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No Crime in Breaking the Set : Set Your Own Rules on Mixing, Matching Dish Styles


Don't throw away those floral-pattern dishes your Aunt Emily gave you, even if your taste runs to hard-edged contemporary design. The latest, best way to create a place setting is to mix and match looks: antique with contemporary, ethnic with classic, country with city.

The rule in dish decor today is: There is no rule. If it is pleasing to your eye, do it.

"Sometimes you inherit china patterns from different sides of your family that don't seem to go together at first glance. But by adding some good basic pieces like dinner and salad plates, you can usually blend in your other dishes," explains Electa Anderson, director of special events and community relations at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar.

Anderson herself put together a place setting by starting with the contemporary Spode dinner plate she received for a wedding gift and adding a Limoges salad plate from her grandmother, a Bavarian china bowl from her aunt and a small Limoges plate she purchased in an antique shop.

"All the time I mix the old with the new. It makes the table more interesting. I also like to use different crystal patterns and even different flatware patterns.

"For example, I have some salad forks I bought in an antique store that don't really go with anything, but I always use them. The same thing goes for my bone-handled knives."

The big secret to combining dishes is to coordinate colors, say a number of those experienced with mixing and matching.

Sheila Chefetz, author of "Antiques for the Table" (Viking Studio Books, $30) says, "I personally think that coordinating color on the table is the best way to do it.

"But some people don't match anything and don't care to have that common thread of color. Instead they want each plate on the table to be individual and special." In a case like this, perhaps the centerpiece or the table linens could help pull the whole thing together.

For a dinner party for 12 that Chefetz recently gave, she didn't have 12 of everything so she improvised. "I began with a gold and bone service plate or charger that remained on the table until dessert. For the cold soup, I used green and gold bowls. When they were removed, I placed burgundy and gold dinner plates on top of the charger, followed by the salad plates. Six of them were gold, white and green; six were gold, white and monogrammed. The ladies got the green plates, the men the monograms. The bread and butter plates that remained on the table were gold and white and didn't match the other dishes."

The dinner concluded with dessert served on flowered plates: six were from her mother, six were gifts from a friend.

Since Chefetz only had 10 cranberry-colored water goblets, she and her husband had plain crystal ones. She coordinated this by having the guests use ivory napkins, while she and she husband had wine-colored ones.

Even though thoughts of a sit-down dinner for 12 may be the furthest thing from your mind, the same principles apply for smaller dinner parties and family meals.

When initially buying china, it is a good idea to buy two compatibly colored patterns, one for daytime and one for formal entertaining. That way, from the beginning, pieces can be mixed and matched. If some interesting mismatched dishes appeal to you when you're traveling or bargain hunting at thrift stores, buy them and intermingle them. They'll be constant reminders of your trip and add personality to the table.

If you're a first-time fine china buyer, it isn't always the best idea to buy all white china as dinner plates.

Whites are often the hardest colors to coordinate; classic white looks odd combined with creamy earthenware white. Instead, select a plate with colors that can be picked up in the other dishes.

Just as color is an important consideration in mixing and matching dishes, so is the weight and texture of the dish. The four different kinds of china are: earthenware, stoneware, fine china and bone china.

Earthenware is a form of pottery formed from clay without the addition of glass-like material. The surface is porous unless glazed.

Stoneware is made of clay to which a stone like sand is added. This addition allows it to be fired at a higher temperature and makes it stronger than earthenware, although it is still heavy and opaque.

Fine china is the most glass-like and is made of a combination of fine white clay, feldspar and flint. These ingredients, fired at very high temperature, create a hard, non-porous ceramic. It is thinner and lighter than the earthenware and stoneware and can be formed into delicate shapes. If you hold it to the light, you can see its translucence.

Bone china is a form of fine china to which bone ash has been added, creating a bright white color.

Some people argue that potteries and fine china cannot be mixed successfully on the table.

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