Every “good china” plate, saucer, egg cup and casserole dish was meant to be used—no matter how much your grandmother might’ve protested.

By Sarah Baird
January 24, 2020

Growing up, few things seemed more dazzling to me than the cabinet full of dinnerware, glasses and serving dishes at my grandmother’s house that we never, ever actually used for dining purposes. Emerald green parfait glasses that I could just imagine spooning ice cream out of; delicate porcelain plates with glittering gold trim passed down through generations; a red-velvet-lined wooden box with shiny silverware I dreamed of holding in my hot little hand during mealtime. (My fantasies were elaborate, what can I say.)

But for all practical purposes, these items might as well have been behind museum glass or part of a window display: there was an invisible “do not disturb” sign stopping anyone in their tracks who might actually want to—horror above horrors—actually eat with them.

That’s why, when I inherited several of the pieces as an adult, I made a promise to myself to break their “look, but don’t touch” legacy by (gasp!) using the good china regularly.

“Good china” in this instance is a catch-all term for those tableware items that previous generations often deemed too “fancy” or dainty for everyday use, and also conjures up memories of my grandmother dismissively balking at any mention of breaking the seal on the “do not disturb” cabinet by saying, “We might dirty up the good china.” (Yes, I’m aware this makes zero sense.)

But in my house today, dirtying up the “good china” is a pretty much daily occurrence. There’s something to be said for using beautiful, heirloom items in the course of day-to-day life as a way to bring a bit of celebration to even the most humdrum weekday meals. A bowl of hastily made spaghetti just feels a little bit more interesting in a gorgeous porcelain bowl, and an inexpensive bottle of red becomes festive in those lightweight, critical-darling wine glasses your sommelier friend splurged on for your wedding gift. 

Using the “good china” is also an instant mood-brightener. Often if I’m feeling a little glum, using one of my grandmother’s tea cups instead of a regular mug for my daily dose of earl gray is an instant mood brightener simply through the cup’s artistry and thoughtful details, as well as reminder of the strong family connection in pieces that have been treasured for generations. Do I sometimes worry I’ll accidentally break a cup or dish? Sure. But living in fear of klutzy disaster will never outweigh the importance of small, accessible moments of everyday happiness.

Every “good china” plate, saucer, egg cup and casserole dish was meant to be used—no matter how much your grandmother might’ve protested. Leaving these items to simply sit, looking pretty and collecting dust, seems to rob them of their utility and primary function in the world. So break out your fanciful cloth napkins for dinner tonight: It’s time to breath a little life back into the gorgeous pieces that have been sitting behind glass for too long.                    

 

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