carnival glass
Alternatives to fine china, jewellery trays and lamps - deep dive into our vintage glass picks for your next home makeover. Image Credit: Flickr/PINKE

Climate change anxiety is real. When it comes down to our homes, most of us knowingly live in the grey zone… after all, there’s not much you can do to change an apartment on lease.

We understand the frustration, and the need to be kinder to our planet. Building an eco-home is a lifestyle adjustment and an investment, so it got us thinking about cool, budget-friendly alternatives.

It was then we spotted a trend on the internet. Irresistible pink glasses from the 1930s caught the eye of millions of internet users under lockdown. Transparent rosy tea cups coupled with saucers were enough to land people on e-marketplaces like eBay.

We had a lightbulb moment and threw in a few more vintage selections for the ultimate deck-out-your-home-with-glass listicle, because, really, what could be more sustainable than vases, plates and pitchers made from… sand?

Our quick solution for an eco-friendly home? Glassware and glass décor. More specifically, vintage pieces.

Glass is fully recyclable
Glass doesn’t release any harmful gases when it breaks down. Three natural ingredients – sand, soda ash and limestone – make up its recipe, cooked in a furnace. Glass Alliance Europe says it’s a fully recyclable material because new glass only needs crushed waste to be remade over and over again, infinitely.

And picking up a glass made in the 1900s for reuse is just the cherry on top!

1. Depression glass

It’s colourful, it’s see-through, and it’s not depressed. Meet the rainbow glassware produced and sold during the Depression era in the US. Coming in watery hues of pink, red, cobalt, green, amber and any cheery colour imaginable, this coveted glassware was once trashed after the economy started picking up in the 1940s, which is why it’s a vintage find today.

Why should you pick up something that people used to bin? Simply because Depression glass holds the understated power to cheer you up. The candy colours were not an arbitrary choice – they actually lifted the spirits in the midst of a global economic collapse, and people came out of it with memories of ‘grandma’s pink dishes’. You will be hard-pressed to find that complete dinner sets were sold for pennies, and sometimes even given away for free!

Our tip: Hunt these down on collectors’ Instagram stores, eBay or Etsy to add a splash of colour to your dish cabinet. Using vintage glass is tricky, since none of these were meant to go inside a dishwasher.

Usage advice from the National Depression Glass Association (NDGA), a non-profit founded in 1974 to preserve American-made glassware made during the Great Depression, warns against storing these dishes upside down, eating food in them that has to be cut like meat, and microwaving and freezing the glass.

2. Carnival glass

Not fond of transparent glass? Fair enough. Our second pick is nearly opaque and glistens like a quaint object fished from the ocean bed. We bring you the iridescent carnival glass, another fan favourite from the Depression era.

Carnival relish dishes, sugar bowls and creamers have still kept their shine decades later. You will find electric blue iridescence on chrome-coloured glass or a golden sheen on pink. A carnival glass’ pearly lustre comes from a chemical solution, which glassmakers would spray on after it was reheated.

As the name suggests, carnival-goers scored these dishes and vases as fair prizes. The glass did enjoy a higher-end status before the economy collapsed, unlike its Depression glass counterpart. Some carnival pieces were luxurious enough to be sold in jewellery stores, says Barb Chamberlain, newsletter and wesbite editor of the International Carnival Glass Association (ICGA).

He tells us how Fenton Art Glass Company created the first carnival glass in 1907, imitating the more expensive Favrile glass, which was pioneered by designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.

(You guessed it – Louis C. Tiffany’s family business is, in fact, the renowned luxury store Tiffany & Co.)

Farviles of the nineteenth century curled at the lip, like carnival, and mostly came in rich opalescent oranges. “In the Victorian days, the houses didn’t have much lighting as we do today, and the bright colours [of Tiffany’s glass], especially the marigold colour, would make a room look brighter,” Chamberlain told Gulf News.

Our tip: Light up your home with accent carnival pieces for the bedroom and the kitchen. Eating in opalescent plates might be a little too jarring for the senses. If you’re looking to make a statement at parties though, we won’t stop you from serving water in a marigold pitcher.

Collectors on Instagram are also seen using carnival candy dishes as tray for their rings and necklaces. Glassmakers were so fanciful with their designs that a randomly placed carnival bowl at home is going to be enough to turn heads.

3. Milk glass

Putting fine china on display would be a dream, but we can look for something similar (and cheaper), and get away with it.

This variety of vintage glass goes way, way back. Mentions of lattimo glass or milk-like opaque glass cropped up in the archives of fifteenth-century Murano, Italy. Venetian glassmaking dabbled in white lattimo for 200 years or so before it went out of fashion. Apparently, according to The British Museum, milk glass was meant to rival the porcelain coming in from China.

A few centuries down the line, machines picked up milk glass production in France and the US. They began adding colours to create opaque baby blue, jadeite and pink milk glasses. Its milky tone could’ve come from mixing in either tin oxide, a white powdery substance, or bone ash.

Our tip: Milk glass is mostly survived by the 1920s English Hobnail pattern. Picture a bowl entirely covered in raised bumps, all diamond shaped. White milk glass would do well on its own, as vase for your plants or décor for your vanity table. Then there’s the creamy jadeite (pale green) dinnerware that you can put to use in the kitchen.

Unless you’re a fan of painted or enamelled ware, we think the charm of an opaque glass lies in its blank canvas-like appearance.

4. Fire-King peach lustre glass

This coloured glass mimics the shine of a carnival glass, but sticks to a single shade. Falling somewhere between orange and pink, Fire-King peach lustre tops the elegance rankings on our list. One American glass manufacturer was responsible for this popular dinnerware line, which went out of production in the late 1970s.

Anchor-Hocking Glass Company’s Fire-King had a place in almost every American household. What made the everyday glass different from those of the Depression era was its heat resistant quality. This meant any glassware from the Fire-King line could go into the oven, worry-free. (But not over an open flame!)

Our tip: Sellers on sites like Etsy and eBay mostly have tea cups up for sale. You might find a creamer, plate or two, so your options are limited to kitchenware. The best part about peach lustre is that it looks a lot like melted gold when it catches light. If your home has gold accents, which is a trend on the rise for 2022, a chic tea set would fit right in.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Eccentric old-school glasses, which can add a lot of personality to your space, are aplenty online. We’ve shared our favourites; it’s up to you to play around with the pieces however you like. There are no rules to going green!

Note: This article was first published in March 2022.