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How to Buy Fine China

By Tanja KernSHOP.COM For the Home Editor

Your first apartment, your first home, getting married, and a big holiday event: there are many milestones that will prompt you to reconsider the dinnerware you have stacked up in your cupboard. Should you opt for plain white, prints or bold hues? Dinnerware can play a big role in your home decor. SHOP.COM has the goods to help you buy the best set of china that will fit for your style and your approach to dining.

The Basics

Step 1Type: The term "china" refers to all types of dinnerware, from casual to fine. Casual china, which you use everyday, is heavier and more porous and is usually made of earthenware or stoneware. Fine china, made of porcelain, is usually thinner and more translucent but much stronger. That's why these porcelain dishes are so much more expensive than your everyday dishware.
Step 2Style: If you want something timeless, skip the bold patterns and opt for a basic set of dinnerware in white or ivory. Then you can mix and match accent plates, glassware, silverware and linens to change the mood as your tastes change over the years. If you like color, the four basic china patterns include banded edges, geometric shapes, flowers and Asian-inspired looks.
Step 3Place Settings: The ideal number of dishes you need depends on how many people you feed regularly and how often you wash the dishes. Most wedding registries advise that couples go with 12 place settings, but purchase more if you entertain large crowds often. Basic place settings will include four or five pieces, but fancier-and more expensive- ones will include more. Some people opt for two different sets of china: one casual and one fancy.
Step 4Accessories: Don't forget the extra pieces you need to make mealtime run smoothly. Serving bowls and platters, gravy boats, sugar bowls, and coffee sets are all smart investments. You can collect dessert and appetizer plates in coordinating patterns and colors to add a pop to your collection.
Step 5Handle With Care: Opt for sturdy, dishwasher-safe dinnerware for your everyday needs. Add a china cabinet or storage boxes to store the china you don't use daily.

The Lingo

Bone China: is the combination of kaolin clay, feldspar, quartz and bone and is considered the finest (and today, rarest) kind of china. It is fired at high temperatures to produce a very white china whose delicate look belies its durability.
Casual Dinnerware: is appropriate for everyday use and feels less precious than formal china. It is composed of heavier materials for increased durability, and is often brightly patterned.
Completer Set: is a selection of serving pieces sold as a set. The set usually includes a platter, an vegetable bowl, a sugar bowl and a creamer.
Earthenware: is a popular kind of contemporary dinnerware made of clay and fired at a low temperature. It's heavy but a bit fragile. Common varieties of earthenware include delftware, majolica, faience and slipware.
Porcelain China: has a composition similar to bone china-kaolin clay, feldspar and quartz-but it does not include bone. It is fired at high temperatures to create a strong, nonporous body with a glass-like surface.
Stoneware: Like earthenware, is made from a fortified clay fired at high temperatures. The end product is durable and oven- and dishwasher-proof.

The Experts

Point Click Home says whiteware is the perfect tabletop staple since you can dress it up or down.
Etabletop.com said actress Reese Witherspoon selected Rosenthal Daisies inspired by Andy Warhol to add a fun splash of color to her Los Angeles home.

The Brands

Ittalia continues to be a major force of Scandinavian design. A cornerstone of the brand is to create designs that last lifetimes.
Mikasa Mikasa has produced tabletop fashion in dinnerware, crystal stemware, barware, flatware and decorative accessories for over a half-century.
Rosenthal has been creating contemporary dinnerware for its time since 1879.
Royal Copenhagen Manufactured since 1775, Royal Copenhagen porcelain embodies a deep respect for tradition and craftsmanship.
Villeroy & Boch Credibility, quality, image, competence, elegance, harmony, design and lifestyle are the defining characteristics of the Villeroy & Boch brand.

The Price

$: Entry-level dinnerware often comes in sets of 16. It's an economical way to get a jump-start to your everyday dinnerware collection. Try this affordable pick.
$$: Mid-range china is often purchased of place setting with four or five pieces, including a dinner plate, salad plate, bowl, cup and saucer. Try this one
$$$: High-end porcelain china is durable and often hand-painted. You usually buy luxury dinnerware by the piece instead of the set.