For many of us, stained glass brings up memories of sitting in stiff church pews on Sunday mornings, watching the colorful light cascade to the floor as we squirmed in our seats. Maybe you were lucky enough to grow up in a Craftsman home complete with stained glass accent windows on either side of the fireplace. Or, perhaps you’re currently perusing this blog nestled in your reading nook, complete with a Tiffany lamp. Stained glass is a dynamic material with a rich history. With the return of maximalism, stained glass is trending again in home design. As an interior designer, I couldn’t be happier because this material holds a nostalgic place in my heart. In this Interior Design Glossary entry, I review the history, benefits, and applications of stained glass. Plus, I’m reflecting on my personal draw to the material and sharing influential stained glass designers.
What is Stained Glass?
We typically refer to stained glass windows. However, stained glass is any flat panel or three-dimensional art object through which light can pass. Stained glass is produced by coloring molten glass with metallic oxides, cutting mosaic-like shapes, and securing them with a metal frame to create an ornamental or pictorial design. Stained glass can also be made by painting enameled glass panels. While stained glass can be purely decorative, it’s been heavily utilized since the Middle Ages to portray religious stories in places of worship.
My Personal History and Experience with Stained Glass
Since stained glass has such strong ties to religion, many of our first encounters with the material are in churches. I feel nostalgic for stained glass, as it reminds me of going to church as a young girl. I’d attend my Brownies troop meetings in the basement of my neighborhood’s Methodist church and make crafts under the colorful light sneaking in through the stained glass egress windows. I love any design element that brings up these warm feelings of growing up in South Austin during the ‘70s. Stained glass just happens to do that for me, and it’s worth including materials like this in your home. Besides the nostalgic tie, I love how stained glass plays with light. When my design team and I went to the Sagrada Familia on our trip to Spain, I was mesmerized by the flood of colorful light which turned sweeping stone columns into kaleidoscopic pillars. Stained glass is a magical medium, and I treasure its ability to add color to a room.
A Brief History of Stained Glass in Interior Design
It’s challenging to pinpoint exactly when glass and stained glass were invented. Colored glass beads and jewelry date back to ancient Egypt and Rome. However, stained glass, as we think of it today, took off during the Middle Ages. The earliest evidence of stained glass windows is believed to date back to 675 AD when Benedict Biscop commissioned French workers to create stained glass windows for the St. Peter monastery. During this time, stained glass was used in churches to depict religious stories to the masses, especially to those who could not read. Additionally, Gothic cathedrals featured large towering windows and high ceilings, creating bright spaces. Stained glass helped to control light flow, keeping interiors dim to promote thoughtful worship. Stained-glass factories were established to meet the production demands of the Middle Ages, and the material took off.
While the Dark Ages ended, our fascination with the colorful light of stained glass continued. Renaissance artists embraced the medium, expanding upon more abstract ideas. Stained glass would eventually enter the secular space, popping up in commercial buildings and homes. Over the next few centuries, designers would utilize stained glass in Victorian, Art Nouveau, Gothic Revival, and Craftsman styles — portraying a variety of imagery and scenes. Frank Lloyd Wright, thought to be the father of modernism, even used stained glass in his streamlined designs.
Famous Stained-glass Designers
Frank Lloyd Wright
While most stained-glass designers looked to religious iconography or nature for inspiration, Frank Lloyd Wright took a different approach. In a 1928 Architectural Record article, he wrote, “Nothing is more annoying to me than any tendency towards realism of form in window glass to get mixed up with the view outside.” Rather than full scenes with organic lines, Wright’s stained-glass designs featured straight lines and repeated patterns. In addition, his stained-glass windows often included large, clear panes with small, stained accents, allowing for more light and views outside.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
Perhaps one of the most famous names in stained glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany revolutionized stained glass in the United States, creating his iconic Tiffany Glass. Tiffany was inspired by the stained glass windows of old European churches, and he felt the medium could be improved stateside. Tiffany began working with stained glass in 1878, mixing colors and creating iridescent effects unlike anyone else. In 1880, Tiffany patented his Favrile glass, which had a rich color and iridescence that made the surface shimmer. This glass was used on Tiffany lampshades to portray butterflies, dragonflies, and beetles. Tiffany mixed different colored glasses while hot, unlike other artists who painted their glass. So, you can tell a fake Tiffany lamp by swabbing varnish remover over the surface. On a fake, the color will lift. The color is embedded in real Tiffany glass.
Why is Stained Glass Trending Again?
Just like lace, macrame, and Laura Ashley bedding, stained glass is trending again. I love that these design elements from my childhood are back in style! Maximalism, personalization, and comfort are some of the biggest trends in home design right now. What better way to personalize your room than with a custom stained glass window or vintage Tiffany lamp? This material has many benefits and applications in your home.
Benefits of Stained-glass Windows
Stained glass windows provide privacy, making them an excellent option for front doors, bathrooms, and homes just a little too close to their neighbors. Unlike simple frosted windows, stained glass has the added benefit of creating mesmerizing light patterns.
Form Interesting Light Patterns
Our interiors change throughout the day along with the changing light. Stained-glass windows illuminate this even more, casting bewitching colors and patterns over a room. Stained glass windows create a dynamic feel perfect for creative spaces like music rooms.
Create a Unique Feature
Stained glass windows have a certain romance to them, and you know I love romantic interiors. These unique features create a conversation-worthy focal point or accent that adds unsurpassed character and charm to any space.
Ways to Use Stained Glass in Your Home
Front Door Privacy
Create a welcoming and private front entry with a stained glass panel for your front door. This added design element is sure to make a memorable first impression.
Transom Window Accent
Why not add a bit of color and fun to your sunroom with stained-glass transom windows? This accent will create a colorful and peaceful spot to unwind.
If your stairwell window doesn’t have the best view, you can create a stunning feature with stained glass. Not only will it act as an art piece, but your walk up the stairs will be highlighted with colorful shades of light dotting the way.
Light Shades and Fixtures
Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have an heirloom Tiffany lamp, you can still incorporate stained-glass light shades and fixtures throughout your home for a warm and cozy feel.
Similar to a skylight, stained-glass ceiling treatments can make a stunning focal point in entryways, studies, and sitting rooms.
Cabinet Door Accent
If you like the idea of glass-front cabinets but want to conceal the contents, consider stained-glass cabinet doors. You will get the feel of glass with the benefit of not having to keep your cupboards organized 24/7.
Flood Your Home with Colorful Light and Romantic Whimsy
From its rich history to its romantic feel, stained glass is a whimsical design element that adds a dynamic layer to interior spaces. If you’re like me, you may also have nostalgic ties to stained glass and feel a sense of comfort in the associated memories. Including elements like this in your home helps personalize the space and create that homey feel.
Go ahead, flood your home with colorful, romantic whimsy.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.