Even before the pandemic hit and many people were stuck at home to entertain themselves, dishware was developing a renewed kind of cultural cachet.
Style icons including Moda Operandi cofounder Lauren Santo Domingo, textile maven Carolina Irving, and fashion journalist turned Milanese print purveyor J.J. Martin were full-on obsessed with their dishes, it seemed.
Instagram feeds across the decorosphere were filled with tablescapes and place settings, and the market category saw newcomers such as Social Studies offering fanciful dishware for rent.
Suddenly, china was no longer something registered for before a wedding or reluctantly inherited from Granny—it had become an extension of your outfit, part of one’s personal style.
But what to do with all those plates when, for the past year at least, you’re a perpetual party of two or four? Tabletop-loving tastemakers have always known the answer: Take those dishes out of the cabinets and display them on the walls, of course!
“I hate the idea of beautiful plates langouring unused or unseen in a cupboard,” says stylist, editor, and self-professed tableware maniac Mieke ten Have, who has installed dishes on walls and bookshelves in nearly every room of her barn in upstate New York. “A plate is a perfect little canvas and a harmonious shape.”
Ten Have recommends grouping them by color or collection type. (She hung a vestibule with blues—18th-century Delft chargers and platters, French blue-and-white faïence, and pale blue English transferware.)
Elsewhere, she mounted a collection of rare Creil et Montereau faux-bois puce cameau plates all together on shelves. “I love the dimension and texture it adds to a wall,” she says. “And there’s something wonderfully harmonious about a collection of circles.”
Milan-based printoholic J.J. Martin, whose cult line of patterned dresses evolved into tableware in 2017, took a rather opposite approach in her new Milan flat. “l wanted it to look as if they were literally thrown on the wall and stuck there,” she says of the brilliantly clashing display she created with castoffs and color trials saved from when she was developing her La Double J tableware line.
(In reality, she laid everything out on the floor first to find a grouping that worked and hired her handyman to help with installation.) “For those of us who don’t have unlimited budgets or unlimited art collections, it’s fun to get creative with how you decorate the walls,” says Martin, who’s known for her signature pattern punch. “This stuff is meant to be enjoyed, ogled, and eaten visually.”
Hanging plates on the wall is nothing new. In 1972, the New York Times declared in a headline “Decorative Plates—Not Fine Art, But They’re Good As Gold,” covering the fad of collectible dishware by the likes of Norman Rockwell, Charles Schulz, Salvador Dalí, and Andrew Wyeth. (Companies like Prospect NY and Artware Editions carry that torch today with their artist-designed dishware.)
But even so, dish delirium stretches back long before that. “In many European castles, special rooms were created to display porcelain and ceramic dishes,” points out Carolina Irving, who hung her Iznik plates—too delicate for everyday use—in a row to create a cornice of sorts in her Portugal kitchen.
AD100 designer Frank de Biasi realized something similar in his own Tangier dining room. “We had a space just under the crown which was crying out for adornment,” de Biasi recalls. “So we painted a band of bright green and hung the plates on that. It created a bit of architecture around the room and made for some fetching eye candy.” As for the other, lower-hanging plates around the house, he and husband Gene Meyer regularly grab them straight from the wall when entertaining.
The concept doesn’t stop at plates: Any eye-catching tableware works wonders on a wall. Take, for example, when Mandy Cheng spotted a small stack of unused baskets in a room of actress Emmy Raver-Lampman and actor Daveed Diggs’s Los Angeles home. “I was immediately drawn to the colors and textures and held one up to the wall,” recalls Cheng, who fastened the woven bowls to the walls with small brass finish nails so they can be easily moved around. “Emmy’s eyes absolutely lit up.”