Coloring Outside the Linesg
Designers Embrace Glass as a Way to Add Color to Their Project
by Ellen Rogers Editor of Decorative Glass magazine.
Some people choose to live surrounded by colorfully decorated furnishings
and accessories; some people choose to buy one car over another because
of an eye-catching color; other people say they work more or less productively
as a result of the colors with which they are surrounded. Yes, color can
have a profound influence on our lives. According to the Alexandria, Va.-based
Color Marketing Group:
• Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent;
• Color improves readership as much as 40 percent;
• Color accelerates learning from 55 to 78 percent;
• Color increases comprehension by 73 percent;
• Color ads are read up to 42 percent more than similar ads in black and
• Color can be up to 85 percent of the reason people decide to buy.
With so much to be said about the use of color, many designers have embraced
using it in their designs.
“Color is something that is in our lifestyles, everywhere you go,” says
Doug Purcell, principal interior designer with New York-based Cannon Design.
Purcell says much of the work he does is within institutional environments
including healthcare settings, colleges and universities as well as research
and sports facilities. However, he has seen design elements, traditionally
used in hospitality settings, move into institutional projects as well.
“You get an amalgamation of what our home lifestyles are like and we’re
bringing that influence into institutional work. Plus, there’s a whole
generation of people who are not afraid of intense color. It’s part of
our culture and I think something people respond to in a positive way,”
From elevator walls and lobbies to reception desks and other furniture
pieces, designers say they often work with glass as a way to bring color
into the project’s surroundings.
Designer Belinda Bennett of the Bennett Design Group in Houston says in
the past people did not always think about using glass as a medium in
the design tool kit, but they do now.
“I think glass has become a more creative option thanks to all the graphics
that can be added to it,” says Bennett. “Now that the technology is there
and the prices have become a bit more affordable the glass can stay in
the project rather than being eliminated at the last minute because it
did not make budget.”
As one way of adding color to her projects, Bennett says she likes to
use a lot of clear glass embedded with colored items.
“I lean more toward glass as a textural or element of interest, but I
also continue to look at things that are sandwiched between the glass,
which also adds a color element even though the glass itself is not completely
colored,” says Bennett. These items can include everything from dried
flowers, bamboo, grass, even intricate beadings and tapestry materials.
Bennett says the same effect can also be achieved with acrylic, though
with glass the result is clearer and the colors more vibrant.
“When our budgets allow, clients prefer glass over acrylic,” Bennett adds.
According to Purcell, there are also many benefits.
“It’s a high-impact surface and requires very little maintenance,” he
says. “Glass can be an alternate to many different materials and gives
a different aesthetic while also being a high-impact material.”
Purcell explains that he often uses glass to add color because it can
help achieve the project’s total design concept.
“These are usually very large panels and the whole aesthetic that you
are trying to achieve is based on a coloration of that space,” says Purcell.
“[Using glass in this way] allows it to become one of those controlling
Alexsandra Guinan, a founding partner of GlassKote USA in Bridgeport,
Conn., says the nature of color is also a reason such products are specified.
“As humans, our emotions are influenced by color and studies have been
done in the medical field that show color does impact [behavior],” Guinan
says. “With the introduction of color to glass it has become an aesthetic
feature that can be expanded to incorporate other materials that are used
in an environment.”
Mandy Marxen, vice president of marketing for Dreamwalls Color Glass in
North Wilkesboro, N.C., adds, “I think designers are always looking for
ways to get more light into a room and this surface encourages that and
brings flat walls to life. It’s a step above paint; this has a life because
of the reflectivity and so a red becomes more saturated and vibrant. It’s
not a static glass at all.”
“Now that the technology
is there and the prices have become a bit more affordable the glass can
stay in the project rather than being eliminated at the last minute because
did not make budget.”
—Belinda Bennett, Bennett Design Group
To accommodate the different styles and creativity of different designers,
there are many ways to add color with glass. Coated glass and backpainted
glass products, for example, are increasingly popular. Such products are
often used in kitchens and bathrooms as backsplashes and countertops.
In commercial applications they are used as wall claddings, reception
and transaction desks and other types of furniture.
“I think glass gives a very clean line, modern aesthetic and I think there
is a trend toward that in North America,” says Guinan. “We are seeing
acceptance across the board now where 15-20 years ago people were intimidated
by using it as it was something very foreign. Now people want to use it
in as many areas as they can.”
Marxen adds, “This is a product that has been available worldwide longer
than it has been in the United States and I think U.S. interior designers
are excited now that they do not have to import this product.”
Tommy Huskey, chief executive officer with Dreamwalls, says another reason
coated and backpainted glass products are becoming more popular is because
they are being produced on a high-quality basis. As an example, he says
his company’s products are made using a low-iron glass, which allows color
to be transmitted through the glass as the exact same color it is applied
“If we had to paint normal green glass, there would not be as much color
consistency so the fact that the ultra clear glass is available is a huge
step forward,” says Huskey.
