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Among design connoisseurs, few things are coveted as unanimously—as lustily—as Murano glass. Widely exalted as the world’s most exquisite glass, Murano glass must hail exclusively from Murano, Italy to be considered genuine Murano. In a time when it’s common for vanguards to be lapped by their successors, Murano remains one of history’s most eminent exceptions. Murano is prized not only for its mesmerizing color and sculptural appeal, but its lucidity and luster. 

Despite its aforementioned transparency, to the uninitiated, the world of Murano can seem paramountly opaque. What constitutes Murano glass’s prodigious price tags? And how does one seamlessly integrate Murano’s shocking color into a room? To shed light, we’re delving into the history of Murano and peering into the minds and designs of Murano purists to see what makes Murano the ultimate glass act. 

Design by Brockschmidt and Coleman / Photo by Brian Shumway

“Murano glass’s hand-made beauty is so animated and lively. Whether we source vintage or commission a custom piece, it lends a luminous, transparent sparkle to a room.

Designers Brockschmidt and Coleman

The History of Murano Glass 

Murano glass takes its name from a 1291 Venetian decree that orders the removal of all glass-making furnaces from the Italian mainland. It states all furnaces must be sequestered away on the island of Murano, an archipelago of islands located clustered off the coast of Venice, in order to prevent the risk of fire. Prior to the law passing, glass-making had been thriving in Venice for centuries. Glass maestros passed down ancient techniques from generation to generation. The result was an elite coterie that was considered to be of the highest class. 

Defecting to Murano proved only to bolster the enigma surrounding Venetian glassmakers. Most historians concur that the true intent behind moving furnaces to Murano was not rebuking flames. Rather, it was keeping glass-making secrets shrouded from onlookers. Indeed, there were those who were hoping to apply secrets in regions as far-flung as Bohemia and Eastern Asia. A subsequent law passed in 1295 that forbade glassmakers from leaving the island further buoys this theory. 

Captivity aside, Murano masters had no shortage of privileges. Their allowances ranged from the pedestrian: work-free summers—to the monarchical: they could bear swords and their daughters were eligible to marry into Venice’s blue-blooded families. Perhaps most emphatically, short of leaving the island, glassmakers were exempt from undergoing persecution of any kind.   

periwinkle dining room summer thornton
Design by Summer Thornton / Photo by Josh Thornton

Murano Reign, From Mirrors to Multicolor Bowls

Part of the reason Murano has endured so prolifically is due to Murano masters’ dedication to evolving the practice. During the 15th century, Murano mirrors were the medium’s best-known fixture; in the 17th century, chandeliers; in the 20th century, sconces. Murano glassmakers have continually pushed the boundaries of glass, concocting new methods and putting them into play in resplendent, new ways. 

Murano masters’ propensity for pivoting is perhaps no better illustrated than by storied master Giuseppe Briati. When the demand for Bohemian glass began eclipsing Murano’s long-held appeal in the 18th century, Briati traveled to Bohemia to personally dissect the craft. Upon returning home in 1737, Briati fused Bohemian techniques with long-standing Murano traditions. The result? Flowery glass specimen chandeliers outfitted with multiple crystal arms embellished with festoons, leaves, and multicolored flowers. Almost instantly, Briati’s chandeliers again incited a frenzy for Murano marvels.

Photo by Trevor Tondro / OTTO

Decorating with Murano Glass Chandeliers

While it’s true modern-day Murano aficionados vary in their vices, Murano chandeliers top almost every enthusiast’s list. While some fawn over showy, color-centric pieces, others favor the subtle (though no less sublime) look of pigment-less Murano. The beauty of Murano chandeliers is you can cast them in virtually whatever role you like, from minimalist to maximalist. Ahead, we spotlight how to integrate these translucent treasures in both refined and less-refined scenarios. 

Murano Minimalist

Few things lend atmosphere to a room like Murano chandeliers. For minimalists who don’t want to rely on abundant patterns or decor to set a mood in a room, Murano chandeliers can be a transformative ingredient. In fact, decorators frequently deploy colored Murano chandeliers in otherwise neutral rooms. Paired with shades of gray and buff, Murano chandeliers’ vivid color allows them to transcend eras or styles. To implement harmony, consider mimicking your chandelier’s shape with other decor items in the room. For instance, in the dining room above, the shape of an octahedron chandelier is echoed by the sharp angles of Jeanneret-inspired chairs.

Murano Maximalist 

With their flowing forms, flexuous arms, and redolent-of-the-rainbow hues, Murano chandeliers are seemingly tailor-made for maximalists. In maximalist settings, Murano chandeliers shouldn’t be the talisman around which a room orbits. Rather, think of them merely as guests at a hedonistic style party. If you’re unsure how to make your Murano chandelier recede, try complementing it with like shapes and colors. Klismo chairs’ curves, for instance, flatter U-shaped chandelier arms. The same goes for an Art Nouveau wallpaper bearing sinuous vines. To keep the look from becoming unwieldy, you might consider sticking to a two or three-note palette.  

Design by Summer Thornton / Photo by Josh Thornton

Glass Glossary 

Composition-wise, glass obtains its color and texture from mineral and chemical additives. From mirrored glass to millefiori, here are some of the most common Murano techniques you’re likely to encounter. 

Avventurina –  Avventurina is a golden-cast glass that obtains its color from the addition of copper microcrystal. 

Cristallo – Developed in the 15th century by master Angelo Barovier, Cristallo is a clear glass similar to rock crystal.

MillefioriLiterally translating to “1,000 flowers,” Millefiori pieces mimic the effect of a quilt. To create these pieces, makers layer rods of colored glass, cool, and slice them before being puzzling them together.

SommersoFrequently used in the design of Murano bowls. Sommerso involves submerging colored molten glass into a larger form of different-colored glass.

Zanfirico – Commonly used for decorative Murano vases, this process utilizes filigrees of colored glass to create stand-out stripes. 

Shop Murano Glass >>

Lead image by Trevor Tondro / OTTO / Designed by Madeline Stuart

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June 1, 2021

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