Updated: January 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm
The midday light pours through the wall of windows. Sunbursts explode into a rainbow palette.
White hair floating around an ethereal face, Eve Tilley Chavez smiles at the vivid colors created by her hundreds of pieces of colored glass on shelves in the windows.
There are vases and glasses, plates and bowls.
Photo gallery of glass: The extensive glass collection of Eve Tilley Chavez has hues of many colors.
"The color of glass is so pure. It has always attracted me," she says, thinking back maybe 25 or 30 years to when she first started a small collection in a bay window in her previous home in the North End.
All it takes for a collection is three.
"Two is not enough. Three is a magic number," she says, laughing.
Only three? Tilley Chavez can't quite remember how long ago, if ever, she just had three in her glass collection. Some of the crystal came from her mother's family and her mother. Her grandmother passed down a piece of cut-rock crystal that resembles a diamond as well. Tilley Chavez, who is well-known as a local actress and theater director, has cut crystal from the 1800s and 1890s and colored glass from the early 1920s.
The collection, she says, grew "like Topsy" over the years and today dominates the hilltop solar home designed for Tilley Chavez and her husband, Sol Chavez. The house, by the way, was the final home project of famed architect Gordon Ingraham in early 2000s. Even the patios create patterns through the Vincent O'Brien stained glass hangings.
Tilley Chavez has no idea how many pieces of glass and crystal she has, but now, when she finds a new one she particularly likes, it replaces one on display that she had collected. She gives some of those away; others she stacks out of the way, holding them in place with clear museum putty.
Collecting for pleasure
Tilley Chavez has never collected glass for its value. It's "value for pleasure" and adds to her life aesthetically in colors she particularly treasures. She doesn't collect specific patterns, styles or designs. She knows what she wants when she sees it, she says.
Tilley Chavez tries to never pay more than $25 for a piece of good crystal. "Sometimes $10 is too much. I don't need it that badly."
One exception was the $135 she paid for a crystal bowl at a friend's family estate sale.
"It was sentimental and beautiful," she says.
Once she and her mother drove to the Midwest to see a Russian exhibit of the czar's clothes. However, what caught her eye were heavy leaded crystal brandy glasses, "and the colors were just gorgeous," she says. They were well worth the $25 or $30 she paid for each, she says.
Tilley Chavez can't name her favorite glass color, but "yellow ochre is boring." One bright yellow piece in the collection is beautiful, and a color, she says, that glass blowers won't usually work with.
"Some of the colors are poisonous. There is mercury in that glass, particularly glass being imported from China, and it's dangerous for the glass blowers," she says.
Lead and uranium have also been used to color glass.
A particularly eye-catching, red cut-crystal piece was made with gold ore, she points out.
The best glass has the color in the glass, she says. "Color that is painted on will fade and scratch."
Collector's crystal shouldn't have a chip, she warns. However, it didn't bother her when she found a red punch bowl that the owner had washed in hot water, turning it into a landscape of cracks.
Tilley Chavez just filled it with small decorative glass items. To avoid that fate with other pieces, though, she cleans her glass in the dishwasher with vinegar on a cold rinse cycle.
Where do you find glass like those in the Tilley Chavez collection? In the beginning, she says, she went to Goodwill and to estate and yard sales.
But most thrift stores have become savvy to value and Tilley Chavez says it's difficult to find top pieces at Goodwill any longer. She's been told that thrift stores usually put the best items on eBay.
Tilley Chavez also checks out eBay: That's where she found the 4-inch crystals she needed for her chandelier. She's also found glass she liked at Hobby Lobby. However, she doesn't even go shopping for glass that much anymore. She has run out of room.
"If I found a spectacular piece, where would I put it?"
Things that go crash
For all the enjoyment, there are downsides of collecting glass. Namely, her cats.
When she was living in the first house, the one with the bay window, Tilley Chavez lured a feral mother cat inside so she could get her kittens familiar with humans and they could eventually be adopted. Mama cat wasn't having any of it and lunged toward the bay window to get outside, sending colored glass crashing. The cat family was shut in a different room - one without a glass collection - as the babies were tamed a bit.
Today's family members Sterling, a giant and quite lazy feline nicknamed "Java, the Cat," and brother Leo, a sleek adventurer who brings mice and birds to Sterling to play with, have had a few mishaps, taking out glassware as they jumped at birds that fly into the big living-room windows. Antique hobnail glass ended up in pieces when marauding raccoons came inside through the cat door.
And then there was the unnamed human glass destroyer. He had enjoyed himself perhaps a little too much at one of the Chavez parties and took a header into part of the glass collection. His wife brought her hosts replacement colored glass as gifts for quite some time.
For Tilley Chavez, it's just life. "If I had to care about the value of the glass I would have to get rid of my cats." And that would never happen.
"I have to just chill out when a piece gets broken. If I bought it for value I would have to put it away in a case somewhere."
It's all part of the Tilley Chavez "loving life" and not taking it too seriously mantra. And it fits right in with her passion for collecting and just enjoying it all. She collects - and wears - furs, shoes (hundreds), antique ballgowns and hats (500 at one count until she had a sale to get the number down to 250). Each piece of art on the walls is hand picked.
HOW TO START COLLECTING GLASS
• Pick the piece that appeals to you and learn everything about it, says Jason Carr, vice president of Antique Gallery Inc. For instance, what it is, who made or designed it and what the pattern is called. “Then you’ll know what you like,” Carr says.
Knowing the pattern, “you can research where and when it was made. You can go into a store and ask for African shield pattern or gothic lace pattern glass, Carr says. “The more you research, the more you’ll learn and be able to spot your chosen pattern at flea markets, thrift shops and estate sales,” he says.
• Extremely valuable glass pieces are rare. Glass was utilitarian and easy to make, so it’s very common, says Carr. “Pay close attention to the condition of the pieces.” He and glass collector Eve Tilley Chavez both advise that the smallest flaw — a chip or crack — will slash the value of cut glass or crystal.
• Choose a good seller, one who will check the condition of glass you’re interested in and point out the flaws. “You’ll know that you’re dealing with someone interested in your satisfaction — and your return business.” Pick someone who will share what he or she knows, he advises. Some dealers won’t.
• Comparison shop. The same or similar item can be priced quite differently, even in the same marketplace, Carr says. One vendor may have something at the upper end of the scale while another might have it at low-to-go.
• Be willing to settle for something less. Carr says if you’ve fallen in love with something exclusive and expensive but it isn’t in your budget, “consider buying a flawed one that you would enjoy looking at on your shelf. You won't mind that it was $10 instead of $70 because it has a tiny chip.”