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Bring fine china out of the closet

| Friday, April 6, 2001


It can bring a familiar smile or a sentimental tear. It's one of the first things a bride-to-be shops for, and it's destined to become a treasured family heirloom.

Fine china has a special place in the home, so special in fact, that it might come out to serve its purpose only once or twice a year. But those who appreciate celebrating even casual meals with panache are bringing out their fancy, dress-up plates for everyday use.

'I don't have a set that I save and will not touch,' says Judy Linaburg of Mt. Lebanon. 'I use it all the time.'

Linaburg has about a dozen sets of china, and even though she has two school-age children, she uses her china for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

'My children, from day one, ate off china. That's how I grew up. My mother set a full table,' Linaburg says.

Experts say there is no reason not to use your wedding china or family heirloom china more often. Although fine china seems delicate, it's very resilient and can endure regular use.

'Its appearance belies its strength,' says Isabelle von Boch, spokesperson for her family's venerable fine china company, Villeroy & Boch. 'Don't let it scare you that it's called fine china and bone china.'

Von Boch used her good china while raising her children and in 19 years, she only lost a few pieces. She's not afraid to use her china in the microwave, and she even puts it in the dishwasher.

There are two types of fine china: bone china and porcelain.

Porcelain is made from a fine white clay found in China blended with feldspar and flint, according to Elegant Bride Magazine. Bone china is made the same way, but contains animal bone ash to intensify whiteness.

Both are very strong, von Boch says, and can withstand everyday use.

The question is: Why do so many pieces of beautiful china spend more time in storage than dressing a table•


For one, many people are afraid if they break a plate or chip a cup, they will never be able to replace it. But, Linaburg suggests, 'Continually keep adding (to the set) so you won't feel panic-stricken if someone drops Aunt Mary's teacup.'

Another reason many don't use their good china is limited accessibility. Chances are, if the china is packed away in boxes it will stay there, because it takes too much effort to unpack it.

That's not a problem for Debra Simmons, owner of The Butler's Secret in the Strip District. She has a strict rule in her house: No two meals in a row are served on the same china.

'If it's easy to get to, chances are you'll use it more,' Simmons says. She makes it easy to use her extensive china collection by keeping it close at hand, storing it in china cabinets and even displaying some of it.

Simmons also explains the predominant reason china remains in a closet or box, collecting dust: time.

With many families having two working parents and children involved in a slew of after-school activities, there is barely time to sit down together for dinner, let alone time to get out the good china and set the table.

Although it might seem futile, properly setting the table can change the entire mood of the dinner, make it more relaxing and even educate children about proper etiquette.

'We look at dinner as just a function - something we do because we're hungry,' Simmons says. 'Make dinner the event, and make it mean something. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money, and it doesn't have to be a grand event. Pick one night of the week.'

Some china patterns, however, can be difficult to use every day. They might be too formal or dated. But there are ways to dress your china up, dress it down and change the way it looks.

Using chargers - which are large, shallow, decorative dishes - and mixing and matching different patterns can give china a different look.

For example, place a black plate on an animal print charger for a dramatic look, or use a square charger with a round plate for a contemporary look, says Deborah French Gorman, corporate sales associate for All Occasions Party Rental in Coraopolis.

'The whole table sets the tone,' Gorman says. 'There are a lot of things you can be flexible with.'

Napkins, tablecloths and placemats complement china. For a more formal look, use cotton or linen napkins, Gorman says, or place a lace overlay over a tablecloth.

Don't be afraid to mix and match china. Mixing up plates, cups and saucers can give the table a distinctive look.

As for dated china patterns, Gorman says retro looks are coming back and can be toned down with single-color accent pieces.

'It really depends on what you want to serve and how you want your table to look,' Gorman says.

And china doesn't have to be expensive to be special. Even if you have an inexpensive set that you keep stored away, pull it out and try to make every day a special occasion.

'You don't have to have the finest china or the finest crystal,' Simmons says. 'But use what you have.'

Megan Tressler can be reached at (412) 320-7878 or metressler@tribweb.com .

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