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TRENDS : It's Not Always Crystal-Clear, but Glass Makes the Cut in Design


In simple accents and detailed crafting, in ways as diverse as light-refracting bevels and etched wildlife images, decorative glasswork is increasinglybeing used as a design element in the home.

There are scores of ways to glorify glass; it can be leaded, beveled, painted, enameled, antiqued, embossed. Many of these techniques remain unchanged since Medieval times, though the glass itself is appearing in new and modern designs.

"Really, what makes the difference in glass, lifting it from something purely utilitarian to an art form, is the skill which the craftsman brings to the glasswork project," said Tom Henry, a glass craftsman of 24 years, who owns and operates Master's Glass in Costa Mesa.

"You can have a piece of antique glass from Europe for $5 to $10 a square foot, or you can have a beveled, leaded, diamond-cut huge window or set of doors for $10,000. Both are lovely and give beauty to an environment; one just requires a lot more time and skill and craftsmanship. But anyone can enjoy glass in their home."

Decorative glass can be introduced in ways as simple as replacing the standard glass in a curio cabinet with antique glass or hanging a piece of stained glass in a window.

Still, most people consider decorative glasswork a luxury, according to Tom Lloyd, owner of Bevelled Glass and Mirror in Newport Beach.

"I've been in the business since 1976, and you can see the curve go up and down with the economy," he said. "But I also think people are seeing the art form in glasswork and are willing to pay what a craftsman needs to do the job right."

The glasswork that Lloyd and Henry are talking about is meant to add lasting beauty to a home.

"It's like a beautiful coat one will wear for decades--you'll be willing to pay a (higher) price for it," Henry said.

In doors, cabinets, windows and furnishings, the pieces are able to introduce detail that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. A decorative piece of glass in a door or an entryway, for instance, can help set a tone for an entire home.

Decorative glass can be purchased ready-made or custom-designed.

Ready-made beveled and leaded glass doors for the entryway in one Orange County home were purchased from a glass and mirror retail company for about $1,600 for the pair. The doors were crafted in Latin America, the glasswork beveled and leaded in Taiwan, and the pieces put together by a Compton company.

On the other hand, a pair of custom doors in leaded and beveled glass with complex etching at another home were worked on by a local glass artist for three months before they could be set in their teak frames. The cost was $20,000.

Choices in decorative glass range from utilitarian frosted glass to unorthodox free-form compositions.

There are three main elements in decorative glass:

* How the glass is made. Variations include hand blown or machine rolled, clear or colored, textured or plain.

* What is done to it. Decorative processes include etching, cameo cutting, engraving, painting and enameling.

* How it is put together. Assembly processes include connecting pieces with leading, copper foil or zinc.

Knowing some of the terminology of glass can help consumers considering adding glass detail to their homes to know what their options are.

Glass Types

Here are some basic kinds of glass:

Sheet glass. Generic plate glass from one-sixteenth of an inch to one inch thick. It is priced according to thickness, from $1.25 to $20 per square foot.

Antique glass. Hand-blown or machine re-creation and elaboration of the nuances in genuine antique glass. Bubbles, variations, striations and what some might term "defects" are deliberately included in the process. From $2.50 to $12 per square foot, depending on process. Opalescent glass. Color is mixed into the glass as it is created, then poured and rolled into sheets. This is the style of glass used in Tiffany lamps. From $2.50 to $10 or more per square foot.

Dalle-de-verre glass. Blocks or chips of glass cast in a resin to create an abstract form used in contemporary designs, particularly windows.

Fern glass. A special glue is applied either in a design or all over the surface of glass that has been sandblasted. The glue pulls the glass off in shapes of ferns, shells, etc. Double fern glass is a repetition of the process that gives the glass a double-chipped texture. Runs from $3 to $15 a square foot.

Rolled or textured glass. The glass is rolled in large sheets in various textures. Available in varied patterns, colors and degrees of transparency. Also referred to as Cathedral glass.

Flash glass. Generally hand blown. An antique glass with a thin layer of colored glass fused onto its base.

Stained glass. Paint and silver stain are used to define an image on pieces of colored or clear glass that is then leaded together.

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