DISHES AS DECOR, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I use all kinds of plates and dishware as decorative elements all over my house. It makes sense in the kitchen and dining areas, but I also use them in my bedroom and bathroom and in my bookcases.

This is an arrangement of prints and plates on my small bedroom wall

On the large wall of my bedroom, I used a mid-century mirror from the Algonquin Hotel in NYC as the centerpiece. I surrounded the mirror with prints and plates to create a large vignette across the entire wall.

Long shot of the wall
This is my ‘toilet room’, as you can see by the toilet paper holder in this decorative vignette
This is a decorative baker’s rack used to display plates and chatchkus in the bathroom
Whimsical teapot and teacup in my bookcase
Teacups and matching dessert plates used with bookends to create a fun moment in my bookcase

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I love to use all kinds of dishes and serving pieces as part of the decor in my home. I find it’s an inexpensive way to fill the walls and the shelves all over the house.

In Part 1, I showed you the kitchen area, where you would be most likely to find dishes as part of the decor. Now we’re moving into my family room, my dining room, and my foyer, where I also use decorative plates and other dishes, such as candy dishes.

These plates are in the wall cabinet in my dining room. I use the other dishes from these sets when I have company.
One of my favorite mid-century candy dishes used in the hanging shelves in the dining room
These two mid-century candy dishes are in the large, decorative bookcase in the family room
Red and blue mid-century candy dishes accent my artwork in the family room
This Crate and Barrel platter works beautifully with my art deco decanter and a modern glass box in my foyer. They sit on a 1906 stove with a glass top over the burners.

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Growing up, we had some beautiful sets of China that we actually used to eat on. My mother also displayed pieces of her china sets whenever possible. So I love dishware and always try to buy interesting and beautiful pieces for meals, but also to use as part of the decor. It is an inexpensive way to add interesting chatchkas to your home – and my home is full of chatchkas, often arranged into decorative vignettes.

Here are some of the dishes I’ve used in my kitchen, eating area and sun porch, on shelves, on tables, and on the walls.

This cabinet is mostly decorative and I rarely use those items.
This cabinet is totally functional and houses my everyday dishes and cups.

I also use plates as wall decor.

The same fish plates used on top of the cabinets above the stove area in the kitchen

I still have many of my mother’s and my old china sets that are too country or too formal for my homey but modern house today. They also don’t fit in with my mostly aqua and turquoise color scheme. But I still love them and want to share them with you.

Formal dessert set I got for my first wedding in 1974
The charming and less formal set I bought for my first home in New York City in 1974 (from Italy)
My favorite of all my mother’s china sets which we used in our summer, country style house in CT

AN ANCIENT WORLD IN YOUR HANDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I collect very old Chinese porcelain. I used to have a lot more of it, but in the name of de-cluttering, I divided my collection and gave the other half to my best friend who I knew would appreciate it.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD
Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

The Chinese government has not always been diligent in managing their national treasures. Sometimes, it was a political decision. Many times, foreigners have stolen the best and most beautiful, which is why you will see so much Chinese art in English and American museums. They didn’t give it to us; we didn’t buy it. We stole it. What a shock they aren’t as in love with us as we think they ought to be.

Very fragile — and broken. All I have left is this single photograph.

In recent decades, the issues have been pragmatic — lack of money. There is so much that needs preservation. The U.S. has difficulty preserving our 250 years of history. Imagine how hard — and expensive — if your nation’s history goes back thousands of years. And your country is huge and densely populated.

Suddenly, preservation becomes more than slightly daunting.

Counter point - Modern Limoge ca 1965 alongside Song dynasty vase (China Song Dynasty 960-1279 AD). I use the vase for single roses. Perfect size.
Counter point – Modern Limoges ca 1965 alongside Song dynasty vase (China Song Dynasty 960-1279 AD). I use the vase for single roses. Perfect size.

Private collectors — like me — who have become custodians of some of these very old things have an obligation to care for them. We have to make sure they will be inherited by others who will treasure them. That’s not as easy as you might think. Not everyone “gets it.” And many people have no room; they have their own stuff and can’t help with yours.

I could have sold my pots but I didn’t want them to go to the highest bidder. I wanted them to be where they would be loved. If that sounds weird, you have never collected antiquities.

