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Melamine, touted for its durability and versatility, is making a … |

Melamine, touted for its durability and versatility, is making a …



Maura Graber, vice president of Graber Olive House and an etiquette instructor, sets the table using melamine dinnerware at the Graber Olive House in Ontario. (Photo by James Carbone for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

































Matched china sets and crisp ironed napkins aren’t making as many guest lists this summer. Instead, particularly for outdoor gatherings, the latest hostess craze is setting the table with melamine, that oh-so-familiar sight from the past.

The trend of curating (designing table settings), embraced by everyone from decorating legend Mary Emmerling to Southern California party planners, caught on some time ago. Now there’s an added twist — freshening up tables by mixing china, everyday ware and melamine or even going full out with melamine settings.

Designers such as Martha Stewart and Jonathan Adler now have their own labels of melamine, and retailers including Macy’s and Sur La Table have been selling it. And while the melamine of the past was durable yet basically boring, all that has changed. Today, dinnerware, trays and platters sport fruit, geometric patterns and nature-inspired designs. You might even find yourself asking, is it real (china) or melamine?

The versatile tableware that back in the day was more likely to be found at picnics and campsites is branching out.

“Melamine has been back in fashion for a few years now and it’s not your mother’s melamine from the 1960s,” said Maura Graber, vice president of The Graber Olive House in Ontario and owner of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette. “It’s gone upscale.”

Graber ordered quite a bit of melamine for the Olive House’s gift shop.

“The designs are just beautiful,” she said. “I never thought I would be excited about melamine, but I am.”

In the past, it may have been seen as a second-rate, one-season-and-done type of dinnerware/serveware. Now it’s engineered to last. And though melamine can be made to closely mimic ceramic, the difference is that there’s no limit to the colors that can be applied it, said Katelyn Carroll, media relations specialist for Pier 1 Imports.

“In the last five to six years, melamine has really risen to the top with the new looks and structure behind it, and this material has really been the new innovation in the tabletop category,” she said. “It’s easy to take care of and works into today’s casual lifestyle while giving your tablespace the vibrant or classic look you’re going for.”

Graber also touts its versatility.

“Mixing and matching is part of the fun of using melamine due to the fact that it is inexpensive compared to china, porcelain or glass,” she said. “You can buy solids to mix with patterns and have some real fun expressing yourself and your unique style.

“Many times, at pre-set tables, your guests won’t even realize the plates are melamine, due to the beautiful designs and the heavier weights. Just make certain that you use real glassware and flatware.”

One new trend Carroll loves is melamine that takes on the look of other materials such as faux wood, marble and ceramic. Pier 1 Imports’ marble melamine dinnerware is a good example.

Brianna Clark, an associate buyer tabletop for Sur La Table, says the company’s Floreale and Tropical melanine collections sport the look of ceramic but are durable and can easily be cleaned in the top rack of a dishwasher.

“Break-resistant melamine is perfect for outdoor and indoor dining and entertaining,” Clark said.

Though leisurely entertaining may not require crystal or sterling, acrylic or plastic glassware and flatware is a no-no, Graber said.

“Glassware is currently available in a nice variety of colors, and a wide range of prices, too,” she said. “Investing in a mid-range-priced line of colored glassware this summer, especially the new stemless wine glasses, will help you fill all your entertaining needs well into the fall.”

Instead of using tablecloths, consider setting the table with lightweight, straw placemats, table runners or paper placemats.

“The paper placemats come in a great variety of designs, prints and solid colors,” Graber said. “I have laminated my favorites so that I can reuse them over and over again in my etiquette classes. They even have a place setting design on them that helps teach the students table-setting etiquette.”

Paper napkins also come in an elegant array of styles, and some of them even feel like fabric. They make for easy cleanup if you are entertaining indoors. Outdoors, however, fabric napkins are still preferred. If the evening is the least bit breezy, paper napkins can easily fly off of laps and into neighboring yards.

RSVP Institute of Etiquette

What: Summer entertaining seminars.

When: 2 p.m. Aug. 11 and 25.

Where: La Casita at The Graber Olive House, 315 E. Fourth St., Ontario.

Information: 909-923-5650, rsvp-etiquette.com.

Online Resources

Sur La Table: surlatable.com

Pier 1 Imports: pier1.com

The Graber Olive House: graberolives.com

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