Etched Glass: A Cut Above the Rest
See how this do-it-yourself craft has evolved through the ages—plus get new ideas to elevate your basic glass pieces.
The editors of our October 1936 issue celebrated the elegance and luxury of etched glass, and over the past eighty years it's become a timeless feature of home decor. In a piece called "Highlights on Glassware," they have this to say about its dramatic effect: "Second only to diamond in its power to sparkle, when cut and polished in designs that break up the light rays, glass seems almost alive, and nothing adds quite as much to the beauty of our dinner tables." Whether it's used on light fixtures, furniture, glassware, or other pieces, etching lends a bit of glam and vintage charm. Here, we take a look at how this embellishment technique has evolved through the ages—and see which styles translate to home decor today.
Warm, Cozy Lighting
Good lighting seemed to be a core concern of people in the '30s—and this is when we first see etched glass introduced in the magazine. In a story called "Light for the House" from the April 1935 issue, our editors report: "One of the guiding principles of the country's leading illuminating engineers is that no source of light should be directly visible." To create softer light that's calming and cozy, homeowners tried to simulate natural daylight by concealing bulbs beneath fixtures. To achieve this golden glow—the kind that "prevails on a day when the sun is slightly obscured and we can see clearly and steadily without any feeling of eye strain such as is experienced in strong sunlight." Light fixtures were etched and soon became household items.
Pretty Glassware to Celebrate
Despite its delicate, fine lines and sometimes lacy patterns, etched glass is more durable than its cousin deeper-grooved cut glass, making it a wonderful choice for fancy but practical ware. Perfect for creating elegant tablescapes, etched glass fits right in at big holiday gatherings and romantic anniversary dinners alike. Our editors remind us to not underestimate the dramatic effect new glassware can provide: "Each glassware pattern has its own personality. . . . Remember: what new accessories do for your wardrobe, a new set of crystal can do for your table" ("A Glossary of Glassware," April 1968). And when paired with simpler dishware and centerpieces, it can even work for everyday use.
Customized Furniture and Decor
In the '20s and '30s, etched-glass patterns were a popular addition to consoles and buffets. By the '60s and '70s, etched glass could be seen on a variety of furniture and home decor pieces, including end tables, windows, coffee tables, and more. Above, a Howard Miller Clock Co. pendulum desk clock from our November 1979 issue, which may have been best-suited for an office, is a living room staple with etched glass panels and a brass finish. A couple modern uses of etched glass in the home include a bar cart with a leafy motif and an etched-glass door, which provides a little more privacy without losing the light.
Make It Your Own
Our November 2017 issue features a few modern ideas for etching. Bargain finds get an inexpensive makeover with geometric patterns, a Southwestern motif, and a pretty leaf pattern, elevating the humble glass vase, bowl, or tray. But with the stencils available today, the possibilities are endless: revamp a plain set of rocks glasses; elevate a simple wall mirror; or, if you're feeling very ambitious, you can even score a pretty sink. Just be sure to follow the advice of our past editors, who suggest you look for "quality and style that are harmonious with your home, your mode of living, and your other furnishings" ("What Do You Know About Glass?" January 1947).
If you have 20 minutes, you can etch your own glass. The process is covered in the November issue, but the basic steps are really simple: apply a stencil to your clean glass surface, paint on a thick layer of etching cream, wait 10 minutes, and then rinse and dry. What's old becomes new almost instantly. Whether you've opted for a traditional floral design or a modern geometric one, you're sure to find that etching a piece is a simple way to achieve understated elegance with a personal touch.