The Plate Project

I recently realized that, as an adult, I’ve invested a lot of time looking for the perfect set of dinnerware I’ll never buy.

Yes, I’ve shopped for new dishes many times. Plates and bowls come in so many beautiful shapes, colors, materials, and designs. But I’ve only purchased them once. Thinking back, I always had something that did the job. There was never a practical reason to spend money on new dishes.

"Dragonfly" by Retroneu

“Dragonfly” by Retroneu

When I moved into my first apartment, I bought a Retroneu 16-piece place setting for four; it was standard quality: four each of dinner plates, salad plates, bowls, and mugs. They had a pretty watercolor design; four main colors rotated through the set so they all coordinated but didn’t match. They had solid brushed color on the outside of the bowls, a large dragonfly on each dinner plate, and two flowers on each salad plate. I bought them on a bright, sunny day when my mom and I were shopping in Lancaster, PA. Strange how the brain can recall such details.

It’s worth noting that the dishes weren’t what I would typically select. I’ve never been a pastel, watercolor kind of gal. But they called to me, I guess. I used the dishes in my apartments and even in my first house. Over time, a plate broke and a mug was lost. Each time I thought to replace the set my practical side kept me from doing so. I was fond of them, too.

In 2003 I went through a huge life overhaul and made the shift from a house to an apartment. It was a defining moment – a fresh start in many ways. And it was the perfect occasion for new dinnerware!

There were so many styles to choose from; the search would take a couple of weeks. I needed something to use in the interim. My dragonfly set continued to dwindle during the move, and I no longer had enough pieces to get by.

Seth was transitioning to new dishes, and he offered me his old stoneware plates. I graciously accepted the beige, brown floral, (and honestly not so pretty) plates.

Now I’m sure the set was stylish when his mom purchased them in the early 1980s. They became Seth’s when he went to college in 1988. And now they would tide me over while I selected the perfect plates.

It’s funny, though, that when you don’t have an urgent need, things fall by the wayside. I became frustrated with my plate search: everything I liked either didn’t fit my budget or had tiny cereal/soup bowls. I wasn’t going to compromise. I’d rather eat on free ugly plates than pay for something I almost liked. I abandoned Project Plate as more important matters arose.

Seth rounded out his new set when I adopted the old. He had selected Corelle (vitrelle) dinnerware: all white with a slight texture around the rim. I didn’t care for the material. They seemed like a cheap excuse for plates: lightweight and clinky sounding when stacked. But Seth liked them, and that’s all that mattered.

Years passed. The tan and brown 80s plates stayed with me for 3 years of apartment living. I thought of renewing Project Plate when I bought my new house in 2010. I had to purchase other home goods, though, and decided to deal with dinnerware at another time.

Then in late 2012, Seth sold his house and moved in with me. We decided to donate the old dishes to Goodwill. The white Corelle plates were now front and center.

I guess plates, like people, can grow on you. Since they’re rather new and non-offensive, there is no reason to replace them. Plus, they do have some merits. They are lightweight (great for achy days), nearly indestructible, and microwave/dishwasher friendly. It’s also easy to find one-off pieces; we have customized the set for our needs: lots of plates and big bowls.

So while I may still ogle them in stores, I am officially retiring Project Plate. Once, I saw dinnerware as an opportunity to have a fun reflection of my style in everyday life. But now I view them as a tool, a means to an end.

It takes a little magic out of my world, to be honest. It reminds me of a more innocent time before my own practicality tightened its grip. But maybe not all hope for pleasing materialism is lost. Perhaps by retiring this objective I am making room for one anew.

11 responses to “The Plate Project

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