Tea cups, saucers, serving bowls, and more all deserve showcasing beyond your cabinet.

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china teapot reused as vase for flowers
Credit: Ashley Poskin

China sets, silver, and other formal items that are commonly passed down from on generation of a family to the next aren't utilized as often as they used to be—family gatherings and parties are much more casual nowadays than they were in the past. And if you don't have the space to display an entire china set, it will most likely be packed away, only to resurface on the rare occasion you host a formal party.

It's an honor to inherit these items, but what do you do if they aren't exactly your style or you just don't have the space to display the collection? We have some fun and functional ideas for ways you can incorporate pieces into your home that honor the gift and giver without overwhelming your space.

china plate hanging on wall embellished with porcelain paint
Credit: Ashley Poskin

Enhance your wall-art​.

China patterns come in all colors and prints. Some are breathtakingly beautiful, while others are simple in their refinement. A fun way to incorporate a few dishes from the set into your home is to paint them with ​porcelain paint such as Marabu Porcelain Paint ($5, michaels.com)​. Create a whimsical character or add polka dots, a monogram, or a witty phrase. Use a plate or platter as your canvas, then bake the item in the oven at 300 degrees for 35 minutes to make your design permanent. Add ​Adhesive Plate Hangers​ ($4.50 each, containerstore.com) and display on your wall in sets of three or five, or mix in next to other paintings and photographs on a gallery wall.

china soup tureen reused as planter
Credit: Ashley Poskin

Think green with a planter.​

Soup tureens, tea or coffee pots, and other serving bowls make fantastic planters. Add rocks for drainage and a bit of top soil, then plant succulents or other choice varieties in the dish. Place the finished products in sunny spots around your home. Fill teacups with mint, chamomile, and other favorites, then line them up in your kitchen window. You can harvest and use your cuttings for tea at home. Plants are lovely to look at, and taste even lovelier when grown in a dish with sentimental value.

china sugar bowl reused as candle container
Credit: Ashley Poskin

Memorialize with a candle.

What scents remind you of your mother? Gather your essential oils, beeswax (or soy flakes), and a wick to create a candle that jogs your olfactory senses. Sugar bowls with lids are perfect for holding candles, but gravy boats, tea cups, or creamers work as well. Lighting a candle to remember a loved one is a special act no matter how near or far away they might be.

Lastly, make creative use of broken pieces.

​We've all been there—an accident happens and we just can't bring ourselves to toss all those beautiful broken pieces. If there is a particularly meaningful piece of china that has broken, take it to a jeweler and see if they are able to place it in a setting to be worn as a necklace or a pair of earrings. It's a new investment, and we can guarantee no one else will have as unique or special a piece of jewelry as you.

Comments (34)

