This year, I am into polka dots. I was also into polka dots last year, but will I be into polka dots three years from now, or 10? There is no way of knowing. By 2026, I could be going through a blue-and-white china phase.
Such is the difficulty of making design decisions: It is nearly impossible to know exactly what you will want in the future, but you will be stuck with that dinnerware until the end of time (or until you donate it to Goodwill).
So what are you to do if you are in the market for new dishes and don't want to make choices you will inevitably regret? The answer, as with so many things, is to think simple.
Design 101: Never Underestimate the Power of Fundamentals
"I always say, get that basic thing that will not go old," advises designer David Monn. The author of the forthcoming The Art of Celebrating, Monn has chosen the dinnerware for White House state dinners and Chanel fashion events, for high-profile museum benefits and casual dinner parties at home.
So what does basic look like? You can't go wrong with classic porcelain in white or gray," says Monn. "Something that's neutral will always work with anything you put onto it."
That means saying no to stoneware, which is too casual for dressy dinners; no to metallic trims, which are too dressy for casual dinners; and absolutely no to bright patterns, which can be limiting.
Afraid basic is boring? You can always spice up your table with accent pieces. If we can all take one thing from Monn, it's that we should never, ever underestimate the power of the fundamentals — in dishware, or in life.
6 Dinnerware Sets That Will Outlast Your Design Whims
- Chinese Porcelain Classic Coupe 20-Piece Dinnerware Set with Classic Coupe Soup Bowl, $180 at Restoration Hardware: "Restoration Hardware has perfected the basics," says Monn, and you can't go wrong with the quiet elegance of this absurdly versatile set.
- Mud 3-Piece Place Setting with Bowl in Milk, $142 at Horne: Modern, minimalist, and just a little bit playful, this sleek set can be dressed up or toned down, depending on the occasion or your mood. That's the whole point of a really solid white service; it's the little black dress of dishware. (It is worth mentioning here that Mud makes this set in a whole rainbow of colors, although Monn would advise you against it.)
- Maison 4-Piece Place Setting, $40.95 at Crate & Barrel: "Stay away from patterns," Monn advises. "Stay away from color." This crisp set has neither, making it exceedingly appropriate for any and all situations. (If the idea of plain white makes you bristle, Monn suggests buying a single set of patterned plates — dessert, perhaps, or salad — rather than an entire service of it. That way, you can add some intrigue to your table without committing yourself to a lifetime of lime green toile.)
- Vera Organza 5-Piece Place Setting, $100 at Wedgewood: Although Monn may have no use for colors and patterns, he is not at all opposed to dishware with a design in the porcelain. With fabric-like folds along the edges, this Vera Wang bone china is eye-catching, but never overpowering.
- Entertain 365 Sculpture Mixed Round 4-Piece Place Setting, $59.95 at Lenox: Layering different designs in the same neutral color is a way to add a flair to your table. This gently eclectic set by Lenox mixes two different white-on-white patterns for a look that's different, sophisticated, and just a tiny bit quirky.
- Wickford Four-Piece Place Setting, $80 at Kate Spade: Clean and contemporary, these bright white plates get their understated character from the textured rope pattern coiling around the rim. They're distinctive, but it's a subtle kind of distinction.
Do you have dinnerware that you've had forever and still love?