More charm, lower cost—there’s no down side. 

By Sarah Baird
January 17, 2020
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For those of us striving to create a day-to-day cooking and dining environment that’s both eco-friendly and budget conscious, every ring of the cash register and new appliance crammed into a cabinet can make that dream seems further and further from reality. From the kitchen gadget a recipe requires in order to make it work (looking at you, immersion blender) to the set of pricey ceramic bowls that are beautiful but you don’t actually need, it can seem like a Sisyphean effort to create a meal-making space that isn’t chocked full of expensive clutter.

And while I can’t wave any sort of magical, Marie Kondo-style wand over your kitchen (or my own!), I’ve found an inexpensive, environmentally-sound way to take a baby step in that direction while giving my kitchen lineup a healthy dose of charm: buying vintage glassware.

No, I don’t mean fancy crystal, or any sort of treasured goblets from days of yore that would fetch a fortune at auction. I’m talking about the kind of funky, hand-me-down glasses you find at flea markets, yard sales and swap meets that are low in price, but big on personality. These are your orange juice glasses from the 1980s with Garfield on them; your highball glasses with a mid-century modern diamond pattern in shiny gold foil; your vintage Fire King mugs in an ultra-70s shade of mustard. In short, your everyday-joyful cups and glasses.

When searching in the wild, vintage glassware often ends up being the hidden gems among the raggedy Tickle Me Elmos and used shoehorns at garage sales that—for a price tag usually somewhere between $10 and $15—allow you to walk away with a set (typically four or six) that is sure to spark conversation and bring a smile every time you drink out of them. (eBay, of course, is also a great glassware hunting ground. Just gawk with me for a moment at these beautiful cobalt blue tumblers!) What’s more, not only are you helping out your wallet, but buying second-hand is far better for the environment than shelling out for a new (inevitably costly) perfectly manicured set of drinking glasses. Think about it as giving these vintage glasses an entirely new chapter in their life story.

It’s also fun to mix-and-match individual glasses that might not be a part of a designated set into a one-of-a-kind, hodge-podge drinking glass collection—a family, if you will. My Apollo 13 juice glass and my promotional water glass from a local feed store (c. 1965) might not be natural mates, but vintage glassware lends itself to things being a little bit more free form: offering a story—and a little bit of mystery about its past lives—with each sip from this everyday object.