The world is drowning in dishes.
Baby boomers are inheriting multiple sets from mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and in-laws. Many have so much china, on top of their own wedding sets, they don't know where to store it or what to do with it.
They don't want to junk it but the generations behind them seem to have no use for 12 five-piece place settings of fine china and additional mystery pieces that seem to have been made for a style of formal entertaining now quaintly in the past.
The result is that beautiful sets of vintage and antique fine china are going begging, many stamped with the same blue-chip manufacturers - Lenox, Gorham, Wedgewood and Spode - as those selling new in different patterns for $50 a plate at Macy's.
Phyllis Winterhawk, of ELS Estate Liquidation Service in Santa Rosa,lamented that it's gotten increasingly difficult to sell china at any price. She said she has brought a beautiful set of antique German Meissen — 12 place settings, three platters, a tureen and serving bowls, not to mention bullion or soup bowls — to three different estate sales, dropping the price from $650 down to $350. Still no takers.
"There's just a whole era that has gone by the wayside, that's for darn sure." she said.
All those dishes present a great opportunity for savvy shoppers with a taste for finer things. It's now actually affordable to have a set of formal china you use only on holidays and special occasions - like Thanksgiving.
"Depending on the pattern and maker you could buy a set of china for under $200 or maybe $225," said Susan Gardner, who has a longtime estate sale business in Sonoma County.
Or, as an alternative, you can incorporate pieces from different sets. Mixing and matching, done tastefully and with care, makes for a more visually appealing table, says Joan Papathakis, a Santa Rosa interior designer, who has inherited several sets and likes to mix them up in creative ways.
For those who may have inherited multiple sets — perhaps even incomplete or missing pieces — this design trick is the way to repurpose what you have with an updated look. To lift the tabletop out of the 1950s you can add a few more contemporary pieces in the same color scheme or in clear glass, and perhaps finish it with some decorations or napkins that add a little bling.
"Your table doesn't have to match. And people kind of know that but they're still afraid and don't know what to do if they don't all match," said Shax Riegler, features editor of "House Beautiful" magazine and author of the new book, "Dish," an illustrated homage to plates, from paper and pottery to fine china. The book details the history of china, the different types and patterns as well as the care and repair of old china.
Even if you don't buy a full set, think of getting a set of matching bowls, or a full set of dinner plates or salad plates.
Pair a solid color plate with a patterned plate that picks up some of the solid color. Or vice versa. Or pair a patterned or solid color plate with a clear glass bowl. Another option is to choose dinner plates with just a rim of color and then match those with patterned salad plates or bowls that pick up the color in the rimmed plate.