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Blue and White: A Brief Tutorial


Ahhh, and the coveted blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. So beautiful and yet it can go so so wrong. I received a lot of emails this week in anticipation of my big fat blue and white sale on Friday asking me what the difference between good and bad blue-and-white is. I am so excited that all of you are excited and interested in blue and white! It’s always fun when someone shares your passions and I definitely have a passion for blue-and-white. I got it from my mother who got it from her mother. It’s a generational obsession.

Just like there are good gilt mirrors and there are bad gilt mirrors, the world of blue-and-white has its angels and devils as well. For a complete history of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain that goes back to the dynasties of China click HERE. Since the Yuan Dynasty, blue-and-white Chinese porcelain has been coveted by emperors, kings, Buddhists, Popes, Dutch captains, and the wealthy. These days it is also coveted by every designer from Mary McDonald to Mark D.Sikes.

We all want to get our hands on some blue-and-white but it’s not always easy. The antique pieces are few and far between and they are very, very expensive. However, they are gorgeous and you never have to worry about them. New blue-and-white? Not so much. However, if you have a trained eye and know what you are looking for, you can pull off new blue-and-white.

The trick is to choose pieces that look old. Simple as that. Here are a few guidelines:

Look for a warm glaze. You don’t want a crisp glaze. Remember, these pieces are supposed to look hundreds and hundreds of years old.

Look for blues that seem to flow. Again, nothing crisp.

Look for a little dirt. Yes, you want a little dirt.… Around the rim and on the bottom. Trust me.

Look for ancient Chinese scenes. Cherry blossoms, Phoenix birds, cranes, Chinese scholars, pagodas, chrysanthemums, Koi fish, landscape scenes and even dragons and warriors but easy on the warriors and I would skip the foo dogs.

Skip the double happiness jars and vases. Overdone.

Look for a loose painting. You don’t want anything to look tight. You want it to look hand-painted, not mass manufactured.

Look for a warm cobalt color.

 
Okay, let’s have a visual tutorial. Let's start with good blue and white...
 

Even though these blue and white vases are all small, they vary in size and shape and look like a collection. They also follow the odd number rule. Gorgeous!
 
 

 This little garden stool is perfect in this room. And don't you love the big pot in the background.
 
 
 Remember, pairs are golden.
 
 
 Two large scale jars and a single garden stool. Rule of 3 and unexpected placement makes this a perfect look.
 
 
 Overscaled drama. Fantastic!
 
 
 These two little fat pots are everything...faded cobalt color, warm ivory background, antiquated scene and look at that dirt!
 
 Perfect pair.
 
 
These two lamps are so perfect. Beyond.

 And now let's look at some examples of bad blue and white...
 These jars literally make me want to puke. New equals gross.
 
 
 Do I even have to explain this ugly jar?
 
 
 The only thing that looks good in this picture are the peonies.
 
 
For the love of God, too new, too crisp and just plain cheap looking. 
Tr├ęs Pottery Barn

Okay, now that we know what type of blue-and-white to look for we need to talk about size and scale. My mother taught me all of this. Her expert advice advises that you need to have different sizes and different shapes. It’s all about scale. It’s okay to go big if you’re trying to make a statement but you have to be careful. You don’t want to go too small because it looks choppy and tchotchke. You need tall vases for branches, medium vases for flowers and small jars just because they’re so cute. But not all tall, not all medium and not all small! It’s the collection of sizes and shapes that makes it work.

And remember, pairs are golden. There is nothing more beautiful than a pair of blue-and-white Chinese lamps or vases or jars. Nothing! And also remember to do sets in odd numbers… Three, five, seven.

Blue-and-white can literally be used in every single room of your house. Living room, family room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom! And the good news is that blue-and-white goes with every color scheme of your home. Blue-and-white works with red, green, gold, black, lavender, pink, brown, neutrals, animal prints, jewel tones… You name it, blue-and-white works. And don’t get me started with blue-and-white for all the holidays! Last year at the Ralph Lauren shop in Paris, they had huge pairs of blue-and-white vases filled with Christmas holly. So simple and yet so freaking gorgeous. Blue-and-white pots filled with delphiniums? To die for. Blue-and-white pots filled with peonies? Hello! Blue-and-white pots filled with sunflowers or olive branches? Hello Provence! And the ultimate, blue-and-white pots filled with cherry blossoms. Be still my heart.

So I hope this little tutorial will help you steer yourself in the right direction to blue-and-white heaven. If you buy your blue-and-white pots from Tuesday Morning, you have failed the tutorial. And remember, you can follow my Pinterest boards of good blue-and-white and bad blue-and-white HERE and HERE.

