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Volume 41,   Issue 2       February 2006


Thriving Decorative Glass

Why The Trend of This Specialty Glass is Spreading

by Sarah Batcheler

Question: What is unique with endless creative options, is strikingly-popular in today’s architecture and growing in interest? The answer, decorative glass.

Whether you’ve been exposed to newer designs and features in today’s buildings, or just opened an interior design magazine in the past year, you’ve seen the exquisite use of decorative glass everywhere. From lobbies, office spaces, kitchen cabinets and shower enclosures. The use of decorative glass has exploded in applications and use over the last five years. So, what is fueling this growth and what can we expect to see in the future? 

Growing in Usage

“There is an increase in usage. There are also more companies involved in manufacturing decorative glass,” says Dave Williams, general manager of decorative glass manufacturer Arch Deco Glass in Columbus, Ohio.

“Volume has gone way up, and that’s across the board, meaning residential, corporate, commercial and hospitality,” says BJ Katz, art director at Meltdown Glass Art & Design, a decorative glass manufacturer in Chandler, Ariz.

A trend some are seeing in decorative glass is the broad use of color.

“People want more and more colors,” states Trent Hartley, sales and marketing manager of Coastal Glass Distributors.

Katz agrees. “The imaginative use of color is a new thing.” She explains that colored glass can tie together interiors.

Not only does decorative glass look pretty, but it also has functional uses in a variety of applications.

“It is used as kitchen countertops, glass door inserts, sidelite windows for privacy, clear story windows for light, but not the view, room dividers, shower enclosures, bathroom countertops and basins,” points out Katz.

Patterned glass is a big player when it comes to decorating homes for privacy reasons.

“Many more patterns are available and people are using it for privacy,” says Bill Daubmann, marketing manager for glazing company Mr. Shower Door in Naples, Fla.

“There are thicker versions of glass. It used to be 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch. Now, there is a bigger variety of 3/8-inch thick glass, so it can be used for shower doors,” adds Daubmann.

Decorative glass has also found its way into the popular upscale master bath suites and upgraded kitchens.

“A trend is shower windows. People are getting tired of glass blocks, and decorative glass has the same function,” says Leslie Mason, co-owner of glazing company Clear-Vue Glass in Durham, N.C. “There is a bigger interest for its use for back splashes and countertops. There is more use of it in bathrooms and some use of it in kitchens,” she adds.

Why The Growth?

So what, exactly, has sparked this growth? Most say that its unique tactile qualities, privacy protection and the fact that is it more affordable now than in the past has made decorative glass increasingly popular.

“People like decorative glass because, overall, our society has succumbed to everything manufactured. Decorative glass has a personal and handcrafted feel and people want that in their environments,” says Katz. 

Hoey says that driving growth on the residential side is the explosion in home values. 

“The big trend in homes is bigger bathrooms, and people are looking to make them distinctive. They are willing to pour more money in those spaces.” says Hoey.

On the commercial side, he says technology is the driving force. 

“One thing that plays into this is new technologies such as CNC equipment, which now can create shapes of glass while increasing its quality. Other technologies are painting glass, durability, color options and new glass processing methods. In the past, there were glass designs that were only possible for commissioned pieces of cast glass, but [they are] now being produced in production quantities of stock sheets, which dramatically reduces the price,” says Hoey. 

“We’re working on new techniques in fusing different types of glass, including dichroic glass. It has a metal deposition on it that gives off three distinctively different colors,” says Jane Skeeter, chief executive officer of decorative glass manufacturer UltraGlas Inc. of Chatsworth, Calif. “It’s very decorative and very expensive, so it’s mainly used as small accents,” she adds. 

Daubmann points out that there is also improved tooling for better edgework.

“Fabricators [can achieve] better edgework because of the [new] machinery, such as wheels and tools that put the edges on the glass,” he says.

The variation of designs and decorative patterns seems to be endless as more designs are introduced to the marketplace.

“It’s simply the coolest architectural product out there with the most versatility,” says Mason. “Awareness is growing. There is no other product out there with this much versatility,” she adds.

