William Yeoward: Crystal Clear

A decidedly different approach to glassware

Walk into a room filled with William Yeoward crystal and you'll immediately notice a decidedly different approach to glassware. Missing are the numbing parade of stodgy grandma stemware and the gimmicky modern looks that line so many shelves these days. Gone are the traditional wineglasses with tight bowls that narrow stingily at the lip and spindly stems that teeter on the tablecloth. In their place are low, decadent goblets shaped like bells. There are Fern decanters with fronds weaving seductively up the sides, Alexis martini glasses with palm trees that look like bursting fireworks, even a whimsical hive-shaped honey jar etched with tiny bees. The proportions are generous, the shapes sculptural, the textures mesmerizing. Some glasses are ringed in ridges that spiral like a Slinky; others ruffle at the lip like an Edwardian collar. The collection has all the delicate detail, meticulous craftsmanship, and ineffable radiance of antique crystal—but none of the fussiness.

"If you can't find what you want in the world, you have two options: One is to forget, the other is to make it yourself," explains Yeoward, the 45-year-old British visionary behind this remarkable collection. He speaks in the wry, worldly drawl of an Oscar Wilde character, and you never quite know if he's teasing. "My partner, Timothy Jenkins, and I met socially, and it quickly became painfully obvious that we had the same idea about crystal. We were disillusioned with what was available, and we wanted to offer people a choice."

It was a perfect match: Yeoward was an award-winning fabric and furniture designer with a shop on King's Road in London and an ever-expanding personal collection of 18th- and 19th-century stemware. Jenkins brought technical expertise and the skilled craftsmen at his family's century-old glassware firm, John Jenkins & Sons. "We are serial shoppers in my family," Yeoward recalls, "so there's a huge amount of research material." The duo's first wine goblet, Stella, which was unveiled in 1995, was an exercise in wish fulfillment. It borrowed its square "lemon squeezer" foot (scooped out in the shape of the citrus fruit) from a design found in Georgian crystal, yet had a thoroughly modern sensibility. To steal a phrase from T.S. Eliot, it mixed memory and desire.

The response was immediate and enthusiastic. "I am obsessed with William Yeoward crystal," says Suzanne Rheinstein, owner of Hollyhock, the chic Hollywood design store. "The patterns are based on antique designs, but they're so fresh. He's not straining.They are every bit as wonderful as Regency glassware—but if you break a flute, you can buy a new one. I love using old things in a contemporary way."

To make a William Yeoward goblet, molten crystal is poured into molds that are carved out of wood from pear trees. Once the crystal has cooled, a craftsman engraves it with a copper wheel. Because each piece is made entirely by hand, there are tiny variations in the intricate patterns; as with snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. The workmanship is quite time- and labor-intensive but, like the design process, it's never rushed. "Some products these days are not accorded enough development time," Yeoward observes, "and designs need time to be resolved. To do the job properly, you shouldn't be afraid to persevere."

In all of Yeoward's work, the design and the execution are definitely resolved. He and Jenkins will sometimes spend up to a year collaborating on a single new glass. Inspiration might come from sources as diverse as a piece of Georgian crystal, a modern textile, or, as is the case with the Fern collection, the English countryside where Yeoward grew up.

"I wanted something soft and fluid that made you think of that marvelous walk you take in the woods," he says. "I'm very much a country boy at heart. I have to be in the country, otherwise I can't work because the head gets full."

Lately the partners have been playing with more colorful palettes. "By accenting the table with lime glasses, you can alter the whole mood," Yeoward says. "I like cool blue for a hot summer." For one of his most recent designs, Lulu, he says, "I dreamed of ice cream colors, of strawberries and pistachios, crushed roses, a marigold sorbet in shades of amber, and a light, fantastic lavender."

"William is reproducing designs that glass freaks like myself have been desperately scrounging for for years!" declares British designer Nina Campbell. "You would search and search, and you might find two or four antique glasses, but never enough. Now, thanks to William, you can buy a whole set. And the quality is wonderful—it's heavy in the hand and really gleams. I always have his amethyst rummers on my table. I like to put water in a colored glass."

Although the collection now spans some 800 pieces, Yeoward insists that he and Jenkins obey the gods of creativity, not productivity.

"We might decide we want to create more casual glass," he says. "But we never promise we're going to introduce, say, six new patterns next fall. Locking yourself into a schedule like that puts you on the road to mediocrity. It's very irritating when people ask me what's next. Now is what's next! Now is fabulous. Enjoy it!"

5 Perfect Pieces

One of the best things about Yeoward crystal is how easily and elegantly different patterns mix and match. "I like to use, say, Lulu as a water glass, Ruth for Champagne, and Pearl for wine," says Suzanne Rheinstein. "I have clients who collect all square bases—Stella, Caroline, Julia—and accent the table with fabulous, functional objets."

1 MEGAN FLOWER VASE Reminiscent of a pomegranate in shape, this dazzling centerpiece ($750) is scalloped gently around the mouth. It curves in at the ridged neck, then balloons into a deliciously wide base. There's no ornamentation, so it mixes easily with modern pieces. And it's low enough that it won't block your view across the table.

2 ABIGAIL WEDDING BOWL Graceful etchings mark this as quintessential Yeoward. Flowers, vines, birds, and butterflies float freely around the bowl ($875), while a band of discreet geometric shapes along the top anchors the design. Fill it with gooseberries or cut strawberries.

3 BUZZY HONEY JAR Whimsical and fun, this jar ($160) is shaped like a hive with tiny bees etched into the side. Filling it with translucent honey only makes it more radiant.

4 JUNE SALTCELLAR With its rectangular bowl, lemon-squeezer base, and scroll foot, this looks like an optical illusion. The slightest shift in your line of vision makes the light dance, creating evanescent new patterns. You can use the tiny palmwood spoon to scoop salt, or simply fill the cellar ($100) with perfect rounds of butter.

5 JEZEBEL JUICER What could be more decadent than having something so exquisite for such a mundane task? You will find any excuse to press a lemon in this over-the-top cut-glass juicer ($135). After all, why should the dining room have all the fun?

The Yeoward collection ranges in price from $35 for an Annie port/sherry glass to $9,500 for a Chloe punch bowl and pedestal; 800-818-8484; www.williamyeowardcrystal.com.