This is why I will never get rich working as a home design columnist. Because all too often when I go to explore some aspect of a better life, I end up buying into it. Literally.
Which brings me to my new dinnerware.
After learning that after 30 years of bagged lunches and summer picnics, my silverware drawer was empty to the point where I was left with five forks instead of the original 16, I found myself in the cutlery market. So, I set out to explore the ground to find out what to look for when choosing forks. I shared the basics last week, but there’s more to know.
“Cutlery is one of those purchases that you typically only make twice in your life,” said Greg Owens, co-owner of Sherrill Manufacturing, which makes Liberty Tabletop cutlery, the only cutlery still made in America. “You buy once when you leave the dorm for your first real apartment. You go to Walmart and buy a 40-piece set for $29.95. Maybe you’ll buy again when you grow up and settle down.”
It seems like I’ve finally grown up.
The typical Owens customer is a woman over 40 who takes care to set the table beautifully. Not surprisingly, different genders approach the decision differently, he added. “When men evaluate cutlery, they pick up a knife to feel how heavy it is. Women look at the details of the dinner fork.”
After talking with Owens, I decided to try a sample program from his company. My husband chooses two patterns and I choose two. A few days later, the samples arrive and the fork-to-fork competition begins, a lengthy, deeply analytical discussion.
At some point, each specimen led, but as in close races, the leader fell behind to be overtaken by the third-placed horse. As a result, my husband liked one set with a woven texture. I liked the other, mirror-shiny and smooth. The two rivals met for dinner. Those are big stakes, folks! Finally postponed.
“Okay,” he said, “as long as we can get strong knife handles.”
In addition to the basic cutlery we covered in last week’s column (material, style, size, and finish), here’s what else to consider when shopping for this household item:
Feel: Take a piece and feel its balance, weight and contours. During our test sample, DC ruled out the plug because the sides of the handle were square instead of rounded, and his fingers felt sharp. Weight is also important. You don’t want your cutlery to look like the flimsy things you find in school cafeterias. “He has to pass the ice cream test,” Owens said. “You have to be able to scoop hard ice cream without bending the spoon.”
Compatibility: Your cutlery needs to get along with your crockery. We installed each sample template next to our delicious meals and our everyday meals to see how the combination works. Some models struggled while others harmonized. Usually, if your dinnerware is simple, your silverware can be more ornate. Conversely, a patterned plate may look better with simpler silverware. Mixing patterns is difficult. Trust your eye.
Wearability: Both mirror and satin finishes wear out before decorative finishes, but that’s all part of the patina. “The mirror finish has darker scratches, while the matte finish has brighter scratches,” Owens said. “Handle ornaments almost always hide scratches and dents, so they keep their newness longer.” Either way, proper handling is important. “Don’t throw your cutlery down the sink when a hundred other items are banging around. When placing it in the dishwasher, use the dividers in the cutlery baskets.”
Practicality: DC and I left out my original favorite pattern because the base of the dish was too wide to fit in our dishwasher’s silverware basket slot.
Hollow or solid? In the world of cutlery, there are two types of knife handles. Hollow-handled knives, in which the two halves of the handle are joined around the tang of the blade. Craftsmen solder the halves together and fill the void with epoxy or cement. In solid handle designs, the knives are forged from a single piece of steel. Knives with a solid handle are stronger, but knives with a hollow handle are more balanced.
We ordered a Betsy Ross-inspired 65-piece set that’s modern yet classic, with sturdy knife handles to please DC and extra serving items, just another example of how my pursuit of a better life comes at a price.
Marnie Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including Shrinking the Family Home – What to Keep, What to Let Go. Contact her at www.marnijameson.com.