Forget silver, even the funky mismatched antique kind. It’s not dishwasher safe, it needs to be polished, and you’ll ruin it if you use it every day. Instead, look for stainless steel with substantial weight. Numbers like 18/0, 18/8, and 18/10 on the product description refer to the proportion of chromium to nickel in the metal. Chromium gives the material its strength, and nickel gives it its luster. Do not buy flatware that falls below the 18/8 mark, or your forks and knives will rust and bend. And avoid plastic handles, because they’ll eventually fall off.
MoMAstore, $70 per set
Flatware can be as progressive design-wise as furniture, fashion, or lighting, but the more unusual the aesthetic, the higher the price. For the cutting-edge stuff like this line from Finnish-based Nanny Still, shop at museum stores or high-end housewares boutiques like TableArt.
Oneida, $269.99 for a service for eight
The benefit of buying from big flatware companies like Oneida or Gorham is that they guarantee they will continue certain patterns forever. They also offer discounts when you buy multiple settings. Although most patterns they carry are a bit scalloped for our taste, there are a few, like the Perpetua line, that suit us.
Pottery Barn, $89 for a 20-piece set [ed. note: no longer available online, but available directly from select stores]
Larger stores like Pottery Barn and Cost Plus offer affordable 18/8 and 18/10 stainless steel sets; the disadvantages are that patterns may be discontinued and sets may not include serving pieces. With the money you save, though, you’ll be able to swing a few settings of real silver from a discount outlet like Silverwarehouse.