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Wondering why this particular decor item is having its second heyday? Remember: Trends are cyclical. Just how I’m now declaring the comeback of plate walls in 2022, a writer in 1952 was tipping off readers to their same return. “Time was when no stylish dining room was seen without a plate rail. It ran, as I remember, above head height, and it was there the lady of the house kept her fine odd plates,” the writer declared in The Courier-Journal. “Maybe just because plates sitting out gathered dirt, or maybe, because too many people had them, plate rails suddenly went out of style.”
Since they’re still somewhat rare today, they’re interesting again, just like in 1952. “As with all styles,” the writer said, “fancy odd plates left only to return. Suddenly decorative plates find themselves back in the running.”
Once again, plates are longer confined to the dining room and are popping up in hallways, living rooms, and bedrooms. While their return might seem out of left field, trend forecasters should have seen this coming, since millennials have been playing with a similar trend for over a decade in the form of woven baskets. These statement walls deftly mixed color and texture through circular objects, paving the way for the original plate wall to come back.
But there might be more to this comeback than “it’s so old it’s new again.” Plate walls are ideal for people who like collecting things. Much like in the Great Depression with colorful depression glass sets, creating a plate wall challenges you to treasure-hunt an entire collection. This is especially attractive in the era of social distancing, since it gets you out of the house and into thrift stores, flea markets, and Facebook swaps. With a treasure hunt in mind, you can stop at every antique store you pass, buy random plates at garage sales, or dig through a relative’s china cabinet. And once your collection is complete, you then have the fun of figuring out how to display it.
There is an escapism that comes with collecting, and in 2020, Smithsonian Magazine found there was a huge boom in the collectibles market for just that reason. Not only were folks itching for something to do, but having a goal-oriented activity helped offset the pandemic blues.
“Collecting provides solace and structure, and ways that we can still be productive doing something we can enjoy,” psychiatrist Shirley Mueller, who has spent decades researching the science of collecting, told Smithsonian. “Collecting is also about control. We can control our collections. We can’t control COVID.”
Want to get started on your own plate wall? You can be traditional and hunt down a complete collection from a particular label or pattern or slowly collect vintage plates that you like purely based on aesthetics. You can buy modern decorative plate sets from places like Anthropologie or West Elm, or go tongue-in-cheek and buy thrift store plates decorated with irreverent phrases by artists like Kamila Majcher.
These pieces will add dimension and color to your walls while also giving you something to ogle. You can display them by placing them on a rack like Paltrow, in a neat gallery wall, or clustering them together in a fun hodgepodge. As the New York Times wrote in 1972, during a brief plate wall resurgence, “Cornball they may be. Fine art they are not. But thousands of collectors who buy the limited, and not-so-limited editions of decorative plates, could not care less.”