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HOW TO PICK THE PERFECT VINTAGE FLATWARE

When it comes to a table scape done right, vintage flatware should barely register. That’s not to say that vintage flatware should be dull or recede into the background, though—quite the opposite, actually! Rather vintage flatware should be tastefully tailored to your table, working the same angles as your table scape’s plates, glassware, linens, and florals. If that makes it sounds like flatware requires a little more mulling over than you thought, don’t stress! We’ll guide you through the most common types of vintage and used flatware, along with tips for making it truly pop on the tabletop.

COPPER FLATWARE

With its blush-y rose gold color, used copper flatware has an undeniably festive vibe, making it perfect for adorning a holiday table. An occasion where it’s especially apt? A harvest-themed fete (as—FYI—copper plays to woodsy tones like a pro). Because the majority of copper flatware was produced within the past decade, most copper flatware is modern in style. To dress up the minimal style for a dinner party that demands something a bit showier, try binding each setting of copper flatware with a twist of twine and a bough of foraged fauna. It’s dressy enough to elevate minimalist copper, but will still feel casual.

Care: Vintage and used copper flatware will oxidize when it’s exposed to moisture and air, so to buff it back to a shine, try a commercial bronze polish. To use, don gloves, then rinse your flatware in warm water. Goop on some polish, buff it with a soft cloth, and then rinse it off with soap and water. If you prefer a more holistic method, you can whip up a homemade solution of salt, vinegar and flour. Add 1 tsp salt to one cup vinegar, then add flour to make a paste. Apply the paste directly to your used flatware and leave on for at least 15 minutes. Once your flatware’s gleaming, store in warm, dry place, preferably wrapped in a towel.

STERLING SILVER FLATWARE

Thanks to its steep price tag, it can be tempting to leave vintage sterling silver flatware swaddled in the closet where it’s safe from harm. But despite its rep, sterling silver is actually fairly resilient, making it perfect for everything from lavish, multi-course affairs to girls-only outdoor brunches. To ensure your collection of vintage sterling can jump from formal to casual in a snap, we recommend investing in both a set of sterling silver flatware and a mix-and-match collection of one-offs. The full set of flatware will guarantee formal dinner parties are a done deal, while the single pieces will be perfect for mixing with your larger set to create an artful, shabby chic feel for more off-the-cuff occasions.

When shopping for a large flatware set, make sure it has all the goods, including butter knives, soup spoons, fish knives, and dessert spoons. Since this is likely to be a big-ticket item no matter how you swing it, look for sets from silversmith legends like Gorham and Reed & Barton.

Care: While sterling silver flatware can be put in the dishwasher, it’s recommended knives sit it out (because of their serrated edges, which are easily corroded), and that spoons and forks be removed before the drying cycle starts. Rather than bear the burden, we say, just wash your sterling silver by hand, if you can. Use hot water and dry it immediately after rinsing. To keep your used flatware looking posh between uses, be sure to polish it with an anti-tarnish cloth. While you're likely to consider these flannel cloths magic after using one (trust us, they're mind-blowing), they're actually packed with small flecks of pure silver which attract tarnish-causing gases before they leave their mark on your sterling.

STAINLESS STEEL FLATWARE

While stainless steel flatware doesn’t have the sexiest of reputations (at least compared to copper or sterling silver flatware), it does have its advantages. For one, it’s virtually indestructible, making it ideal for setting the everyday table, and secondly, it’s easily mixed with other materials like bakelite, enamel, or wood. The latter allows for flatware that’s delightfully out of the ordinary, just think about Laguiole flatware, which consists of a stainless steel utensil head encased in a wood or colored enamel handle. The result is flatware that feels vintage but doesn’t necessarily require vintage upkeep. It’s also statement flatware, capable of driving a dinner party’s theme when paired with plain dishware. Given that many write off stainless steel flatware as flavorless, we can’t help but champion its merits.

Care: When it comes to stainless steel flatware, cleanup is a snap so long as you toss it in the dishwasher (worth noting, however, is whether or not that same can be said for any additional materials that may be present). It’s when it comes to hand-washing that things actually get trickier, as you don’t want to let sterling silver flatware soak, since that can lead to corrosion. Instead, give it a quick scrub-down with hot, soapy water and dry it as quickly as possible to avoid water spotting. To keep your used stainless steel flatware lasting longer, avoid prolonged exposure to foods like vinegar, salt, mustard, mayo, coffee, tea, and eggs. For any rust spots that do crop up, try scrubbing them with vinegar, then sealing with olive oil. Finally, buff your vintage flatware before washing it with soap and water.