Commissions

 
Cost of stained glass

In commissioning someone to produce a stained glass window one of the first things to consider is whether it comes within your budget. As a rough guideline I can produce windows for between B2,000 and B4,500 per square foot, depending on various considerations which I will expand on later. As far as I'm aware there is only one company in Thailand producing bespoke stained glass windows, (Hint, google Eastern stained glass and Thailand and you will find them, I suggest contacting them if you are curious as to the market cost here). if the price range I mentioned is too high then at least I have saved people the bother of reading on.

I think it's worthwhile considering the difference between bespoke work and pre-produced products.The benefits of mass production means that factories based in Countries with low labour costs can churn out an enormous volume of work at costs bespoke craftsmen can't hope to compete with. This has in effect killed off bespoke production of stained glass lamps and mirrors. I once quoted for a pool table light for a prospective customer who pointed out he could have bought a stained glass pool table light in the U.S and shipped it to Thailand for less than I was quoting. There is of course no answer to this, save to say that many stained glass craftsmen refuse to undertake repairs to anything made in China, this is not in my oppinion predjudice but simply economics as most will be beyond economic repair. I will be producing products for sale to fill in time between commissions, but I get to control the costs and materials so a prospective buyer simply has to decide whether they like the product at the price quoted.

At the risk of opening up a hornets nest I will now give away some information regarding how the cost of a window is arrived at. Materials Most art glass is manufactured in the USA, though some comes from Europe and the UK. Newcomers to the scene are Poland, Brazil and of course China. By the time glass reaches Thailand shipping and import duties essentially doubles the price which you would pay in the Country of manufacture - 450B per square foot would be a good estimate, though you could easily pay three times this for some high end art glass. In arriving at an estimate as to the amount of glass needed for a design wastage is another consideration. There is a minimum piece size which can be ordered from a supplier. Production flaws, a directional grain on patterned glass and the the brittle nature of some glass means a certain amount of wastage needs to be factored into the cost, I tend to use 30% as a rough guideline. Windows are constructed with lead, brass, zinc and of course solder, all which bear a cost. I tend to use 50B per foot for lead, more for brass or zinc. Also if a window is larger than 2ft by 2ft then some reinforcement will be needed, which again adds to the cost. Other material costs include paints, dyes and sometimes putty for waterproofing.

Labour Stained glass is a labour intensive craft, and the number of pieces and the relative complexity of the shapes which need to be cut will unavoidably contribute the majority of the cost of a window; I would estimate two thirds of the cost of a window will be labour costs. Designing a window takes some time too, I will work on an initial draft and cost estimate free of charge, but after that I usually ask for a 10% deposit which goes towards the final cost. Briefly, designing from scratch takes the longest time, adapting a traditional window design the least, with producing a design from a photograph or picture somewhere in between.

Structural considerations

Stained glass is an architectural discipline as well as an art form which needs to address issues such as safety, security as well as aesthetic considerations (more of which later). As a rough guideline once a window is greater than a couple of feet square it needs to be reinforced in some manner, I say a rough guide because the design of the window itself contributes greatly to it's strength or lack thereof. Another consideration is whether or not the window will be fixed, or whether like a door it can be opened as moveable equals slammable where wind or children are involved. Moveable windows need greater reinforcement and if they are external to the building security is also an issue.

In terms of providing security a modern approach is to sandwich the art glass between two sheets of tempered glass. Safety glass is actually a building regulation in the over regulated western world, but other approaches have worked well for centuries prior. I would recommend a safety glass approach for any stained glass doors in a home where small children live, also glass which will comes into direct daily contact with water, such as a shower screen should be similarly protected. Sky lights are another matter altogether and should not be considered without looking at national building regulations, though I do like a challenge!

Types of reinforcement.

As touched on above glass can be reinforced by being sandwiched between two sheets of float glass. There are purpose build fixtures for achieving this, they will all have small apetures at the top and bottom to let moisture escape and prevent condensation build up. Incidentally a stained glass panel may be installed inside an existing window without removing it.

Saddle bars.

If you look at a large window within a church you may notice broad horizontal or sometimes vertical bars which are screwed into the window surround, which are affixed to wire which has been soldered onto the window. The primary purpose of these is to protect such a large area from sudden gusts of wind. The green lines illustrate where saddle bars have been positioned on this door which is over 1 metre in each dimension. Note the vertical and horizontal bars are positioned on opposite sides of the door. The design was made with reinforcement in mind to minimise it's visual impact.

