When china patterns make a home

By Suzy Barile

Like any respectable Southern girl raised in the 1950s and 1960s, when the time came to be a bride, I chose two china patterns: an every day for family, and a good one for company. Luckily for me, my “good” pattern – Wedgewood’s Napoleon Ivy -- is one I inherited from my Aunt Sue and I actually like it. The every day is by Dansk. Called Quiltings, it features four quilt patterns on different colored rims that can be interchanged, so that’s what John and I do.

The gold rim, Riccas, is my favorite, while Jen leans toward the Dolce blue, her favorite color. As a fan of anything featuring a quilt pattern, John loves them all, though he usually winds up eating from the Ruby Flowers or Emerald Braid pattern. Nieces and nephews also have their favorites, which I sometimes struggle to remember!

One year, my mom gave me an inexpensive set of Christmas china, which was brought out right after Thanksgiving and used through New Year’s. The Quiltings was our every day pattern the rest of the year, except when we had company. Then out came the Napoleon Ivy, as well as the real silver place settings.

In 2004, we purchased the Harmony house from my mother-in-law. Between renting it to some friends who had returned to North Carolina and were looking for a house to buy, and helping out John’s cousin, who was building a new home and had to move out of the old, we used Harmony as a weekend and summer retreat. Some furniture was left from when John’s grandparents lived in it, but each time we made the 150-mile trip from Cary, I packed supplies like we were going camping: linens and towels, plates and silverware, coffee mugs, pots and pans, and coffee pot, as well as food.

So much planning nearly took the fun out of getting away, so one day I headed to Goodwill and Dollar Tree where I purchased plates, bowls and mugs decorated with lighthouses and boats, as well as some Revereware pots and pans, and an old Mr. Coffee. I culled through our linen closet for sheets, blankets and towels we could leave behind, and decided we didn’t need all the cooking utensils we had in the Cary kitchen, nor John’s grandmother’s every day flatware.

With the necessities taken care of – including staples and canned goods bought for the pantry – the house truly served its purpose of a place to slow down and relax. I usually spent the last hour before we headed home cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, vacuuming the floors, and covering the furniture with sheets so on our next visit, all we had to do was start enjoying!

It took us five years to decide how to renovate, so while we were planning, I occasionally bought knick knacks, such as clear lamps to hold Jen’s shell and rock collections, and beachy-looking candle holders and pictures. Family and friends gave us a variety of ladybug-decorated items to celebrate the creatures that seem to love this area. My sister-in-law Angie finally got the Spode Christmas china she’d coveted for years and passed on to me some Snowman china we could use on cold winter weekends. And I found a set of blueberry dishes in the LLBean catalog that had accidentally been priced at $19.99 – the next year the set was $49.99 – and thought it would be fun to use alongside the lighthouses and boats.

Little-by-little, this getaway became a home.

As you might imagine, when the time came to move all our Cary belongings to Harmony, I had a hard time giving up what I’d come to view as the essence of this house, its retreat effect. And even though Pattie told me when I moved here, it would be my “house” and I’d have to treat it as such (she meant regularly doing laundry and mopping and dusting and such), I wanted it to retain some of the ambiance of those years of window air conditioners and oil heat and one bathroom for everyone to share. How could I, then, let go of Jen’s shells or the lighthouse candleholder or the ladybug painted on a rock?

Having a screened-in porch and five bedrooms has solved some of the problems, as the lamps are spread about, old rotary phones remind us that when the power goes out, they are good to have, and the extra sheets and blankets are pulled out when the house is full. We even have hand-me-down tv's and VCR/DVD players in every bedroom! But what about the dishes I’d come to enjoy? There was no way I was packing them up for Goodwill or the Habitat Re-Store.

That said, we have become the home of seasonal china: We begin with Snowmen in January and February, then return to the Quiltings for March and April. In May, I pull out the Blueberry china, and for June, July and August, it is joined by the original Lighthouse and Boats china and some pumpkin-colored plates I purchased when “staging” the Cary house. Over Labor Day weekend, all but the Blueberry china is put away, followed in October and most of November with a return to our every day china, the Quiltings. And then, you guessed it: From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, we use the Christmas china, a reminder of my mom’s gift so many years ago.

Silly? Perhaps, as many friends and family say they’ve never known anyone who changed china with the seasons. For me, it is a reminder that this house -- that began quite simply as a place for us to get away and forget the rest of the world -- is indeed a home.