An Obsession with Collecting China
The first time I visited my dear friend Mieke’s barn in upstate New York, I took one look at her china cabinet and knew that we would be lifelong friends. Not because I am completely well versed on the subject of china, but because I could relate to the obsession of collecting and displaying personal acquisitions and treasures. Her displayed collection was a mash of periods and styles that piqued my interest and made me want to learn more, which is always an inspiring sign of friendship for me. Setting a table is an activity Mieke takes pleasure in, making her a remarkable hostess. Over the past couple of years, I’ve admired that no matter what we’re eating at the barn, she sets the table according to the mood and occasion. There are always foraged flowers and a mix of tableware, and never too much effort. The wine flows as does the conversation, and it’s something I look forward to on my visits. Entertaining guests is something I thoroughly enjoy, and while textiles are usually my table obsession, I’ll never say no to a set of vintage china. As I’ve started to explore more on the subject, I’ve thought of Mieke and have wanted to learn more about her penchant for collecting new, vintage, and antique china to go along with her cherished family heirlooms.
1. I have never met anyone who has a more sublime collection of china than you! As a interiors editor and stylist, it makes sense that you have an appreciation for china and ceramics, but knowing you personally I’m aware that your love interest was present long before you began your career in the design world. What made you fall in love with china and when did you starting collecting it?
I’ve been collecting china for over a decade now, but I am so lucky to have grown up in a home where my mother (and her mother, and her mother’s mother) had what we call a “plate problem”. It is a genetic abnormality I’ve seemingly inherited– a passion for china and an unabashed willingness to accumulate and hoard it without reason or necessity.
2. As a collector of china, what is it that draws you to a certain piece?
It falls into two categories– the first being, am I dying to set the table with this? Secondly, must I hang this on the wall? (yes, I do do the latter, insert granny emoji here)
3. Do you see it as being important or influential in the grand scheme of the arts?
That is precisely one of the reasons I endlessly adore the medium– I am fascinated by china because it so often distills the aesthetic trends of the era and boils elements of them down onto one perfect little canvas. China patterns and tabletop accoutrements tell us not just about the decorative arts of the day, but social mores, traditions, and what has gone by the wayside.
4. What is your favorite style and period of china?
I am a magpie and could never commit to an answer for this question!
5. Nothing makes you happier than setting a table! Do you have a particular way you like to set a table?
I like to mix it up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a full service of china, but I think the most interesting tables mélange periods and styles. There has to be a fil rouge, though– whether bound by color palette or texture (which extends to choice of table linens and flowers, too) something has to visually coalesce them. It also depends on what you’re hosting, who you’re hosting, and what time of year you’re hosting. I use all my fine things but I never want anything I do to look “fussy”. It should look fun and unexpected, and most importantly, a beautiful perch from where to enjoy wine, a nice meal, and time with your friends and family.
6. I know some people think setting a proper table is frivolous. What would your response be?
If there’s no room for frivolity in setting a table, where should there be in life? Only a philistine would think such a thing.
7. Delft and majolica and faience: Do you have a favorite, and why?
The triple threat! Well, Majolica and Delft are kinds of faience, and I suppose what I love about them all is their painterly, handmade quality they all possess. It is wonderful to feel the maker’s hand behind each piece. Stylistically, though, I am biased. You can’t beat beautiful old Delftware (says the Dutch girl).
8. Tell us how you would set the table for the following guests:
– Charlotte Brontë
Jasperware– simple, matte ceramics, possibly basalt. The poor thing was always at a funeral. Lush green arrangements to mimic the moors in summertime.
– Michelle Obama
Using the work of all American female ceramic artists– think Frances Palmer and Amanda Moffat, two of my favorites.
– Piero Fornasetti
A trompe l’oeil tablescape! Dahlias the size of my head.
9. For someone who wants to start a china collection, what advice would you give?
I say this about anything– buy what you are drawn to, think of nothing else. Look, look, look. Educate your eyes.
10. If you had to pick 3 pieces or sets of china in your cabinet that are your die-hard favorites, which would they be?
My Creil et Montereau puce camaieu plates my mother gave me, my faux bois Alberto Pinto chargers, and Good god, all of my granny looking Wedgwood.
See Mieke ten Have’s upstate New York barn featured in Architectural Digest