Kat Briceno has been smoking marijuana for years but didn’t own a bong until 2017, when they converted an antique vase into a smoking device. (Briceno uses the pronouns they and them.)
Mass-market bongs were just too ugly, “like a piece of hardware” or something you have to hide in the closet, Briceno said.
Now a licensed antique appraiser, Briceno was working as a vintage seller in Los Angeles and noticed a plethora of narrow-necked vases at a flea market. Many of the vases resembled the general shape of a bong, with a wide base that could be filled with water and a narrower neck that could be used as a smoke chamber and mouthpiece.
Briceno started collecting these vases and experimenting with old wine bottles to see if it was possible to drill a hole near the base and have a fixed down stem and a removable bowl that holds marijuana. Soon, the vases became the focus, the first a bone china piece made by Aynsley China.
Briceno posted pictures of their work on Reddit and before long was getting messages from other users asking if the bongs were for sale. In 2018, Briceno began building a business, Functional China, which is now their main source of income. It has expanded to include vintage ashtrays and glass boxes. The bongs typically cost $77 to $400.
“It was something that I wanted people to be able to showcase in their homes,” Briceno said.
Making smoking accessories out of household items is not new. (Turning an apple into a pipe with a few strategically placed holes has long been a quick fix for weed smokers.) But Briceno is part of a group of artisans upcycling vintage vases and bottles into smoking accessories, influenced partly by the resurgence of crafting and the growing appreciation for resale — against the backdrop of the much bigger change in marijuana laws. It is now legal, in 36 states and Washington, D.C. (In some of those states, it is restricted to medical use.)
Tommy Stublaski also makes marijuana accessories out of vintage vases and other antiques. Like Briceno, he had a distaste for mass-market bongs.
“I would go to local glass shops, and they would be selling stuff that looks like it came out of chemistry sets, or they had, like, ‘Monster Thrasher’ written on the side of it in cheesy graffiti text,” Stublaski said.
Stublaski, who lives in Racine, Wisconsin, made his first bong out of an antique pinkish glass vase in December and began posting his conversions on Instagram in February. He has made pieces out of glass decanters that have zodiac signs adorning their bases, and he recently converted a glass bottle shaped like a poodle (the bowl is where the dog’s tail would be, and the mouthpiece is at the top of its head). His company is called BongPop; bongs can range from about $130 to $350.
Stublaski imagines his client base as “ ‘aesthetic stoners’ who are like, ‘Oh, yes, this would kind of fit my vibe and kind of fit my household,’ ” he said.
For Katie Martin, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, bringing new life to an old object is one of the motivating factors in her upcycled bong business.
She converted her first piece, an E.O. Brody hobnail glass vase, after “tons of trial and error,” in November, and started to post her creations on Instagram and sell them online under the name Glass Act; they cost $45 to $120. One of her favorite pieces is made out of a vase that came with a sticker saying it was a Christmas gift from 1941.
“If it has a history and I know the history, I love it a thousand times more,” Martin said.
Stublaski shares Martin’s enthusiasm for the stories behind the vases and believes that the previous lives of the bongs he makes help draw his customers.
“You can smoke out of them, but also if you keep it clean, you can have it out on display, you can put flowers in it,” he said. “It’s kind of just a nice conversation piece for your home.”