Volume 42, Issue 2 - February 2007

Shower Power
by Jane Skeeter

For some, the idea of working with intricately detailed, handcrafted and pricey product alternatives can be unnerving. But as those who have made selling, designing and installing these breathtaking bathroom centerpieces a part of their business already know, there is little to fear, and much to gain. 

A Growing Trend

Decorative shower enclosures first gained prominence in the 1980s when they were commonly found in upscale bathroom projects. Since then, there has been a steady climb in requests for decorative shower enclosures. Offering a more luxurious choice than clear, machine-made patterned glass, glass block or etched glass, heat-sculpted glass is becoming the norm in both high-end and mid-range projects, especially in the master bathroom, as well as in luxury hotels and spas. 

“We’re selling 20- to 30-percent more decorative glass enclosures today than we did even a year ago,” reports Tim Newhardt, owner of Bethlehem Glass Works in Bethlehem, Pa., a company that specializes in upscale shower doors and enclosures. According to Newhardt, this segment is growing since homeowners are spending more money on their bathrooms than ever before. 

“They’re investing more in the rooms they spend the most time in. We’re designing decorative glass enclosures to serve as real feature pieces,” Newhardt explains. 

There are several attributes of designed, heat-sculpted glass (also known as kiln-formed or slumped) shower enclosures that make them desirable: 
Privacy: Heat-sculpted glass distorts imagery seen through it, but doesn’t reduce light transmission;
Focal Point: Their unique solutions make them true showpieces, reflecting the homeowner’s personal style. Just like a piece of fine art, thermally-sculpted glass enhances any décor and adds visual interest and beauty to any space;
Low-Maintenance: Texture and patterns within the glass camouflage water spots, making squeegeeing all but unnecessary as a daily chore; 
Versatility: Decorative glazing products can be configured to any size or shape and will accept any hardware. Hardware manufacturers now offer a variety of options for frameless enclosures. The only limit is imagination. 

Popular Styles and Designs

Lee Charter, owner of Designs in Glass in Soquel, Calif., says one solution he commonly offers to his clients is an open shower. “If it’s positioned properly, you don’t need a full enclosure. An open shower gives the room a better flow, and offers a more attractive ambiance,” he adds. 

According to John Mans, president of Cable World of Design in Miami, his company’s clients prefer decorative glass enclosures because they give a more open feel to the bathroom. “They don’t feel as closed-in since they don’t block out natural light,” he explains. 

“People are doing larger, and more open bathrooms, often with showers separate from the bathtubs,” reports Mans. “With all of the fabulous products on the market, such as rain showers and steam units, showers are more elaborate than ever.”

The increased availability of home steam units also means that showers are spanning the space from the floor to the ceiling, often featuring operable transoms for ventilation and mold reduction. Decorative glass offers an unlimited spectrum of creative latitude. Subtle patterns may be combined with more dimensional textures, in any juxtaposition. 

A common misconception is that working with decorative glass is complicated, and that’s not true. It’s very consistent with the installation of standard flat glass. 

Just like many other glass fabricators, those working with decorative glass will deliver the finished, tempered product directly to the glass shop, ready for installation. All of the required holes and notches will be included, leaving flat areas for patch fittings, channel and other hardware to fit properly. Everything will be fabricated to your exact specifications. 

Myth: Decorative Glass is More Fragile

“It’s easy to understand why those running traditional flat glass shops might hesitate to get involved in handling decorative glass,” says Charter. “Their rationale is that it’s easy to replace a piece of tempered flat glass, but since decorative glass is made-to-order, it will need to be re-fabricated. This is true, but my glaziers have yet to break a piece of decorative glass. As long as glaziers handle it with care and caution, and protect the edges during transit, they’ll be fine.” 

Measuring is Key

“Often, we have the same person do the measuring, patterning and installing,” says Newhardt. “All jobs must be measured precisely. That’s really the key to a successful project since the glass is made to the template’s exact specifications.” 

Charter agrees that providing 100-percent accurate, detailed information is the one trick of this trade. “You must indicate all of the details so the fabricator can precisely locate flat areas for the hardware.”

“Be sure you’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted all of your i’s,” says Mans. “It’s vital to get a proper template. If one critical measurement is off, the hardware won’t install properly. That can be expensive, so take the extra time to get all the details the first time around.” 

“For any project, customer education is paramount,” says Charter, “Your customers will be paying more, so they’ll be expecting more. At the same time, it’s important for them to understand the nature of the product you’re working with.” 

He recommends explaining the differences in kiln-formed decorative glass and polished glass enclosures. “With kiln-formed glass, you get a more organic edge, whereas with polished glass enclosures, you get a perfect machine-polished edge. That’s part of the beauty, and homeowners love it, but be sure they know up front it’s a different look,” he says. 

It’s also vital that customers understand the maintenance requirements of the glass patterns they select. If there is a lot of texture, they need to understand they won’t need a squeegee. 

Investment is Key

People generally won’t buy what they can’t see. It’s worth the investment to have samples, and the larger the better. There is nothing like putting a piece of glass directly in the customer’s hand for them to experience themselves. Display at least one full shower door and have on hand as many samples as possible. Understand the selling points, which include:
• Decorative glass shower doors will enhance any environment;
• Components can be designed to coordinate with other elements in the room;
• If a homeowner has a particular interest, or a designer uses a certain motif, it can often be incorporated into the glass to coordinate with other elements in the space;
• Homeowners can choose color, texture, design, combinations, thickness, configuration or shape; and
• Fabricators can create coordinating elements such as countertops, floors, windows, wall surfaces, mirror frames and more. 

Ask Questions

Fabricators, such as our company, can be great resources for information. Don’t hesitate to talk with us, ask questions and ensure your understanding of the products and processes. Just as most companies do, the expert staff members prompt for the right information, providing forms so nothing is left to chance. Hardware companies are also great resources for technical support. 

Jane Skeeter Postmus is the chief executive officer of UltraGlas Inc. in Chatsworth, Calif.

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.