Martha Stewart Member
September 24, 2021
Wow, people are certainly going out of their way to put their mean & ugly on display. While a suggestion may not be for you don't behave in such an entitled manner to act as if they needed to be.. for you. There is a much larger readership than just "you". I have 2 sets of inherited china. 1 is a full set I decided to use for my everyday since the kid's have grown & gone. The other is a much older partial set from my great -grandmum's era. I'm not sure about any lead being in it, especially since it has metallic gold in the pattern, but it's to lovely to box away & never see. I love these suggestions! This started out as a service for 20 and there are 18 tea cups in perfect condition. More of those than anything else. Using them to make candles is a wonderful idea. I have a daughter getting married next year.. what great bridesmaids gifts those would be with a little card noting their history. I think I'll glue them to the saucers since I also have a ton of those. Then use the rest as gifts for assorted family events. Birthdays probably. I also have several of the serving pieces so those will now be used with plants in small pots snuggled inside and on display. I have the gorgeous large & small platters, 3 lonely dinner plates , 5 salad plates, several dessert plates and a lot of bread plates - most with chipped edges. Some I'll arrange on a wall but I think the bread plates I'll break into pieces along with other chipped pieces and make a pretty mosaic tabletop. Thank you so much for getting me thinking about how to use this lovely much cherished china!! Ignore the haters. Haters gonna hate - it's a symptom of their sad sack lives.
Martha Stewart Member
September 24, 2021
Wow, people are certainly going out of their way to put their mean & ugly on display. While a suggestion may not be for you don't behave in such an entitled manner to act as if they needed to be.. for you. There is a much larger readership than just "you". I have 2 sets of inherited china. 1 is a full set I decided to use for my everyday since the kid's have grown & gone. The other is a much older partial set from my great -grandmum's era. I'm not sure about any lead being in it, especially since it has metallic gold in the pattern, but it's to lovely to box away & never see. I love these suggestions! This started out as a service for 20 and there are 18 tea cups in perfect condition. More of those than anything else. Using them to make candles is a wonderful idea. I have a daughter getting married next year.. what great bridesmaids gifts those would be with a little card noting their history. I think I'll glue them to the saucers since I also have a ton of those. Then use the rest as gifts for assorted family events. Birthdays probably. I also have several of the serving pieces so those will now be used with plants in small pots snuggled inside and on display. I have the gorgeous large & small platters, 3 lonely dinner plates , 5 salad plates, several dessert plates and a lot of bread plates - most with chipped edges. Some I'll arrange on a wall but I think the bread plates I'll break into pieces along with other chipped pieces and make a pretty mosaic tabletop. Thank you so much for getting me thinking about how to use this lovely much cherished china!! Ignore the haters. Haters gonna hate - it's a symptom of their sad sack lives.
Martha Stewart Member
August 22, 2021
I use my set of China every day as casual dishes. My great grandchildren enjoy them now as well as my grandchildren. Why not? When I’m gone, no one may want them, but they will have been used and loved by my family! The China is 54 years young and going strong!
Martha Stewart Member
August 22, 2021
Really dumb ideas. Do they pay people to come up with these ideas?
Martha Stewart Member
August 22, 2021
There are kits at Home Depot to test for lead in paint, I imagine they can be used on China as well...
Martha Stewart Member
October 13, 2020
Who writes these articles? It must be some brainless unappreciative twelve year old. Why would anyone paint over your grandmother’s china? Have you no heart? No sentimentality? No appreciation of the beautiful China? Use it every single day. Enhance your life. Think of the history of that China and of those who dined on it for many years. Use this stuff until you die, then donate it or sell it. Someone who loves China will buy it and appreciate it and most importantly, use it. Dear God......
Martha Stewart Member
October 13, 2020
Who writes these articles? It must be some brainless unappreciative twelve year old. Why would anyone paint over your grandmother’s china? Have you no heart? No sentimentality? No appreciation of the beautiful China? Use it every single day. Enhance your life. Think of the history of that China and of those who dined on it for many years. Use this stuff until you die, then donate it or sell it. Someone who loves China will buy it and appreciate it and most importantly, use it. Dear God......
Martha Stewart Member
September 29, 2020
How do you know if your old china has lead in it?
Martha Stewart Member
September 28, 2020
I use my good china for dinner most of the time. My children have no interest so I use it! I do have my grandmothers which I cherish. I didn’t think the ideas were horrible. Don’t think I would paint on it.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
I'm really surprised at the negative comments, I think these are great ideas, instead of having to get rid of sentimental items or storing them when there's limited space, doing something with the china so it can be displayed in a creative way. Obviously it will depend on how valuable the china is, whether you paint it or melt a candle in it, but if it's incredibly valuable, I don't think you'd be reading this artcle or wondering what to do with your grandmother's china, you'd already have contacted a dealer! For the rest of us commoners with non-valuable chin these are great ideas!
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
