From childhood, I well remember a local domestic scandal involving a visiting American academic and a set of Waterford glasses he haplessly put into the dishwasher, to ill effect. One did not dishwash the Waterford, and only the dogs could hear the shattering howls of outrage once the collective neighbours gathered to debrief.
Waterford and its ilk, once given at weddings and destined for heirloom status, was rarely used by a generation that coveted it as a symbol of life’s little successes, but which kept it ”for good”. Over-designed, mega-faceted (and clunky of form as a result), not to mention dust-gathering are all accusations you could level at many of the pieces in an older relative’s crystal cabinet.
And then, to add insult, that expensive, hard-won glass menagerie was absolutely eschewed by Gen X. In fact, it’s taken until now for us to find a new appreciation for cut crystal.
“Looking at it now, it seems crazy that something so beautifully crafted wouldn’t be cool,” says Kate O’Dowd, stylist and creative event producer at Love and Gatherings (loveandgatherings.com). “The problem was that the cut glass aesthetic had been hijacked by your mother’s bougie neighbour, being as it was, an affordable way to be conspicuously fancy. So, the crystal companies latched onto that and rolled out unmentionable tat, by the mantel-load.”
Now, we’re seeing a shift. Partly, down to a rise in the popularity of spirits, which lend themselves to beautiful stemware. There are new kids on the block, too. “Artisan crystal producers like J Hill’s Standard are disrupting the whole industry, offering collections that are handmade and yet modern, in a totally original way,” says O’Dowd.
“Vintage-inspired events are back in vogue, but in a completely different way than via the ditsy-printed bunting of last time,” she adds. “Creative event consultants like Matilda Goad and Fiona Leahy bring an incredible amount of luxury to their event tables, mixing highly stylised antique crystal with homey elements like raffia base plates and brightly patterned tablecloths, so it all feels very inviting and authentic.”
O’Dowd’s been using cut crystal in her own event tablescapes for a couple of years, but says “it’s only lately that most clients have gotten over their fear of it”. Which is good, because used in table settings, it’s stunning. “My favourite way to use crystal glassware on a table is to mix clear-stemmed crystal wine glasses with a coloured water glass. Using all-pink vintage stemmed glasses is so beautiful, too, in a mix of styles and slightly varying tones of pink,” O’Dowd says.
In even better news, those crystal animals you stuffed to the back of the cupboard can come back out to play, too. “I wouldn’t be afraid of a few crystal swans on a dining table, dotted among taper candles and naturally arranged flowers in an almost ironic manner,” she muses. “The key is not to avoid the cheesy stuff, necessarily; it’s about choosing the right cheese. Aiming for as old as you can find is generally a good bet.”
Kirstie McDermott is editorial director of ‘House and Home’ magazine
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