Rebar

Rebar is commonly made from zinc or steel coated with lead. It's purpose is to provide support to prevent the weight of the window causing it to bow at it's weakest point. I remember once seeing a pub window which bulged obscenely at the bottom due to a lack of rebar, as a guideline rebar should be used every 18-24 inches on a very tall window if it is more than say one foot in width. The window below dates back to the Victorian era and is still intact. The green lines represent the positioning of saddle bars and the red lines rebar. The window is in a department store stairwell between two floors, and is over 20 feet tall.

Restrip

There are strips of copper or steel which can be threaded along the lead or solder lines of a window. The advantage of restrip is that it is easily bent to follow the design lines and is therefore far less obtrusive than either saddle bars or rebar. Restrip is useful, but it needs experience to understand where best to put it and also to know where it alone will not suffice.

Glass plating

Not to be confused with sandwiching the art glass between tempered glass, glass plating is the technique where pieces of clear glass the same shape and size as the art glass pieces is soldered to the back of the art glass froming a cross shape. This provides great stength with no visible impact when viewed from the front. The weight and condensation issues are not a problem with this approach, which was originally pioneered by Louis Comfort Tiffany. In my oppinion this is often the most elegant means of stengthening, the only drawback being the time needed to fashion the reinforcing pieces to their desired shapes.

Glass choice

Glass choice

Before arriving at a design it is important to determine the desired function of the window.

Is it intended to completely obscure an unsightly view, or is the window intended to complement the view and provide a smooth transition between inside and outside? Is privacy desired, for instance a bedroom or bathroom window, or is it intended to retain as much natural light as possible. Is the window intended to be viewed from both sides, or just from one? A photograph taken looking out from the intended window location is useful as using specialised software I can provide an impression as to how a suggested window design might look when installed. The window below consists mainly of translucent glass, there are infact three types of clear textured glass, each of which affords a differing degree of privacy.

textures

Once function has been addressed I consider colour scheme, this should complement the colours seen in it's immediate surroundings. Budget is also part of the consideration for glass choice. Taking all the above into consideration I should be able to make some suggestions as to glass which may be appropriate. If it is possible for the customer to pay us a visit I can sometimes show them glass samples so they can see the glass for themselves. Otherwise I will be able to mail photographs of recommended glass choices. The photo below is taken from a window made with opaque glass, it lets some light through, but it also gives complete privacy.

opaque window

Window Styles

Once you have decided on the sorts of glass which will give you the desired degree of privacy and light transmission it is finally time to decide on what type of design you want. Sometimes a design in an existing style will set the right ambience and is cheaper to design too. Bars, restaurants and hotels all fall into this area, though private residences may do so too depending on the architectural style.

Here are a few common window styles.

Victorian

Victorian windows are characterised by borders of brightly coloured glass, mainly red or dark blue with the main details being simple geometric shapes or stylised flowers. The central areas though often more muted in colour are coloured nevertheless with clear textured glass being not so common.

Edwardian

Stylised leaves and flowers with longer flowing lines characterise Edwardian window. These features tend to be coloured but there is far greater use of light or clear textured glass giving greater light transmission.

Art Nouveau

Curves and flamboyant motifs characterise Art Nouveau windows. This is the period of Mucha and Tiffany and the grandure of the early 20th Century.

Art Deco

As Art Nouveau was going our of style Art Deco took over with it's bold geometric simplicity and daring use of bright colours making it extremely suitable for stained glass.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright

One of the most famous architects of the twentieth century Frank Lloyd Wright had his own distinctive and much copied style for stained glass windows. Straight lines with the occasional cirle for dramatic contrast and subtle colour variations were typical features of his work.

Contemporary.

Anything modern including abstract and impressionism would fall into this catch all.

Pictorial

Modern software can enable an artist to derive a stained glass template from a photograph. Pictorial realism is a great challenge but can look stunning if you have the time and money to explore this avenue.