I'm really surprised at the negative comments, I think these are great ideas, instead of having to get rid of sentimental items or storing them when there's limited space, doing something with the china so it can be displayed in a creative way. Obviously it will depend on how valuable the china is, whether you paint it or melt a candle in it, but if it's incredibly valuable, I don't think you'd be reading this artcle or wondering what to do with your grandmother's china, you'd already have contacted a dealer! For the rest of us commoners with non-valuable chin these are great ideas!
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
Before ruining this china with paint or wax, consider offering it for sale on eBay. There may be someone out there who collects it and would love to own and cherish these pieces. I'm sure the person you inherited them from would rather see that, and you'll make someone else happy. Granted, most of the "beautiful" china people inherit from their grandmothers is not of much value, but as someone who collects it myself, I shudder to think of someone trashing a set of, say, Shelley china without realizing how much other people value it
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
These are all fine ideas... OBVIOUSLY people we are NOT talking about heirloom or valuable stuff here.. so much of this kind of stuff is only valuable to the owner as sentimental BUT if you are sentimental and don’t want to actually use it as dishes in your home why not take a piece or so and do something special with it? You can always dontate the rest and have something to remember the family member. I would think this is pretty self evident in the article but I guess some people just have to be negative. ALSO the headline is UPCYCLE NOT UPSCALE BIG DIFFERENCE guys!!! Do we need your opinions about what bad ideas these are? NOT really! It does noone any good just YOUR opinion. As many I am sure find them valid ideas and a good way to preserve a little piece of history. Lets BE NICE like so many of u claim to want in the world... PLEASE 😊
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
Anonymous 8/10/20, what an amazing story! I'd be looking for ways to display that china, too! Have you thought of narrow floating shelves/rails, instead of a china cabinet? Maybe use them as a border at the top of the wall, almost like a unique china crown molding? Or put small (invisible) brackets underneath your favorite pieces and arrange them as a large wall clock? You can buy hands and clock workings online that will make anything into a clock, so, say, your largest platter sits in the noon position, second largest at three or six, etc.? And smaller pieces can be the "in between" numbers (seven, eight, etc.)? It won't display the entire set, but you'll be able to see some of them at least, and the rest can be stored away in padded boxes/bags. You could also do the above on a staircase wall or something: small floating shelves/brackets to display the pieces in a pleasing pattern on the wall. My mother hung baskets on our staircase wall (it was the 70s/80s, heh); it looked really nice, and I'd think beautiful china would look even better, creating a focal point for the house. Maybe a large bookcase covering a whole or half wall, with pieces interspersed among the books (and other decorative items)? Maybe even use the china to "hold up" the shelves, by which I mean, use brackets under the shelves and hide them with china pieces (which would themselves be carefully bracketed) so it looks like the pieces are holding up the shelves? I too am disappointed with the suggestions here. I have a LOT of old china, and I have a small business building wood furniture and home decor; I'd really hoped for some good ideas for stuff to make and do with my own china. But to paint on it? Why in the world would I paint polka dots on Limoges china (that's already painted)? And one of my patterns is in a 73-piece set; I don't want to break any of the pieces! I hope some of my suggestions are helpful to you or spark an idea in you?
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
My mother’s good China included a fondue set. It was beautiful on the outside but badly stained inside. I use it as a simmering potpourri pot instead. The surviving pieces of her set get used often enough to warrant keeping them. I use the teacups as small ramekins for custards and puddings (portion control can look pretty). The kids felt it was a special occasion at Sunday dinner. The gravy boat has a crack but it serves a new purpose by the kitchen sink holding small items that would get lost or damaged in the dishpan. (My wedding rings when I’m hand washing dishes). A sugar bowl makes an excellent container for straight pins in my sewing cabinet. I glued a magnet to the inside of the lid. An old beer stein that will no longer close its lid is where I keep my paint brushes. Just because it’s no longer fit for food doesn’t make useless.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
You have GOT to be kidding! This should be titled, “How to ruin a Heirloom”. Someone needs to hire better writers. How about ideas on different ways to display handed down dishes? There’s so much this article could be and isn’t. It should end with... USE the dishes even if you’re get togethers are casual, mix it up. A casual napkin and placemat with grandma’s Lenox looks awesome! Place Aunt Sally’s old China on a reclaimed wood floating shelf. There’s SO much more you can do without permanently damaging a hand me down.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
I love the fine China I’ve inherited from my great grandmother. There is no way I would use it for planters, hang it up on a wall or make a candle out of it. Ms. Stewart has always provided sound advice, but missed the mark on this. Please don’t cancel the magazine over this. Maybe you need some “older“ women to help you with what to do with these collectible and precious works of art. Thank you.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
