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The Case for the $3000 Table Setting |

The Case for the $3000 Table Setting

When hosting a lavish dinner party, it’s important to have not only memorable fare, but also a table setting that leaves a lasting impression on your party guests. The main accessory of every well-appointed tablescape is a set of dinner plates striking enough to spark a lively conversation. While you can always pick up a selection from department stores and home-specific shops, the screen-printed patterns that decorate traditional off-white china can feel a bit generic. That’s why hostesses, ranging from royalty to heads of fashion houses, are heading to Europe to meet their dining room needs with hand-painted tabletop designs that are truly tailor-made.

These hand-painted visions, which can fetch as much as $280 a plate, may initially induce sticker shock, but there’s good reason and a grand history behind the price tag. “Tableware is part of the feast,” says Parisian porcelain artist Marie Daâge. “There’s a real excitement when you see the creativity that goes into setting up the table. It’s like getting dressed for the evening, but just through a different medium.”


A table setting by Marie Daâge.

Daâge, who has hand-painted custom creations for clients including Frette and Chanel, and calls her work “haute couture for the table,” sources her porcelain plates from a small pottery workshop in Limoges, France. The city has been synonymous with kaolin, a white powder that gives porcelain its strength and fine pigment, since the late 18th century. “Kaolin is the secret to French porcelain,” says Daâge. “In the beginning of its production, only the king was allowed to own it—all of the kaolin was sent to Sèvres, the royal manufacturer, to craft dinnerware, vases, and objets for Louis XVI.”

A blue-and-green Daâge design.

After World War II, the craft began to suffer, with many workshops disappearing from the village. Today only a few remain, producing porcelain for artists, such as Daâge, who preserve the material’s old-world look with designs that are painted directly onto the plate as opposed to printed from a machine. “The plate is like a canvas,” says Daâge. “It requests a fantastic movement of the hand. For me, it’s important that you feel the brushstroke. When someone starts to learn and look carefully, they are able to see the difference between handmade versus a machine.”

Plates adorn the walls at Laboratorio Paravicini’s Milan workshop.

Similar to France, Italy has a rich history of tableware that’s painted by hand to match the dining room decor of Italian aristocrats and the country’s other well-heeled citizens. Many of these customers turn to Milanese workshop Laboratorio Paravicini for their bespoke tabletops. Owner Costanza Paravicini, who works with her daughter Benedetta Medici di Marignano, has upheld Italy’s ceramic craft for more than 25 years, despite technological modernizations. “In 18th-century Milan, there were very important ceramic manufacturers all over town,” she says. “The tradition is now a bit lost because everyone’s trying to churn out designs more quickly. Consumers don’t want to wait too long, and new manufacturers don’t have the patience or the passion to learn how to hand-paint on ceramic.”

An assortment of plates at Laboratorio Paravicini.

The process of putting paint to ceramic is a tedious, labor-intensive one. Paravicini, who had experience painting with watercolors before she started her ceramic business, spent two years of trial and error, throwing out designs, before she found the perfect formula. After applying the paint under multiple firings in the oven, Paravicini and di Marignano add a final layer of glazing over the decorations at a high temperature to seal in the design. It can take up to ten hours to create a single plate, which doesn’t include the research, preliminary sketches, and test runs that tack on a three- to eight-month lead time.

Though the technique is long and laborious, neither Paravicini nor Daâge can imagine crafting their art any other way. “I find it fantastic to be able to make this traditional work, which [had] almost completely disappeared, come alive again,” says Daâge. “Today it really makes sense, as the idea of luxury has shifted back to bespoke. So, when you find everything around the world the same, a one-of-a-kind product is just that much more special.”

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