Setting the Table

October 15, 2012

Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: Brette starts setting the table, with plates, bowls, and silveware.


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The eggs are fried; the onions, chopped; the batter, mixed; the zucchini, sliced. I’ve boiled my pasta, I’ve blended my soup, I’ve zested my lemons, I’ve roasted my carrots.

Thanks to you, cooking in my First Kitchen is getting easier: more streamlined, more efficient.

Now, for the (even more) fun part: eating.

Because what’s the fun of a perfectly-blended soup without a bowl to put it in, a spoon to eat it with? That perfectly-chopped salad is nothing without a dish to serve it on; that fried egg, burnt without a plate to catch it. 

There’s enough food to fill the table. Now: it’s time to eat.

Since this is a first kitchen, I have no real excuse for fancy flatware and silverware. (Sigh. My time will come.) Instead, I’m looking for plain, sturdy, dependable dishes, ones to stack and set and pile high with food. Wide plates, deep bowls: dishes ready to be filled. 

donna hay collection

To box or not to box?

My love for kitchenware has instilled a deep, bristly, and lasting distrust in boxed sets. 

It may be time to get over that.

Because for silverware, plates, bowls, and the like, many of the cheaper options come in a set. It’s the bulk bin of kitchenware: more bang for your buck. And since I’m big on entertaining, I’ll use both the small and large plates: for a college student, anything more than one course is fancy. Special. Elegant. 

Since my plates and bowls won’t be any of those adjectives, you can bet my food will make up for it.

The donna hay Modern Classic Dinnerware Collection ($49.99) seems like a good deal: white, sturdy, and plain. It’s a starter set for the mismatched patterns and scalloped edges of my dream kitchen, one that comes with the standard large plates, small plates, mugs, and bowls. On the other hand, CB2 carries single plates for $5.95: ones to add to my collection eventually, but ones that seem silly to buy separately to start. 

As for silverware, this 20-piece set from CB2 is clean, easy, and a touch funky: perfect accompaniments for the solid white dishes. 

ABC Home plate

Spicing it up

One of the best things about plain, white, boring dishes: they match well with anything. They’re the perfect blank slate to build a bright, patterned kitchen around, the perfect foils for the dishes I pick up along the way, that I pick up at vintage stores and yard sales, that I treat myself to at ABC Home, that I get as gifts for my birthday. I’m sure that you’ve collected these as you and your kitchens have grown up. Where are your favorite places to get silverware and dishware, and do you have recommendations for growing my collection?


Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Charlie H. February 23, 2014
It may be a bit late in the game, but let me suggest Corelle Livingware. Unlike some other varieties of Corelle, Livingware is the Vitrelle glass product that's been made since the 1970's. I've had mine since 1978, and I can testify that it's practical, versatile, and well-nigh indestructible. It also stands up to the microwave, the oven, and the freezer. And in white, it looks more like china than the alternatives.
lastnightsdinner October 17, 2012
I have a wonderful boxed set of basic white dishes from Williams-Sonoma that have been with me for most of my adult life. My favorite places to pick up fun and funky accent pieces are Fishs Eddy and Pearl River Mart here in NYC.
Kitchen B. October 16, 2012
Oh, I'm excited, and I'm not even planning on a first kitchen! I should be in NY in December and I'm filing away these tips so I can ferret out some great finds - thanks.
nasilemak October 15, 2012
West Elm has nice contemporary designs and worth checking the sales section.
Greenstuff October 15, 2012
Hah! I was going to suggest Ikea or Crate and Barrel for basic white as a good first kitchen starting place. You've found the perfect midpoint with CB2. Now beyond that, it really depends on your taste. My daughter, who is probably not too far from your age, likes color. She's picked up a number of coffee bowls, ceramic cups, and other things in rainbows of colors. Fiestaware could fill the same niche. She also picked out a a colorful set of dishes from her grandmother's estate--not the fanciest of the heirlooms, but personally meaningful, plus they blend in with both the basic white and with her color mix of other dishes.

The important thing for you is to be aware of just where you are in life--how much of your collection are you willing to abandon at any point--for my daughter, it was the Ikea dishes and silverware that could go. She may well have a similar set where she is now (far away). The colorful coffee bowls and her grandmother's dishes are temporarily residing here, only in semi-storage, as I like them too. How much do you want to be free, and how much are you ready to invest in a more permanent future?
Sadassa_Ulna October 15, 2012
I see in your "Spicing It Up" paragraph you are already an avid thrift store hound. For inexpensive basics I like the "everyday white" line at BB&B for some things. I recently bought rimmed soup/salad porcelain bowls at $4.99 ea. and I have bought some serving pieces from that line I really liked, elongated rounded ended like giant tic-tacs. Not sure if they have those? Hold on to those BB&B coupons!
I have found nice things at TJ Maxx too. I have small bowls in plain white porcelain as well as patterned from Chinatown.
IKEA has some nice basic white deep bowls. (Or they did...)
Now I want to go shopping! Good luck have fun!
mrslarkin October 15, 2012
That's a pretty set of white dishes. Love the footed cups and bowls.

I love anything vintage. I was obsessed with finding one of those cake breaker thingies after Merrill's story, and found one last spring at a big antiques market nearby. Goodwill is a gold mine for funky stuff (and inexpensive!) I found a small Simon Pearce bowl for $5 last year. Tag sales and estate sales are great places to look, also. Good luck, Brette!
Brette W. October 16, 2012
Great to know! Thanks, mrslarkin!
JustSomeCook October 15, 2012
If you want mismatched start thrift storing your plates, you will find them for less than $2 each. Plates are one of the many things that I feel that there is no reason to buy new.
drbabs October 15, 2012
I've been really lucky at TJ Maxx--I've gotten dishes, serving pieces, gadgets, even Calphalon cookware and bakeware and Le Creuset, all at great prices. I've also bought serving pieces on ebay. When Merrill featured a cake breaker (looks like a comb), I remembered that I had wanted my grandmother's, but my sister called dibs when we cleaned out her house after Hurricane Katrina. I found one on ebay, so now my sister and I both have one! But I digress...sorry. Happy shopping.
Brette W. October 16, 2012
Never would of thought of TJ Maxx! Thanks, drbabs!
AntoniaJames October 15, 2012
I couldn't live without my deep blue and white bowls from the hardware store in Chinatown. Independent kitchen shops are great places to find unusual serving utensils, especially salad servers. Also, estate sales and "high end" charity shops are gold mines for ornate sterling pie and cake servers and serving spoons and forks, crystal pitchers and decanters, and serving dishes of all kinds. ;o)
Brette W. October 16, 2012
Oooh! The stuff of my dreams!