Design expert Carolyne Roehm reveals her passion for plates and her penchant for flowers.

Carolyne Roehm readily fesses up to a fetish for tableware. Whenever she entertains, she plunders her collection to create beautiful settings, like the ones on this page. The plates, from Manhattan's Solanée (654 Madison Ave.; 212-588-0885), are reproductions of eighteenth-century faience, a type of glazed earthenware. The King's Pattern gilded sterling-silver flatware was inspired by an eighteenth-century travel set—a knife, fork and spoon trio aristocrats brought when they journeyed by carriage—that Carolyne found at James Robinson in New York City (480 Park Ave.; 212-752-6166). She had London's Asprey & Garrard (167 New Bond St.; 011-44-207-493-6767) copy it to make a full service for twelve, with two types of soup spoons—one for clear soup, one for creamy.

A Collector Is Born
"What Imelda Marcos is to shoes, I am to plates," admits Carolyne Roehm, one of the most avid china collectors I know. Her obsession goes back to a beloved Blue Willow tea set she owned as a child in St. Louis. (Blue Willow is a Chinese export pattern made for the Western market from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth century.) When she began collecting, in her twenties, she lusted after Blue Canton, another blue-and-white Chinese export pattern. Reproduction plates came first; as her salary increased she was able to afford antiques—one at a time. Her early training ground was the A-list dinner parties she attended as the protégé of designer Oscar de la Renta. She went on to become one of New York's reigning hostesses during her marriage to a wealthy investment banker, Henry Kravis. When the marriage dissolved, she left behind a big chunk of her collection. Soon thereafter, she visited Nantucket with her father and stepmother and discovered the floral plates shown in the photo above, a hand-painted Spode pattern, circa 1830. They were the first in what was to become her fabulous new collection. Today she owns pieces from England, Russia, France, America, China and Italy: hand-painted plates, transferware, creamware, stoneware, porcelain. She finds them at flea markets (she hits the legendary Puces whenever she's in Paris) and shops such as Massachusetts's Susan Silver (Route 7, Sheffield; 413-229-8169) and Elise Abrams (11 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington; 413-528-3201). Whenever she travels, she ferrets out new pieces; these days she trains her hawk eye on Chantilly Blue, an eighteenth-century French pattern.

Fit For a Czar
These plates fall in the "serious" category. They are the rarest pieces in Carolyne's china collection. Dated 1905, they are part of the last major commission produced for the czars by the Russian Imperial Porcelain Factory; the imperial crown and the inscription NII (for Nicholas II) are stamped on their backs. Fewer than 2,000 pieces were created; Carolyne purchased a dozen at A La Vieille Russie in New York City (781 Fifth Ave.; 212-752-1727). Exquisite as these plates are, I'm still dying to eat off them! I haven't dared ask, but I wouldn't be surprised if Carolyne thought it was a fine idea. After all, she says about antique plates in general, "These are things to be used and enjoyed. I never hesitate to put them out." When it comes to taking pleasure in her plates, Carolyne is not into denial.

Nina Says...
As a fashion designer, a businesswoman, a gardener, a collector, a hostess and the author of five books on design and entertaining, Carolyne Roehm has always been an inspiration to me. Flowers are one of Carolyne's passions. A few years ago, she spent several months as an apprentice at Henri Moulié, one of Paris's best florists (8 Pl. Palais Bourbon; 011-33-45-51-78-43). Her philosophy: "If you're trying to fill a big room, don't be fussy." She favors bold arrangements, in textures and colors often inspired by eighteenth-century oil paintings and botanical prints. For the centerpiece on this page, she's mixed several types of roses, including Mercedes and Red Velvet, with rose hips and African violet leaves. Small clusters in silver cups decorate each place.