Stained glass art is ‘in’ for prestige homes |

Stained glass art is ‘in’ for prestige homes

Bettijane Levine
Los Angeles Times

Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times Sheila Balkan sits in a room lined with custom stained-glass windows. She says seeing stained-glass in centuries-old buildings in Paris during a yearlong stay drew her to the windows.

For centuries, glassblowers tried to get the imperfections out of their handblown stained-glass windows. Then technology made perfection possible. “Now homeowners seem to want the imperfections back,” says designer John Everage of Santa Monica, Calif. He’s one of many architects and designers who say their clients increasingly ask for handmade stained-glass windows that are designed, built and installed almost exactly the way it was done 900 years ago.

Whether for a faux chateau, a pseudo palazzo, or a super-sized Craftsman, custom stained-glass windows made with handblown glass are now considered the ultimate finishing touch in some of Los Angeles’ most lavish new homes.

With their subtle waviness and tiny bubbles (a tip-off that the glass was made by humans, not machines), the windows are luxury items in the extreme: Each set is unique, designed specifically for the site, created to blend with the architecture and the homeowner’s artistic preferences. Like jewels with a couture outfit, they exude artistry or a patina of Old World elegance that completes the architect’s vision and perhaps the homeowners’ fantasy of living in a different place and time.

Criminologist Sheila Balkan fell in love with stained-glass windows she saw in centuries-old buildings during a recent yearlong stay in Paris. “They made me feel peaceful,” she says. Back home in Venice, Calif., she didn’t want to lose that peaceful feeling. “I wanted to recapture it in my house. It became a passion.” Her architect referred her to local craftsman Mark Tuna, who designed and made about 60 windows of handblown glass for her two-story Craftsman style house. “I feel like I’m still in Paris,” she says.

Don’t be misled by terminology. Today the term “stained glass” – interchangeable with “art glass” or “leaded glass” – is used in home design to mean high-quality, custom-made leaded glass windows that may have bits of color or no color at all. The windows look nothing like the brilliant old church windows usually associated with the words “stained glass.” Nor do they resemble the craftsy amateur oddities that had a hippie heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, causing the entire genre to lose favor with much of the public for 20 years.

Architects and designers say most windows they commission for new homes are predominantly clear, to allow in undiluted light. Or they can be clear mixed with any of dozens of textured glasses that are used to blur visibility and create privacy where needed, eliminating the need for shutters or drapes.

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Arthur Stern, a nationally known glass artist based in Benicia, Calif., has installed his stained-glass designs for homes and buildings in 36 states, Japan, Hong Kong and Canada. An expert on Frank Lloyd Wright (he created 92 windows for the restoration of Wright’s Storer house), Stern says Wright preferred to use predominantly clear leaded glass in homes. Stern does too, but not totally.

The residential portion of his Web site ( shows the variety of exquisitely subtle blends of color and texture Stern has achieved in what he sees as a reviving interest in residential leaded glass. His windows function both as art and as a unifying architectural statement that helps tie together diverse spaces in large homes, he says. A set of windows he titled Frozen Music for a residence in San Anselmo, Calif., for example, is a single design theme – inspired by Mondrian and De Stijl – carried out in multiple variations. He uses clear and opaque glass, flat glass and thick beveled prisms in doors and windows throughout the vast spaces of the recently built estate.

His work generally costs $200 to $400 per square foot but can cost more or less, depending on the quality of glass used and complexity of design.

Windows designed by Tuna, whose Glass Visions studio is near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, can be whimsical and contemporary or seriously Old World and ornate depending on the preferences of the homeowners and their designers. “Some want complicated leaded-glass patterns. Others want simple clear windows with color used sparely as artistic punctuation.” The glass, often handblown in Europe, is just a starting point. How the lead is sculptured – narrow or plump, straight or curvy – is equally important to a design, he says.

The trend back to handmade stained-glass residential windows seems to be nationwide, says Richard Gross of the Stained Glass Association of America and editor of the Stained Glass Quarterly. “People are rediscovering stained glass as an art form; it’s no longer a cliché.” Still, it’s an acquired taste. Gross says in the United States there are fewer than 100 full-service stained-glass studios where glass is designed, fabricated or restored. Most of those firms specialize in church work, he says.

David Judson, of Judson Studios in Highland Park, Calif., is the fifth generation of his family to head the Los Angeles area’s oldest stained-glass studio. Although 70 percent of the firm’s work is ecclesiastical, he says, there’s recently been a sizable increase in residential work, especially for new custom homes. “We have a lot of high-end residential clients, many of them Hollywood types whose names I can’t mention, who feel that stained-glass windows set their homes apart. And they’re right.”