 

 

Commission Process

Once a prospective customer decides to commission me to produce a window I will normally produce an initial design as a rough draft along with a cost estimate; I will do this free of charge but the iterative process of agreeing a definitive design can (and often should) take considerable time, hence I will normally ask for a 10% deposit, which is deducted from the final bill. I'm happy to produce bespoke windows for customers throughout Thailand, but it it is geographically feasible I will try to arrange a site visit so that I can take measurements myself and be in a better position to recommend glass choices most appropriate to a customer's needs. In lieu of a site visit being feasible I will ask for the customer to measure themselves and also if possible provide a photograph of the current window from the outside looking in and the inside looking out.

Once a design is accepted by the customer I will normally ask for another 40% of the cost to buy materials, at this stage there is often a wait of a couple of weeks if the materials purchased come from overseas. At this stage it may still be possible to make some last minute alterations to the design, but there may be some extra cost involved when I start cutting the glass. On delivery I will require the remaining 50%. I don't normally get involved with installing the window, installation is covered in a separate section.

Measuring & Installation

General moan; how many builders know how to use a spirit level? Having had commissions to produce windows of two meters in height I know that you can easily get a difference of 1cm or even greater in the width between a the top and bottom of a tall window.

Stained glass windows often have an 'H' shaped came bordering the edges which allows you to shave a few millimeters off the outside of the 'H' using a lead knife or even a cutter. The trouble is that larger windows tend to be bordered with zinc, not so much for stength after installation as the frame then provides this, but as some protection during transit and installation. Shaving metal off a zinc or brass border is another proposition entirely risking breaking the window in the process therefore it is better to have a window slightly too small than too large.

Before addressing what to measure it is worth mentioning that just because a pair of windows are supposed to be the same size is no guarantee in practice; If you want a couple of identically sized windows that means two sets of measurements, unless of course their frames aren't built yet.

A window can be divided into the area you can actually see and the bit you can't which is sandwiched between two wooden (or metal) frames, which is known as the rebate. The outside frame is usually fixed for security reasons leaving the inside frame removable so the window can be slotted into place before the frame is then replaced and hammered in with pins.

Here is a tip from personal experience. Do not rely on the wooden frame holding the window without the battons being nailed in. What seems tight on installation may no longer be as the seasons change and wood shrinks during dry weather.

The diagram below shows the full horror story that is measuring and is largely the reason why I don't get involved with installing windows, you need a wood or metalworker armed with saws chizels and a tube of silicone sealent to deal with one of the many issues you may face.

measurements

Window A is that rare phenomena - a perfectly true window, with the sides being straight and equaling the length of the parallel side. Window B has the same dimensions if you measure the outer frame (black numbering), however if you measure from corner to corner (Gold numbering) top left to bottom right is shorter than the other diagonal because the whole window slopes from bottom left to top right, the diagonal measurements prove this. Window C narrows from bottom to top with the top side sloping up from left to right too, measuring the sides and diagonals would give you the true shape. Windows D and E share identical outside and diagonal lengths to true window A, but the sides are bowed from left to right with D and from right to left with E, there is also some vertical bowing on each. The red numbers are part of the solution, take horizontal and vertical measurements from the middle of each side, which will quickly tell you the window sides are warped. The solution is to take three vertical measurements (left, middle and right) and three horizontal measurements (top, middle and bottom) also take two diagonal measurements which will tell if the window has a lean or not.

I use the smallest horizontal and smallest vertical number, though this does not completely guarantee success because if you draw a rectangle using the smallest dimensions, some of it would still protrude into the frame area if the frame is warped, time then to let the window installer get chizelling away.

Finally when measuring please do so from the inside facing out using a metal tape measure as fabric makers tape measures can stretch. Also take measures of the rebate. When making a window it is normal practice to allow 1/8th inch spare on each side.

Measuring without a measure.

There is method you can use without a tape measure if you can take the existing window glass out. This is to get a wooden board large enough to cover the window from the outside having first taped paper covering the board. Hold the board tight against the outside window frame with the paper facing the inside and then from the inside of the window get a pen and draw the outline of the window frame onto the paper. The paper can then simply be posted to me along with the width of the rebate and that should work fine.

Packing and Transporting glass

Windows are cased in expanded polystyrene and then an outer casing of wood is built around that. Windows should be transported resting on their edges and not face down, so some feet are attached to the bottom of the wooden crate to keep it upright. When installing a window it is important not to let gravity bend it. so handle it with the edge pointing vertically up, rotate it through the vertical plane to position them for installation. The golden rule to remember is that glass is weak when flexed but strong in compression, which means when supported vertically by the window frames gravity compressing the window serves to strengthen it.