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shattered beliefs

Is recycled glass the path of least resistance?

May 21, 2000|Debra J. Hotaling

Defiantly barefoot, Stephen Jerrom steps onto the bits of glass with the flourish of a true believer.

"See?" he says, treading beatifically down a path of aqua glass pebbles that leads toward the garden's cinematic skyline view. He motions me to join him, which I would do, if only I could quiet the Phantom Mother Voice vigorously warning--Be careful, darling, glass!--inside my head.

"Glass is so soothing," observes Jerrom's partner, Andy Cao, who, as co-founder of the Glass Garden, designed this Hollywood Hills retreat for owner-artist Erin Lareau. As he talks, I test the waters, dropping one foot down, then the other. Bits of glass that have gone through a tumbler to emerge as smooth round nuggets crunch operatically underfoot.

"When Erin came to us, she said she wanted something very pastel, very light," says Cao. "One day I had this inspiration: How about a river of glass that would disappear, just drop off the horizon?"

Three tons of recycled glass later, Lareau got her glittering glass river. From the concrete patio to the reflecting pond festooned with one of Lareau's pave crystal sculptures, there's glass everywhere; hues flow softly from sea foam green to aqua to cobalt. "There's such a drama of light," Lareau says of her garden. "Everything twinkles."

But Cao and Jerrom have a higher calling. Granted, they've got their glam work--a glass installation at the Chateau Marmont, another at The Standard, a recent commission from Elton John to make art out of a ton of luminous orange glass pebbles. But nice as this work is, it feels a little like preaching to the converted.

"Only 25% of the glass used in this country is recycled," says Jerrom. "Our mission is to recoup more of that glass."

They see lux glass paving a haute couture Paris runway show ("What a spectacle," imagines Cao), or glass pebbles trading places with dowdy gravel at a playground. They see railroad tracks and boutique window displays and freeway underpasses garnished with recycled glass bits. Although they remain mum on their glass sources, Cao and Jerrom patiently bring the gospel of recycled glass to skeptical home improvement center buyers, hoping to generate more demand for the stuff. "One buyer wouldn't even talk to me," says Jerrom. "He said glass was too dangerous for them to sell." More hazardous than pesticides and power saws? Jerrom smiles diplomatically. (Glass Garden does sell recycled glass bits by the 50-pound bag [$70] or ton [$1,300] through its Web site, http://www.glassgardendesign.com.)

When I inquire about rows of one-inch glass globes tucked into Lareau's concrete patio, Jerrom nods his head. "They're a glass byproduct," he says, hardly believing his good luck. "We've got 400 tons of it. Garden caviar."

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