Negotiating a New China Policy

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It’s time to register for your first china set, real silverware (not the stainless steel you’ve always been using) and those gorgeous crystal wine glasses. Are you lost? Many brides are, and some opt to skip the tradition altogether.

But if you’re one of 75 percent of the brides who register for tableware, we’ve talked with experts to find out what’s hot and what to look for. And if you don’t care to register, we have some tips for you, too.

Think Color and Style
White plates? Sure, they are out there, and the majority of women settle on china that matches their wedding gowns: basic white. But now, just as color has crept into some gown designs, it’s also found its way onto formal china.

Many companies are coming out with charger plates – the oversized, flat plate that often rest underneath the dinner plate in a formal setting – bursting with color, with the other elements bearing a more austere design. Royal Doulton’s Precious Platinum collection, for example, includes seven different accent plates. It’s the company’s fastest-selling china pattern, according to spokeswoman Hanna Shin.

“You can mix and match patterns and different colors,” Shin says.

The same mix-and-match approach goes for glassware. Tinted ones are all the rage, says Sharon Naylor, author of “The Ultimate Wedding Registry Workbook” (Citadel Press, 2005). “Brides are more apt to experiment with colored glass and crystal, which add a lot of flavor to the table. Now, everything is about art and technology.”

That means irregular shapes in glass, funky patterns and references to nature, such as coral or sea life, says Dori Rootenberg, owner of Jacaranda, a New York retailer of handcrafted tableware and gifts made by South African artists.

Zig-zag down the aisle: When it comes to silverware, patterns are in.especially sleek, intricate designs. Lunt Silver When it comes to silverware, patterns are in. While most brides choose clean, straightforward patterns that aren’t too modern, “What’s hot now are intricate laser designs or sleek designs,” Naylor says.

To Match … or Not?
Should your plates match your crystal, which matches your silver forks? Do you get glasses from one store and plates from another? It all depends on the look you want.

“People are breaking the rules,” Rootenberg says. “They are mixing textures and mixing patterns. Especially my friends on second marriages, they don’t want to do the matchy-matchy thing anymore.”

When Boston celebrity event planner Bryan Rafanelli designs tables at weddings, he says he likes to create a balance, and recommends using the same philosophy at home.

“I recommend not getting matching everything, because you are going to get bored with that,” Rafanelli says. “Part of the fun is wanting adventure and not having everything figured out for you.”

Skip the Formal Stuff?
A significant number of brides just aren’t going for fancy china. Sales of formal dinnerware have declined from about $1 billion in 2001 to just $345 million in 2005, according to a report by Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing. Her report says one-fourth of brides want nothing to do with china.

If that’s you, there are still tons of options. Most fine china companies have incorporated casual (but still moderately expensive) designs into their offerings.

Lenox began adding casual designs with lower prices (and a mug instead of a teacup and saucer) about six years ago when it sensed the trend, and has a line of acrylic and melamine plates for summer use.

One major tip is to be practical: There is no need to have separate glasses for white and red wine if you are not a serious wine person. A medium-sized Bordeaux-shape glass can serve both purposes.

24/7 dishes: Many brides skip fine china and settle on more modestly priced dinnerware to use for all occasions. Above, Buffalo China’s retro Lemon Drop ceramic plates. General Tips
When you first walk into the store, you can get incredibly overwhelmed. “I equate it to walking into the women’s department of your favorite store,” Rafanelli says. “Apply the same philosophy to shopping for dishes. Just think: Do you want something that’s hot now, or something that is timeless?”

He suggests taking the plates you like off the shelf and really looking at them. Also, look at how they’re displayed to get ideas.

When setting up your registry, consider how you’ll use your formal china. How frequently do you think you’ll have friends over? How big is your family? Are you inheriting china that you want to integrate with your new stuff? Also, think about the future: You won’t always be living in that apartment.

Most of the time, you’ll want at least 12 five-piece place settings (typically a dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, cup and saucer) of fine china, but you might want to ask for 14 to 16 sets, so you’re prepared for surprise guests or a broken dish.

Carley Roney, editor in chief and co-founder of the Knot, an online wedding planning and registry site, argues in one of her books that every couple should register for good china because it can add pizzazz to any meal and make intimate dinners seem more romantic – and, because it is expensive, it is the perfect thing to let someone else buy for you.

“Owning china,” she says, “makes you two bona fide adults.”

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