Please Don’t Throw Out Your Old China
Here’s what to make of it instead.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:10 AM
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Welcome to Don’t Toss It, a new series that spotlights tips and tricks to give your old items new life. Despite the Marie Kondo craze and our sudden cultural fascination with decluttering, throwing things away isn’t always the best solution. In the spirit of exploring easy ways to be more sustainable, we’re sharing low-lift upcycling projects that even the most inexperienced of DIY’ers can tackle. We kicked things off with six ways to repurpose used candle jars and now, we’re diving into what to do with old china.
Few household items seem to hold as much emotional currency as china.
It’s the set of dinnerware you received as a wedding gift but would never dare use on a daily basis—instead, you patiently wait for the perfect opportunity to whip it out, like a visit from royalty or your in-laws, while hiding it in a closet where you can reverently stare at it from time to time. It’s the odd plate you picked up on holiday with your friends that you’ve never found any use for. It’s the tea set your grandparents gave you when you were 10 and you can’t bear to part with, even though you’ve never once hosted a formal tea party. Despite remaining generally unused, a person’s china collection has serious sentimental value, but why shouldn’t emotion and function converge?
Personally, I am of the belief that they absolutely should. I may not have valuable wedding china or heirloom teacups lying around, but I do have a series of old, slightly chipped mugs, random porcelain bowls I picked up as travel souvenirs, and an orphaned pink espresso mug, all of which have found new life outside of their original purposes. Rather than relegating an unused piece of servingware to the back of a cupboard or throwing out a cracked cup, I like to upcycle them into functional storage vessels or eclectic art collections.
This philosophy works just as well for non-china dinnerware pieces, too, including glass and porcelain. The first step is repairing any item that’s a little worse for wear.
Option one: hiding the flaws. Domino’s managing editor, Liz Mundle, has a go-to method for fixing glass pieces that’s super easy and will only cost you about $7—a simple glass cutter used to tidy up jagged edges and smooth out the piece. “My biggest advice is to practice on something where the stakes are lower,” she says, suggesting that you pick up a practice piece at a thrift or dollar store before taking a knife to your beloved antique. “I collected about a dozen wine bottles and practiced over and over on those, knowing that if I broke my glass pitcher a second time, I’d be heartbroken.”
The second option is embracing the flaws, playing them up by way of the Japanese art of Kintsugi. This method sees pottery and china repaired using gold-tinted lacquer to form intricate lines over the cracks. YouTube is a great resource for step-by-step tutorials. This DIY video is easy to follow if you’re a beginner.
Ahead, we outline a few easy ways to repurpose old china. Looking to kick-start a collection? Read to the end for our edit of the coolest vintage-looking dinnerware and servingware that’s begging to be displayed.
A Vanity Tray
If you have a big enough platter or dish, use it as a catchall for perfumes and beauty products. It’ll bring a pop of old-timey pattern or vibrant color to your vanity, all while serving an organizational function. You’ll never have to rifle through drawers to find your favorite moisturizer again.
A Gallery Wall
Don’t know what to do with the mismatched plates you’ve accrued over the years? Take to the walls and create an eclectic gallery out of them that rivals traditional artwork. Use special adhesive plate hangers to attach china to the walls, carefully adhering each plate so it doesn’t fall. It’s an easy way to add vintage charm to a room while freeing up valuable kitchen cabinet space.
A Windowsill Garden
Fashion a mini garden out of old teacups. Pick up a few of your favorite herbs at your local nursery and arrange them in teacups—saucer and all—for a vintage display. Pro tip: If you’re keeping your china garden indoors, be sure to pick plants that grow best indoors. Parsely, chives, and mint all do well inside and can be grown on a windowsill.
A Nightstand Accent Piece
Remember the aforementioned orphaned pink espresso cup? It has found a new home on my nightstand where it holds lip balm and a mini tube of hand cream. Use old cups or chipped mugs to hold a variety of odds and ends. Large mugs can hold pens, pencils, and even sleep sprays, so you have everything you need within reach.
A DIY Candle
If you have a little more time (and a knack for crafts), try making a soy candle from scratch. You can use virtually any item, from a porcelain bowl to a china cup, and you can personalize your candle with an essential oil or fragrance. Get the how-to on Food52. Incidentally, vintage china-encased candles make for thoughtful hostess gifts when a bottle of wine simply won’t cut it.