Another popular feature is the aspect of color itself.
“You can get any color on glass and it looks just as the designer expects
it to look and it gives the glass dimension and reflectivity,” adds Husky.
Guinan adds, “When you paint your wall [the color] will wear down over
time, but colored glass has the ability to look good for a longer term.”
In addition to color, Bennett says images, patterns and texture in glass
can also bring color into the design environment.
“We use a lot of glass that has been etched with graphics or patterns.
I think manufacturers are starting to merge with well-known textile designers
and graphic designers and are marketing [those products] to the architectural
and design community,” explains Bennett.
Technologies are also available through which the designs and images can
be printed onto an interlayer material and then laminated into the glass.
“I’ve seen that, but have not yet had the opportunity to utilize it,”
says Bennett. “It’s very intriguing and we probably will be utilizing
it at some point. It’s a very viable way to add color.”
Backlighting the glass can also create a color effect.
“Illuminating the glass can give a dramatic, three dimensional effect
to the wall,” says Purcell.
While the aesthetics and low-maintenance features are important, many
are also looking for “green” elements.
“A lot is happening in terms of the environmental impact we’re having
on the planet,” says Guinan. “For example, there are wood species that
will become extinct, so we are looking at creating a type of finish that
looks like wood, but will be on glass. I think we need to be mindful of
the environment and look to innovate and get a quality product out there.”
Huskey adds, “These products can also help earn LEED credits and we have
guidelines we go through when talking to [architects and designers] abut
Questions and Answers
As with anything new, both designers and suppliers say it’s not unusual
for clients to have some concerns over using colored glass products.
“We have to convince them that it’s been around a long time [used frequently
in other countries] and has a great track record,” says Purcell.
“Because we do a lot of [work] in very public places, clients always want
to know how it will be maintained or if it will scratch off or break easily,”
she says. “As designers, we think about codes and the applications first
and a lot of times glass is a good solution because it’s durable and cleanable
and it can take some abuse.”
Codes also have to be taken into consideration, particularly if the glass
is used in a safety glazing application, which would require it to be
laminated or tempered.
But even before answering the questions of how the glass will perform
and be maintained, an even bigger concern must be addressed: cost.
“Cost is always a concern and a factor you have to deal with and sometimes
[the glass] gets value engineered out of a job,” says Purcell. “It’s like
using any type of expensive material—sometimes the project just can’t
Bennett agrees that the budget can be challenging, but says it’s all dependent
on the owners and the design elements they want the most.
“[Owners] have to make the budget decisions, so it’s up to the designer
to convey the importance of certain elements in the project and then it’s
up to the owners to decide which elements they want to keep,” says Bennett.
“A lot of times there are trade-offs, especially with a small project
where, for example, lighting is more important because the room has no
windows. That’s when glass can be viewed as an art piece or it can be
looked at as a major element. It can go either way.”
The question of how the product is installed may also be a concern.
“It’s really no different than installing a mirror,” says Huskey, whose
company first began as a mirror manufacturer. “This is another way to
help our industry generate more revenue and grow the business. It seems
as though the mirror industry has basically been stuck in the bathroom.
This [type of product] allows us to get into another important room in
the house [the kitchen] and it helps the installer get into another important
room in the house. The benefits will trickle down through the industry
as the interest builds up,” he says.
A Step Ahead
As the demand for colorful, architectural decorative glass grows, suppliers
say a continued focus on education will be critical, especially as more
and more companies venture into creating their own new products. Industry
experts warn that as new products are developed proper research and planning
“I think one big issue is educating the architects and designers in the
difference in painted glass and coated glass, as paint does not bond to
glass,” says Guinan. “Glass is an unusual substrate and the primary difference
in paint versus a coating is that with the coating … there is a chemistry
occurring that creates the bond and the durability and track record,”
says Guinan. “Warranty is also important. So the bottom line is, when
you create a product, what is behind it? Has it been tested and are there
warranties and how long has it been around?”
Marxen agrees. “We don’t want it to become a fad that everyone is trying
to get into because that will lead to problems. We want to be sure that
the quality is strong and durable so it has the long life we want it to
“I hope that if companies start making it they won’t take shortcuts. With
this technology it’s not something you go out and buy and start making
the next day—it’s not that easy,” says Huskey, who adds that the possibility
of increased competition does not bother him. “Right now, I think we are
so focused on demand creation that we don’t see competition as a bad thing.
We want people to get excited about an industry that’s not very exciting
right now. We feel like we’re helping the market grow. The bigger threat,”
he adds, “is resistance to change. We have to encourage stepping out of
the box and staying on our toes.” dg
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