How to Style a Modern Table with the Most Popular China Patterns

These easy place setting ideas offer fresh ways to set the table with vintage patterns.

Setting the dinner table with a special set of china is a holiday tradition for many families. Showcasing classic patterns and intricate details, these delicate dishes are often passed down through generations and admired as treasured heirlooms. But what if your grandmother's favorite tableware isn't quite your style? The right mix of accessories is key to giving old dishes a new look. To start, identify the colors and motifs portrayed on your china, then select chargers, napkins, glassware, and more that complement and balance those designs.

With help from Replacements, Ltd. (a retailer that sells current and vintage tableware), we identified some of the most popular pattern styles, including transferware, florals, and ornate rims, and compiled a set of accessories for each. Use these easy place setting ideas to update vintage china with a fresh look.

table setting with patterned plates and tablecloth
Carson Downing

1. Botanical Scenes

Botanical china patterns (like Spode's Buttercup) tend to have a formal feel. To lighten the look, pair your set with botanical-print linens and touches of natural wood. Here, hints of gold and a mustard-yellow nod to the painted buttercups, while blue elements temper this summery pattern for fall. For an easy styling trick that ties it all together, use your set's platter as the base for a centerpiece.

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Sicily Tablecloth

cream tablecloth with dark blue and yellow pattern
Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

Delicate floral motifs rendered in dark blue and gold create an elegant backdrop.

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Acacia Wood Charger Plate

round wood charger plate
Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Ground each place setting with a natural wood charger.

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Threshold 4-Pack Cotton Easy Care Napkins in Yellow

stack of folded yellow napkins
Courtesy of Target

Contrast the blue accents with napkins in a warm mustard yellow.

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Botanical Napkin Ring, Set of 4

gold leaf shape napkin rings with cream napkins
Courtesy of West Elm

Leaf-shaped napkin rings reinforce the botanical motif.

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Kosta Boda Bruk Salad Plate in Blue Water

round blue glass plate
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

Blue-tinted glass salad plates add a hint of color without hiding the china pattern beneath.

brown and white bird and floral patterned plate
Carson Downing

2. Transferware

The transferware technique involves printing china patterns rather than individually hand-painting them, which was time-consuming and expensive. Initially engraved into copper plates, these elaborate designs were transferred onto paper using ink, then applied to the dish's surface. Often featuring a single color against a white background, transferware can be highly ornate, showcasing romantic scenes of animals, architecture, florals, and more. To make a classic transferware pattern (like this Asiatic Pheasant Brown dinner plate by Royal Stafford) feel more down-to-earth, opt for on-trend speckled ceramics and metallic bark-patterned napkins. Contemporary glassware and repeating gold accents keep the look elevated.

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Primrose Gold Salad Plate

speckled plate with gold rim
Courtesy of Crate & Barrel

Brown speckles echo the color in the transferware.

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Bark Textured Jacquard Napkins, Set of 4

Bark Textured Jacquard Napkins
Carson Downing

A metallic faux bois pattern amps up the autumnal feel.

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Porsha Smoke Red Wine Glass

brown tinted wine glass
Courtesy of CB2

Smoky stemware mimics the deep color of the china, but its sleek lines offer a touch of mod

colorful floral plate
Carson Downing

3. Allover Florals

Many floral china patterns combine a variety of vibrant colors and intricately painted details against a white background. Balance busy designs like this one (Haddon Hall from Minton) by playing up a single color in the pattern and repeating it in varying shades on the table. Orange features heavily in this design, for example, so we chose it for our accent color. An overtly modern piece (say, an abstract salad plate) in the mix transforms the entire setting and keeps it from feeling too old-fashioned.

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Bubble Taper Candle, Set of 4

bubble taper candles in warm colors
Courtesy of Urban Outfitters

The bubble shape creates an element of surprise

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Scalloped Placemats, Set of 4

brown and tan Scalloped Placemat
Jason Donnelly

A playful place mat helps keep this table from feeling stuffy.

white plate with ornamental gold and red rim
Carson Downing

4. Bold Rims

To update plates with a bold, ornate rim (like Style 3244 from Rosenthal-Continental), pair them with a tablecloth that also has big personality, but in a contrasting style. Here, a loose overall floral fabric echoes the china's color but tones down its formality. Keep the rest of the elements simple so they don't fight for the spotlight.

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10 Strawberry Street Cream Double Gold Line Salad/Dessert Plate, Set of 6

10 Strawberry Street Cream Double Gold Salad Dessert Plate
Carson Downing

Gold bands draw attention to the rim; creamy white warms the setting.

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Harvest Bloom Tablecloth

Harvest Bloom Tablecloth
Carson Downing

Realistic painterly florals could take the place of a centerpiece.

white plate with blue design
Carson Downing

5. Delicate Designs

Dainty patterns with intricate scrolling or line work can easily get lost on a large table. Call attention to delicate designs like this one (Royal Copenhagen's Blue Fluted Plain) by sticking to pieces in the same colors. Avoid placing salad plates or napkins on top of the dinner plates where they'll hide the pattern.

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Saro Lifestyle Florentia Charger Plates in Indigo, Set of 4

blue and white Florentia Charger
Carson Downing

A bold charger in the same palette gives the china more presence.

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Bisou Dinner Napkin in Teal, Set of 4

Bisou Dinner Napkin in Teal
Carson Downing

A simple embroidered edge won't overpower the china pattern.

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Small Blue Glass Candle Holder

blue glass candle holder
Courtesy of Liberty London

Mix one or two of these with a collection of brass or glass taper holders.

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Izon Mirror 5-Piece Silverware Set Rose Gold

rose gold flatware
Courtesy of Target

Slim flatware with a rose gold hue balances all the cool tones.

Updated by
Jessica Thomas

Jessica Thomas has been the style director at Better Homes and Gardens since 2014. She has experience in creating specialty books, magazine layouts, covers, and ads. She has also been a freelance art and photo director and creative consultant for nearly 15 years. She is experienced in art and photo direction, production, editorial direction, and graphic design. Before taking on the role of style director, Jessica worked as the photo design editor for Country Homes magazine and the associate art director for Better Homes & Gardens.

Lauren Bengtson
Lauren Bengtson is the Associate Market Editor for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. She has extensive experience in researching, pitching, producing, and reporting on interior design and market trends and works on a range of stories covering crafts, decorating, DIY, parties, holidays, and more. Lauren received her Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Mass Communications, and Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Iowa State University.
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