I am both excited and nervous for my blue-and-white sale on Friday. I think I have all the kinks worked out but offer some consideration and patience if something is sold out. For this first sale, I am offering eight different pieces. Three different lamps, three different sizes. Three vases/jars, three different sizes. One orchid pot and one garden stool. If something is sold out, I have backups, so don’t worry. It’s all about communication… Just email and tell me what you’re looking for. Jars for your console table? I have it. Lamps for your bedside table? Vases for your fireplace? I have it. All different sizes, shapes and patterns. Honestly, my goal is to be your one-stop shop for blue-and-white so whatever your heart fancies, I will get for you.

See you on Friday at the sale! Follow me on Instagram HERE for sneak peeks of the sale all week.

34 comments:

  1. You are going to be SO mad at me! I always say my blue and white are exquisitely rare pieces from the Home Goods Dynasty. The patterns are crisp and clear and I'm not sure your health can handle seeing them. At least I *know* better. Even though I practice the antithesis of this lesson, I still loved reading it!

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    1. Oh my gosh, this made me laugh SO hard. Je t'adore Stephen Andrew. Happy Thanksgiving!!

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    2. That's my motto! "You can only get away with breaking rules if you know what the rules are." Just went to a dinner party last night and the most delightful person there was constantly spouting inappropriate comments but he KNEW what the boundaries were and how to cross them. The most cringe-worthy person was someone who didn't have a clue and then tried to invite several different people to lunch, all within earshot of the others. Best part? She kept forgetting who was affiliated with what and would say, "We need to go to lunch and talk about (____)!“ and the person would have to say, actually that's So & So who knows about that. Happy Thanksgiving to the Decrets (two and four legged) and all the HSD readers!

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    3. Stephan Andrew I just bought a few spode coffee mugs at Tuesday morning can you imagine what Ellie thinks of me

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  2. Thank you for the lesson...now I know what to look when I hit the estate sales.:)...happy thanksgiving to you & yours...you are a blessing to all of us...see you Friday! xo

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  3. Good tutorial, I've been collecting blue and white for 40 years. Never, ever get tired of it. Years ago nobody bought the stuff. It was blue and white heaven for me. Now I cringe when I see what passes for blue and white. Gaaack. :)

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  4. Oh La La, I love this.......scrumptious......I LOVE blue and white.....

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  5. I do not BELIEVE ONE can teach a PERSON the SKILL you have.In my mind you are either BORN with it,or a few can acquire if around the right people.But VERY FEW!It amazed me when I had my shop on a daily basis the lack of knowledge.......NO thats not the right word......maybe SKILL is OUR word of the BEAUTY of a piece.MOST GO FOR POTTERY BARN STUFF...........OH how they LOVE IT!!! There is only one house besides my AUNT 's in MONTECITO,CALIFORNIA who has TAKEN my breath away..............and she is a COMMENTER HERE on your BLOG.
    THAT WOULD BE PENELOPE BIANCHI.
    I am HOME Today cooking away from YOUR THANKS ~GIVING COOKBOOK!I have already burned the chocolate to go in the PECAN pie and found myself without BOUBON!!!!!!!!!
    I forgot to add the BUTTER to the CORNBREAD before I cooked it so I poured it on TOP as it is DRYING OUT IN THE OVEN!!???
    I am not doing VERY well...and it's almost 11 am...................ONWARD and UPWARD TO YOLANDA's FAVORITE NOW!
    MY SONS thought it was RAW MEAT last year!!THEY LOVED IT after I said ," NO TRY IT!"IT's a SUPER MODELS FAVORITE!!!"
    I wish YOU and YOUR FAMILY A LOVELY SUNNY DAY............and do let that GORGEOUS DOG sit anywhere HE SO DESIRES!
    WHAT A GRAND ADDITION YOU HAVE ADDED...........to an already AWESOME HOUSEHOLD!
    GOOD LUCK JOEL and COMPANY..........HOPE YOU CAN PULL OFF THE EVENT TO HER SATISFACTION!!!I'm CERTAIN IT WILL BE A DREAM...........sending MY VERY BEST ELEANOR!!!
    XOXOXOXOXO

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    1. What a compliment! It took my breath away!!!!! Yikes!

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  6. Excellent tutorial I needed this! I get it now!
    Looking SO forward to seeing the pieces in your sale
    Happy Thanks giving to you and your family and your caregivers and also Teddy! His first Thanksgiving. XOX

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  7. I do love how opinionated you are. No wishy washy opnions here! Will be looking at your shop offerings on Friday. Hugs to you, Happy Thanksgiving.

