The Beauty of Modern Melamine: Durable, Eco-Friendly, Pandemic-Proof

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Let’s face it. We’ve given up a lot this summer. The good news is, dining al fresco continues to be one welcome respite. An outdoor dinner party with family and friends is just what we’re craving right now—small and socially-distanced, of course.

Setting a stylish table adds to the festive mood. Paper plates and plastic cutlery don’t quite cut the mustard (literally). A myriad of chicer and environmentally-friendly options abound. We’re especially smitten with melamine, a durable, design-savvy choice waiting to grace your patio table.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Melamine has been used to make plates, cups, bowls, serving utensils, and more since the manufacturing of plastic household items began in the late 1930s. Though most often associated with the 1940s and 50s, it was actually created much earlier.  

In 1834, German scientist Justus von Liebig first isolated melamine as a colorless, crystalline compound. Not having a practical use at the time, it took a century for manufacturers to consider its practical applications, according to the website

Timeless design (above) and the original World War II dishes (below).

During World War II, Watertown Manufacturing Company and the Navy developed a line of melamine dishes called “Watertown Ware.” Considered a “wonder plastic,” it could hold up under conditions where brittle Bakelite and water-soluble resins had failed.

In the mid-40s, American Cyanamid (a leading manufacturer of the raw material) hired industrial designer Russel Wright to design melamine dinnerware. With its sleek lines and colors, the line received one of the Museum of Modern Art’s coveted Good Design Awards.

While the original melamine designs have a nostalgic appeal, fresh iterations are enjoying new-found popularity.

Check out our picks, available in an array of styles and price points.


Thomas Fuchs ½ and ½ Collection

Designed in the USA, this handmade, eco-friendly, USA-designed collection is available in a range of colorful hues.

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma Rustic Collection

Earning The Good Housekeeping Institute’s vote for “Best Overall Outdoor Tableware,” this 12-piece set captures the beauty and dimension of antique earthenware. New techniques re-create the subtle texture, rubbed edges, and rich glazed finish of ceramics.


Gibson Studio Modern Art Collection

The ultimate in mix-and-matchability. These brightly-colored plates and bowls are a sure-fire way to spruce up your outdoor tablescape.  

Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art Design

Conceived by Xenia Taler, a graphic designer based in Canada, this MOMA exclusive dinnerware is a durable mix of bamboo and melamine. Each piece features a different pattern that’s a riff on modern art iconography (think gestural brushstrokes and minimal grids).

West Elm

West Elm Aaron Probyn Collection

Out of his London studio, designer Aaron Probyn created this sleek, modern update of melamine plates. Combine summery hues for one-of-a-kind, seasonal style.


Juliska Al Fresco Collection

Durability meets design with this splatter-and-spin pattern. Inspired by a painter’s drop cloth, the stylish plates will add flair to any pool party, patio dinner, or picnic.

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma Iznik Dip Bowls

These finely-detailed pieces reflect the vivid colors and patterns of ancient Mayan tiles. Rich with the character of antique earthenware, they make a beautiful presentation for pasta, soup, salads, and more.

Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel Metro Collection

This bold, playfully-patterned melamine dinnerware adds a graphic pop to the table, indoors or out. Layered and scattered black semicircles create perfectly imperfect patterns on the white dishes.


BW Picnic Plates and Cups

A colorful, eco-friendly take on a classic. These reusable plates and cups will be an instant hit at every barbecue, picnic, and camp site.


Elaine Raffel

Having left the corporate world to launch her own freelance creative business, Elaine Raffel is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the mega-talented Dallas homebuilding community. She credits her work with top fashion and design brands for teaching her one inarguably valuable lesson: that truly great work is always a collaboration.

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