Vintage Cutlery: The Secret to a Chic Dinner Table

Whether you’re throwing a fabulous dinner party or setting the table for one, there’s no need to invest in a full set of expensive cutlery. On the contrary. As Marie Kondo would say, the most important thing is that your table sparks joy. Every darn time you eat. My French girl decorating secret? Vintage cutlery.

For me, a joy-sparking table means mixing and matching vintage flea-market purchases with pretty hand-me down plates, grandma’s antique silver knives and forks and a set of reusable linen napkins. Personally, I find that there’s nothing more beautiful and inviting than a table decorated with old treasures, exotic souvenirs and new eco-friendly finds. Forget the perfectly decorated dinner table styled by Elle Décor. The table I love is better. Because it’s a reflection of me, my history and my daydreams. And yours can be too.

There are so many easy, budget-friendly ways to get started creating your own eco-fabulous table decor. My absolute favourite recommendation however, is to use vintage silverware. Great for your home, great for your budget and great for the planet, using pre-loved flatware and antique silverware will make you feel special every single time you eat.

Why I recommend using vintage cutlery

Vintage cutlery is really pretty

Vintage silverware is incredible for so many reasons. For starters, it looks unbelievable gorgeous. Using second-hand silver flatware is elegant, luxurious and it just makes me feel like a princess every time I eat with it. Which is why I recommend using it every day. Don’t leave your gems hidden away for special occasions, while you eat year-round with the “cheap stuff”. Make your fancy knives and forks your main (and only) set of flatware. Use it every day.

When I was little, my mom used to keep our family silverware tucked away in the dining room cabinet. Instead we would eat with a random assortment of unexciting knives and forks that we’d accumulated here and there. Let’s just say, it was not Instagram-worthy… Then one day, after sitting down to a special dinner, we discussed how much nicer it was to eat with the silver, and couldn’t think of a reason to deprive ourselves of this pleasure every day. Then and there, a new tradition was born. Our pretty cutlery moved into the main kitchen drawer and it has been there ever since. Twenty years on, it’s still looking fabulous – and sparking joy.

Vintage cutlery has a soul

Aside from its understated elegance, vintage flatware also feels special because the old sets are so unique. Each piece has a history, it tells a story. My mom has several forks and spoons bearing monogrammed initials from mysterious past owners. Who were they and where did they live? A chateau in France perhaps? Maybe Downtown Abbey? A girl can dream…

Fantasies aside, antique flatware is such a great way to blend the old with the new, and to add some easy, no fuss glamour to your table. In her book, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are, French style icon Caroline de Maigret, shares: “The table should reflect what you have, and not be overly coordinated. Au contraire, the china can be a mottled collection of your finds at flea markets.” In other words, without too much effort you can still end up with a beautifully decorated table. French-girl approved.

A set of mix and match vintage cutlery.

Vintage cutlery is eco-friendly

As someone who is passionate about environmental preservation but who also wants to create a beautiful home, buying antique cutlery is such a win-win situation. When you purchase second-hand cutlery (or pretty much anything second-hand for that matter), you are not contributing to the creation of anything new. What you are buying is not consuming additional resources, nor requiring any extra manufacturing energy. This is pretty much as sustainable as shopping gets. Better yet, in the case of silverware, you may actually be rescuing an old set from being thrown away. It’s crazy how much of this stuff is out there, and it’s a bargain! But we’ll get to that later on.

Vintage cutlery is also a great eco-friendly choice because it is made to last. Think about it. If your cutlery has already been around for 30, 50 or even 100 years, you can be pretty sure that it will last a lot longer than any conventional, cheap flatware you can find at Ikea or HomeSense. Any set that has already served several generations is bound to be high-quality. There is no need to replace it again and again.

Vintage cutlery is inexpensive

As a financial advisor and accountant by day, I’m a sucker for a good deal. I love finding creative ways of saving money, without sacrificing my luxury taste. That’s why second-hand silverware is one of my favourite discoveries. There is so much old cutlery available, and so few people aware of it, that the resale value is really low. Recently I purchased silver spoons for $2 each, and at a garage sale I got 10 beautiful dinner forks for $10. The sellers were basically giving the stuff away.

