Volume 33, Number 7, July 1998


Betting on the Curve

Replacing Glass in Curved Curio Cabinets and Solariums

by Russel Alder

The increased use of non-automotive bent glass products during the past two decades has created an expanding demand for replacement pieces. Bent glass has become an indispensable component in many common applications ranging from store fixtures to revolving doors. This widespread use requires the successful glass retailer to become increasingly familiar with resources for obtaining replacement pieces, particularly for curved curio cabinets and solarium eaves.

Bent glass, also referred to as curved glass, has long been a staple design feature of the classic curio cabinet. Each unit may have as many as six panels of annealed curved glass. Low-cost, mass furniture production has made this type of cabinet a familiar feature in the American living room. Placement in high-traffic areas of the home and mass use makes accidental damage common. The problem is almost all of the original manufacturers of this furniture have no distribution network for replacement parts. As a result, the glass retailer is frequently asked to source replacement curved glass pieces.

The market for replacement curved curio glass is dominated by approximately 20 wholesalers specializing in this product. They carry large inventories of the multiple sizes and shapes commonly encountered. The wholesalers may manufacture their own inventory or have an intimate relationship with a large bent glass manufacturer. Large bent glass manufacturers have the capacity to produce curved curio glass. However, most either refrain from supplying this market or use a distribution network due to pricing and administrative considerations. Bent glass wholesalers are able to combine rapid distribution (usually within one week for standard lites) with the cost reductions and detailed product knowledge brought by specialization.

Curved curio glass is often the replacement bent glass with which retailers are most familiar. Though the combination of sizes and shapes that may be required probably numbers in the thousands, the purchasing procedure has become relatively straightforward. The glass retailer is usually asked to submit a basic pattern, showing both a tracing of the curve and the length measurement for size and shape matching. Most suppliers require an original pattern for ordering due to the distortion of faxed copies.

Replacement pieces fall into two general categories—radius curves and non-radius curves. Radius curves consist of curio cabinet glass where the bend is a section of a circle. These pieces are fairly standardized and many types are carried in wholesaler inventories. Non-radius curves include shapes such as serpentines and irregular bends. These latter pieces are custom products and usually more expensive.

A second common demand for replacement bent glass is for solarium eaves. Bent insulating glass is usually composed of two curved panes of annealed, tempered or laminated glass sealed to form a single insulating unit. The construction years of the 1980s saw a boom in solarium installation in such places as residences, fast food outlets, gas stations and hotels. As with flat insulating glass, failure of the seal over time allows dirt and moisture to get between the dual panes, resulting in an unsightly appearance and a lessening of the insulating properties—thereby necessitating replacement. Solarium eaves are also subject to accidental breakage. Many established solarium manufacturers have distribution networks for replacement parts. However, leaner years since the installation boom have witnessed the demise of many of the original manufacturers. As a result, the modern glass retailer is often called upon to source and install replacement bent glass units for solarium eaves.

The suppliers of replacement units for solarium eaves generally include the original solarium manufacturers and the custom bent glass manufacturer. Solarium manufacturers will often sell replacement units directly to the glass retailer. However, cost considerations, the closing of many of the original manufacturers, and dozens of differing specifications have brought an increased reliance on the custom bent glass manufacturer. There are approximately one dozen established glass bending companies in the United States. Unlike curved curio glass, the high costs associated with inventory retention mean that most replacement solarium eaves are custom-manufactured to specifications provided by the glass retailer. Delivery times are usually more extended owing to manufacturing lead times (typically two to six weeks).

Obtaining replacement units for solariums has also become increasingly straightforward. The usual procedure involves providing the glass bender with daylight measurements, tint (clear, bronze, etc.), the original solarium manufacturer’s name (if known) and quantity required. Some glass retailers elect to split the original glass panes from failed units for re-insulation, though cost and safety considerations often make this procedure impractical. Depending on the familiarity of the glass bender with the product, an original unit may need to be removed to obtain a pattern of the curve and length measurement. The accuracy with which the replacement unit imitates the shape of the original is of crucial installation importance, so the pattern must be made with care. Most bent glass manufacturers offer some form of warranty coverage on replacement units, a point the glass dealer should clarify for its customers.

The acquisition of replacement bent glass pieces can be a positive experience for the glass retailer. As with any industry, the speed with which an initial inquiry receives attention and the supplier’s knowledge and reputation provide a reasonable indication of a quality source. The knowledge gained by the retailer through obtaining replacement pieces can provide invaluable bent glass experience, such as a familiarity with industry terminology. Also, the glass shop can begin a more intimate relationship with an individual bent glass supplier, which gives the retailer another distinct advantage when opportunities surface for larger bent glass projects.  

Russell Alder is vice president of domestic sales for Precision Glass Bending Corp., Fort Smith, AR. He is responsible for domestic bent glass sales for all applications, including replacement uses.


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