We’re delighted to welcome Beth Mills of Birdie Design Etc. to talk about her love of mismatched antique china and the best places to pick it up.
Two years ago I was dawdling in Oxfam Chesham, when out of nowhere I fell in love with an antique Czech, blue and white dinner set. Except, it wasn’t exactly a dinner set – it was two dinner plates, two pasta bowls, one tea cup, and three side plates. But I had to have it, it was too beautiful. I was just about to move into my first house, and I could already see these plates in my mind’s eye; sitting on bright yellow table mats like Swedish flags, waiting to be piled high with spaghetti and meatballs, glasses of red wine at the ready and hungry dinner guests looking on, eager to dig in.
So I bought them, and dedicated my life to expanding a blue and white china collection which doesn’t match – but sort of does. I love having people over for a cuppa, and bringing together on a small table the welcoming sight of fresh flowers in an old bathing pitcher I found in Buckingham, which has long since lost its bowl, and an array of sweet things on an art deco plate from Winslow Handmade and Vintage Fair (first Sunday of every month, Winslow Public Hall, MK18 3JA).
Not all of my collection is antique, I have a small milk jug from Ikea which fits in perfectly, and a large juice jug and two over sized tea cups from Sainsbury’s which I love mixing and matching with my old stuff. I have several items of Danish Blue china which I have picked up second hand, but John Lewis still sell it new, which makes it easier to replace items that may come to a smashy end.
The best places I’ve found to pick up lovely china is in charity shops or junk shops in well-off areas. I love Godalming in Surrey, where I found a beautiful miniature Chinese cup and saucer set, and Malmesbury in Wiltshire where, later, I found three lonely saucers which were perfect for replacing three saucers from the latter set after my boyfriend accidentally dropped a frying pan on them. Richmond and St Margaret’s in South London also have great charity shops. The best bargains come when the set is incomplete – I got five tea cups with mismatching saucers and one side plate for just a fiver in a Cancer Research in Amersham, Buckinghamshire a few months ago. It is possible to find full dinner sets of Wedgwood and Blue Willow in second hand shops, but they generally come with a (justifiably) hefty price tag – personally I find mixing and matching to build my collection more fun, and more economical. The compliments I get for my efforts are so worth it. I’ll never go back to matching.