How to Store Wedding China and Other Fancy Keepsakes

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an eclectic assortment of floral china plates

You can’t help but be reminded of your wedding day when you look at the china dinnerware set and engraved sterling silver tray you received as gifts from loved ones—that is, when you take them out of their hiding spaces. After all, it’s not like small apartments typically come with room for display hutches for these kinds of items. And considering how you and your spouse aren’t exactly sipping from crystal champagne flutes while watching Netflix, it might feel too precarious and all around not worth it to bust out those items on the regular right now.  

Still, you want to make sure you’re storing those items carefully and properly—so that they’re not cracking, rusting, or collecting extra dust—and so that you have the option to set the table with them for special date nights and for friends and family dinners once in-person gatherings are a thing again. 

“Wedding gifts are precious to us, but we buy these things to use them,” says Kirsten Rabe Smolensky, owner of Nashville antique appraisal company Minerva Appraisal

Luckily, you can safely stockpile your wedding china and other keepsakes in your small space with some everyday storage solutions and household items. Here’s how to do it with care and ease:

Handle delicate items with gloves 

Anytime you’re taking objects in or out of storage, you’ll want to wear gloves, says Andrew J. Saluti, an assistant professor for Syracuse University’s graduate program in museum studies. But despite what you might have seen museum employees doing on TV or in the movies, Saluti doesn’t recommend handling china, porcelain, ceramic, crystal, or silver with white gloves. Instead, he recommends blue nitrile gloves for maximum tactility.

“Because you’re dealing with ceramic and porcelain, things that are glazed and have a polished finish, you run the risk of not being able to manage those things as well as if you had a more tactile kind of grip,” Saluti explains.

Clean before you store

“Most people get things from the registry and put them away,” says Stephen Harrison, Cleveland Museum of Art curator of decorative art and design. “But then when they want to pull them out for a dinner party, they have to spend time cleaning, and that’s when you don’t want to clean.” So, clean those items before you store them. 

When it comes time for that tidying, Brittiny Terry, owner of Los Angeles home decor store Effortless Composition, notes that silver, copperware, and some other fragile dinnerware require special solutions and can’t just be washed with soap and water. “Steer away from soap. Heavy chemical soap can damage your dinnerware over time,” she says. Terry also advises drying the items with a delicate dish cloth to avoid streaking and scratching. “If you air dry them, [they] could be susceptible to water spots,” she explains.

Of course, even if you clean before you store these items, if it’s been a while since you’ve broken out the good stuff, you’ll want to give them a rinse before using them “just to be safe,” Terry says.

Use smaller, sturdier boxes

Somewhat surprisingly, Harrison recommends using those “generic plastic containers that you might get to store sweaters and garments” for housing your fine china. They’re both durable and airtight, he says, which means they’ll hold up and dirt won’t get into them. 

Terry also likes plastic containers, as well as quilted storage boxes, but warns against cardboard “because bugs love cardboard boxes,” she says.

If you need a box for a fragile, nontraditionally-shaped registry gift like a wine decanter or commemorative figurine, companies like Gaylord Archival and University Products provide custom containers for china, porcelain, and other precious objects. 

No matter the box, for stacking purposes, it should have a detachable cap rather than a cover that pulls over “because that’s a structure that’s not going to collapse on itself,” Saluti explains. “It’s going to stay closed.”

Additionally, always go for more small boxes rather than fewer large boxes. “One big container is going to get so heavy that you can’t move it safely,” Harrison says. 

Store your items together—but with separators 

When storing delicate plates and bowls like fine china and ceramic, Harrison and Rabe Smolensky both put one sheet of paper towel between each item to create a barrier and prevent scratching. Saluti prefers protecting dinnerware with that polyethylene foam sheeting you can buy in bulk. “That’s going to provide a resistance against any shock or abrasion,” he says.

Once secured with padding, you can even stack unrelated items within one another to save space. “Creating a nesting storage where you have a large plate and then a smaller plate and then maybe a bowl and then a smaller bowl, that’s fine as long as you are creating a barrier in between each object,” Saluti says.

You can also put champagne flutes or other glasses in the boxes with stacked plates and bowls. “Wrap those gently [with paper or bubble wrap] and put them on the side of the plates,” Harrison recommends. Better yet: “Put a four-place setting in a box so you can get out one box and set your table.” 

Oh, and if any of those packed boxes include sterling silver, to avoid tarnish, Rabe Smolensky suggests also placing those protection strips that neutralize sulphur gases in zip bags and then in with the items. 

If possible, store inside and close to the ground

Carlos Hernandez, PhD, a museum consultant focused on risk management, cautions against keeping delicate objects in a garage or outdoor storage space to prevent staining or rust that could result from changes in temperature and humidity. “Keep them in a cool, dry, clean, stable environment to avoid an impact on the physical condition—even chemical—of these objects,” he says.

If your only available indoor storage space is that super high cabinet in your kitchen or the top shelf in your clothes closet, then, well, that’s where this stuff is going. But if you have the option, “you want boxes to be low, not just because of the danger of trying to put something over your head, but also for accessibility,” Saluti says. 

During long stretches between uses, check in on your breakables to make sure they’re staying safe in storage. Hernandez proposes popping open the lid once every two to three months—not just waiting for spring cleaning to come around. “That’s only one time of year!” Hernandez points out. “You have to go through summer, fall, and winter, and you want to take into account how those [seasonal] changes may affect the enclosures. Even if it’s a good quality set, you cannot forget about it in storage.”

Ultimately, you want to be able to whip out those precious objects you received on your special day from time to time and actually take advantage of them. “Don’t be afraid to have it out just because it’s breakable,” Rabe Smolensky says. “Don’t be afraid to use it.” Terry agrees: “I’m a very big proponent of normalizing utilizing these good items in our everyday lives,” she says. “You deserve it.”

The Apartment Therapy Weddings vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Crate & Barrel.