It may not be unique, but it's clearly superior

Don't despair if you can't afford that one-off piece of studio glass. There are many equally covetable mass-produced alternatives to be had
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The Independent Online

Nothing lifts a room like a striking piece of modern glass. I'm an addict, so I have pieces dotted all over my house, but my favourite zone is a window-ledge facing west where a cluster of coloured vases catch the late afternoon sunshine.

Nothing lifts a room like a striking piece of modern glass. I'm an addict, so I have pieces dotted all over my house, but my favourite zone is a window-ledge facing west where a cluster of coloured vases catch the late afternoon sunshine.

Finding that magical shaft of light in your house is one thing, but finding a magical piece of glass is another. Studio glass is one option, and there is a wealth of creative talent in this country, with makers such as Rachel Woodman, Bob Crooks and Catherine Hough producing outstanding work. But a decent-sized lump of studio glass is expensive, so for those who can't afford a one-off piece, mass-produced glass is the only real alternative.

If you venture into a department store and penetrate beyond the ranks of uninspiring traditional cut crystal, there is some excellent, affordable, modern glass on offer. Particularly refreshing is the fact that even manufacturers previously associated exclusively with conservative design are now dipping their toe into the contemporary pool. Waterford produce a line of bowls and vases created by the fashion designer John Rocha, and now Stuart Crystal has followed suit with designs by Jasper Conran.

Further afield, Scandinavia has long been a mecca for lovers of modern glass, and the Swedes, Danes and Finns are still world leaders when it comes to adventurous design. In recent years, there have been numerous takeovers within the Scandinavian glass industry, and the work of some well-known factories is now marketed under the name of their parent company. Glass by the Danish factory Holmegaard now bears the Royal Copenhagen label, for example, while in Sweden, several separate factories have now been united to form the Orrefors Kosta Boda group, part of Royal Scandinavia.

Finnish glass is also synonymous with design quality, and Iittala, the factory which manufactures Alvar Aalto's classic pieces from the Thirties, continues to invest in new design talent. Annaleena Hakatie, Sami Lahtinen and Harri Koskinen are just three of the exciting young designers they employ.

When the Scandinavians established their design supremacy during the post-war period, clean lines, fluid forms and subtle colours were the trademark. For those after hot rather than cool design, however, Italian and Czech glass may have greater appeal. Italian firms such as Venini, Cenedese, and Barovier & Toso produce vivid, vibrant, joyful glass, combining rainbow palettes with dolly-mixture patterns.

The Czechs, like the Italians, have centuries of glassmaking expertise behind them. While large parts of the Czech glass industry still service the demand for cut crystal, new companies such as Bohemia Art Glass, established since the end of communism, are producing designs by the country's top artists.

Technical wizardry alone does not make for a successful piece of glass, however, and the best glassmakers are not necessarily the best glass designers. Partnership is the key. The best low-priced decorative glass in the shops today is by a firm called LSA International, whose products are widely available through department stores such as Heal's, Selfridges, The Conran Shop and John Lewis. LSA represents the new face of contemporary factory glass, producing glass that, although standardised, displays appealing signs of being hand-made. It is reassuringly weighty, while being subtly proportioned, refined and contemporary in style, though some shapes recall styles from earlier periods. Zigzag vases are inspired by Czech Cubism, for example, while Odeon, another range, harks back to the ziggurat forms of Art Deco. Flanged vases, designed as interlocking duos, are among the latest additions, along with freeform vessels resembling beans and boomerangs in cross-section. Many pieces are made of clear glass, relying on simplicity for effect, but colour is also exploited.

LSA is at the forefront of a revolution in the modern glass market. They have, in effect, bottled the magic so you can buy it off the shelf.

'Twentieth Century Factory Glass', from which the illustrations are taken, by Lesley Jackson is published by Mitchell Beazley, price £40

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