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How Legalization Is Changing The Aesthetic Of Smoking

As legalization spreads across the U.S., designers are appealing to consumers who “don’t want a gross bro” bong.

This November, throngs of cheerful shoppers clutching cocktails navigated the stalls of West Coast Craft, a massive biannual design show held in a cavernous warehouse on the San Francisco Bay. They appraised artisan goods such as elaborate woven wall hangings, delicate jewelry, and carefully made leather bags. Also, bongs and pipes. Pretty, put-them-on-the-mantle bongs and pipes.

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Such goods used to have a certain aesthetic. Think glass chillums decorated with swirling colors, bongs made in the image of space aliens and dragons, and metal one-hitters disguised as cigarettes. During prohibition times, such objects often ran strongly in one of two directions–defiantly stoney or undercover. But today, seven states (and the District of Columbia) have approved adult marijuana use, and 28 states have passed medical marijuana laws. For many, pot is above the board, and that creates a fresh design opportunity. Smoking accessories are coming out of the side table drawer, and being marketed to customers who want something beyond the head shop experience.

[Photo: Summerland]

Liam Kaczmar, founder of San Francisco-based Summerland, makes minimalist bongs and pipes that especially appeal to design-conscious female consumers who “don’t want a gross bro piece,” Kaczmar says.

“When I started it, I just wanted to find a cool bong,” Kaczmar says. “And the bong I imagined was this white, ceramic, super pristine something you would find in a Japanese home store.”

This bong did not exist, so Kaczmar, an art director and filmmaker, set out to make one. He kicked off his line with a funny homage to the apple pipe and created the Fruit Fantasy, an all-white apple shaped ceramic pipe, with help from a collaborator who now works at storied Heath Ceramics. He now has a line of sleek, white bongs that are a bit midcentury, a bit surfer chic. To create the line, he 3D printed his design to achieve the refined look he desired, then worked with a ceramicist to create a mold. Kaczmar chose his medium for its display qualities.

“The thing about glass is it’s a great, clean way of smoking, but it gets very dirty very quickly, and you can see that mess inside,” says Kaczmar. “So you don’t—after a few uses—want to leave that bong sitting on your dining room table.” His opaque ceramic pieces, meanwhile, can be safely left out when company arrives. Some customers even pop a flower in the chamber.

Portland-based ceramicist Ariel Zimman has been working with clay since she was a child, and founded a home decor line, Realm, in 2013. Two years later she founded Stonedware, a collection of geometric porcelain pipes, decorated with 22-karat gold.

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[Photo: Stonedware]

“I wanted to elevate the aesthetic of smoking, not only for myself but for others,” she says. “The stigma of smoking is changing and so is the clientele.”

When she thought about who her customer would be, she says she pictured professional women who came home at the end of the day and “instead of having a drink out of their nice whiskey cup, they have a toke out of their nice pipe.”

Through her business, Zimman has met customers who shied away from cannabis because it was illegal, or who once smoked and then tapered off because they lost their source, but are newly curious.

“They can enjoy cannabis in this really safe, mature way,” she says.

[Photo: High Society]

Jewelry maker Erin Rose Gardner was inspired to make a line of wearable roach clips by a small, anthropomorphic one her mother kept plunked in the soil of a potted plant as decoration. Gardner’s High Society Collection is art-deco inspired, made by hand with a hammer and anvil and dipped in gold. To perfect her designs, which include serrated edges and a sliding mechanism to ensure a tight grip, she consulted with Gary Knox Bennett, a renowned furniture maker who began his business by making elaborate roach clips in the 1960s. (Bennet’s coveted clips still pop up on marijuana forums, eBay, and Etsy.)

At craft fairs, many people drift over to admire Gardner’s creations without realizing their dual purpose. At first she felt compelled to explain, but discovered that some felt uncomfortable when they found out they were admiring a roach clip. In just a few years, she says, people have relaxed.

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“So I’ve shifted the way I talk about it, but I also think there is currently a cultural shift in the way people think about cannabis,” she says. “It’s not as dirty as it used to be.”

[Photo: Charlie Schuck]

The uptick in such creations, combined with the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping, was a clear indication to design writer Monica Khemsurov that smoking was economically on the rise. Along with two partners, she founded online smoking accessory shop Tetra in 2015 to cater to style-minded smokers. The shop offers an in-house line as well as a selection of pipes, ashtrays, lighters, and other fare from several designers. The store’s copy explicitly states that its items are intended for tobacco, but it has certainly attracted the interest of cannabis smokers, too.

The mainstreaming of smoking has sparked designers’ imaginations, according to Khemsurov.

“I think the designer’s mind tends to be this curious mind,” she says. “People who design things are always trying to think in new directions and create new things, and when they see the opportunity to bring design into a field that it doesn’t exist in, that’s a very, very primal, exciting thing.”

For many makers of today’s smoking accessories, thoughtful design is seen as a kind of cannabis ambassador.

“A lot of my goal with this brand was not necessarily to show up in the head shop or dispensary space, although I am sold there,” says Kaczmar of Summerland. “I really wanted to be sold in the boutique space, in clothing stores, shoe stores, and home good stores because I think that normalizes it and elevates it.”

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Kaczmar frequently sells to those who don’t feel comfortable smoking from a traditional apparatus with a druggy vibe, such as grandparents who want a subtler tool.

Zimman thinks smoking accessories should be treasured, like any home object.

“I liken it to your favorite coffee mug, the one you always reach for, and that’s the relationship you should have with your pipe,” she says. “You’re putting it to your face, you’re using it in this intimate way, you should feel good, you should enjoy looking at it, you should enjoy holding it.”

So far, design as a normalizing force seems to be working. Tetra offerings are available in boutiques such as Opening Ceremony and landed on the GOOP holiday gift guide—it’s hard to imagine anything more mainstream than that.

“My mother, when I started this project, was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? What if it hurts your reputation? And I was like, ‘Don’t worry, Mom,’” says Khemsurov, laughing at the recollection. “And now it’s like, ‘Hey Mom, Gwyneth Paltrow approves!’”

About the author

Andy Wright is a journalist based out of San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Matter, Popular Mechanics, Atlas Obscura, Pacific Standard and others.

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