Fine china -- the delicate, sometimes fussy tableware long associated with wedding registries and your grandmother's cabinet -- has found a new, more relaxed place at the table.
Whether a Herend soup dish adorned with a wild boar or a gilded Lenox dessert plate rimmed with a Greek key pattern, fans of using fine china -- which is usually made with porcelain -- say it makes everyday meals far more celebratory than the minimalist earthenware popular in the past few years ever could.
Laura Chautin, 29, an artist in Manhattan, said that spending time at home led her to use her "good plates" more.
"Plates that I had been saving, I now use them every day," said Chautin, who has also made a collection of porcelain tableware featuring delicate floral patterns. "It just feels special -- why not use things that make you happy on a day-to-day basis?"
First made in China, porcelain's earliest form dates to the Tang dynasty. Hard-paste porcelain, the kind used to this day, appeared there later, in the 13th century. Revered for its translucent quality, hard-paste porcelain was originally made from a mixture of kaolin, a soft white clay, and feldspathic rock fired at a temperature around 2,650 degrees -- a recipe that, starting in the 16th century, European potters obsessively tried and failed to master.
By the 18th century, German alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger discovered the formula, and hard-paste porcelain began being manufactured in Europe as well as in Asia. The material's history has inspired current makers like Marc Armitano Domingo, 26, who lives in Manhattan and started his company Armitano Domingo Ceramics, which was formerly known as Botticelli Ceramics, in 2016.
"As soon as I found out how crazy and convoluted and interesting porcelain history was, I was just fully hooked," said Domingo, who makes plates, trays and cups that often incorporate botanical motifs. In July, he completed his first commission for a full dinner service, including plates for 20 table settings.
It has also inspired china collectors, including Rachel Tashjian, 32, a writer and fashion critic in Brooklyn, who began amassing porcelain pieces after receiving a set of Haviland china from her grandmother when Tashjian was in her 20s. "There's a sense that this is something you can learn about, and there's a scholarship to it," she said.
SENSE OF FESTIVITIES
Tashjian agreed that a desire to make any meal feel more festive pervades among those using fine china casually. "People want to be frivolous in small ways," she said. "We're beginning to put more of a premium on delight."
She has used her Haviland plates, which are decorated with a pink and gold rose pattern, when hosting dinner parties with friends. "I would make spaghetti or just order pizza, but using the china would create a sense of occasion beyond something like let's all hang and drink together or watch a movie."
Michele Mirisola, 31, an artist in Brooklyn who owns a set of gilded Homer Laughlin plates, agrees that "if you're not partying as much in restaurants and bars," fine china is "a way to class up what you're doing at home."
Inspired by the colors of Delftware, a style of Dutch tin-glazed pottery, Mirisola has made a collection of patterned clay tableware in a blue-and-white palette for her line Chell Fish.
According to Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert at Etsy, there was a 39% increase in searches for fine china on the site in 2021 compared to 2020, and a 28% increase in searches for antique and vintage porcelain dinnerware.
Dawn Block, vice president of collectibles, electronics and home at eBay, said that site has seen a similar increase. "Since this time last year, eBay has seen a significant surge in searches and sales for china and porcelain brands including Lenox, Noritake and Herend," she said.
FINE CHINA BOOM
China from heritage brands is also making its way onto more wedding registries. Lauren Kay, executive editor of The Knot, a wedding resource website that allows couples to create registries, said site users' interest in makers including Bernardaud, Royal Copenhagen, Wedgwood and Richard Ginori is at a high she hasn't seen since 2018.
There has also been an increased appetite for fine china at some secondhand shops.
Elise Abrams, 71, owner of Elise Abrams Antiques in Great Barrington, Mass., began collecting porcelain plates in the 1970s. Her shop, which opened in 1989, sells an array of china decorated with motifs ranging from floral and fish to game. Lately, she has noticed an increase in clientele looking for it.
"There are more young people coming in and being excited, saying, 'Now is the time, I'm bored and I want to set the table,'" said Abrams, who organizes her store by color. (Over the past year, she said turquoise-colored pieces have sold particularly well.)
At Vintage Thrift Shop in Manhattan, Lisa Haspel, the store's manager, has also noticed a growing interest in its china inventory, which typically features pieces by brands including Rosenthal, Limoges, Wedgwood, Minton and Spode. Her customers used to be older, but that has changed, she said.
"Now it just sells to everybody," said Haspel, 59. "It's just very popular."
Of course, for some, using fine china casually has long been a part of daily life. Maryline Damour, 52, an interior designer who lives in Kingston, N.Y., grew up in Haiti and said that it was customary for her family to set two formal tables a day. She has continued this ritual, using china taken from her mother's home in Haiti, as well as pieces bought at antiques stores in Kingston.
"I've never saved stuff for special occasions," Damour said. "I have one set from CB2, but everything else is English china, like Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. It's just what I have, so I use it all the time."