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  8. Hope your Thankgiving is as fabulous as you are. Best wishes to your lovely family, and family of helpers; and to Teddy, the dreamboat dog. Hugs from SoCal.

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  9. Ellie,
    Your blog is absolutely amazing. I adore your candor!!! I'm just dying to know: what do you think about antique Delft? Cheesy & bad, or good (or does it just depend)??? I don't want to be a moron, but I have a have a few pieces from my mother (who was Dutch) that have languished in my cupboard for years. Maybe that's where they should stay. I am a neophyte when it comes to knowing the difference between good and bad blue & white, but I am trying to learn. Thanks for your advice!
    Best,
    Michelle from Santa Barbara

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  10. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the family, Ellie. Great tutorial, thank you. I love the stuff but don't own any.....yet! Xoxox

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  11. Oh gosh, I get it! Although I am deeply humbled by La Contessa's comment, so I will just say that you laid out the laws of the land so clearly and used the most perfect photos that truly I will never mention PRM again! heehee (notice that I did not dare to use the full name just the initials as I fear for my eyebrows)

    And can I just say that Dani BP's comment about Teddy's first Thanksgiving made me tear up for the second time today. Truly, it is a good thing that there is no Hallmark channel here in France, right?

    Well, time to pour myself a glass of chardonnay and get chopping. It may only be for two but you and Stephen Andrew completely inspired me to cook this year! Hooray!!

    Gooblegobble,
    Love
    H

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  12. I guess all I can say about all the blue and white pieces I've acquired over the years is ~ Oooops! And at least they didn't cost much! Please tell me you can't see through your computer into my home with all of the offensive pieces lined up behind me cringing in embarrassment! Nevertheless, Happy Thanksgiving, Ellie!

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  13. Ellie I am wishing you and yours a most blessed thanksgiving. I love your blogs, every one of them. I learn something from you every time I read them. You are awesome and I am thankful for every time that I turn on my computer and you have a new post. It always makes my day!!!

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  14. Thank you Ellie for this and all of your great informational blogs. I'm a treasure hunter, estate sales, auctions, Craig's, garage sales. The joy is in the hunt, not so much the having. Sending you 4 love and blessings this Thanksgiving Day! Had to love Contessa's comments...been there.....hopefully not this Thanksgiving.

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  15. What a great post! I understand better now the difference between good and bad blue and white. I emailed you many months ago asking for a post explaining the merits of what is is good and how to train the eye and I'm so glad you did this tutorial. Happy thanksgiving!!!

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  16. I like learning something new every day, even a holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I know that your passion for blue and white will carry over to you sale. Hugs.



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  17. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Teddy too!
    When we purchased our arts and crafts bungalow I did some research on the previous owners and discovered that the longest resident had a son still living in Victoria. I called and invited him and his wife for tea. They brought a gift...a beautiful blue and white porcelain planter! It had been in our home for years before the previous owner passed away...it is a very pretty planter and it is "dirty!"
    Thank you for your tutorial. I am so impressed with your knowledge and expertise in the field of home decor.
    Thank you Ellie!

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  18. Ellie I wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving in your new/old home!
    I appreciate this tutorial, I have seen some fabulous old pieces and just wish I could afford them all, I have a good collection though......

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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  19. Happy Thanksgiving to your family, caregivers, and Teddy.
    The tutorial was wonderful. I am always eager to learn new things, and you are a great teacher. Thank you.

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  20. wishing you and your family a very happy thanksgiving!

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  21. Old delft is fabulous. Rock your dutch heritage.

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  22. Blue and white, the colours of Greece too. My house has many blue nuances!

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  23. Uh oh, I'm in trouble. But I don't feel so bad because Stephen Andrew is right next to me! Thank you for educating us. You constantly amaze and we are grateful that you are helping us all! On this thansgiving I am grateful for you and your wonderful blog. Feel well.
    Nina in Michigan

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  24. Oh YUM on the two little fat lidded pots!

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  25. Happy Thanksgiving Ellie. Does Old Blue Flow count as well? I have some pieces from my mother.

    Ali

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  26. Late to the party but just as delightful a day later! I bought all my blue and white from garage sales but I'm pretty sure the original owners got it from Home Goods. So it's not my fault! Love this post and Happy Thanksgiving to your family.

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  27. Ellie, you are a delight and full of information as always. I would like to add that whether a person has "bad" blue & white or "good" blue and white, or a mix (which is what most of us have) the world is a prettier place with ANY blue & white. It always makes my heart sing, regardless of vintage.

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