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Ashtrays are making a great decor come back and here's why

A recent spark in ashtray ingenuity sees the once near-extinct smoking accessory as standout functional art for your home’s tablescapes.

By House & Garden South Africa | August 2, 2022 | Interiors

The grandeur of smoking cigarettes isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, we all know how unhealthy smoking actually is and many countries have enforced strict tobacco regulations to discourage the act altogether. What was seen as a symbol of splendour is now deemed socially unacceptable in most spaces, placing the humble ashtray, once a tableware staple, into near-obsolescence?

It was going to take a lot more than a design nostalgia for the ‘60s or ‘70s to bring ashtrays out of their dormancy. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s closely linked to their symbiotic relationship with cigarettes — a public perception that seemed unwavering. However, things recently changed with the legalisation of marijuana in a few US states and countries around Europe, which encouraged designers and craftsmen to revitalise the receptacle for ash, without limiting its function solely to cigarettes.

Cigarette culture has experienced a fall from grace over the years, but this rise in weed legalisation has reignited ashtray ingenuity and the idea that smoking accessories can also double-up as decorative accents around the home.

Contemporary artists are coming up with new and innovative designs, from peculiar ceramic and porcelain pieces that lean more towards sculptural artwork, to pared-back options that blend in with modern and minimalist interiors. Even if smoking indoors isn’t your thing, or smoking in general for that matter, the versatility of ashtrays goes further than you might expect. They’re usually small, affordable and portable — providing a piece of functional art that adds visual interest to tablescapes or shelves, while still being practical at the same time. You can use them for collecting ash from an incense stick, as something you move outside for your smoker guests, or even as a tray for jewellery, coins and other little knick-knacks found around the house.

So, whether you opt for a standing ashtray with a timeless appeal, a vintage Murano glass one, or a playful piece with a unique handmade look, artfully crafted ashtrays bring personality to your home and can always be appreciated from a design perspective, whether you’re a smoker or not.

Words by Shai Rama