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Looks Great on Paper : Latest rage finds lowly pulp dishes taking their place beside fine china and crystal.


When it comes to elegant table settings, today's sophisticated hosts consider a few basic components. Fine stemware. Fine silver. Fine . . . paper?

"Paper products are coming into their own," said Judy Goffin of Yorba Linda. "I have china from all over the world, beautiful linens and crystal. But I had foot surgery over the holidays. The choice was, do I buy absolutely stunning paper products or do dishes?

"The local Hallmark store worked for me, and it's the first time I've ever done that. The plates look hand-painted, like Matisses, even gold-etched. It's designer paper!"

Either a lot of people out there are having foot surgery, or picnickers are opting for elegance, or elegant households no longer find paper plates and napkins an embarrassment.

Jansson's, a party supply store in Costa Mesa, has traditionally carried a wide range of paper products starting at the low end, but that is no longer the case.

"All we brought in this year was mid- to high-end products," said owner Fred Jansson. "People don't want to deal with the drugstore, supermarket type of look. They want better quality for their family and friends."

Jansson's carries the New York-based Caspari and German-based IHR products. The plates might run double the cost of other brands--in a supermarket eight 8-inch plates might cost $1.69, while eight Caspari plates run from $2.75 to $4.75--but many people don't hesitate when they stop to consider not only the elegant designs but also the convenience and practicality.

"People are so exhausted preparing for the party, preparing the meal; they don't want to deal with dishes afterward," Jansson said. "Some of these plates look just like china--that's the look they want. And they want to be able to put food on it and not have it seep through.

"These plates are definitely more expensive, and for [those] looking at the difference of a buck, it's not worth it. For [others], time is valuable. For them, it is worth it."


Though fine china may no longer be necessary to pull off a dinner party with aplomb, using paper is not necessarily an either/or proposition. It can also be a case of mix 'n' match.

RSVP in Tustin carries paper products to complement rather than replace its fine china and crystal, such as paper doilies in a variety of colors for use under chocolates or cookies.

Judy Schroeder of Orange takes mixing and matching a step further. She's an artist, and when it comes to her table settings, it shows.

"I use paper as an extra," she said. "I still use my china, and occasionally I use paper napkins. But more often it's for making napkin rings."

Schroeder doesn't like paper tablecloths; she feels they're too thin. But she'll use a table pad, liquid paper dry line (a temporary adhesive) from an office supply store and various papers to achieve a checkerboard effect, "almost like place mats, only solid."

Schroeder shops for her paper goods at Sterling Art, an art supplies store in Irvine that offers an entire wall of papers for sale.

"The range of colors, of finishes and weights, is just fabulous," she said. "You can use strips of it as a runner on the bare table or over a tablecloth. You can tear the edge of the runner for a three-dimensional touch.

"If you want several flower arrangements on a table, you can wrap the glass [containers] with paper cuffs using the colors in your china, then tie them with raffia. You could have a whole line of containers--literally you can use tin cans to make attractive centerpieces. There are all sorts of things you can tuck around the paper. I haven't liked fake stuff in the past. But what's available in floral supply stores now is amazing."


Caspari, celebrating 50 years in the high-end greeting card business, has been making napkins for 12. Debbie Pereira of Newport Beach has been a representative with the company seven years and says she's seen a 30% increase in her napkin sales each year. The company began making paper plates in 1992.

Its goal was to make paper napkins with the textured appearance of linen and plates that would echo the shape and appearance of fine porcelain.

"Caspari seems to have been front-runner in the changing look of napkins," Pereira said. "When you look at the napkins, they're printed on one side, but then you open them up and see they're also printed on the other. The napkins are three-ply. The design doesn't bleed. They're mistaken for fabric, either a silk or linen look. The plates look like real china.

"The product line still has about three times more napkins than plates. That's because people use the napkins with their own china as well as with paper plates."

The company recently introduced several "museum" lines based on works by Monet, Winslow Homer, William Morris and, adapted from Chinese painted silk at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one called Chinoiserie. There are two paper tableware patterns by London interior designer Nina Campbell; the classic Harlequin motif is inspired by Venetian Carnival.

Other elegant lines include Topiary, Jardin Bleu, Safari, China Trade, Canasta, Baroque and Winterthur Botanical--each in up to four color combinations.

"We make it easy to coordinate," Pereira said. "The paper plates can either exactly match a napkin or coordinate with a series with different color rims. One plate can usually match three or four different napkins."

Napkins come in cocktail, luncheon, dinner and guest towel sizes; plates come in salad/dessert and dinner sizes. Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar also carries Caspari products.

Designer paper tablecloths are still a long way off.

"Most people want to use their own linen tablecloths," Pereira admitted.

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