Ask Lily Beth ☞ Using Depression Glass

Persephone writes:

I have yellow depression glass and would like some visuals on how to set a beautiful tablescape.  Can you suggest other dishes or colors to mix with it.  White is boring.  Any suggestions?

I adore depression glass. I’ve inherited a good bit of it from my grandmothers, and its gentle colors always add a touch of retro elegance to a room. But for those of you who don’t know what depression glass is, let me bring you up to speed.

What is depression glass or depressionware?

Through the 1930s, the three major glass manufacturers produced depression glass – a cheap, poorly made type of glass that exhibited all sorts of quirky characteristics like air-bubbles and ridges where the molds came together. This glass could literally be purchased (in all types colors and patterns) at our equivalent to the Dollar Store: the Dime Store.

A deeper look at the colors and timeline of depression glass manufacturing can be found at collect.com, by clicking the this photograph

When its popularity became apparent, everyone got into the act manufacturing depressionware. Marketers got smart, and started adding pieces of depressionware as “prizes” to be unearthed out of products, such as detergent, or even complimentary with the sale of some service.

In our present day and age, some people collect it, but that’s a whole other article in itself. Persephone is right – it can be difficult to set a table with, because it primarily exists in translucent colors that are more pale than the bright and bold colors you’re seeing in stores today. Even the opaque colors are muted compared to the rich fuschia, turquoise, and emerald greens used in home decorating today.

How do I set a table with it?

If you can mix it with other depressionware, that’s easily ties the pieces together by theme. But I know very few women who have whole sets of depressionware. Like Persephone, most women use it more as an accent, and mix it with other pieces to build their table settings.

Floral is usually a safe choice for depression ware, especially the softer colors. A vintage tablecloth is also a safe bet, if you’re a table-cloth person. Gypsy Rosalie has vintage tablecloths in largely excellent condition, although they can get up there in price. And don’t discount the power of Etsy – you can pick up vintage tablecloths there for a reasonable sum.

Blue Bottles Vintage Leacock linen tablecloth from Gypsy Rose

But what about the color?

As for the color yellow, Perseph is in luck, as our parlor is done in greens and yellows. (And I can tell you firsthand that yellow can be hard, depending on the shade.) White is usually a safe color to mix it with, but as Perseph points out, boring. It runs the risk of being particularly boring with depression glass, as so much of it is already pale or translucent.

But how to do you punch it up without clashing colors?

Well, for our table, we’re somewhat limited because someone (JACK TEMPEST) painted the dining room an olive green with a gold ceiling before I moved in and stands on this allegedly brilliant color scheme as the cornerstone of the house. (I think it looks like my mother’s olive-green washing machine and goldenrod dryer from 1974.)

So what I’ve found works well is to incorporate yellows and greens, but use a fuscha or red to punch up the room. The yellow offsets this, and keeps it from looking like Christmas colors, which I loathe. (I’ll smack the next person who decorates their holiday tablescape with red and green Christmas tree dishes and calls it charming.)

We do this on a dark wood, early American dining room table with no table cloth, only a mirrored table runner, which lets the grain of the wood play up the earthy greens and yellows.

But, strictly speaking yellow, there are a few other options that will perk up yellow depressionware – try cobalt blue, violet, or rose.

Shades of purple and yellow

Shades of yellow and blue

Catlady Kate uses a “moderntone” colorscheme of cobalt and daffodil-yellow to dress up her depressionware. Although I’m not crazy about the giant crocheted doily tablecloth, her eye is in the right place. Adopt her policy in reverse: mix cobalt and white colors with your yellow depression glass. (Yes, yes, I know, white is boring, but a certain amount of it does help balance out your table and keep it from becoming overwhelming. Use it sparingly, where you need to break up the colors.)

Likewise, Nancy over at Nancy’s Daily Dish uses topaz and gold to fill out her purple tablescape. The result is a rich-looking, feminine setting with a slightly Eastern slant to it.

Nancy's polychrome tablescape makes rich use of topaz, gold, and purple

Ellen over at Happy Wanderer uses yellow and rose depressionware together with apple blossoms to create a simple, fresh tablescape. God bless her, she does run the risk of being very matchy-matchy (how many apply blossoms can one woman have?), but her choices of vintage pink and gold give off a sophisticated 1920s air.

Ellen's choice of colors is decidedly retro, but certainly not outdated

Ruffled also details some beautiful work by Kristy Rice (remember when I mentioned her shop, Monumental Designs, in my Breaking the Code of Printing post?), which incorporates am amber cake stand and votive glasses with a more subdued greyish sea green to dazzling effect. She even uses both vintage black and white; I think it’s marvelous.

Kristy Rice's tablescape ties together gold, amber, black, and various shades of green

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on not only what to do with your depression glass, but your yellow depression glass specifically.

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