Cutting Edge New Glass Shatters Old Limitations

Article excerpt

Glass, that ancient and familiar material, is being pushed to the cutting edge. Windows, table tops and dinnerware accessories are standards, to be sure. But recent innovations and technologies are shattering conventions.

Today, architects and designers are using glass as a building and design element. Textured glass walls can transform modern homes into crystal pavilions. Decorative glass furnishings can add beauty along with color and pattern.

Artisans are exploring new ways to manipulate glass in its molten state or using age-old methods in novel applications, according to Carol Soucek King, Ph.D., whose book "Designs in Glass" (PBC International) will be published in September.

"They're creating fabulous textured and sculpted surfaces," Soucek King said, citing sandblasting, etching, sculpting, beveling, silk-screening, faceting, enameling and fusing among the techniques that expand opportunities for design.

Where color and decoration can embellish an ordinary surface or utilitarian application, designers now are considering glass.

Vivid color graces a collection of door pulls and handles designed by Mathias for Daum. The milky appearance comes from a process known as pate de verre dating to the Egyptians of 1,500 to 2,000 B.C. A sculptural dimension is achieved from molds in which crushed crystal colored by various metal oxides is mixed to a paste consistency and fired at high temperatures (1,500 degrees) for 10 days. The crystal - glass with a 24 percent lead content - gives the pieces more brilliance and accentuates the relief.

Available in six colors, the handles cost $195 each and the pulls $165 each.

One of the more unusual finial and tieback designs for Blome includes swirling hand-blown Murano glass in a range of see-through colors, including blue, red, gold and green. The collection, called Giardino Misterioso, is designed by David Palterer, and it's the sculptural form of the pieces that make them distinctive. Prices for glass finials run from $520 each to $835 each.

Furnishings designers also are exploring other avenues. Some are experimenting with glass as a connective as well as decorative element.

New York designer Zev Vaughn likes mixing glass with other materials and using it in unexpected ways in the home. For a showhouse in Livingston, N.Y., last year, he teamed glass with metal and wood and set his creations in a dramatic blood-red bedroom, with walls striped in a tone-on-tone pattern and ceilings in a shiny patent leather finish. Amber-tinted glass finials that look like flames punctuate the rods holding diamond-patterned curtains. See-through glass spheres glitter like stars in the spangled chandelier, which is bejeweled with necklace-like strands of glass.

The rounded shapes are echoed in the glass finials of the bed's metal posts, which in themselves are a surprise, stretching up beyond the silk upholstered headboard. More glass spheres are introduced as decorative elements, bridging wood and metal crafted into table bases. And the entire floor lamp base looks like an ice scuipture.

The bed sells for $4,000; the floor lamp, $1,400; the twisted chandelier, $3,000; and the glass-leg table, $800.

As contemporary in spirit as the glass-embellished furnishings are, Vaughn takes inspiration from the past for his motifs.

"Everything is rooted to 19th-century Venetian pieces linked to my modern craziness," Vaughn said. "I'm also working with ethnic inspirations. The bed design really is reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire, as is the drapery hardware."

It's the light play that fascinates the designer.

"Using the glass gives some of the pieces a semitransparent quality that's reflective and refractive."

British designer Danny Lane also enjoys dabbling with glass in his furniture, some of which is produced in limited edition. His pieces have a sculptural quality, not unusual, because he also creates freestanding sculptures and fountains in distinctive forms that may be built into walls. …