Tabletop 101

Your Guide to Dinnerware Materials
By Jessica Harlan

Dinnerware is made of a wide range of materials, from earthenware to bone china. But how much do you really know about each material type? Educate your staff on the properties of stoneware, porcelain, earthenware, bone china, and other tabletop offerings so they can help customers make the best choices. Here’s our guide to the basic terms you should know:

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Earthenware: This material has been fired at a lower temperature, so the glaze and the body haven’t been fused together. “People like earthenware because it has a warmer feel,” says Chris Rosse, owner of Rosse and Associates. Earthenware is known for its rustic look, simple shapes and thicker body.

Faience: This dinnerware is a higher quality earthenware. “It’s almost porcelain, but not quite,” says Rosse. “You can get more detail in your shapes.” Gien dinnerware is a great example of Faience.

Stoneware: This style of earthenware is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware so it is more resistant to chipping, but is still heavy and thick, and doesn’t have a lot of detail in its shape and design. Higher quality stoneware has kaolin in it (a clay used in porcelain) to make it strong.

Porcelain: Porcelain contains a white clay called kaolin that makes it strong enough to withstand the high firing temperatures needed to vitrify it so the glaze and body are fused, says Wendy Kvalheim, CEO and design director of Mottahedeh & Co., Inc. Many manufacturers add certain other ingredients to their porcelain clay to give it durability and other properties. For example, Caskata artisanal tableware contains magnesium, which gives it strength and a creamy color – most porcelain has a cool, greyish cast. Porcelain sounds upscale, but there is a wide variety of quality levels (and price points) available.

Fine China: Fine china has quartz and feldspar in its white clay and is fired at a lower heat than porcelain, says Michelle Richards, spokesperson for Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton. It has a similar bluish or greyish hue as porcelain.

Bone China: Kvalheim says it was the English in the late 1700s who experimented with adding bone ash to porcelain to avoid it slumping in the kiln. Simultaneously delicate and strong, the inclusion of bone ash to the clay gives bone china incredible durability, which allows it to be formed into sophisticated and detailed shapes with a super-thin profile. Bone china has warm, ivory tones, has translucency thanks to the thinner shape and it’s also more chip resistant than other materials. Shawn Laughlin, owner and designer of Caskata, says her Insignia C collection is the last domestically made bone china.

Vitrified: This refers to the process of heating clay to a temperature that’s so hot, it fuses the glaze and the body together and makes the surface glass like, so it is impervious to water.

For more information: Caskata – caskata.com, 508.242.5573; Mottahedeh – mottahedeh.com, 800.443.8225; Rosse & Associates – rosseandassociates.com, 404.522.7574; and Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton – wwrd.com, 732-938-5800.

Images courtesy of Caskata, Mottahedeh and Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton.

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