Home Accessories

Plate accompli

Changing cuisines, sharing menus and a renewed interest in home entertaining demand a new approach to tableware, says Nicole Swengley.

August 27 2011
Nicole Swengley

As creative chefs rewrite the rule books and culinary inspiration bubbles up from all corners of the globe, homeowners are looking for a new approach to tableware that will satisfy a variety of foodie needs. A renewed interest in cooking and home entertaining also lies behind the demand for new styles of tableware. Informal conviviality is increasingly preferred to formal dinners, and many styles of cuisine naturally lend themselves to shared dishes rather than a succession of separate courses. Martin Raymond, editor-in-chief of trends forecasting consultancy LS:NGlobal, observes: “Rolling dishes delivered in a steady flow are changing the dynamic of the eating experience, making it less staged and more intimate.”

This mode of dining is not, however, new to Western society. “The serving method where each dish is prepared in the kitchen, then brought to the table, one after another, is a direct derivative of service à la russe, introduced to Paris early in the 19th century by the ambassador to Tsar Alexander I,” says Alberto Alessi, CEO of Italian brand Alessi. “Before that, as far back as the Middle Ages, service à la française was the norm, in which each course comprised many different dishes all placed on the table at the same time, leaving guests to serve themselves. By the second half of the 19th century most people were using the new Russian method at home and in public.”

Ronan Bouroullec who, with his brother Erwan, designed Alessi’s Ovale tableware collection (from £7.50) cites our multicultural dining habits as another reason manufacturers are rethinking their designs. “Everyone is in touch with so many different food cultures these days that it is changing the architecture of dining,” he says. “So we were interested in finding a logical shape that allows you to use a dish or plate for any purpose so they can be used interchangeably. For example, we removed the positioning circle from a coffee cup saucer so it can also be used as a dessert plate.”

The Bouroullecs’ designs range from tiny stoneware dishes (£7.50, ideal for soy sauce or dips) to handle-free mocha cups (£7.50) and gently asymmetrical lidded containers (from £33). “The style is delicate, expressive, almost neo-primitive,” adds Alessi. Just as suited to contemporary dining tables are Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas’s all-purpose, amoeba-shaped Colombina bowls, plates and cups in red, white or black (flat plate, from £17) for Alessi.

Other long-established manufacturers are tuning into the trend. “Ceramics and gastronomy have always shared a common universe,” says Pierre Casenove of Jars Céramistes. Aware that today’s homeowners are not just looking for an artisanal savoir-faire with stoneware but want fresh shapes and flexibility of use, he features an all-purpose, slender, boat-shaped serving dish in earthy tones (£21) in the Madrague range, while rectangular platters (£25-£40) in the Tima collection hold smaller, removable dishes for condiments.

But aesthetics are not sacrificed to functionality. Delicate, ragged edges and a soft blue wash give Plume plates and bowls a distinctive character (dinner plate, £22.50). And Tourron’s strong tones (from £16.50) – lemon, orange, red – work well in contrast; for example, when a round orange bowl (from £9.95) is placed on top of a square, slightly cupped blue Toba plate (£25; square plate, £28). “Jars has mastered the art of balancing classic and contemporary forms,” says Lindy Wiffen of specialist retailer Ceramica Blue. “Innovative and practical shapes are combined with uniquely coloured and textured glazes; I find the designs are often chosen by my restaurant clients as well as homeowners.”

Pillivuyt, one of the oldest French porcelain brands, and a favourite with top chefs, offers tableware for every culinary need imaginable. Its Alizée collection, designed in collaboration with Babette de Rozières, includes deep plates shaped like a squashed top hat (Joséphine, £44.50), Leaf plates with curled, leaf-like edges (from £26) and plates emulating teardrops (Mini Colibri, £7.50) or banana leaves (plate, £19.50).

New tableware shapes were much in evidence at the last Paris interior design show, Maison et Objet, where Anthéor, a Provence-based company specialising in hand-crafted earthenware and stoneware, showed its Grand Siècle plates with flower-like rims in myriad shapes and sizes (dessert plate, from €22).

Hong Kong-based Loveramics’ Er-go! porcelain dinnerware (from $3), designed by Simon Stevens, caters for Eastern and Western cuisines with rice bowls ($6), soya dishes ($3), soup plates ($17) and pasta bowls ($25). Traditional teacups (with saucer, $17) and handle-free Oriental cups ($4) are included. With designs pared back to the simplest shapes, the mix of glazed and unglazed finishes serves a dual purpose by providing colour contrast and a secure grip on handle-free pieces.

In a similar spirit, Reiko Kaneko, a Japanese/English designer, brings Oriental influences to bear on the traditional British craft of fine bone china while fusing conventional skills with contemporary design input. Her designs, made in Stoke-on-Trent, include Boat, a rope-handled ceramic fruit bowl that doubles as a bread basket (£119), and Arctic ceramic shot glasses (set of four, £24.95). Five-sided, white Petal plates (£4.85) form a star pattern when six are grouped together with each slightly raised, single handle facing outwards, or a flower pattern if the handles face inwards. It’s a perfect way to serve canapés or amuse-bouches. Kaneko says: “Our aim is to raise a smile through functional, everyday objects.”