How about some vintage barware from Iconi Interiors?
If my husband had given me paper, the Emily Post-sanctioned gift for a first wedding anniversary, there may not have been a second one to celebrate. I think I'd have felt much the same way about the traditional gift of tin or aluminum to honor our 10th. As much as I love a good Diet Coke, it is just not as romantic as jewelry.
For nearly two decades, our marriage has been going strong, perhaps in no small part due to the fact that my husband is among the least likely people to know that these gift-giving customs, dating back to the 1920s, even exist. But if you took a look at the dishes we received for our wedding, you'd completely understand why china is the traditional 20th anniversary present. With less than two years to go before hitting the big two-oh, almost every single plate my husband and I received when we got hitched has a nick, ding or crack.
You've heard of the seven-year itch (not surprising given that the traditional seventh anniversary gift is wool)? I'm getting it almost two decades in. But it's not a new spouse I'm dreaming of; it's a set of gloriously unchipped table- and glassware. And fortunately, the Madison retail scene has great options for pulling a great table together - one to last another couple of decades.
Hilldale Shopping Center
Midvale Boulevard at University Avenue
You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but it's hard to take the suburbs out of the girl. I was practically raised in a shopping mall, and it was at one that my husband and I registered for our very first "pattern" - plain white with a narrow blue stripe - at the local Crate and Barrel. But I'd have to drive over an hour to Wauwatosa to find a C and B, and Hilldale has much to offer in the dish department, not the least of which is proximity to my house.
Macy's is a logical place to start the tableware hunt, with dozens of patterns, both traditional and modern, from familiar names like Lenox, Noritake and Villeroy & Boch. And just across the parking lot, national retailer Anthropologie displays youthful and brightly colored place settings, many designs evoking the French countryside (albeit made in China) as the national retailer's "ie" suffix (think charcuterie, brasserie) would suggest. Stone Fence, the home accessories store, features authentic Polish pottery, the fun and functional Tag brand and, if you are only celebrating your first anniversary, a huge assortment of paper products, many with a seasonal twist.
1352 Williamson St., 608-467-6544 (Moving to King Street this fall)
If you are even the slightest bit "foodie," chances are you know about the amazing array of kitchen stuff at this near-east-side, soon-to-be-downtown, specialty shop. From salad spinners to coffeemakers to stunning serving dishes, the place has it all.
But did you know this culinary-supply mecca also carries a carefully cultivated selection of tableware lines? Ranging from the stunningly colorful Waechtersbach, to the more refined Emile Henry and Jars, there is something for all tastes and price points.
"As white is the workhorse presentation canvas for the best chefs in the world," says owner Tom Christensen, "a retailer, to have any credibility, must have a line of white." After searching for several years he and buyer/manager Stephanie Kessenich found the perfect combination of price, style and material in BIA white ware.
3029 University Ave., 608-233-4488
While my upbringing has left me completely at a loss for how to cook lutefisk or even Swedish meatballs, I'd be thrilled to serve anniversary brisket or bagels on any of the fabulous Scandinavian patterns that this longtime University Avenue retailer carries. From the strong distinctive style of the Taika pattern from iittala of Finland to mugs and plates with brightly colored Marimekko designs, Century House has a great selection both in-store and online. And even if your tastes run more West Coast than Nordic, the store carries Heath ceramics from Sausalito, including the Chez Panisse line designed for use in Alice Waters' famed California restaurant.
534 W. Washington Ave., 608-441-0077
If you want a fresh tabletop look and have an affinity for all things mid-century, this downtown specialty shop offers a unique blend of new and reclaimed items. While each visit to the funky boutique will bring something surprising, Iconi's selection of vintage barware will knock your socks off; the set of Mad Men has nothing on this place. And if you have something special in mind, but don't see it in the store, owner Coni Marotz is happy to go on the hunt, scouring her sources to meet your needs.
"I believe that there's a big difference between having a house and having a home," Marotz says. "There's something special out there for everyone; sometimes it just takes a little work to find it."
6201 Odana Rd., 608-278-7892
"Younger couples aren't buying full sets of china in here like they used to," says Odana Antiques owner Sue Hanson. "Madison is just so casual. Many of our customers want each place setting to look a little different, not so matchy-matchy."
It is precisely this delightful variety that can be found at Hanson's enormous west-side store. From brightly colored early Fiestaware options, to more formal Haviland Limoges porcelain pieces, to Art Deco-inspired Royal Ruby Depression glass, this is the place to channel your inner shabby chic goddess. And at prices around five bucks a plate for many items, one can afford to keep coming back for more when things break. It doesn't even need to be a special occasion.
1721 Monroe St., 608-255-8211
While Orange Tree Imports has been a fixture on Monroe Street for longer than I've been married, there's nothing stale about the eclectic selection of tableware the 35-year-old specialty store offers. Even before you enter the dual-level establishment, your eyes are drawn to a window display that artfully showcases rainbow-hued tabletop options from Zak! Designs.
This unique, patented collection of dinner and serving ware uses recycled melamine as its colorful point-of-difference. Just one look and it's clear why the manufacturer has festively dubbed this the "Confetti" line.
But for the more traditional consumer, Orange Tree also carries the Portmeirion brand of ceramics. According to co-owner Dean Schroeder, this classic line has been a best seller at the store for over 30 years. Manufactured in England, the brand's most recognizable design is "Botanic Garden," which was introduced in 1972 by legendary pottery designer Susan Williams-Ellis. The flower or plant on each plate, cup and bowl in this collection was inspired by antique botanical illustrations, complete with scientific name.
As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Orange Tree Imports Cooking School, you may want to consider taking a lesson or two. You're definitely going to want something delicious to serve on your brand new dishes.
Replacements.comand Second Chance Mosaics
For those of you looking to replace just a chipped item or two from your wedding china, you may want to visit Replacements.com's massive website, boasting an inventory of more than 13 million pieces in over 350,000 patterns. I haven't yet checked to see if they have my well-worn Crate and Barrel design in stock. I'm kind of ready for an update anyway, but there is no question the site is an amazing resource.
There will always be a place in my heart, though, if not the china hutch, for that simple mall-bought pattern; I don't think I'm ready to toss away all the memories quite yet. Fortunately, Madison artist Carrie Scherpelz of Second Chance Mosaics gives the owners of broken china something meaningful to do with the shards. Inspired by Depression-era "memory jars," Carrie is able to take well-loved bits and pieces of china and create beautiful mosaics; mirrors are a specialty. And with 25% of her proceeds going to benefit the Road Home and YWCA's Second Chance apartment program, I can't think of a better way to honor the broken bowls, plates and cups that got my marriage this far than by supporting an opportunity to bring others a home.