Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Elegance at the table

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A thousand-year-old Chinese invention is enjoying a revival of sorts.

Porcelain, the beautiful translucent ceramic born of the purest clay, the finest stone, and the hottest fire, has reclaimed its status as the go-to dinnerware in many homes.

This role reversal follows decades of banishment to lighted cabinets in unused dining rooms, while plastics and inexpensive stoneware saw all the action at the kitchen table.

Barbara Luckeroth, who lives in Roeland Park, Kan., said choosing china is a simple way to treat yourself.

“It's special to have your meal on something nice after you went to all that work of cooking,” Ms. Luckeroth said.

Kids get it, and they don't even cook.

“Children understand porcelain better than adults,” said Doris Athineos, antiques editor of Traditional Home magazine. “Children would never play tea with paper cups. They instinctively appreciate [fine china] and are careful with it.”

Adults often have a false sense that because it is precious and beautiful, fine china is also delicate. Not so, say experts and collectors.

“Porcelain is not as fragile as you think it is,” said Sharon Gray of Independence, Mo. “It holds up. Some of mine is 40 years old, and it looks brand new.”

When Mrs. Gray and her husband moved to a smaller home, they downsized.

“I had to get rid of a lot of antiques, but I told my husband I couldn't get rid of my china,” Mrs. Gray said.

Among the many china pieces tucked into “just about every storage space” of the Grays' trailer home are various pink and blue toile patterns. Mrs. Gray sometimes uses pink settings at each end of the table with four blue settings. Or she might use pink china toile plates as chargers with pink glass plates from a dollar store on top.

Ms. Luckeroth also likes to mix and match her porcelain. In fact, she doesn't have a full set of any pattern. Instead she collects pieces that are stark white with silver trim. She said she finds “crazily inexpensive” pieces at estate sales, thrift stores, and garage sales.

Because she collects a “look” rather than a pattern, Ms. Luckeroth said, she can always find pieces to fit in: “I don't really have to worry about a piece breaking.”

Mary Ellen Pisanelli of Ottawa Hills said many of the ceramics in her collection hold special cultural significance to her and her daughters, Lia, a freshman at Ottawa Hills High School, and Eleni, a sophomore at Duke University. The three travel to Italy together every other summer.

Being of Italian heritage, Ms. Pisanelli said she is especially attracted to ceramic patterns in the Deruta style. Deruta is a town in Italy known for its intricate and colorful ceramic patterns. Some four months ago, Ms. Pisanelli bought a setting for eight in the Deruta style. Ms. Pisanelli, who is single, said she plans to hand down her china pieces to her daughters.

“I like the patterns because you get into something that doesn't just look pretty - they are pretty, but they've got a lot of history. Each style and pattern has a particular historical background ... I love that I can interchange them and that they are mix-and-match. It reminds me of so many beautiful, different things, and colors of Italy,” said Ms. Pisanelli, a partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick law firm, whose paternal grandfather, Gino Pisanelli, was a marble carver who hailed from Tuscany.

Ms. Athineos of Traditional Home offered a few guidelines for mixing styles of china:

Create settings where a single color is repeated in different patterns. “People jockey for position in front of their favorite setting when they're all unique.”

Use antique pieces as accents with a plain modern set that holds it all together. But stay away from white; ivory or cream work better with most antiques.

Don't mix transferware with hand-painted pieces. “You don't want it to look like a flea-market jumble on the table.”

Blade Staff Writer Rhonda B. Sewell contributed to this report.

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