Dinnerware materials

Bone china is the finest of all crockery but is durable, with ox-bone ash or calcium phosphate adding strength. “Like all beautiful things, however, it should be treated with respect,” says Claude ter Huurne, co-owner of Beclau, an agent for Dibbern fine bone china.

Porcelain is a good all-rounder. “I love the smoothness and fineness,” says Shelley Simpson, founder of Mud Australia handmade porcelain. “But be aware of thermal shock,” she says. “Don’t move something straight from the fridge into the oven. And don’t take it out of the oven and run under cold water straightaway.”

Stoneware is durable and has a look that lends itself to casual cooking. “It’s easy to care for and can go into the microwave and dishwasher,” says Joanna Ross, design manager, Country Road Homewares, which manufactures the ‘Dipped’ stoneware range.

Generally, the more you pay, the more refined and resilient. Fine bone china is usually the most expensive (10-20 per cent more than porcelain). Although stoneware is sturdy and good for domestic use, it doesn’t have the extreme strength of fine bone china, so chips can occur. It is more affordable, though, and easy to replace.

Texture and Shape

  • Getting away from the old idea of fully matched sets and adding a few contrasting pieces gives an instant contemporary update. Play up visual appeal with the tactile nature of embossed-style patterns. For a more classical look, pair texture with texture. Give an olderstyle set a tactile update – combine it with smooth, interesting designs to produce a more contemporary statement.
  • “Soft, slightly curved and generous shapes reflect how people are feeling about their interiors today,” says Country Road’s Joanna Ross. Rimmed-edge plates, meanwhile, have more traditional appeal.
  • It’s worth noting that the correct dish configuration is often determined by the meal. “The right bowl for risotto is a shallow bowl with a rim around the outside, so you can eat from the outside in,” says food editor Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame, citing one example.
  • Take into account the size of your dining table. “My table is narrow, and square plates follow the lines best,” says James Gordon, an events organising company creative director. His favoured bowls are square ramekins in ’50s pastel-coloured porcelain. “They have moulded handles, so you can get them close up to your mouth.”


  • Coloured crockery offers a break from traditional white, but if your intention is to highlight food, use a soft, muted palette as a guide. Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame suggests chocolates, greys and the palest of pinks. “I still believe that white is the best colour for most food, other than more rustic dishes, which are great with colour.”
  • Introducing colour is one of the simplest ways to update or reinvent a white setting. With 34 colours to choose from, Dibbern’s ‘Solid Colour’ porcelain dinnerware range gives scope for mixing different shades with a classic white setting for a more casual and bright look. Conveniently, the German brand also uses the same palette across other products, such as mugs and teapots.
  • If you’re concerned about chipping, look for crockery where the colour has been poured into the ceramic before firing. Rather than showing through white after chipping, this technique reveals more hues. Shelley Simpson from Mud does caution against using darker tones for dinner plates. “All porcelain will scratch when you take a steak knife to it, and black and chocolate tend to reflect the mark.”


  • You can play with patterns and colour, but there is a golden rule of thumb – make sure one of the settings in your pairing is quite plain. And while even the simplest of illustrated designs can be lifted with a coloured underplate or showplate, choose a hue that blends tonally with the piece. Event designer and creative director James Gordon likes to pair the rooster pattern bowls found in any Chinatown district with a coloured showplate.
  • “You can buy some beautiful one-offs and mix them up with modern design,” says food editor Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame. Rare or detailed pieces can also be used for display or wall-art.
  • Do be aware that, aside from some contemporary pieces, most patterned plates require handwashing. Decorations are often applied using decals or transfers. These, along with anything handpainted, are fired at lower temperatures, which means they can scratch easily or rub off and aren’t suitable for the dishwasher. Remember too, anything gilt-edged or patterned with gold or silver should not be used in the microwave or dishwasher.


Like this? Try our other guides too:

* Buyer’s guide to cutlery
* Buyer’s guide to kitchen cookware essentials
* Buyer’s guide to kitchen knives

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