After the search for good wedding-registry gifts, married couples reveal their favorites

Wedding registries are like letters to Santa, except they’re for adults. But instead of St. Nick and his elves, your wedding guests do the giving. And instead of toys, you ask for grown-up things like serving dishes and monogrammed towels. Okay, maybe a few toys. Margarita machine, anyone?

Building a well-rounded registry can be difficult. How many place settings is too many? Is the range of price points wide enough? Do you really need that mini doughnut maker?

Sarah Bratholt, a Crate & Barrel spokeswoman who oversees gift-registry management, says many digitally savvy couples are taking advantage of online registries, but she recommends that they also go to stores in person.

“We have them do a mental walk-through of their house,” she says. Couples should ask themselves: In the kitchen, what type of knives do we want? Moving into the dining room, what type of dinnerware do we want?

It’s important, Bratholt says, to start with the basics such as plates, glasses, forks and knives — “I recommend going for a classic look that represents both of your styles. Then add in the fun pieces that can be more trendy.” And register for more than you think you’ll need, because your family might grow or you’ll want to throw a party with all of your new stuff, “but you won’t have enough forks to get you through dessert,” she says.

If space is tight, consider boxed sets — “twelve plates, bowls, cups all in a box that you can store in a pantry or closet,” Bratholt says. When making a list, she suggests keeping an eye out for bonuses with certain brands. “They will give you extra gifts when you register for or receive certain items off your registry,” she says. “Who doesn’t want more gifts?”

And it never hurts to get advice from those who walked the aisle before you. With wedding season in full swing, we asked four couples in various stages of matrimony about how they crafted their registries (or wish they had).

Among our findings: Kitchenware reigned supreme among newlyweds and long-timers alike; not all gadgets are made alike; and big-ticket, well-made items shouldn’t be shied away from.

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“I had every girl’s dream of: When you get married, you go to the store, take the scan gun and register for whatever you want,” Megan Chesek, 30, says. But her husband, Luke, 31, had a different idea.

“Our friends have this place full of gadgets they never use ... all this stuff you see on Saturday morning infomercials,” he says. Wanting to limit the junk, he aimed for a small registry so more people would opt to give them cash to put toward buying a home. Two years later, the Cheseks now own an uncluttered home in Mount Rainier filled only with things they were sure they’d use all the time.

Such as dishes. Plates were one of the few things Megan, a physical therapist at Virginia Hospital Center, and Luke, a labor lawyer for D.C. public schools, didn’t argue over.

“I don’t think my mom would let me get married without getting china,” Luke jokes. Both from large families, the Cheseks say they often have to use both their nice china and informal dishes when they host holidays.

They selected the Gardner Green Street collection from Kate Spade New York. “Luke liked it because it reminds him of nature,” Megan says of the white silver-rimmed dishes with accents of leaves. “It’s just really pretty and simple. But not too simple.”

She says they chose brightly colored Fiestaware for their everyday dishes because “we liked the chunkiness and sturdiness. We’re both kind of clumsy.”

The star of their registry items, at least for Luke, is a small cheese board with a removable marble top and hidden knife drawer from Bed Bath & Beyond. “Growing, up my parents always served cheese and crackers when family came over,” he says. It was a sign of hospitality and made the gathering feel like a special occasion. Now, he and his wife serve fancy cheese to their guests.

“We didn’t have grown-up stuff,” says Raiquel Brown, 33, of when she got engaged to Dwayne, 34, a financial consultant and adjunct professor at Trinity Washington University.

So Raiquel, a marketing consultant who also owns a paint studio/wine bar in Washington, says they went out on a limb and registered for high-end silverware from Williams-Sonoma. “Don’t be shy of the price,” she says, because people want to buy you a nice gift and be thought of when you use it.

Also, she recommends “adding things you’ll definitely use, things with utility,” to your registry, like the KitchenAid five-speed blender she uses to make fruit smoothies most mornings.

Dwayne, on the other hand, was a big fan of their Westin St. Maarten honeymoon-related registry. He points out that they actually used the Caribbean excursions their loved ones bought them — unlike the rice cooker and panini press Raiquel wanted to register for. Both are still in boxes in the pantry.

“When’s the last time you made a panini?” he asks.

“Don’t hate on my panini-maker,” she answers.

Living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn before their wedding, this cool artist couple didn’t want to set up a traditional registry at first.

“But people really want to get you gifts,” says Gabe Pons, 40, who owns Ponshop Studio and Gallery in Fredericksburg with his wife, Scarlett, 42. “So we said, ‘Let’s ask for things that we’ll really appreciate and use but at the same time won’t take up too much space.’”

Because Scarlett is a potter (she now makes custom dish sets for other couples’ weddings), the Ponses focused on registering for things other than china, such as a decent set of knives and a nice cutting board.

Their favorite gift, though, wasn’t even on their registry. A small, vintage-looking popcorn machine modeled on those found at county fairs was gifted to them by an old family friend. It was a big hit at their rooftop parties in New York and still gets a lot of use by their two young sons.

“It’s the really silly things that have lasted the longest,” Scarlett says, “that translate into the next phase of your marriage.”

Betsy was just 22 when she married Mark Stires, then 23, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington nearly 30 years ago. But even then, her mother and grandmother had instilled an admiration for fine china in the future interior designer.

She registered for Herend china in a classic white-and-green pattern that can be used as “building blocks” to build more elaborate tablescapes. The dishware has “definitely suited the different evolutions of my taste,” she says.

But you don’t have to always go for the splurges, she says, if you’re worried about guests’ wallets.

“There’s good style and design everywhere, at Target, at Wal-Mart, at the grocery store,” Betsy says. “It’s not a question of price, it’s a question of taking care of things you enjoy.”

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