Simple white china and clear glass look elegant but feel casual. It’s all in the details, so choose pierced and etched designs to add interest without distracting.

Photo: Lauren Rubinstein

Hand-wash only, please.

Abigail Wilt

When my Great-Aunt Dot asked me if I wanted the two boxes of china from her basement, I jumped at the chance. Let me preface this by saying that I have no room in my small apartment for two additional boxes of china. And, yes, I am still hoping to take my Grandma’s china if she’ll offer it to me. 

Heirloom china is a Southern girl’s legacy. It moves delicately from grandmother to mother to daughter, all the way down the line, until you find yourself gently wrapping up your bone china teacups in brown paper and bubble wrap and passing them on to your own daughter. At least, that’s my hope.

My mother put great emphasis on which occasions were special enough to warrant china. I have vivid memories of eating our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners off of her white china plates with green leaves, accompanied by polished silver forks and knives. Although my siblings and I would always complain about having to wash the dishes by hand, I now understand the care that goes into maintaining vintage china.

The short answer to this question is yes, absolutely. Southern girls are still Southern girls, and we would never refuse an heirloom as precious as dishes from our Mama’s cupboard. How I plan to use her china, however, is different than how my mother would use it. I grew up with matching plates, saucers, and soup bowls. Those swirling green vines and dainty leaves on my mother’s china are forever burned into my mind (I saw them briefly as I’d cover them with mounds of mashed potatoes and creamed corn).

Now that I own a mismatched set, I stray from the matching plates and bowls that I grew up with. I think that china can be mixed and matched, often times with regular ol’ saucers and dishwasher-friendly silverware. I have no desire to keep my legacy locked away for a special occasion; I believe that using the plates that I grew up revering on holidays is a privilege I’d like to show off.

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So, if you come to dinner – which I hope you will – at my small apartment, please don't be shocked to see that the place settings aren’t as coordinated as my mother’s. I may have solid green soup bowls to complement the green vines, and my polished silver hasn’t yet been passed down. But, I know the importance of keeping and preserving this tradition, and I intend to teach my daughter the same thing.

No dishwashers allowed.