Plastic, pricey and preferred: Melamine dishes by Le Cadeaux

Posted: May 19, 2012

At Kitchen Kapers in Ardmore, one trendy tabletop product occupies most of the front window display. At Simply Elegant Home in Media, owner Mary Rhoads has devoted an eight-foot-long wall unit, plus a 48-inch round table, to this French-designed import — in a store that is 1,000 square feet.

And, at Everything but the Kitchen Sink in Hockessin, Del., manager Suzanne Edgar devotes to it four five-foot shelves. “It doesn’t go on sale,” she says.

It’s Le Cadeaux, and customers can’t get enough of it. Last year Rhoads had a “smattering” of sales. “This year we have sold three times the amount, and I am still ordering.”

Said Michael Yurkovich of Ardmore’s Kitchen Kapers, “We can’t keep the trays in.”

Le Cadeaux, many of its designs reminiscent of French Provincial pottery, with the near-thickness and feel of that stoneware, is made from ... plastic.

And that fact apparently fools the heck out of people.

“We have to tell everyone, it’s plastic,” said Rhoads, of the material called melamine. “They say, ‘No, it’s not.’… They don’t want to touch it. It happens every day.”

Le Cadeaux, which means gifts in French, is apparently exactly that to its owners. Because it is plastic, it doesn’t readily break — you’d need a hammer, Edgar said — so that means you can use it on the deck, by the pool, anywhere feet are bare.

And, because it isn’t ugly — let’s face it, most plastic dishes don’t resemble Wedgwood — owners can use it for inside tabletops. Rhoads said she wouldn’t hesitate to entertain formally with Le Cadeaux. This of a material you might remember from your days in the school cafeteria.

Rhoads said young mothers are buying service for eight because their children are chipping their ceramic dishes. Or, they’re sick and tired of buying paper plates, and it doesn’t fit into their green way of thinking.

At Distinctive-Dé, Elizabeth Pitts, tabletop coordinator, said that a bride just ordered it to use for the couple’s dinnerware; another customer plans to use it on his yacht. Le Cadeaux “works well for stylish meals while out on the water,” she said.

And, at the Kitchen Kapers in Wayne, assistant manager Judy Krengel says her Le Cadeaux customers are mostly baby boomers and older. “It isn’t super contemporary. It depends on the demographics.”

Distinctive-Dé began selling Le Cadeaux items — which besides tableware includes aprons, breadbaskets, and linens — in 2007. Pitts said after the website’s initial success with selling the line, it increased the stock and maintains those levels year-round. Other stores, like Edgar’s, treat it more like a summertime product.

But all retailers are selling more. “We sell out of the stuff so quickly,” said Yurkovich. He said a customer had been in that morning and had completed buying service for 20.

For those readers who’ve patiently waited to hear about Le Cadeaux’ shortcomings, here it comes: Because this is a plastic product, you cannot put any of it in the stove or in the microwave. [If you have X and Y Generation members in your household, you might want to put a sign up.]

As for price, a dinner plate is about $16; a cereal bowl, $13; a big salad bowl, $30-something. The cost reflects its strength, style and quality, say sellers, who cite competition (Reston Lloyd, Zak Designs, Inno Art Corp) that’s inferior.

Yurkovich said he first saw Le Cadeaux tabletop at a Philadelphia International Flower Show, where it created its own buzz.

In 2011, his store introduced four styles. “I got so excited,” he said. “You can dress up the picnic table without trying that hard.”

He showed a visitor a melamine goblet from Le Cadeaux. To prove it wasn’t glass, he pointed out the absence of a mold line, which all cast items have. “If this is sitting next to a [real] glass, you can’t tell the difference.”

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