I find I am hostessing parties that feature "buffet spreads" about six times a year. These are casual parties ... book clubs, Bunco groups, football games. However, while they are casual, I feel my serving ware isn't making the grade. I use a lot of mismatched platters, serving dishes, etc. While I don't care for "matchy matchy" items, I do like an overall feel of cohesiveness.
I like pottery mixed with stoneware mixed with different tiered racks for height, etc. I'm ready to start upgrading. While I don't think these parties warrant silver and chaffing dishes, I do feel they need a classier feel.
How would you suggest I start my collection? Do I start with a color scheme? A variety of shapes/sizes? If you advise that I just "buy what I like" I'd respond by saying that is how I got here... with my hodge-podged effect. I need a plan!
As a veteran of the garage sale dishware club, I had difficulty answering this question, as I too could benefit from some help in this department. Over the past few years, I have upgraded to Crate & Barrel Outlet in Alexandria, Va., where I've found not just plates but serving dishes, pasta bowls and platters.
My preference for mix-and-match pieces stems from my artistic, antique-collecting mother, whose multi-colored dreamcoat sensibilities (there was a pink piano in the dining room) are forever ingrained in my housekeeping DNA (I too find myself getting on all fours to wash the kitchen floor, just like she did when we were kids).
When it comes to a color scheme, I take a more holistic approach -- how does my motley assortment of plates mesh with the table runner or fabric I've laid on the table... or do I have a really cool platter that ties everything together. I am getting better about incorporating neutrals with brights rather than a crazy-patchwork quilt of dishware on the table -- so now I do look for whites and bamboo, which also are great for bridging the gap between casual and more formal gatherings.
So, I'm with you, Lima, I need a little help building an entertaining tool kit. Thank goodness several readers (and one washingtonpost.com expert) have chimed in, offering a variety of suggestions on bridging the color scheme gap.
On neutralizing brights:
A few pieces of Corning Ware French white has been a good solution for me. I incorporate it on the table with some of the colored platters and it seems to come together nicely. I try to get the colored ones on the table to be of a same color scheme. And use a nice white tablecloth as a ground. This works well for me because I cannot stop buying beautiful stoneware, pottery, etc.
Hi neighbor, I'm just down I-75. I find that on the buffet table itself, I want plain colors to show off the food. Plates and saucers can be patterned.
Color scheme or theme?
Matching the type of serving dishes is a good way to go -- do all china, or all stoneware, or all artisanal pottery -- the pieces themselves don't have to match, although it is nice to get colors that go together (like the earthy family of red, brown, grey, etc), but you don't need them all to look the same.
Janet Bennett, who oversees Home, Fashion and Beauty for washingtonpost.com, added her useful two cents: "I think it's important to have a color scheme in mind when you build a collection. Think about what colors mix well with your dÃ©cor. Some variation in shape and size is good, but don't go too wild, because you'll wind up with too haphazard a look -- just what you want to avoid."
Beyond color: Shapes, sizes, height:
You ought to be able to hit the flea markets and still find decent Depression Glass pieces, which make great serving dishes for small things -- spreads, dips, butter. Square platters and plates are nice if your buffet table has limited space.
Long ago, a friend used to use glass blocks that can be found at home improvement stores to stagger heights of things -- they can be stacked, are affordable, and fit a variety of styles.
"Even though these parties may not warrant silver chafing dishes," says Janet Bennett, "a little silver (candlesticks, for example.) goes a long way to flattering any table. In lieu of a tablecloth, try a piece of coordinating fabric as a runner."
Whew. I feel better already. Lima, how about you? Let's keep the momentum going and the ideas flowing, in the comments area below. Calling all home entertainers! How do you keep your serving ware collection from looking like a patchwork quilt?
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