I love the fine China I’ve inherited from my great grandmother. There is no way I would use it for planters, hang it up on a wall or make a candle out of it. Ms. Stewart has always provided sound advice, but missed the mark on this. Please don’t cancel the magazine over this. Maybe you need some “older“ women to help you with what to do with these collectible and precious works of art. Thank you.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
Whoa, people, there is no need to be rude. These are just suggestions. The candle memorial idea is lovely. I think it beats making something ugly out of something that was once beautiful. many people are breaking china and making God awful mosaics out of them! There is a place on the internet you can sell old china to and maybe add to the set you use. That way, someone who loves that pattern is able to get it to complete their own set. I love my mismatched tea cups and dessert plates for a small get together. No one seems to mind that things don't match. That said, it is perfectly alright to say that you don't really care for the pattern, even if Grandma adored it. Give it up, let someone select it as a choice and that is also a lovely way to honor our loved ones.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
Whoa, people, there is no need to be rude. These are just suggestions. The candle memorial idea is lovely. I think it beats making something ugly out of something that was once beautiful. many people are breaking china and making God awful mosaics out of them! There is a place on the internet you can sell old china to and maybe add to the set you use. That way, someone who loves that pattern is able to get it to complete their own set. I love my mismatched tea cups and dessert plates for a small get together. No one seems to mind that things don't match. That said, it is perfectly alright to say that you don't really care for the pattern, even if Grandma adored it. Give it up, let someone select it as a choice and that is also a lovely way to honor our loved ones.
Martha Stewart Member
September 27, 2020
For the inadvertently broken pieces, there are companies that will carefully cut out bits of the design and mount them into brooches, necklaces, earrings, etc. One of them is dinnerwearjewelry.com
Martha Stewart Member
September 1, 2020
Some of these old pieces of China have lead in them and should not even be used as plates. I have a whole set that I cannot use that I inherited from my aunt just like the first picture in this post. It is sad.
Martha Stewart Member
August 13, 2020
I think some of the ideas could be adapted to not ruining the piece themselves like an electric candle in one of the pots or a pot in a pot with a plant so as not to ruin the original!
Martha Stewart Member
August 10, 2020
My grandmother’s china is well over 100 years old. There is only one other set and it resides at Buckingham Palace. There is no way I would use it in any of the ways you outlined. I was looking for modern way to display- something other than stodgy China cabinet
Martha Stewart Member
August 10, 2020
My grandmother’s china is well over 100 years old. There is only one other set and it resides at Buckingham Palace. There is no way I would use it in any of the ways you outlined. I was looking for modern way to display- something other than stodgy China cabinet
Martha Stewart Member
August 9, 2020
These are three horrible things to do to heirloom china. Especially painting on it!!! You should be ashamed. I would expect more from Martha Stewart. This is not “upscaling” heirloom china. This is ruining it. You might as well just smash it.
Martha Stewart Member
August 9, 2020
These are three horrible things to do to heirloom china. Especially painting on it!!! You should be ashamed. I would expect more from Martha Stewart. This is not “upscaling” heirloom china. This is ruining it. You might as well just smash it.
Martha Stewart Member
August 9, 2020
Horrible idea, not a good way to honor those in our past, why not package it all up and give to a charity or even a soup kitchen.
Martha Stewart Member
August 8, 2020
Only one I agree with is the candle.you can hang plates & not paint them. I hung some over the doorway in the dining room, & 4 in a diamond shape on a wall. As for the sugar bowl, if you don’t want dirt, you can always use silk flowers or fake greenery or air plants
Martha Stewart Member
August 8, 2020
Those are horrible. Maybe, and I mean maybe, the jewelers idea, but the others are great ways to ruin fine china. Sell the China to a reputable company (maybe save a serving piece for yourself) and treat yourself to a new serving dish that grandma or mom might have found fun or sweet.
Martha Stewart Member
August 8, 2020
Maybe we need to remember and celebrate more and show how these beautiful things can be used at dinner or lunches instead of for a potted plant. Sad way to handle things that people loved and preserved.
Martha Stewart Member
August 8, 2020
I don’t agree that these are horrible ideas. I inherited my Mother’s china and used and stored it for years but now my lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to using it. My Mother used it a lot and it shows it so it is not in pristine condition. I’m donating most of it but keeping the smaller serving pieces and the dessert plates. The sugar bowl I use every day and I might make a candle in the gravy boat. Bonny
Martha Stewart Member
August 8, 2020
I don’t agree that these are horrible ideas. I inherited my Mother’s china and used and stored it for years but now my lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to using it. My Mother used it a lot and it shows it so it is not in pristine condition. I’m donating most of it but keeping the smaller serving pieces and the dessert plates. The sugar bowl I use every day and I might make a candle in the gravy boat. Bonny
Martha Stewart Member
June 15, 2020
These are all horrible ideas and would ruin treasured heirlooms. I was hoping this was an article on how to display some pieces of dishes in a modern way (without completely ruining them).