First come the dishes. Then comes love. What is this unbreakable bond between a girl and her bone china?
by CONNIE DUFNER / styling by BRITTANY WINTER / photographs by CHRIS PLAVIDAL
Gentlemen, consider yourselves warned.
Yes, she said yes and booked a manicure to show off the ring. But we’ve seen the signs: the fidgeting, the distraction, the furtive Internet searches. We’d bet our Cartier cushion-cut that she’s got her eye on a pretty little dish called Flora or Willow or Imari.
Many girls dream about an unforgettable dress or ponder how big a rider to take out on the sparkler. Others fantasize about tying the knot barefoot on a beach in Cabo. But you, oh smitten groom, may be the lucky chap whose intended prefers haute plates to haute couture. Get used to competing with the china registry and its incessant needs. Service for 16 or 24? Practical or pricey? Simple band or decorated well? And if perchance you hear her talking about Byzantine Dreams, followed shortly by a swoon, it’s not porn and it’s nothing you did. Blame Versace.
“I love china and linens,” says newlywed Daley Bennett. “It’s definitely a weakness.” Her husband, Rob, knew of Daley’s true first love when they settled on a whirlwind eight-week engagement prior to their February wedding. After all, she had come into the marriage with a batch of Wedgwood’s Chinese Dragons scored at an estate sale, and regularly raided her mother’s and grandmothers’ cabinets for vintage china. The pair boldly settled on Herend Fishscale and Raynaud Nin Sou and registered at the Ivy House. “The whole process of picking it out was pretty fun,” he says. (That’s one well-taught groom.)
Stephanie Golman warmed a frozen meatball and served it to herself on the first dinner plate — Chinoise Blue by Mottahedeh — she received for her wedding last year. “I wanted to use it right away,” confesses the manager of the Highland Park Village gift and tableware boutique, Madison. She is in good company with her boss Kelli Ford, the philanthropist owner of Madison and an avid dish collector who entertains frequently. Ford’s most recent party was a graduation dinner dance for her daughter’s fourth-grade Hockaday class, where the table was set with white buffet plates festooned with white linen napkins monogrammed in dayglow pink and yellow. “It’s her first set of monogrammed napkins,” explains Ford. “She can keep them forever and use them again.” The education of a china girl, however, only begins with napkins. Every year at Christmas, Ford gives her two daughters one piece each of Flora Danica, the iconic Royal Copenhagen pattern based on botanical drawings — each piece hand-painted, rare, off-the-charts expensive and worth every nickel. “When they grow up, they’ll have a beautiful set,” she says. “I think it’s a great gift. Sometimes my husband says: ‘You’re giving them what?’ and I say ‘They’re going to love it. Trust me.’” Ford’s china collection includes her own set of Flora Danica (with mushrooms), Fantasy by Anna Weatherley (she loves butterflies), Cristobal Blue by Raynaud (“great for summer; it’s crisp and nautical in a way”), Gold Aves by Royal Crown Derby (“really pretty; goes with so much”) and a purple-and-cream set from World Market. (“We got 40 place settings. It’s such a good look.”)
While few carriage-trade brides would even dare to register for Flora Danica because of its $7,000-per-place-setting price tag — a few brave souls have done so at the Ivy House, according to owner Laura May — they are most certainly channeling their inner royal. (“They’re going for that organic, leafy floral look,” she says.) What is atop many a wish list? “The Anna Weatherley look is hot,” says the Ivy House proprietor. Kimberly Schlegel Whitman agrees, and admits a soft spot for the house of Anna, among others. The author, blogger and lifestyle-media star stays true to her Herend Chinese Bouquet in rust and to Mottahedeh’s Tobacco Leaf (“I found a large set in a Christie’s auction and won it for an average price of $19 apiece!”), and she appreciates the presence across town of mom Myrna’s Fabergé service for 26. The Whitmans entertain frequently as a couple, and Whitman has recently enjoyed hosting ladies-only morning coffees and teas at their home. She followed her own advice when it came to registering for her storied 2005 wedding in Lee Park — 34,000 square feet of tent, caviar-and-vodka buffets and a seated dinner for almost 750 — to husband Justin. “Follow your heart and pick something you love.” (This applies to choosing grooms as well.)
Social dynamo and new bride D’Andra Simmons, also a frequent entertainer, followed the most efficient path to a beautiful table, sticking with mom Dee’s Geneva by Pickard, a classic pattern of white with embossed platinum trim. “My mother has 24 place settings, so I just decided on the same pattern, for consistency in the family.” When she adds to it, Simmons says she’ll go for bold color. Ever the pragmatist, Simmons, who squeezed her Valentine’s-weekend wedding to Jeremy Lock in a narrow window free from business and social commitments, suggests that china is not the most important decision a bride will make. Embrace the inevitable and listen to Mom on this one. “Unless your mom’s pattern is heinous, stick with hers, your grandmother’s or one that will complement theirs if you are thinking you will inherit any of it. This makes it easy to marry the pieces — and you can also borrow from your family.”
Thanks to china-obsessed mothers like Ford, savvy brides like Golman and Bennett and confident hostesses like Whitman and Simmons, the future of the elegant table is assured. “Entertaining is alive and well,” says Lizzie Post of the etiquette dynasty. “It’s making a comeback. We went through this wonderful pendulum swing with eating off paper plates on your laps and serve-yourself buffets. Now people are saying, ‘Let’s do something special. I feel like being pretty.’ Everyone loves having a friend who throws formal parties. It gives us an excuse to wear the dresses we all own.” The great- granddaughter of Emily Post, who is an author and expert on entertaining and weddings at the Emily Post Institute, recalls growing up in a family where both sides loved entertaining at home. “My mother was able to pull out this beautiful orange pattern which looks stunning on a beautiful white tablecloth. Go for it and plan that dinner party. Don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t treat it as so precious.” Perhaps a more sage piece of advice from the etiquette arbiter: Brides, keep dishes in perspective. “Material items are there for our enjoyment and appreciation,” Post says. “They have shelf lives. Some live for generations. Some live for one night.”
And grooms, she’ll need a shoulder to cry on when a beloved dish breaks. Be strong.
CONNIE DUFNER is a Dallas freelance writer and a former editor at ‘The Dallas Morning News.’
Styling by BRITTANY WINTER. Photographs by CHRIS PLAVIDAL, both SISTERBROTHER MGMT.