My enthusiasm for a well-set table has long been a source of some (loving, I hope) teasing from my friends. And it's true: I'll use any excuse to break out my favorite tableware. Brunch with friends? Gold-rimmed china and floral napkins, please. TV dinner? Maybe a rattan placemat and some vintage transferware. I've joked many times that I may be the only twentysomething whose New York City apartment search mandated ample space for a China cabinet, but what can I say—I love a happy table. Now, as we enter month eight of some version of COVID-induced homebound-ness, I believe more than ever in the mood-altering power of a pretty meal—and the notion that the finest things you own shouldn't be reserved for special occasions.
In the earliest days of sheltering-in-place, adjusting to a work and life routine that took place completely within the confines of 500 square feet, I took solace in the small joy of setting the table for a solo dinner. Closing the laptop and selecting a napkin, plate, and glass for my dinner—even if it was just leftover pasta—clearly marked the transition from workday to after-hours, and brought some excitement to the dreary continuum of indoor days that stretched forebodingly onwards until who knows when. I've never been a fan of the notion that the best tableware should be reserved for holidays, but more than ever, I relished breaking out my favorite plates, silverware, and candlesticks—for no one but myself. Indeed, as our home has come to serve as more than ever before—office, restaurant, space of relaxation—there's no better reason to make it the best, most special version of those it can be.
Over the past few years, I've heard person after person say that "young people don't care about formal table settings" (add it to the list of things an entire generation has allegedly turned its collective nose up at, including antiques—a notion I dispute) and observed as a slew of direct-to-consumer and ecommerce brands have risen to popularity offering bland, "everyday" dinnerware. But what exactly is "everyday" dinnerware, anyway, if not just... dinnerware you use daily? Why does it have to be an unassuming white slab of ceramic and not, say, a delicate, floral-patterned plate? If the answer is durability, what a waste: Why deprive yourself of something special when, alternately, you could just take a little more care hand-washing?
With the plethora of vintage offerings available on sites like Etsy, eBay, and even through Instagram sellers, there's little argument to be made for cost, either: You'll find stacks of antique porcelain for the same price as a plate or two from trendy "casual ware" purveyors if you take the time to look, and they'll make your tabletop a lot more interesting.
And even if you do decide to splurge—be it on a minimal, monochrome set or some ornate spectacle of filigree and gilding—all the more reason to bring it out, use it, show it off (even if it's just on Instagram!). If the uncertainty of these past few months has taught us anything, let it be to enjoy every moment.
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