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Mismatched plates are must-haves

26 Feb Mismatched plates are must-haves

A cauliflower salad dish at Bank & Bourbon in the Loew's Hotel, where mismatched plates are giving local dinner tables a vintage feel on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. (AARON WINDHORST / Staff Photographer)

A dish of cauliflower salad at Bank & Bourbon in the Loews Hotel, where mismatched plates provide diners with a colorful, vintage and homey feel. (AARON WINDHORST / Staff Photographer)

By Elizabeth Wellington, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: October 31, 2015

Each meal served on Bank & Bourbon’s rustic wooden tables features pristine place settings with bread plates that do not match.

Like, at all.

Nonetheless, the china patterns – one with tiny, blue flowers; another trimmed in gold; one with a single red robin at its center – are harmonious. The dishes complement one another in such a way that the tableware in the 18-month-old upscale restaurant at the Loews Hotel looks both traditional and eclectic.

“The idea was for people to feel comfortable and cozy,” said Jaimi Blackburn, Loews’ director of public relations, who also happens to be the person who combs eBay for Bank & Bourbon’s funky plates.

The result: 500 mismatched bread plates in the everyday rotation, and 200 main course ones. The bigger plates – what the staff lovingly refers to as “grandma” plates – are used to serve those meals most likely to be on your family’s secret recipe list: cauliflower salad or blueberry pancakes, for instance.

“I wanted people to look down and think about their kitchen tables, back to a time when things weren’t perfect, but were really perfect,” Blackburn said.

Bank & Bourbon is not alone in its attempt to bring imperfect perfection to high-end dining. Other Center City restaurants, including Audrey Claire and the Dandelion, use mismatched dinnerware to make patrons feel their meals were whipped up with the kind of old-school love Mom provided. There is, after all, nothing more farm-to-table than what may actually have appeared on a table at a farm.

But it’s not just restaurants giving mismatched plates their latest glamorous reputation. Brides are requesting their wedding-day place settings to include a mishmash of china patterns, too.

It can be a cheaper way than elaborate floral arrangements to add color and interest to a table. Not to mention: A blue English china pattern from the 1890s interspersed with pink, floral-trimmed plates from the 1940s shows a couple’s commitment to individuality, much like donning a blush wedding gown or getting married at a vineyard.

“It’s a way for people to express their creativity and make an event personal and unique,” said Jeffrey Miller, owner of Jeffrey Miller Catering in Center City. He said one-fourth of couples request disparate place settings.

Mismatched plates at a wedding at Anthony Wayne House in Paoli. From Jeffrey A. Miller Catering. Photo courtesy of Sarah Di Cicco Photography

“These are our most upscale brides, too,” Miller added. And it doesn’t stop at the china, he said. Clients are asking for the flatware not to match, either.

Matching sets of china go back to 18th-century royalty, when kings and queens in Europe commissioned big service sets of china from Royal Copenhagen, the official royal porcelain factory in Denmark, said David Barquist, the H. Richard Dietrich Jr. curator of American decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

But aristocrats then used far fewer plates because the style of eating – service à lafrançaise – required only serving dishes and one plate for all the courses.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, when high society began dining à larusse – today’s custom, which stipulates a new, different plate for each course – that large matching sets of china came into vogue. And owning all those pieces showed you could afford to buy the set all at once.

As the mid-1800s rolled in, people got bored staring at a single pattern, and the noble class commissioned firms such as Homer Laughlin and Haviland & Co. to produce china in an array of patterns that shared the same theme or color story. (President Rutherford B. Hayes was known for his of-the-moment nature-inspired dinner service.) Although the patterns varied, the pieces were considered sets.

With the turn of the 20th century came mass production, and china became more accessible.

It also enabled families to buy piecemeal from large sets – maybe each year at wedding anniversaries – but the bar had been set: a middle-class family had a set, or two, of matching china. And it remained that way through the 1990s.

As the millennium dawned, a few things happened in American homes to create a backdrop that would dim those sets: Vintage was all the buzz, and all things do-it-yourself were lauded.

So, if the butter dish from Grandma’s now-precious-because-it’s-on-Pinterest 1940s Lenox china set gets broken, it’s OK to replace it with a more modern piece.

“If you add a new salad plate or a dinner plate, you can further personalize what has been handed down to you,” said Sherri Crisenbery, vice president of Lenox, based in Bristol.

Perhaps it’s an oxymoron, but the value in creating a mixed look that matches has grown over the last five years.

Enter companies such as Replacements Ltd., which helps shoppers – in both its brick-and-mortar store and online at replacements.com – ensure that what they choose does not clash.

“It’s about blending multiple color patterns within the same color palette,” said Julie Robbins, a place-setting designer at Replacements who sees no sign of the mix/match trend letting up.

“People are blending paisleys and stripes with more traditional patterns,” Robbins said. “It’s almost like how we work patterns together on a sofa or on the runway. We are expressing ourselves on our table.”

Bank & Bourbon went the mixed-plates route because Blackburn thought its all-American aesthetic needed a sweet yet rugged look. She replaces the plates about four times a year with one caveat – she doesn’t spend more than $5 on each.

Blackburn doesn’t have a favorite time period, but the restaurant’s six-inch bread plate collection is heavy on Noritake and Lenox patterns in dainty florals.

“You can see it in their eyes as they are about to eat,” Blackburn said of Bank & Bourbon’s customers. “They realize the different plates and they smile, and you can tell it’s such a pleasant surprise.”

ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

*This article is written @http://articles.philly.com/.

 

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