Compare that to what you would pay for a basic set at Ikea, or The Bay, not to mention a luxury setting for 8 at Birks or Tiffany. Buying vintage is such a steal! And if you ask me, it’s also about being smart with your money.

The cash that you would typically spend on a high-end cutlery set could instead be building you wealth in a simple investment account. Here’s how. Rather than spend $500 on some fancy-pants forks and knives with little re-sale value, you choose to invest those $500 today in an Index fund (more on this in an upcoming article). You leave it sitting there with minimal effort on your part, and in ten years you can expect to have doubled your money (based on average annual 10-year returns). All the while you’re still eating with your classy cutlery like a queen. I rest my case.

Vintage cutlery set on the table at home.

Where to buy vintage cutlery

As I mentioned, there is so much vintage silverware out there waiting for a new home to love it. Much of it comes from our grandparents’ generation, but our parents have been known to stockpile it too. Since the 1980s, the trend has been for cheaper, every-day flatware. Therefore, current owners can’t earn much selling their old sets, and would just be happy for someone to take them off their hands. This is good news for us second-hand decor enthusiasts, as there are some really great deals out there.

But before spending a penny, see if you can’t get some flatware from family members for free. It’s time to go visit Grandma! You never know what’s been stashed away and forgotten about in an old basement.

If you’re not able to score any antique freebies for your table setting, hope is not lost. There are so many other great places to hunt for vintage flatware. Here are my favourite places to browse:

Etsy.ca

Ebay.ca

– Local garage sales

– Estate sales and auctions, such as Maynards in Vancouver or Drouot in Paris.

– Thrift, second-hand and charity shops with a home department, like the Salvation Army Thrift Stores.

– Craigslist

– Flea markets at home and abroad, such as the Marché aux Puces and vide-greniers (the emptying of attics sales) around France. Google your destination before an upcoming trip to see what flea and antique markets will be going on while you’re visiting.

– Antique shops (probably the most expensive option, but you never know what deals you might find).

A large selection of vintage silverware for sale at the market.

When you’re shopping for vintage flatware, you’ll want to look for silver or real stainless steel. Don’t be afraid to do a little research beforehand and ask questions to the people selling. After all, you want to know what you’re buying. That being said, I generally buy the silverware if the pieces look nice and if the price seems reasonable – and so far I’ve done just fine. Especially for the prices I’ve been paying. Don’t worry about finding 8 or more perfectly matching designs. It’s probably not going to happen, and your table decor will look all the more effortlessly chic because of it.

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to bargain. Only pay a price that you are happy with and that’s within your budget.

Caring for your vintage cutlery

To make sure that you take the best care of your new-to-you silverware, you’ll want to do some quick research into how best to clean it. In my experience, I’ve always just put it in the dishwasher, and have never had a problem. But this can vary depending on where you live, your water quality (for example, hard water may affect your flatware differently), and the detergent you use. If your knives and forks start turning black after a few washes, that’s a sign that your dishwasher is doing something funky, so you will need to find out what’s going on, or start washing your cutlery by hand. Generally though, cleaning is super easy.

Vintage flatware by Christofle.

Once or twice a year, typically before a special dinner occasion, you will probably want to give your flatware a bit of a polish. You can use chemical solutions, or better yet, make your own eco-friendly cleaner by mixing together a few simple, non-toxic ingredients, like vinegar, salt and baking soda. There are lots of great articles and Youtube videos showing you how to do this. Et voilà, keeping your antique cutlery looking shiny and beautiful is a breeze.

Now it’s time to start decorating your own dream table setting that sparks joy. As such a chic and sustainable alternative to conventional flatware, your carefully curated pieces are bound to bring you endless happiness every time you sit down – whether to a simple breakfast, a nice dinner, or a fancy soirée with friends. Vintage flatware will always be in style. Bon appétit!

Eating breakfast in the garden.

What are the special design details that you love using to decorate your table? I’d love to hear your recommendations and tips in the comments below!

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