In this post: Want to organize your dishes once and for all? Here’s how I transformed my dining room storage and finally organized my tableware for easy access.⇒
This is THAT post.
You know, the one I’ve been promising for a long time.
Without a doubt, the one question I get asked more than any other is where I store all my dishes. For the longest time, that was an easy answer, as everything was well organized and I simply needed to photograph it and share.
But over time, even my systems has broken down.
Suddenly I realized, if I showed you what was behind those doors, you wouldn’t find it very helpful. And at the same time, it had become difficult for me to find things when I needed them.
It looked something like this:
There were plates stacked on top of each other and layered 2 rows deep. The chargers were impossible to get to because they were piled so high. The disorder on the top shelves caused me to knock things over to find and get to what I needed.
And this same over-run system extended to all the storage pieces in the dining room, as well as beyond.
China in the basement. A mix of items in the butler’s pantry. And more spillover in the kitchen.
It was time for a complete overhaul.
Empty the Cabinets
Let me start by saying, I begin all organizing projects the same way – by taking everything out. However, in this case, that wasn’t so easy to do. I simply have too many dishes and tableware to unload and look at it all at one time.
But my rule is unbending. In order for me to consider something organized, I have to be able to see and reach everything without difficulty. Likewise, to be able to find things without searching, all like items need to be kept together.
So, I emptied one piece of furniture at a time and placed everything on the dining table. I then gathered all the similar items from the other cabinets and placed them there too. If I was going to do this in pieces, I had to be sure I could see everything in each category all together, in order to determine how much space was needed to house it.
I did a lot of looking and planning. I circled that table many times.
Then I diverted things on one side of the table to their new home, making room for the next category to be gathered there to be assessed and reassigned.
Divide Everything Into Categories
Before I could separate everything into categories, I had to determine what defined a category. Some things were obvious like stemware or candles. But other things were less obvious. Would all plates go together? Or would dinner sets be isolated by pattern. Would salad plates be stored with dinner plates? Or would dishes be divided by size, color, occasion or formality?
I decided to keep china sets as one category and casual plates as another and hence they would be stored separately.
Decide Where You Will Store Each Category
You may remember a few months ago, when, in anticipation of this project and to temporarily solve the overflow of dishes and other tabletop items, I created space in a closet near the dining room to store some of my surplus tableware collection.
It was a great fix in the meantime, adding much needed additional storage, but it didn’t solve the problem of overall disorder and the goals of ease and accessibility.
Now with a complete plan to address the tableware in its entirety, I could use the new closet system for the first category that I would put back in a more permanent spot.
Hence, I added a few more “H” shelves to maximize the storage available and this is where I decided to house my varied collections of casual plates. I included both dinner and salad sizes and made sure each shelf had only one pattern.
This solved my key goal of being able to see what I have and to be able to reach it without having to move things stored on top.
Put the Prettiest Items Where They Will Be Seen
This should be fairly obvious, yet, remarkably, I had previously stored my china behind the closed doors on the bottom of the china cabinet. I had one set packed away in the basement and another partial set sitting on the bar cart.
Now, perhaps most people don’t even need to find storage for 4 sets of china, but I’m at that weird stage in life where I’ve acquired china from my mom and my mother-in-law, yet my kids are not married yet and ready for china to be passed on to them. So, fortunately the 4 sets peacefully coexist and I’ve determined to move them to the top of the cabinet where they can be seen and often appreciated.
If you’ve seen my table settings, you know I frequently mix them together anyway!
Use Shelf Helpers to Make Access Easier
Arguably the single biggest improvement to entire storage system was adding helper shelves to my lower cabinets, making it possible for me to separate each set of charger plates so I could grab the set I want without moving the heavy sets stacked above them. This has made table setting infinitely easier and never again will I choose my chargers based on which ones I could reach because the set I really wanted was too difficult to get to.
Move the Stemware Near the Drinks
If you are lucky enough to have a butler’s pantry, it’s a great place to store all of your stemware. As long time readers know, our home did not come with this space, and instead it was a closet that we converted for this purpose.
In the past it displayed both plates and glassware and while I loved the way that looked, it makes much more sense to keep all of our stemware together so I always know where to find it.
If you don’t have such a space, you might commandeer a buffet in the dining room or study, or even in a cabinet in a corner of the kitchen. The main thing is to keep everything together and preferably near where the spirits will be poured.
Don’t Forget About Outdoor Dishes
Living in a townhouse with our patio right off the kitchen, we don’t often set up formal meals outside. Nonetheless, we do have casual get togethers that spill onto the patio, so I keep outdoor dishes and drinkware for these occasions. Since they’re not used that frequently I opted to use the bottom cabinets in the pantry to store these items and keep them gathered together.
This is another category that was previously scattered about the house, so it’s a pleasure to always know where to find them.
Use Drawers for Smaller Items
The sideboard in our dining room is not my favorite piece, yet it provides some extra storage that comes in handy pretty often. At the top there are two drawers that I use for storing napkin rings, divided into sets in simple ziplock bags.
(Some day I may paint this piece, but it’s really a bit too small. It’s one of the few pieces left in our home that instead might be replaced. Time will tell… ;-))
What About Those Odd Shaped Items?
There’s always those one-off odd shaped items that don’t belong in a category and can’t be neatly lined up like soldiers. This comprises things like small vases or large candle holders, but might include other oddities that belong nowhere else. I do my best to make sure to keep only things I use, so this group is pared down and requires less in the way of storage. I’m keeping them in the sideboard in rows as orderly as possible.
Larger vases are either kept out on display or in an upper cabinet in the kitchen, so this is really limited to outliers.
In the corner of our dining room we keep a petite bar cart with a small cluster of vintage crystal decanters. This is one of several spots around our home where tableware can be found both in use and for a pretty flourish. These vignettes are often reserved for favorite items which should never need to be stored away.
But they should also be taken into account as part of your storage plan because they offer a home to these items.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to finally have my tableware neatly organized. This will make entertaining and setting my tables a whole lot easier and hence infinitely more enjoyable.
Now all we need is to end the quarantine so we can have an opportunity to have guests around our table!
Dining Room Storage Resource List
To get the look, click on the items below for direct links to the products. Where actual items were no longer available, I’ve provided many similar options.
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