Most people see a beautiful blue-colored sofa or a gown in the most gorgeous shade of lavender and think, “Well, that’s a pretty color,” and then go on with their day. Stephanie Summerson Hall, however, uses the hues that surround us as inspiration for her hugely successful colored glass cake stand and stemware empire.
Founder of Estelle Colored Glass, Stephanie markets luxury glass pieces for the table in a mixture of vibrant jewel tones and soft, succulent pastels. These “jewels for your table,” as Stephanie calls them, “represent celebrating family heritage and being intentional about creating memorable and fun times.”
It is clear that Stephanie’s flourish for creating sensational color combinations goes beyond the ordinary. A wall in her Holly Hill, South Carolina, office is a mosaic of individual floral images that she has fashioned together from various sources to create a breathtaking visual display.
“I decided to make this a flower wall,” says Stephanie. “I just find artists who I love. It’s a slow-moving process, but it is like a big puzzle that I am gradually putting together.”
And in the middle of this garden-on-the-wall is a painting of Stephanie’s biggest inspiration in color, as well as her role model for beautiful living, gracious hosting, and the ability to make everyone feel warm and welcome around the table — her grandmother.
Although Estelle, or “Big Mama” as her grandchildren affectionately called her, passed away 19 years before Stephanie’s dream of her glass tableware business came to fruition, her grandmother was the motivation behind the creation of the Estelle Colored Glass brand.
Growing up just one street over from her grandmother in Holly Hill — Stephanie’s office is now just five minutes from her childhood home — she spent many hours at Estelle’s house, a place where friends and family would frequently gather for conversation, fellowship, and, yes, a really good home-cooked meal.
“My grandmother was a cook’s cook,” says Stephanie. “She was very good at it. Her cupboard was always just jam-packed, and she was always prepared to make a big meal.”
And these meals were served on a beautifully appointed table. “You grow up liking the things you experience,” says Stephanie, “and this was how I was introduced to colored glass.”
Estelle had two china cabinets in her home — one housed her everyday tableware and the other displayed beautiful colored glass pieces used for special occasions. Many of these treasures were acquired through frequent shopping expeditions to antique shops and discount stores located in and around Holly Hill, trips on which young Stephanie would often come along.
“She would go to all of these different stores and yard sales and spend hours and hours perusing these stores. I would be there, just tagging along. As a small girl, and then through high school and even college, I continued to go on these trips with her,” Stephanie says.
And so the seed was planted — this love of beautiful glass and heirloom quality tableware — but many years would pass, and a few other careers, before Estelle Colored Glass would open, honoring the treasured memory of her grandmother one beautiful cake stand at a time.
Stephanie graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill and practiced law for 10 years in Maryland and Washington, D.C., before deciding that her future lay elsewhere. “I just decided that I was more passionate about being an entrepreneur and a business owner than pursuing a legal career.”
She already owned a local rental business, but circumstances changed when she moved back to South Carolina. She and her husband built a home in Summerville, and Stephanie wanted to build up her own set of colorful glass china pieces that she loved so much as a child.
Searching for updated pieces that were both modern and streamlined to fit the aesthetic of her new home, Stephanie’s goal was to buy one set, then add to it as her collection evolved. She looked and she looked and … she hit a complete dead end. “I thought, well, this is a bummer,” she says. “There must be people like me who would like to find a company that offers pieces in a variety of styles and colors.”
As it turned out, many people wanted that very thing, and since no place seemed available where they could get it, Stephanie was suddenly hit by the idea of creating her own colored glass brand. Five full years later — the fall of 2019 — that lightbulb moment, Estelle Colored Glass, became a reality.
“I really took a lot of time because I was set on bringing to market heirloom quality pieces,” says Stephanie. “I wanted them to be something you would be very proud to show off when you are hosting. Every piece needed to pass my high standards.”
She began vetting different glass companies — about 30 in all — who could help her achieve her objective. American companies would have been her first choice, but she discovered most had only skeleton crews, and she was confronted with “we can’t do that” when she described what she wanted, or “we can do that” but at a cost that was considerably more than she anticipated. “I actually received a $1,600 cake stand from a company,” she says with a laugh, “which is absolutely beautiful, but I didn’t think the market would be able to withstand that price.”
