Volume 45, Issue 2 - February 2010


Coloring Outside the Linesg

Designers Embrace Glass as a Way to Add Color to Their Project

by Ellen Rogers Editor of Decorative Glass magazine.

Some people choose to live surrounded by colorfully decorated furnishings and accessories; some people choose to buy one car over another because of an eye-catching color; other people say they work more or less productively as a result of the colors with which they are surrounded. Yes, color can have a profound influence on our lives. According to the Alexandria, Va.-based Color Marketing Group:
• Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent;
• Color improves readership as much as 40 percent;
• Color accelerates learning from 55 to 78 percent;
• Color increases comprehension by 73 percent;
• Color ads are read up to 42 percent more than similar ads in black and white; and
• Color can be up to 85 percent of the reason people decide to buy.

With so much to be said about the use of color, many designers have embraced using it in their designs.

“Color is something that is in our lifestyles, everywhere you go,” says Doug Purcell, principal interior designer with New York-based Cannon Design. Purcell says much of the work he does is within institutional environments including healthcare settings, colleges and universities as well as research and sports facilities. However, he has seen design elements, traditionally used in hospitality settings, move into institutional projects as well.

“You get an amalgamation of what our home lifestyles are like and we’re bringing that influence into institutional work. Plus, there’s a whole generation of people who are not afraid of intense color. It’s part of our culture and I think something people respond to in a positive way,” Purcell adds.

Why Color?
From elevator walls and lobbies to reception desks and other furniture pieces, designers say they often work with glass as a way to bring color into the project’s surroundings.

Designer Belinda Bennett of the Bennett Design Group in Houston says in the past people did not always think about using glass as a medium in the design tool kit, but they do now.

“I think glass has become a more creative option thanks to all the graphics that can be added to it,” says Bennett. “Now that the technology is there and the prices have become a bit more affordable the glass can stay in the project rather than being eliminated at the last minute because it did not make budget.”

As one way of adding color to her projects, Bennett says she likes to use a lot of clear glass embedded with colored items.

“I lean more toward glass as a textural or element of interest, but I also continue to look at things that are sandwiched between the glass, which also adds a color element even though the glass itself is not completely colored,” says Bennett. These items can include everything from dried flowers, bamboo, grass, even intricate beadings and tapestry materials. Bennett says the same effect can also be achieved with acrylic, though with glass the result is clearer and the colors more vibrant.

“When our budgets allow, clients prefer glass over acrylic,” Bennett adds.

According to Purcell, there are also many benefits.

“It’s a high-impact surface and requires very little maintenance,” he says. “Glass can be an alternate to many different materials and gives a different aesthetic while also being a high-impact material.”

Purcell explains that he often uses glass to add color because it can help achieve the project’s total design concept.

“These are usually very large panels and the whole aesthetic that you are trying to achieve is based on a coloration of that space,” says Purcell. “[Using glass in this way] allows it to become one of those controlling elements.”

Alexsandra Guinan, a founding partner of GlassKote USA in Bridgeport, Conn., says the nature of color is also a reason such products are specified.

“As humans, our emotions are influenced by color and studies have been done in the medical field that show color does impact [behavior],” Guinan says. “With the introduction of color to glass it has become an aesthetic feature that can be expanded to incorporate other materials that are used in an environment.”

Mandy Marxen, vice president of marketing for Dreamwalls Color Glass in North Wilkesboro, N.C., adds, “I think designers are always looking for ways to get more light into a room and this surface encourages that and brings flat walls to life. It’s a step above paint; this has a life because of the reflectivity and so a red becomes more saturated and vibrant. It’s not a static glass at all.”

“Now that the technology is there and the prices have become a bit more affordable the glass can stay in the project rather than being eliminated at the last minute because did not make budget.”
—Belinda Bennett, Bennett Design Group

Vibrant Details
To accommodate the different styles and creativity of different designers, there are many ways to add color with glass. Coated glass and backpainted glass products, for example, are increasingly popular. Such products are often used in kitchens and bathrooms as backsplashes and countertops. In commercial applications they are used as wall claddings, reception and transaction desks and other types of furniture.

“I think glass gives a very clean line, modern aesthetic and I think there is a trend toward that in North America,” says Guinan. “We are seeing acceptance across the board now where 15-20 years ago people were intimidated by using it as it was something very foreign. Now people want to use it in as many areas as they can.”

Marxen adds, “This is a product that has been available worldwide longer than it has been in the United States and I think U.S. interior designers are excited now that they do not have to import this product.”

Tommy Huskey, chief executive officer with Dreamwalls, says another reason coated and backpainted glass products are becoming more popular is because they are being produced on a high-quality basis. As an example, he says his company’s products are made using a low-iron glass, which allows color to be transmitted through the glass as the exact same color it is applied to be.

