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Table Diversity Can Be a Thing of the Past

September 12, 1998|From Associated Press

Going along with a greater diversity of foods in the American diet, dining table decor is showing more variety too. Interesting china, unusual glasses and accessories and table linens and a lot more color are the order of the day.

While china manufacturers pick up on the preference for distinctive dining with bolder patterns, some people prefer pieces from the past. These may be bona fide antiques or simply leftovers from mother's or grandmother's china closet.

For ideas in pulling together a table set with old pieces, turn to a new book, "Modern Antiques for the Table" (Penguin Studio, $39.95) by Sheila Chefetz. It shows creative table settings using china, glassware and cutlery dating from the 1890s to about 1940.

Chefetz, also the owner of Country Dining Antiques in Great Barrington, Mass., says that dinnerware from the 1920s and '30s is especially appealing to modern tastes because designs of that era took on a special creativity absent in earlier periods.

"You have asymmetrical landscape designs that weren't seen before, chintz, art nouveau and Art Deco patterns and more," Chefetz said. Interesting geometric shapes also started in the 1920s.

"They were not mixing and matching as we do today, but they did bring a breath of fresh air to china design. Now magnified 60 years down the road, we have mix-and-match china patterns," said the author. "I don't know if today's tables could have happened without that period."

Coincidentally or not, the era was one in which more women came to the fore as designers of china. Chefetz singled out Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper for their colorful modern designs.

She gives special credit to Cliff, an English designer of china whose long career started in the 1920s and ended with her retirement in 1965.

Cliff was among the first to bring modern graphics and unusual colors to china. Starting around 1928, her Bizarre line caught the public's fancy and led to many emulators. Made in England, Bizarre was sold in the United States. The shapes included cubes, cylinders and cones and the designs emphasized bright blocks of color.

Cooper, also an English china designer, was one of the first women to head her own china company. While her later designs were traditional bone china in quiet patterns, her 1920s dinnerware was decorated with colorful polka dots, stylized flowers and other patterns. She put solid triangular handles on teacups and also experimented with the shapes of dishes.

If nostalgic china appeals, there are various ways to gratify the taste. Some of the most interesting patterns of the era, including early Susie Cooper and Cliff's Bizarre ware, are very pricey at antiques stores such as her own, Chefetz admits. But thrift shops, yard sales and charity bazaars occasionally yield interesting items, since there are many less well-known names.

Those who already have some early china, but want more, of it may find it through a replacement service such as Replacements Ltd. of Greensboro, N.C. ([800] 737-5223).

Replacements maintains a notification service and will get in touch if a desired item turns up, said Jaime Robinson, special-projects coordinator.

Reproductions are another option. For example, Fiestaware, popular in the early part of the century, was reintroduced in the mid-1980s and can be found in almost any department store.

Nowadays, informal tables can be set with mugs, bowls and plates available in sets. Informal china also was sold in the 1920s and '30s when the acceptability of living alone created an environment for a bachelor set--consisting of sugar, creamer, cup and saucer, cereal bowl and a single 9-inch plate.

Chefetz has come across breakfast sets from that era consisting of a small tray with toast rack, sugar bowl, creamer and teapot or coffee pot all fitting into grooves for ease of use.

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