In selecting the workhorse of your tableware wardrobe, a set of white china is indispensable. While the choices may seem bewildering, there are really only three main types for consideration:
Stoneware, a high-fired clay with a dark, textured look when fired. It’s opaque, and often the dark clay shows through the glazing as a design feature. Very durable, it’s a practical choice for casual dining.
A close cousin to Stoneware is Earthenware, one of the oldest materials used for pottery tableware. This genre includes Creamware, which was created in about 1750 by the potters in Staffordshire, England, the most famous of whom was Josiah Wedgwood, who refined the glazing process to lighten the cream colour to a bluish white. Earthenware also includes Faience ware often found in Europe.
Last we have Porcelain, which covers basic porcelain, fine china and bone china. Porcelain is typically made of a paste containing a combination of kaolin and feldspar. Bone china contains bone ash, or calcium phosphate which makes it china is stronger, lighter and more translucent than regular porcelain. Bone china was developed by Josiah Spode in the late eighteenth century and then the process was copied by other English potteries. Prior to that, ceramics were mostly an export from China,
When choosing your ceramic tableware, here are some things to think about:
Overall look – Is your style more casual or formal? Are you more attracted to a clean, modern look, or do you like more embellishment? Are you planning to mix and match it with modern and/or antique patterned pieces, or will this be your only set?
Weight – How thick or heavy? Will the pieces fit into the dishwasher? How much storage space do you have?
Shape – Plain, scalloped, round or squared? Be mindful that square edges are easily chipped so maybe keep those for less-frequently used items.
Size – The average dinner plate is 10”, and dessert or salad plates are usually around 8”. Buffet, or chop plates are 11”+, and some people just go with those as regular dinner plates. Pay special attention to the size of the cups/mugs and bowls. Do you like a generously sized mug, or cup, or do you prefer something more delicate?
Shade – Stark white, creamier or with blue/grey undertones?
- Stoneware is glazed over dark clay, so it will be more earth-toned, not pure white
- Creamware or Faience ware are creamy white
- Porcelain leans towards stark white with tinges of blue/grey
- Bone china tends to be a warmer white, and is more translucent.
Some of my favourites:
Country Heritage by Villeroy and Boch. Finely textured porcelain, it’s durable and not too heavy. The pattern comes with wonderfully shaped serving pieces, good sized mugs and the rice bowls are a fabulous size for soup, cereal or chili. The bowl they describe as “cereal” is more like a fruit nappy – excellent for berries, but too small for general use, so keep that in mind.
Juliska carries several beautiful lines of stoneware, including Berry and Thread and their Jardins du Monde patterns. Juliska also has complementary coloured pieces, including an interesting pewter glaze, so you might consider those for pasta bowls, dessert or bread and butter plates, or serving pieces for some added variety.
Arte Italica has some fabulous porcelain, including their pewter rimmed and topped Perlina and Tuscan lines, and their whimsical Campagna, Mare and Giardino serving pieces are adorable. A very clear white porcelain, fairly heavy to the hand, it makes a bold statement. Although the manufacturer indicates it is dishwasher safe on a low setting, extra care may be required, and of course pewter cannot be placed in the microwave under any circumstances. I also love their Mercatto Antique, a stoneware. It was patterned after a process of pressing lace into the wet clay. Scrumptious.
Hartley Greens produces some stunning Creamware, from the lacey, reticulated edged pieces to plainer varieties. Gien has a couple of plain white choices including Evol Blanc and their warm ivory Pont au Choux pattern.
You can’t go wrong with Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma or Pottery Barn’s offerings, either. They run the gamut from Pottery Barn’s catering boxes to the higher end porcelain at Williams Sonoma. Lots of variety and something to suit every budget.
If you’re out and about and see something that strikes your fancy, think about checking Replacements.com. They have a phenomenal inventory and their weekly newsletter lists special sales. You will likely need to know what you’re looking ahead of time for the site is listed by manufacturer and then pattern, but once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it’s a treasure-trove of opportunity. It’s also fun to just snoop around and see what catches your fancy.