How to Own Pretty Dishware in a House of Toddlers

It's Ask Design Mom week over on my blog, and I thought it would be fun to continue the Q&A over here as well. One of the questions I get asked over and over is: Is it possible to have beautiful things (china, for example) and young children in a home simultaneously?

My answer: A resounding YES!

Parents can absolutely have beautiful things in their home and china is a great example. In fact, below, I've got three specific tips for you to bring gorgeous dishware into everyday use. You'll feel like a queen.


1) Think Unbreakable

For our wedding, Ben Blair and I registered for pewter instead of china. I knew I wanted to have lots of kids and I didn't like the idea of hiding china away in a cupboard because I was afraid to lose a place setting to a toddler just learning to eat. Pewter was an ideal solution!

We use it daily and my kids can't break it. We picked a really simple pattern called Plough by Wilton Armetale. It dresses up. It dresses down. Plus it mixes really well with other china patterns -- pewter is like the denim of dishware. :) It's technically not supposed to go in the dishwasher, but we put it in anyway. It's pretty much indestructible.

(By the way, it's not actually pewter because pewter is dangerous to eat off. Luckily, there are several new "pewter-like metals" that are safe.)

2) Think Mix & Match

I saw a beautiful article about china patterns in Martha Stewart Weddings (I've been married 15 years and still read wedding magazines -- they have the best entertaining ideas!), and it reminded me of this exact topic. The article was showcasing dozens of colorful china patterns, but the combinations and various designs were so pretty together that it looks like they should come as a set.

So I say, why not? Instead of tying yourself to one particular pattern, mix and match. (Don't like color? Mix and match white instead.) It's a great way to take advantage of china bargains at places like TJ Maxx -- where you might find one or two beautiful plates at highly discounted prices -- pieces from high-end lines that would be outrageously expensive to purchase as a complete set.

You can feel free to use your mix and match china as everyday dishware because if a piece breaks, you'll just replace it with the next pretty pattern you happen upon (and you won't feel bad because it was such a bargain in the first place).

3) Think Old

Browse antique stores and watch for a china pattern that calls out to you. I'm always shocked at the prices for huge sets of antique dishware. It's not unusual to find 8 or 12 place settings for around a hundred dollars.

If a few pieces are missing, don't stress. How often do you actually set a table for 12 people? Or if you'd like, you can try to locate the pieces using a service like Replacements or eBay.

Think of antique china sets bought at rock-bottom prices like this: I paid everyday dishware prices for this set, so I'll use them as everyday dishware. Pieces will break every once in awhile. No big deal. If lots of pieces eventually break, I'll replace the whole set -- just like I would with any standard ceramic set.

Give yourself permission to use beautiful things daily. A bowl of Cheerios is all the more delicious when served in a pewter bowl instead of a plastic Buzz Lightyear dish. I speak from experience.


Images from Martha Stewart Weddings. Find sources for the plates pictured here.

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