By Casey Nilsson
One Thanksgiving, my late, very great Aunt Barbara bought an assorted crop of yard sale china to use as holiday dinnerware. The premise was this: She wouldn’t have to rent, and therefore risk breaking, sets of china from a rental company and she also wouldn’t need to wash the sixty or so plates on deadline. They could be stacked and tossed, or — the more eco-friendly route — hosed off and donated. And, boy, did they look beautiful all lined up on our candlelit Thanksgiving table.
As a tribute to her clever ways, my mom and I gathered china from all over Rhode Island and some parts of Massachusetts to use for my backyard reception, which will be held on a family friend’s bucolic property in September. We started scavenging at yard sales, but we were really only getting three or four plates, if any, per day.
We then turned to thrift stores like Savers (if you know anyone fifty-five and older, head there on Tuesdays for 20 percent off) as well as estate sales (the Estate Ladies hold great in-house events and prices drop by half in the last hour) and the flea market at Ann and Hope in Cumberland. A vendor in the way back has a crazy assortment of vintage china and charges about 50 cents to $1 per plate. It’s a shame to have to trek through the whole place to get there, but it was worth it when we did.
All in all, we spent an average of 75 cents per plate for a total of $122 for 150 plates. Sure beats the $250 for plain-Jane white ceramic plates from a rental company (plus breakage fees). And, thankfully, our caterer offered to take on the task of cleaning them all in his industrial-sized dishwasher.
Additionally, we collected cloth napkins, mason jars for white pillar candles and dainty vintage vases for wildflowers and dahlias grown by my groom. On the day, they’ll sit prettily on long, family-style tables covered in white linens and burlap runners. The runners were also a steal from Lorraine’s in North Providence; they set us back $32 for fifteen, opposed to Etsy creations that can cost $20 each or rolls of raw burlap that are reasonable at $50 to $60 but come with heavy shipping costs.
To avoid an offensive mishmash of colors, we’re sticking to porcelain plates with pastel flowery designs along the rim. The vases are mostly clear, though some offer pops of color in blue and green, and the cloth napkins will be a variety of pastels and florals, possibly rolled up with silverware and a sprig of lavender, though we’re still flirting with a more formal approach. Our tablescape test run on my parents’ kitchen island tells us it’s colorful and eclectic, yet not too over-the-top for a wedding. We’re thinking it looks a little like a clean, organized antiques stall. What’s better than that for a locale-inspired wedding in rural Massachusetts?
Casey Nilsson is the copy-editing extraordinaire for Rhode Island Monthly magazine. She’d like to marry her dreamboat, throw a personal, romantic reception and avoid angering any immediate family members — in less than eight months and for $8,000. Can she do it? Follow her thrifty, DIY journey here or on Pinterest @cnilssonRIM.