China

The colors and patterns of today’s fine china stand in contrast to the staid looks of the past.

By Camilla McLaughlin

After years of casual living, there is a growing graciousness in entertaining, and along with it beautiful tablescapes. All of which means it’s time to dust off that old china and take a new look at what manufacturers of fine porcelain are offering today. And don’t think it’s the same regimentation you knew as a child. Instead, new and old, formal and casual are being paired in novel combinations, and even esteemed traditional companies are adding contemporary patterns and fresh new looks.

“My high-end clients are still looking for fine china. They want nice things and the manufacturers have adapted. And it isn’t necessarily that they are going more contemporary, but it’s the pieces they are making and the shapes,” says Dean Driver, an expert in tabletop trends and the owner of Consilium Lifestyle Collections. As an example, Driver points to new offerings from J. Seignolles, which include geometric patterns available in colors such as dark indigo or red cassis tones.

Color trends dominated a recent tabletop show in New York. Blue hues were especially strong, while red was pronounced the new neutral for 2014. Additionally, manufacturers increasingly offer various options in color and design within a pattern, giving consumers an opportunity to create something uniquely their own.Coral red, as well as yellow and pale blue as an option for contrast, are only one feature that makes a new collection from Royal Crown Derby pop. The pattern Ruche is a collaboration of Royal Crown Derby and British designer Bruce Oldfield. There is movement and fluidity in the design, which was inspired by the folds and pleats of ruched fabric. It features 22-carat gold, which weaves along edges and ripples across the translucent bone china. With three colors, as well as neutrals of white and taupe, the pattern plays out in several different ways, offering a huge range of choices and ways to pair each piece.

Metallic tones are also on trend. “We are seeing a resurgence of young brides going to more traditional china, even a scaling back to the really formal traditional white with gold or silver accents,” says John Griffith, visual merchandising lead at Replacements Ltd.

The challenge for manufacturers is to re-educate consumers that fine china doesn’t have to be closeted away and only brought out a few times a year. It’s important, Driver observes, because many things we use on our table create memories and become part of our own cultural and social history. But, he asks, “How can memories be created if we don’t use those beautiful things we have?”

“People want to buy things they can use every day,” he says, particularly if they are going to spend the amount of money many of these patterns cost.

“If you are an inexperienced cook, you don’t have to prepare an elaborate meal for guests, but you can wow them by serving it on your china — even meatloaf tastes better. Even if you bring Chinese, you can make it special by using nice dinnerware. It just changes the atmosphere,” says Hattie Purnell Burson, president HPB Marketing Group for Royal Crown Derby USA. Even very formal patterns can be dressed down. In the past, to illustrate, says Burson, Royal Crown Derby has paired its most popular traditional patterns with basic white plates, and recently introduced its own line of white, a departure for the 200-plus-year-old company known for beautiful florals and patterns, many of which have an Asian influence.

Once they see how older traditional patterns can be paired with neutrals, glass or other patterns, even younger consumers begin to look at heirloom pieces in a new light. “We get people coming in and saying, ‘This is what I have and I don’t like it.’ Once we pair the pattern with other colors, sometimes different finishes and shapes, literally you can see their outlook change right in front of you,” explains Griffiths. Sometimes just picking a color hidden in a pattern brings an entirely new look. Griffith even made a YouTube video illustrating the ways a traditional pattern can be changed, ranging from formal to informal, rigid to eclectic, simply by changing the table setting and the mix of dinnerware. “Not only can we get them to think outside the box,” he says, “we also can get them to step outside the box and leave the box behind.”

Not only do consumers need to change their paradigm about style, but they also need to put to rest misconceptions about handling china. Even metallic trims today can go in the dishwasher, and most manufacturers have care instructions for consumers. Burson uses the example of her own everyday china, which has a gold band and goes into the dishwasher. “China is fired at such high temperatures that the dishwasher isn’t going to upset the pattern, even metallics.” But she adds, “If it’s something really old, 100 years old and hand painted, I wouldn’t suggest putting it in the dishwasher.”