“If we had to paint normal green glass, there would not be as much color consistency so the fact that the ultra clear glass is available is a huge step forward,” says Huskey.

Another popular feature is the aspect of color itself.

“You can get any color on glass and it looks just as the designer expects it to look and it gives the glass dimension and reflectivity,” adds Husky.

Guinan adds, “When you paint your wall [the color] will wear down over time, but colored glass has the ability to look good for a longer term.”

In addition to color, Bennett says images, patterns and texture in glass can also bring color into the design environment.

“We use a lot of glass that has been etched with graphics or patterns. I think manufacturers are starting to merge with well-known textile designers and graphic designers and are marketing [those products] to the architectural and design community,” explains Bennett.

Technologies are also available through which the designs and images can be printed onto an interlayer material and then laminated into the glass.

“I’ve seen that, but have not yet had the opportunity to utilize it,” says Bennett. “It’s very intriguing and we probably will be utilizing it at some point. It’s a very viable way to add color.”

Backlighting the glass can also create a color effect.

“Illuminating the glass can give a dramatic, three dimensional effect to the wall,” says Purcell.

While the aesthetics and low-maintenance features are important, many are also looking for “green” elements.

“A lot is happening in terms of the environmental impact we’re having on the planet,” says Guinan. “For example, there are wood species that will become extinct, so we are looking at creating a type of finish that looks like wood, but will be on glass. I think we need to be mindful of the environment and look to innovate and get a quality product out there.”

Huskey adds, “These products can also help earn LEED credits and we have guidelines we go through when talking to [architects and designers] abut them.”

Questions and Answers
As with anything new, both designers and suppliers say it’s not unusual for clients to have some concerns over using colored glass products.

“We have to convince them that it’s been around a long time [used frequently in other countries] and has a great track record,” says Purcell.

Bennett agrees.

“Because we do a lot of [work] in very public places, clients always want to know how it will be maintained or if it will scratch off or break easily,” she says. “As designers, we think about codes and the applications first and a lot of times glass is a good solution because it’s durable and cleanable and it can take some abuse.”

Codes also have to be taken into consideration, particularly if the glass is used in a safety glazing application, which would require it to be laminated or tempered.

But even before answering the questions of how the glass will perform and be maintained, an even bigger concern must be addressed: cost.

“Cost is always a concern and a factor you have to deal with and sometimes [the glass] gets value engineered out of a job,” says Purcell. “It’s like using any type of expensive material—sometimes the project just can’t afford it.”

Bennett agrees that the budget can be challenging, but says it’s all dependent on the owners and the design elements they want the most.

“[Owners] have to make the budget decisions, so it’s up to the designer to convey the importance of certain elements in the project and then it’s up to the owners to decide which elements they want to keep,” says Bennett. “A lot of times there are trade-offs, especially with a small project where, for example, lighting is more important because the room has no windows. That’s when glass can be viewed as an art piece or it can be looked at as a major element. It can go either way.”

The question of how the product is installed may also be a concern.

“It’s really no different than installing a mirror,” says Huskey, whose company first began as a mirror manufacturer. “This is another way to help our industry generate more revenue and grow the business. It seems as though the mirror industry has basically been stuck in the bathroom. This [type of product] allows us to get into another important room in the house [the kitchen] and it helps the installer get into another important room in the house. The benefits will trickle down through the industry as the interest builds up,” he says.

A Step Ahead
As the demand for colorful, architectural decorative glass grows, suppliers say a continued focus on education will be critical, especially as more and more companies venture into creating their own new products. Industry experts warn that as new products are developed proper research and planning are necessary.

“I think one big issue is educating the architects and designers in the difference in painted glass and coated glass, as paint does not bond to glass,” says Guinan. “Glass is an unusual substrate and the primary difference in paint versus a coating is that with the coating … there is a chemistry occurring that creates the bond and the durability and track record,” says Guinan. “Warranty is also important. So the bottom line is, when you create a product, what is behind it? Has it been tested and are there warranties and how long has it been around?”

Marxen agrees. “We don’t want it to become a fad that everyone is trying to get into because that will lead to problems. We want to be sure that the quality is strong and durable so it has the long life we want it to have.”

“I hope that if companies start making it they won’t take shortcuts. With this technology it’s not something you go out and buy and start making the next day—it’s not that easy,” says Huskey, who adds that the possibility of increased competition does not bother him. “Right now, I think we are so focused on demand creation that we don’t see competition as a bad thing. We want people to get excited about an industry that’s not very exciting right now. We feel like we’re helping the market grow. The bigger threat,” he adds, “is resistance to change. We have to encourage stepping out of the box and staying on our toes.” dg


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