Much in the way jazz altered our concept of music, glass art has changed our expectations of residential lighting. In fact, glass art lighting is being hailed as one of the hottest new trends to hit luxury home design. According to 25-year Southern California interior designer Greg Griffith, G. Griffith & Co. of Destin, FL, “It’s emerging as a transitional point for a more energetic look. From Asian to 18th Century, every style and design can incorporate glass art lighting. The fact that these are actual sculptured pieces means you’re adding art to the room without cluttering the wall.”
Aside from aesthetics, the benefit to glass art lighting is that it’s so flexible, it ends up resolving many design conflicts. Take, for example, the story of the Wisdom Window. This stained glass piece was created by a California glass artist to create a welcoming light at the end of a dark, New York apartment hallway. The artist created four matching sconces, but wanted the end of the hallway to feel like a window. He innovated a design where a diffuser sheet will be installed underneath the stained glass piece, and lit from behind.
One New York glass artist developed a unique way to illuminate her bathroom. She created her own mosaic glass sink and lit it from underneath to create a warm, amber glow. It also doubles as her nightlight. To underscore the look of an underlit sink, matching sconces are ideal. Some kitchen designers are commissioning glass art sconces and pendants to match underlit glass kitchen countertops. This creates interesting, ambient lighting in a more finished-looking lighting package.
Glass art lighting can be a subtle accent, or a prism through which the light bathes a room in a swatch of exotic colors. “I find many decorators driving décor based on the lighting fixtures,” says Seattle-based glass artist, Suzanne Guttman. “It’s easy to fall in love with a tentacled pendant light or chandelier and make it the centerpiece of a room.”
The Cost of Beautiful
Investing in gorgeous glass art lighting is less daunting than one may assume. A Bellagio budget isn’t necessary to incorporate museum-quality glass lighting into a residential design. Sconces range from $400 to $1,200; small pendant lighting (suspended by one point in the ceiling) ranges from $300 to $600; larger pendants and chandeliers can range from $1,500 to $10,000. Serious collectors consider glass art an investment as well as being an aesthetic piece, just as they would an original painting, or a piece of antique furniture.
Glass Art Lighting 101
Once a homeowner decides on glass art lighting, it’s helpful to know a little about the glass and where it should be used, based on its physical characteristics. Here are some tips:
Blown glass has some limitations to the size and diameter that an artist can create. Some blown glass lighting utilizes many pieces in its design to create a larger, more sculptural effect.
Cast glass is very beautiful, but quite unusual in lighting because it is very heavy to suspend. One glass artist has created a woven glass technique that takes on the look of woven fabric, and results in a glass art lighting fixture that feels like a glass blanket.
Fused & slumped glass is popular for glass art lighting. Through the use of molds, fusing allows the artist to create large diameter canopied type lighting, thus enabling a single shade to be up to 48″ in diameter. This creates consistency in shape and wonderful, unusual textures.
Etched glass is another wonderful medium for flat panel lighting. Pieces such as The Three Graces, by glass artist Margaret Oldman, can be lit with plain or multi-colored fiber optics, depending on the look a designer is trying to achieve.
Mosaic and stained glass are similar, in that they’re both ideal for flat panel lighting. Artists will often incorporate Italian smalti glass, blown sheets of transparent glass broken into small pieces, or dichroic glass, which is coated on one side with a metallic-like mirror finish.
One thing homeowners should remember, especially with lighting, is to be sure that the glass artist they’ve chosen understands how the electrical specs will dovetail with the piece, and that they know U.L. standards. As founder of Glass Artists Gallery, I estimate that close to 30% of our first-time customers come to us because they had negative experiences commissioning residential glass art lighting on their own. We are very careful about screening the artists we represent to make sure they understand the technical specifications
In short, glass art lighting choices become a very personal way to reveal a homeowner’s fingerprint on the interior design. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.”