Old, Dusty Dinnerware Finds New Life at Detroit's Lady of the House

F&W 2018 Best New Chef Kate Williams crowdsources the eclectic dishes, tea cups, and glasses at her restaurant, which cuts down on waste and delivers on charm. 

Photo: Marvin Shaouni

In September 2017, Kate Williams opened one of Detroit's most anticipated restaurants, Lady of the House, and in the year since, the buzz has persisted. Williams was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef, for one. "Lady of the House may be a gift to the city of Detroit from its native daughter, but what Williams has built resonates far outside the city limits," wrote restaurant editor Jordana Rothman.

Williams' no-waste ethos—an energizing force behind the delightful, surprising food that leaves her kitchen—extends to the dining room, as well. 90 percent of the dishware at Lady of the House is donated, Williams estimates, by people who are looking to unload boxes of china gathering dust in their attics. The resulting aesthetic is charming as hell, feeding the pervasive sense that you are being hosted in a good friend's home.

"As the concept of Lady of the House came to life, my aunts were cleaning out their storage units and said, 'Oh, we have all these dishes, they’re great-grandma's, you want them?" says Williams. Later, when one of her aunts visited for dinner and ate from the plates she had donated, she started crying.

"That was our opening set of dishware. And then we'd hear, 'Oh my gosh, do you need more dishes, I have so many!' People were so excited to give a second life to these dishes that were just sitting there," Williams says. "And then they would come in the next month excited that they were eating off the dishware they donated."

In the months since opening, word has spread throughout the Detroit area that Lady of the House accepts dishware donations, so the team is regularly surprised with boxes of beautiful, dainty china that had been ignored for decades, gathering dust in attics. A recent donation was sent to the restuarant without a name.

"They were just sent to us with a little heart, and the note, 'Hope you can enjoy these and put them to good use,' wrapped in old newspapers and three or four boxes of them," Williams says.

There's one couple that brings boxes of old dishware once a month, and many more who reach out after dining at Lady of the House, asking if they are accepting donations. (The answer is always "yes.")

Of course, this means that none of the dishware matches, and Williams is fine with this. Diners are, too. The look of the space is cozy and eclectic, an ideal backdrop for Williams' brilliant food.

While word has spread that Lady of the House will take your old china—thanks to a few social media call-outs, too—there's one thing Williams will always desperately need.

"We never, ever have enough tea cups," she says. "Those chip easily. We are always looking for tea cups."

So if you have tea cups in boxes somewhere in your house, consider donating them to a far greater good than dust accumulation.

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