The most minimalist material in modern design, glass works for maximum applications. Designers and architects choose seemingly simple glass because it transmits light in any color, makes aqueous shapes solid and lends itself to almost any creation be it wall, floor or tabletop.
The magic of glass has been admired since its discovery in about 5,000 BC and has lived on in everything from children’s tales like Cinderella to the imaginations of architecture’s giants like Philip Johnson, who used the stuff to create his masterpiece Glass House in New Canaan, CT. But the grandiose history and ingenious applications of glass do not stunt the imaginations of newcomers to the material. Rather it inspires them to test glass for what has not yet been done, resulting in pieces as exciting and innovative as the first hand-blown vessels of 27 BC.
And as long as glass is beautiful, it is copied. Just as in upholstered furniture, unique glass designs from reputable companies see competition from lesser quality manufacturers who charge less for what, on the surface, may seem to be the same product.
contemporary glass furniture buyers have several ways to tell the difference between a shoddy surface and a strong sheet that is worth the extra cash.Emily Stevenson, a former materials curator at the Parsons School of Design, says glass quality shows in its thickness, surface details and design. “When you are deciding on a piece of glass furniture,” she says, “Notice the detailing. If it has polished edges, beveled edges, is etched, colored, textured, or tempered for added strength it will cost more.” But, she is quick to point out, the extra cost is well worth it. Tempering can be expected to add about 30% to a product’s cost. A small sum compared to the expense of replacing a chipped or damaged piece that, with the treatment, might have remained intact. (If broken, tempered glass will break into pebble-like pieces that greatly reduce injury.) The thickness of glass also contributes to a higher cost that pays back the owner by hiding wear and tear.
The other details she mentions are purely aesthetic, and what better way to judge the value of a piece of furniture you’re thinking of bringing into your home? Some tables, like Curvet USA’s Fiocco, made of annealed glass (glass that has been heated and slowly cooled to strengthen it and reduce brittleness), offer generous curves which add to the design and its cost. Fiocco’s balanced bends look slim and graceful but are tested for strength and withstand much more weight than they’re likely to see from a few coffee table books or glasses of wine.
The Italian firm Naos upped the ante of their already beautiful modern coffee tables by adding mechanics that turn a single circular table top into three spinning surfaces, or make a short table tall with the help of a discreet cable. Modular glass pieces like Naos’s are made with strict attention to detail, mechanics and ingenuity and have so far not been successfully copied to meet Naos’s quality. While Naos built its name on mechanics, other companies focus on color or sculptural beauty. Curvet USA developed Colorglass, a method of applying color to the underside of a surface. Working by hand and creating each piece one at a time, Curvet has become a leader in creating durable colored glass with unique high-density hues.
The contemporary furniture company Edra couples its focus on color with design options. Its Croma tables by Massimo Morozzi are done in 15 mm thick tempered glass and are available in clear, white or bright and saturated blue, red, purple or yellow. Buyers mix, match and choose from a variety of base heights and table-top shapes.
Modern design reigns at Tonelli, the Italian firm that works almost solely in glass. Testing the strength, durability and applications of glass makes Tonelli the purveyor of some of the most unique products available. One-of-a-kind hardware allowed the company to create a modular curtain collection that turns sheets of glass into walls, shelving units, even a support for a large glass desk. Its Naked chair is suspended between clear glass sheets that rest on the ground and make the sling-like seat appear to float.
Because Tonelli’s Naked chair lets the elements that matter most stand out, it illustrates exactly why glass is a great material for modern interior design. When clear, glass furniture makes the most of small rooms by leaving the visual space open and uncluttered. When colored, the luminescence of glass adds warmth and makes a space feel more inviting.
Glass can become almost anything. And as long as manufacturers pay attention to quality while they test the bounds of great design, the results will be magnificent, and costly.Stevenson says, “With glass furniture you re paying for an innovative and well-executed design, and reputable companies will tell you how their glass is made and explain what makes their product different.” When you see a piece of glass furniture you would consider purchasing, inquire about the glass thickness, durability, and the manufacturing process. Ask if it included annealing or tempering. Notice details and ask how etching was done, or how color was added and if it will resist scratching.