An Affair to Remember

BY LINDSAY BOWER

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There was a time in the now-distant past where a lady could purchase a beautiful, well-tailored suit from a department store for a moderate sum. The suit would have been made from high-quality material, and though it was made en masse, one could expect it to last. The thread holding each patterned piece together would continue to do so for years, and the metal zipper on the suit’s pencil skirt wouldn’t catch after just a few wears.

Today, so many of us know the exact opposite to be true. Quality goods and garments are out there, but you get what you pay for. A century, even a half century ago, the quality and craftsmanship that went into producing just about anything—suits, furniture, costume jewelry or sewing machines—was very different and, to put it simply, much better than what we see today.

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According to the owners of China Cupboard Rentals, Carol Poloski and Susan Moore, the world of vintage and antique china is no different. China Cupboard Rentals, based in Charleston and in Akron, Ohio, rents vintage and antique china for weddings and other special events.

“I saw a charger plate for sale the other day that was a replica of a vintage design, but the quality just wasn’t the same,” says Carol. “The techniques are so very different today than they were 100 years ago. Plates don’t have the same translucent quality as vintage or antique plates. The level of detail and craftsmanship is difficult to replicate.”

This, of course, is one of many reasons people love vintage and antique china. Another is the desire, shared by so many of China Cupboard Rentals’ clients, to host an event that stands out in a world of easy-topurchase uniformity.

Not everyone, however, likes the thrill of the hunt—or has the time to scour thrift stores. Yes, you can still occasionally find treasures in flea markets or estate sales, but it’s becoming more and more difficult. Moreover, the Internet is driving up prices and overwhelming antiques enthusiasts with choice.

But China Cupboard Rentals has taken the frustration out of pulling together a gorgeous table for a wedding or special event. That means no rooting around in musty, run-down antiques malls or sad and smelly thrift stores. Carol and Susan have already put forth the effort, seeking out and gradually acquiring a collection of beautiful, handcrafted vintage and antique china pieces.

With backgrounds in antiques dealing and art and design, the partners started the company in November 2013 in Akron and Charleston. Each had her own personal collection of vintage and antique china, and often mixed and matched them at home. But when they noticed wedding and event planners doing the same thing, a business idea was born.

Setting a beautiful table is an artistic endeavor for the women, and they select pieces they believe will be in keeping with a host or hostess’s chosen concept. Both say it’s important to set the right tone for the occasion. After all, events become memories:

“China reflects the history of time, place and events, and our vintage china creates the history of your special moment in time,” says Susan. “And china—whether it’s used at a White House dinner or at Thanksgiving with extended family—is an important part of that celebration.”

As with all things vintage and antique, buying complete place settings isn’t usually an option. The idea is to mix and match, using pieces that, though they may differ individually, work well together.

The difficulty of mixing and matching, according to Carol, is what surprised her most when she and Moore founded China Cupboard Rentals. Although she knew the pieces would differ, the overall goal—to create an aesthetic where every piece blends together to make a harmonious whole—turned out to be difficult. “You’re working with multiple patterns,” says Carol, “and there isn’t a ready-made supply on hand.” To achieve a mix with the right “balance” the company had to find and maintain sizable inventories in each pattern.

Fortunately, the partners are like-minded. (In fact, they once bought the same pattern without one another’s knowledge.) And since their inventory grew from their own personal collections, it stands to reason they love the pieces they’ve acquired. Naturally, they have their favorites. Carol mentions a lavender Spode plate with a delicate basket of flowers painted in the middle and any of the popular Noritake pieces made in Occupied Japan. In total, the company has three main styles they can mix and match to accommodate parties of up to 200 people.

While the ability to mix and match pieces successfully for large groups is an achievement, Carol says the most gratifying part of her job is looking at the final result: beautifully set tables waiting for happy guests to arrive.

Susan agrees wholeheartedly with her friend of over 30 years, noting that their vision for the company has always been in sync. “Carol and I agreed early on,“ she says, “that the best thing we could do was to provide place settings so beautiful that they would live on in the memories of those who planned and attended the event.”

Many of the pieces China Cupboard has for rent can be seen on their website, and plans are in work to open a store in Charleston. Until then, potential clients can stop by Frampton’s Flowers on Wentworth Street in Charleston to view one of their elegant table settings.

Lindsay Bower is a freelance writer and editor in Charleston. Email Lindsay.bower@gmail.com.