In Praise of the Mix-And-Match Table

©. Melissa Breyer

Or, when decluttering don't throw away the family china!

Trends come and trends go, it's the nature of them, after all. And as much as we might like to think that we are above the fashionable dictates of the day, sometimes it's hard not to get drawn into the zeitgeist of the times. For instance, we are deep in the midst of a massive minimalism movement – much of it born out of the realization that humans (and the planet) are drowning in untenable amounts of stuff. Not a bad trend to get behind.

As such, many people no longer want things like the family heirlooms that were the shining treasures of earlier generations. In homes across the country, grandma's fussy china has been given the heave-ho and in its place sits a peaceful stack of tidy plates.

But as we have been decluttering our homes and eating off of the minimalist mod ceramics of the 2010s, a certain aesthetic has been slowly creeping back in ... creeping like the ivy and willow branches and climbing roses that adorn old china, in fact. Yes, somehow, granny chic is making a comeback.

And quite frankly, I think this is fabulous. Jura Koncius writes about the new (old) direction for The Washington Post, noting that residential dining tables and restaurants alike are opting for a mix-matched vintage aesthetic. "Granny’s stuff never looked so good," she writes.

So here's what I think: If you've been bitten by the decluttering bug, consider saving the china. We've been hearing a lot about how people no longer want the family heirlooms, but there is something pretty special about the plates that were brought out for generations to celebrate important occasions; the very plates that served the food cooked and eaten by our ancestors.

If we use our old plates – or go to a vintage shop and pick up some lovely mix-matched pieces – that's new stuff that wasn't purchased and old stuff that is being put to good use.

And the important part here, from a style point of view, is that the rules have changed. The attention to formal perfection is gone – in its place is a frowsy celebration of all kinds of color and pattern.


© Melissa Breyer

At my house the tableware falls into two extreme camps: Busy vintage patterns and simple modern ceramics. The former group is a collection of old family treasures and thrift shop finds, purchased to replace disposable items when I'm entertaining. The latter are the durable workhorses and hand-crafted pieces that reflect my love of simple ceramics. I am an unabashed mixer of both (as you can see in the photos).

The idea of decking out my table in a single china pattern somehow makes me anxious. I adore a lively table, unexpected and dynamic. I love seeing my great grandmother's platter along with my mom's tea cups and thrift shop plates I got when my daughter was a baby, all mixed in with the beautiful handmade ceramics I've been collecting with my sweetheart. The table becomes a history book of it own ... a family tree of sorts, scattered with pieces from all over, some dating back to the 19th century.

And as cluttered as it may look, the mix-matched vibe is actually very conducive to having less stuff. It is flexible and doesn't rely on a strict set of standard pieces – it responds best to being thrown together. You can have 12 people over for dinner and not have to have 12 matching pieces of everything. You can replace, swap, add, subtract ... and it all looks great.

Koncius writes that the trend is now getting to the point that retailers are, quite regrettably, offering dinnerware made to look old or worn. Please, do not succumb to such a ruse! Do this instead:

• First of all, think twice (or three times) about tossing or donating the family china you may have.
• Next, do not keep it packed away in a place that makes you hesitant to use it. Make it accessible, even if just a few pieces, and put it in rotation.
• Lastly, if you don't have any family china and are in need of tableware, fret not. Go to a thrift shop and buy somebody else's, remembering that the most sustainable stuff is the stuff that already exists.

I can imagine that soon enough tables everywhere will be swimming in chintz ... and eventually the pendulum will swing back towards the big white minimalist plate. Regardless, I'll just keep mixing and matching my random pieces – somehow managing to always stay simultaneously in and out of fashion. And when I pass my jumble of plates on to my kids, I'll have to remember to tuck a copy of this article in along with it.