Last Thursday, Apartment Therapy had the honor of being one of just a handful of sites to get the very first look at the brand new, about-to-be-unveiled Obama State China Service place settings with the simply wonderful FLOTUS herself, Michelle Obama (and, yes, I can confirm that she's as amazing in person as you imagine she is!). The new china service is all good things: beautiful, smart, meaningful and modern. Here's a peek at it (along with our tours of the White House kitchen, the newly redesigned Dining Room and Mrs. Obama's glorious veggie garden)...
The Obama State China service is white china accented with bands of white-on-white relief pattern, matte gold and a fresh, beautiful, bright color which has been dubbed "Kailua Blue". Each place setting consists of eleven pieces. The service for 320 was donated by the White House Historical Association and will be used for the first time tomorrow night at the Japan State Dinner.
The design process was started by Michelle Obama in 2011. She worked with friend and designer Michael Smith on the pattern and consulted with the White House staff - from the director of the Executive Residence to the Chefs and White House Curator - to determine wants, needs and any design holes that could be filled by the addition of the new service to the White House china collection. It was a truly collaborative process which succeeded in one of Mrs. Obama's goals: the creation of a service that is lovely on its own but can also be combined with previous administrations' sets to allow for greater flexibility and ease of use.
The choices of which pieces to include were based on how we dine today. Modern sizes, shapes and current food presentation and plating techniques were carefully considered and resulted in some design shifts, such as plates becoming larger and flatter. One example of this is the shape of the generous, low and shallow bowl (shown here second from the right, in the back row) which can be used for soup, salad or even a saucy dessert.
Everyone was happy about the addition of a small, personal, covered soup tureen, a shape that is brand new to the White House with this service and one that the chefs foresee using often.
Mrs. Obama intimated that she could imagine the covered bowl's possible use for an ice cream treat at some point in the future, especially if the service is used for a special family dinner such as Thanksgiving, when, it seems all of us - even the first family - tend to take it up a notch from the everyday by busting out the good china.
The (stunning yet simple) dinner plate features the raised relief pattern of pinwheels and palm fronds and a gilt edge. The relief pattern itself is a nod to past White House china; a similar (but flat and colorful) pattern was originally done in browns and golds for James Madison's 1806 French Empire-style service. (One of the Madison plates is visible in the lead photo of this post, in the foreground of the image, to Mrs. Obama's left.)
The choice of "Kailua Blue" was a personal one, inspired by the color of the sea in President Obama's home state of Hawaii. Mrs. Obama's home state was also given a nod when choosing a manufacturer for the china in 2012; Pickard China (based in Antioch, Illinois) was given the order. Pickard had never created china for the White House before, but had previously supplied Camp David and Air Force One.
The Presidential coat of arms, shown here on the dessert plate, also appears on the gold service plate which is traditionally used to begin the meal. The placement of this motif on these two specific plates ensures that the seal is both the first and last imagery seen by guests at a White House dinner.
And, finally, here's a hot tip. This is the man you want on your next trivia night team: the un-stumpable, super smart White House Curator, Bill Allman. Here he is, leaving the china room with the new place setting (note the white glove service) after our sneak peek in the China Room. He's been at the White House for seven administrations and is a walking (and very charming) encylopedia of all things presidential.