With its beauty sparking interest across the nation, the growth may be a direct impact of supply and demand. 

“Those companies that responded to the interest ... it has been an interactive process that has, in-turn, stimulated demand,” says Hoey. “Seeing new products, one can get a broader sense of what the possibilities are,” he adds.

Glass Changes Equals Glaziers Change

While some glaziers focus on the markets with which they are most experienced, many have now realized the opportunity decorative glass offers and have added it to their product mix.

“We’ve always targeted the high-end glass market, but with the rise of decorative glass, we’ve been forced to learn about available sources, capabilities and limitations in decorative glass,” says Terry Webb, president of Eureka Metal & Glass Services Inc. in Philadelphia.

“In most large areas, there are a few contractors that are willing to go on a limb and try new things. Lots of glazing contractors that do interior work are used to doing windows and shower enclosures,” says Trent Hartley, sales and marketing manager of Coastal Glass Distributors.

But, one reason they may be hesitant to work on decorative glass is because it is much more expensive then regular flat glass—no one can afford to break it.

“We’ve never had any problems breaking glass during installation, but we’ve walked away from several projects when we felt decorative glass was being specified to be installed in a less than safe manor,” says Webb. “Sometimes this was because the sheet size was too big, and at times we have disagreed,” he added.

Glaziers are interested in satisfying their clients, and that’s why they are getting involved.

“If glaziers are willing to learn and take the risks, there is much more profit margins in decorative glass, especially in kitchens and bathrooms,” says Hartley.

“There are people who are doing specialized stuff. Once they start doing this, they won’t go back to cookie-cutter stuff because they can earn three- to four-times more money per hour of work. Return on investment is very, very good,” says Hartley.

Handle With Care

Glaziers who spoke to USGlass say they have to be very careful when handling and installing decorative glass.

“We don’t take any more precautions than usual. Most decorative glass is tempered or laminated, so it has a bit of added strength anyway,” says Pam Walus, office manager at glazing company CGI Glass in DePere, Wis.

“There is no difference in the installation of the decorative glass, except if there is a pattern going in a certain direction, it has to stay consistent,” says Daubmann.

Don Vandeven, a glazier at CGI Glass agrees. “It’s the same as any glass, and you have to be careful not to knock it around. Personally, I haven’t had any unfortunate incidents. I’ve been handling glass so long-glass is glass,” he adds.

What can glaziers do to reduce the likelihood of breakage? Just be careful.

“There is really nothing different about the installation of decorative glass. You just don’t want to break it,” says Mason.

“For installing and handling, glaziers need to use deep glazing cups which is the main thing. Decorative glass is installed in hardware like other types of glass,” advises Katz. “I give glaziers a lot of confidence. A problem is more likely to come out if they don’t tell us the correct sizes. They are highly-skilled at what they do,” says Katz.

“Some glaziers are still afraid to work with decorative glass, so they’ll try to value-engineer it themselves. But, most of our experiences with glaziers are very good,” says Williams.

One difference in decorative glass compared to other types is that it has textures that can be scratched when exiting machines.

“Due to the textures of the glass, we have to be very careful to check for scratches when the glass is coming out of machinery. Whenever you start looking at high-end glass, the quality criteria goes up, too,” says Hartley.

The Chain of Command

Glazing contractors, glass fabricators and manufacturers must work side-by-side to make a designer’s vision come to life.

The glazing contractor’s role is to give the manufacturer or fabricator the specifications to fabricate glass for the installation. There is a chain of command that involves the design professional, glazing contractor and installer of decorative glass.

“The design professional is the one who contacts us first to talk about what it is going to look like. Then, the glazing contractor is the one who picks out the hardware and tells us how to fabricate it for the ease of installation,” says Katz. 

When the communication is flowing, problems can be minimized.

“The real issue is that decorative glass is not perfect by the very nature of the process. The fabricator has to work with the glazier, but customers may not be able to understand that,” says Hoey. “Communication from up and down the channel is important. It is good to provide samples and to communicate so that customers know what to expect.”

Webb says a challenge his company has encountered stems from miscommunication with suppliers of decorative glass.