Antique Famille Rose Porcelain plate

When you hold one of these pieces, you in the most literal sense hold history in your hand. Imagine how many people have held this vase, this statue, this oil lamp. How many lives this pot has touched. Imagine!

PRICELESS

There was a time when many items in my world were priceless. Many of them were items without significant dollar value, but they had great emotional or sentimental value. Then came a time when I realized these priceless things had morphed into dust collectors. I enjoy them, but they are long past priceless and have become part of the stuff I will I would happily give to someone who would treasure them — and dust them — rather than me.

Antique Famille Rose porcelain plate
Very old Han pot, Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.)

Funny thing about the way things change. The stuff that was priceless becomes clutter. Attractive, elegant clutter. Much of it becomes burdensome instead of priceless, unless priceless also means no one is willing to pay to take it away. I suppose that might be another interpretation.

Now, life is priceless. Maybe, honor, too.

ONE JAPANESE TEA SET OVER THE LINE

Garry went to New York to help clean out his parents home on Long Island. He went with my explicit instructions: do not bring home anything. We have no room. NO ROOM. None. Anywhere. Not on the shelves, the cabinets, the tops of the bookcases. Nowhere.

He was pretty good about it. All he brought home was one lovely Japanese tea set. Five cups. I assume one was broken. Plus the teapot, sugar bowl, and creamer. Lovely. Dragon style, which is a favorite of mine.

Not long ago. I gave away a nearly identical tea set as a wedding present, but clearly I am supposed to have a Japanese tea set. It must be a genetic thing. This is not my first … or fifth … Japanese tea set. I have had antiques. New ones. Sets made for children. Many sets made in weird shapes which were surely never meant for the actual serving of tea.

I recognized that I could not escape this tea set. I rearranged the stuff in my glass chest and somehow managed to fit it in. I’m so glad there were only five cups. One more, and I would have been lost.

It’s a beautiful set. Made of the finest porcelain so lightweight it’s almost not there. Beautiful, but my problem is not a dearth of beautiful things. I have far too many beautiful things and I wish someone else wanted them. I’d happily give them away, including some rare, very old Chinese porcelain.

Does anyone need a lovely, handmade Japanese tea set? I’ve got an extra.

ANTIQUE CHINESE CHICKEN PORCELAIN

It is not leftovers that have stayed too long in the refrigerator.

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Typical famille rose design on an antique porcelain plate

You may know (or not) I have been a collector — in a small way — of antique Chinese porcelain and Asian art. As a collector, I love flea markets and yard sales. It’s part of the collecting mystique, that one day someone will be selling a great antique piece for a few dollars and I will be there to grab it.

It happened. Twice, to be exact. One pieces I got was a small, 200-year-old Qing dynasty pitcher. In pretty good shape. Got it for five dollars, sold it for $150. Ka-ching!

The other was a little dish which I’ve kept. It’s decorated with blue and yellow chickens. It’s a rice bowl, the sort of thing a working man might carry to work and use to eat his lunch. The piece fits loosely into the category of famille rose. Or famille verte. I haven’t decided if rose or green is the dominant color.

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They are both a style rather than a dynasty, though the vast majority of piece in this category are between one and two hundred years old. Most of these pieces are elaborately decorated, but simple pieces were made for regular folks.

qing famille rose rice bowl

Chinese porcelain was secular. Art for art’s sake. Decorative. Non-collectors may assume Chinese porcelain was lavish. What I would call “imperial porcelain.” Certainly some very fine porcelain was made for the wealthiest members of society, but much of it was not. The Chinese were very egalitarian, believing that everyone needed art, the same way everyone needs food.

Food feeds the body. Art feeds the soul.

blue chicken on a qing dyn rice bowl antique porcelain

Art — dishes, figures, vases, ginger jars and so much more — was made for peasants, servants. Middle, and upper classes. Beauty was not a privilege of the few, but part of life for everyone.

The concept of art for everybody delights me. Too many people think art is a waste of money because it has no “function.” Merely being beautiful isn’t enough for them.

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In this bowl indeed has a function, but it wasn’t painted to make it more functional. It would hold a man’s rice without hand-painted chickens. But me? I prefer it with chickens. In fact, I just love those chickens!