It doesn't have to match to be a great tea set anymore

These mix and match pairs start from under seven pounds including side plates
These mix and match pairs start from under seven pounds including side plates

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn looks at a new trend in cutlery...

On a recent (rare) day off, my wife and I seized the opportunity to take afternoon tea at a lovely hotel in the Lake District. I realised how far a new trend is sweeping, when Gloria and I were served two different cups, even though we’d ordered a pot of tea for two. All the saucers and plates were different sizes and patterns, too.

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Welcome to the growing trend for ‘mix and match’, where cafes and restaurants seem to be striving for deliberate mismatch. A Denby cup in a floral saucer? A majolica side plate nestling up to a delftware soup dish? Well, why not?

I find this all rather refreshing, not least because it gives a new lease of life to some lovely vintage crockery that would otherwise have been hidden or thrown away.

All too often our visitors tell me they daren’t use their “best” crockery for fear of breaking it and matching tea sets can often be for display purposes only, which seems a shame. Mix and

Match collections mean you can shop for exactly what you like, use it, and (dare I say it) even put it in the dishwasher.

It’s a fantastically economical hobby, with plentiful pickings at the car boot sale or charity shop. Rummage about and select pieces that speak to you; maybe a finish you like, or a pattern that stirs up childhood memories. Buy it, enjoy using it, and who cares if it doesn’t have matching friends! Here the pressure is off as it almost doesn’t matter if it breaks.

You only need to replace it by choosing a different piece you like. Wandering around the centre, I would often see a lone cup and saucer left on the shelf that was once part of a set. Until recently it was considered pretty worthless, not being part of a complete tea set, but now visitors will buy that lone cup simply because they like it.

This beautiful cake stand is a fantastic example of singular plates that have been collected, put together and given a new lease of life. I’m not sure where this trend has come from, possibly the need to ‘make do and mend’.

Perhaps the urge for a simpler, more ethical and individual lifestyle in an increasingly disposable, impersonal society. So, have a go at creating your own original combinations.

Sympathetic mismatch is what we’re looking for, so embrace your creative side, and get ready to root out some individual, characterful pieces.