“Most domestic suppliers market their product to architects and create an impression of what the installed square-foot value should be—which is often unrealistic and therefore creates trouble for installation contractors at bid time,” Webb says. “Through a laborious process, we have to educate the architect and/or customer of costs involved to show our proposal is accurate. This creates a whole other level of work which wouldn’t exist if the false impression wasn’t created,” he adds.

Manufacturers say the way they interact with glazing contractors has changed over the past five years.
 
“I definitely find that glazing contractors appreciate and love decorative glass. They used to be more apprehensive in the past; now it brings them enjoyment,” says Katz.

“We prefer to work with glazing contractors that have experience and understand performance values,” says Williams. “It is good when they understand directional patterns and the dos and don’ts of decorative glass.”

According to Hartley, there are rarely problems as long as glaziers get the measurements right.

“With higher-end decorative products, the main thing is to get the dimensions right the first time,” he says. “Glaziers are scared because it is $20 to $30 per square foot. But, tempered decorative glass is installed the same way as flat glass. It is the dimensions that make people scared,” says Hartley.

“You’re almost forced to get every specification. We have to try and get more information out of them to make sure that the product is going to fit,” says Williams, who says his company advises designers on that. “It is important to match the right product with the right use,” he adds.

Selling it in the Showroom

Some glaziers say they can sell high-priced decorative glass more easily when then they can show customers how the glass will look. This is done by guiding them through a showroom.

“Sometimes there is a solution that architects don’t even know about. For example, color. There are lots of different ways to get color, such as colored interlayers [for] laminated colored glass, and you can use paint,” comments Hoey. “Our industry as a whole has not done a lot of marketing. Marketing is really creating an awareness of new possibilities,” he adds. 

Even in a showroom that displays different types of glass, there is always room to debut the latest decorative glass patterns.

“There is a separate area of our showroom to bring in more decorative glass. They [architects] like to see larger pieces of the glass patterns,” says Daubmann. “They want to see, feel and touch it. It is better than carrying around catalogs,” he adds.

“We make changes in our company because of the growing demand in decorative glass,” says Mason. “We moved from a company with an auto glass installation focus to decorative glass,” says Mason. The five-year transition began in 2001 when the company opened a decorative glass showroom, and Mason reports that this year it stopped doing auto glass.

“We specialized and built a showroom to illustrate the different ways to use decorative glass to capitalize on that interest,” says Mason.

When it comes to their suppliers, there are also traits and qualities valued by glaziers.

Mason says she prefers to work with wholesalers who are willing to sell to someone with one-client, small volume jobs. “There are some companies who better understand that we are trying to solve someone else’s vision.”

Daubmann says he communicates with decorative glass manufacturers to stay informed. 

“We interact with decorative glass manufacturers about availability and pricing of different styles,” says Daubmann. “We attend glass shows to meet importers, fabricators and manufacturers of glass. We haven’t encountered a challenge we couldn’t handle yet,” he adds, and says helping designers and architects make selections is a role his company has taken on.

“We are able to help designers and architects choose patterns best for certain lighting conditions; we try to avoid a problem before it happens.”

The Future 

Is decorative glass just a hot trend for today’s use, or can we expect to see it continue in the future? Glaziers and manufacturers agree—it is here to stay.

“On the commercial side, there will be a broader use of laminating because it gives you lots of flexibility,” says Hoey. “For example, decorative glass with low-E products can achieve energy efficiency as well as beauty,” he adds.

As decorative glass continues to grow, so will companies that specialize in the application.

“We just moved into a new facility that is 50 percent larger with new equipment, and we’ve expanded the decorative glass portion,” says Williams.

“Looking toward the future, I expect the growth in decorative glass to fuel our growth,” says Mason.

“The rise in decorative glass will allow our company to grow. It will mean we have more products to sell to the general public,” says Daubmann. “More patterns allow us greater choices to our customer base and allow us to grow our sales in pattern glass,” he says.

“It is as if we’ve just begun to explore the broader use of decorative glass,” says Hoey. “Success is a moving target; change is a constant.” 


USG
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