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(Stacey Brandford Photography/stacey brandford)
(Stacey Brandford Photography/stacey brandford)

Dare to dine in style Add to ...

Some of us have china and crystal, silver and linen in spades, passed down from grandmothers and great aunts, and some of us don't. It doesn't matter how much I have, I'll always crave more! The good news is that if your china cabinet isn't overflowing with an abundance of hand-me-down table settings you adore, you can amass a veritable abundance of exceptional beauty for a pauper's price. I picked up intricately detailed silver-plate cutlery for $175 (a setting for 12!), vividly hand painted fine bone china with a funky hot pink floral border that's anything but G-ma (that's short for Grandma) for $375 (a setting for 8), and a whole collection of silver-plate serving pieces and candlesticks ranging in price from $10 and up (with sources that varied from a pawn shop on Church Sreet to a consignment store). Admittedly, when I got married, I registered for all the fixings from fine china purveyor William Ashley to further embellish my dinner party accoutrements, but if you're looking to outfit your dining room with beautiful goods at bargain prices, buy used (and celebrate the fabulous finds).

And a few more 101 lessons:

The Save

Our furniture odyssey started off in the basement of one of my all-time fave consignment shops (rarely have I ever left without a variety of treasures … but that's another story). A set of six shield back chairs with vintage pedigree and great lines at a bargain price of less than $35 apiece were too good a deal to pass up, even if they needed some love to whip them into shape. Since there aren't many places to make a statement in a small dining room, I'm always on the lookout for chairs, which are comfortable and elegant, with shapely lines to add visual interest. This set fit the bill perfectly.

The Splurge

In my opinion, the downfall of many dining rooms lies in the furniture. I've never been a fan of suites of furniture (comprised of matching chairs, sideboard and table), as I feel they offer a look of too much uniformity and sameness.

If you consider the duration of the average dinner party, your guests will likely be seated for increments measured in hours, not minutes. During pauses in conversation (of which I hope there are very few), your guests' eyes may wander around the room to take in the decor and surroundings. When everything in sight is the same, there is no visual pleasure to delight in, no patterns to process, no textures to appreciate. My biggest complaint about new furniture, fresh off the boat from the Far East, is that it devalues the second your credit card is swiped for purchase. No matter how much you spend on new furniture, it's worth a fraction of the sticker price once it crosses your threshold.

Vintage or, better yet, antique pieces (if bought well) will retains their value - perhaps even appreciate as time marches on. Never certain what we'll find on our shopping adventures, Tommy and I hit up another favourite consignment destination and discovered a remarkable dining table with exceptionally beautiful wood grain on the top and a complementary (but not matching) Sheraton style sideboard for around $3,000 per piece. If you're starting out and furnishing your home for the long haul, it makes sense to buy the best you can afford. (Tommy hoped the clients would not like the table and it would inevitably pass on to him, but alas, the table found a happy home with its new owners, who've already held dinners with friends and family)

The Signature Sarah

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