So, she started looking outside of the box and borders. After quite a bit of research, she discovered that glass blowing is an integral part of Poland’s history, and the glass made there is some of the finest in the world. She already had some glassware specifications drawn up by an industrial designer; now she just needed the actual colored glass. With the help of a vendor from her rental business days, she found a Polish company with a rich 100-year-old history in glass artistry.
The first piece commissioned was a streamlined cake stand in a color — a lovely shade of lavender — inspired by an Elie Saab gown that Stephanie absolutely loved. She talked to the Polish artisans, sent them a picture, and they were able to make the cake stand in the exact color she wanted.
Estelle Colored Glass opened with seven different colors of stemware and five different colors of cake stands, the shades of which were mostly inspired by ordinary objects in Stephanie’s world.
“We had a vintage sofa at the rental company I used to own that was a beautiful Parisian blue,” says Stephanie. “It was just so gorgeous, like a wedding ‘something-borrowed’ kind of blue, and it became our interpretation of cobalt blue.”
Her company currently offers 15 varieties of tableware — from vases to Champagne coupes to martini glasses to cake stands — and 21 captivating color choices. And the inspiration just keeps coming. In October 2022, Stephanie introduced Butterscotch to her color collection in appreciation for the hard, sticky sweets she loved as girl, a candy that is often associated with grandmas everywhere. Stephanie found the orange-yellow shade that most reminded her of her childhood, sent a picture to the Polish artisans, and let them do their color magic.
“They sent me approximately 30 glasses in different versions of the color range I wanted,” she says. “I am like a kid in a candy store when I get a new box from Poland.”
The Estelle Colored Glass Sunday Collection launched in January of this year, and it includes more substantial versions of their vases as well as highball and lowball glasses. These were inspired by the Sunday dinners Stephanie enjoyed at Estelle’s house, a weekly event that dictated that the dishes displayed in the special-occasion china cabinet could be used. As a child, Stephanie was tasked with putting ice into these weightier glasses, and that memory gave birth to this whole new collection of colored glassware.
Of course, embarking upon any entrepreneurial endeavor is not without its difficulties, and Stephanie has had her share of supply chain problems, headaches over the high rate of digital market advertising, and infrastructure challenges. “I really underestimated the amount of warehouse spacing it would take for the glassware and the boxes that we have to have on our premises,” admits Stephanie.
But the one thing that did not seem to hinder Estelle Colored Glass like it did many other small and privately owned businesses? The COVID-19 pandemic. “We were just selling on e-commerce, and I was all set to show our pieces in a trade show in Chicago,” says Stephanie. “Two weeks before it was supposed to happen, I got an email saying the show was cancelled because of COVID. We didn’t get the chance to delve into wholesale accounts.”
That could have been an ominous sign for such a fledgling brand, but a strange thing happened. With everyone forced to stay at home, claustrophobic and bored, people began to focus on their household trappings. And suddenly they wanted beautiful things to surround them in the homes they couldn’t escape.
“At the time, we didn’t have a whole lot of pieces on the shelf because our brand was so very new,” says Stephanie. “We basically sold out of everything we had on hand, but customers just kept purchasing. We were very upfront, letting them know it was going to take us three months to get the product to their homes, and yet we still had very few cancellations.”
When the world was released from captivity, Estelle Colored Glass continued to flourish. Giving back to all of those who were so supportive of her business in those early days is very important to Stephanie. “We help revitalize our community by having jobs that pay well and offer health insurance,” she says. “That’s what I am most proud of, by far.”
So, while customers can visit her website, she would rather people support local retail stores that sell her brand. Here in the Columbia area, that includes non(e)such, Kudzu Bakery, and Blush Boutique. She hopes her pieces will not only bring beauty to every community but will also be part of many special family moments, similar to those Stephanie enjoyed sitting at Estelle’s gorgeously laid-out Sunday dinner table. “I’m just very proud that the brand — only 3 years old — has become a heritage brand and that I get to celebrate my family’s heritage with a beautiful product,” she says. No doubt Estelle would be proud as well.