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Fashion plates Don't just set your table -- dress it to reflect your personal style

The patterns are polka dots, stripes and florals. The colors are hot pink and emerald or, contrarily, muted blues and browns.

And, of course, metallics -- as well as black and white -- never go out of style.

No, we're not talking ready-to-wear here. We're talking dinnerware -- and the goblets, tablecloths and platters that come together to create today's ultra-chic tables at home.

"It's no longer what you wear to the dinner table; it's how you dress the dinner table. It's the runway of food fashion," said Joyce Zoerb, of Neo, a furniture and accessories store at 55 Allen St.

Anyone who has not checked out the latest looks in dinnerware and its table mates lately will undoubtedly be surprised at the selections. Every place from supermarkets to specialty stores sell the latest looks, and the options come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, price ranges and, yes, even shapes.

Square salad bowls, round place mats, triangular platters, oval dessert plates . . . it's all out there.

> Big names get involved

Guess who's coming to dinner? Well, there is handbag designer Kate Spade, of course, and Vera Wang, of wedding gown fame. They join Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Missoni, as well as architect Michael Graves and celebrity party planner Colin Cowie as names in tabletop design.

Indeed, people's selection for tabletop can really be a reflection of their personal style. The woman who is drawn to Kate Spade's colorful handbags, for example, may just fall for Kate Spade china by Lenox, as well. Even Pendleton Woolen Mills offers dinnerware in patterns inspired by its bedding ($129 for a 16-piece setting).

House Beautiful, too, has collaborated with the May Department Store Company (Kaufmann's, Filene's) to create a line of home furnishings that includes a colorful casual dining collection. One option: The hammered glass dinnerware collection -- in bright, transparent colors such as Punch (pink) -- comes in round and square shapes and can be coordinated with other dinnerware. There are glass chargers, salad plates and bowls, and more; a set of four glass salad plates (or bowls) sells for $24.99.

And it is not just blushing brides hoping to fill their china cabinets with this stuff. It's people furnishing second homes, marrying later in life or simply tiring of the china or chipped stoneware they have used for years.

"Everyone got their china when they got married. Now, they want something new -- just like with fashion. Often, they buy something new when they are redecorating the kitchen or dining room," said Anne Petri, of Pitt Petri stores on Delaware Avenue and Main Street, Williamsville.

It may be a whole new set of dinnerware -- or one statement piece. A soup tureen for the buffet, for example.

As in fashion, layering and mix-and-matching are key to today's table dressing.

Solids mix with patterns, stripes and dots. Metal mixes with pottery. Glass with porcelain.

"The companies themselves are the ones that are coming out with the nonmatching sets, so you will have your matching pieces but they will stick in a salad plate that is completely different," said Marsha Dautch, vice president of Jenss Decor, 4001 Maple Road, Amherst.

In others cases, people get creative on their own -- adding newly bought pieces to inherited china, for example.

"It's like vintage clothing. You can take your grandmother's floral dinner plate and add a fabulous salad plate to it in glass, metal or a different pattern -- mixing what you have with something new, either contemporary or vintage-looking," Dautch said.

> New serving pieces

Similarly, people who like to entertain have warmed to the idea of mixing patterns at the dinner table or stacking different plates at a buffet, she added.

Another trend to watch for: Serving pieces have gotten bigger -- and unique in design. They don't have to match the china pattern.

Metals are something to check out with serving pieces. So are unexpected shapes.

"The serving pieces that are out there are wonderful -- a huge leaf-shaped platter, in oven-to-table metal, with a handle that is 20 inches long. You can use it for serving hors d'oeuvres or meat with potatoes around it," Dautch said.

Trend note: Leaf-shape dinnerware and accessories of all kinds are a big look right now. Look, too, for barware and other entertaining pieces with game themes -- poker or billiards motifs, for example. And items geared for what Anne Petri calls "girl parties."

Pink and green Kate Spade china would fit right into an all-female dinner party, for example. And, for cocktails, items such as patent mock-croc mini martini shakers -- in hot pink, lime green, turquoise or orange -- are trendy.

Linens, too, are a major player in today's tabletop designs.

"My perspective is that the tablecloth is the background -- much like the wall in a room," said Linda D. Pollack, a local designer and owner of Your Table is Waiting, a specialty linen rental company.

"You know how the wall's covering, texture or finish will totally change a room?," she asked.

So, too, does the tablecloth.

"Nothing will change the table setting more dramatically than a tablecloth," she said, noting that the well-dressed table has the right mix of color, texture, pattern and shine.

Like much of today's dinnerware, her table linens and napkins take their cue from fashion.

"The palette out there right now for me is a fashion palette. Coming into fall, there are a lot of taupes and chocolates and beautiful greens that are not a lime, not a forest green but more of a yellow-green," said Pollack, who prefers linens in brocades, lames, silks and taffetas with such accents as eyelash trims.

Up-to-the-moment table linens also can be found in hot shades -- tangerine, hot pink, etc.

Place mats, too, are a popular choice for many -- especially those with a table surface they don't want to completely cover.

Anne Petri sees rich colors such as topaz, apple, mango, burgundy and paprika for place mats as well as runners and napkins.

"People want pretty things to top their table," she said.

A little drama is good for the appetite, too.


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