The Day We Got The Call, Part Two

After all the design particulars were sorted out and the size and shape and general arrangement of the red, yellow and orange pieces were chosen, we were ready to move forward. Now it would be my job to figure out how to make everything work. My biggest issue would be weight. Each 15 foot sphere had to be less than 5,000 lbs. I made a plan for each sphere to have an internal metal structure that would be 9 foot in diameter.  Individual glass pieces would attach to the outer surface  and vary between 24″ and 36″ in length.  The final sphere would be 9 feet of internal metal framework and then 3 feet on each side of blown glass pieces.  This would give me the final dimensions of 15 feet.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

The internal sphere would be built like a geodesic dome, with twenty individual triangular, curved panels that would bolt together onsite to create the sphere.   The sphere design had come to us through the work of a local engineer named Olaf Pederson.  The engineering was worth every penny, instead of attempting a design and hoping it would work, Olaf ran the numbers and proved it. And, as it turned out the design would have withstood an increase in weights by a factor of eight before there was any deflection. Through much trial and error we had determined that each individual panel would hold 100 individual pieces of glass of varying lengths and widths.  This would create the fullness on the surface that we were looking for.  So each panel was fitted with 100 pins of steel welded in place to hold the glass in position.  Again I did the math: 20 Panels x 100 pieces of glass = 2,000 pieces of glass per sphere. Up until this point all of the larger pieces of glass I had made had each weighed upwards of 5 pounds.  The metal spheres were weighing in at 800 lbs. That weight plus 2000 pieces of glass weighing 5 lbs each would have left me with a total weight of 10,800 lbs per sphere! This was more than twice as heavy as the limit set by the engineers for the building.  Even if I thinned the glass mounted to each sphere by 50% -it would still be too heavy.  This was so depressing; I had gotten the job of a lifetime and I couldn’t figure out how to pull it off.

 

After losing a couple of nights sleep from worry I finally slept a solid eight hours from sheer exhaustion.  Waking up I finally felt refreshed and rested and I determined to see what I could do to get the weight of the glass down.  Slowly but surely, over the next week or so and after a few hundred pieces of glass I began to make 3 foot long pieces of glass that weighed less than 2 pounds! We kept practicing and they began to look better and better until we had a form I found really pleasing.  Now the 2,000 glass pieces and the metal frame came in at a svelte 4,800 lbs! It was truly a great day for me and once again- no sleep! But, this time it was just that I was too excited.

The next day, I began another set of calculations… We needed a total of 6,000 pieces of glass for all three spheres.  We would have to cut and weld 15,000 individual pieces of metal for each of the three spheres. Each piece of glass was going to need to be firmly attached to the sphere.  I did not like the idea of tying each piece off to the sphere with wire.  And, although I felt considerable pressure of time, I believed it would be best to take a moment and come up with an elegant solution.  While we moved other areas of the project forward I kept trying new ideas Thomas Edison style. After many prototypes of wire and forms I finally found an elegant solution.  I made a little clip that reminds me of a grasshoppers leg.  With a loop at each end of an L shape spring that will hold the glass at one end and the sphere at the other while tensioning the glass up into the sphere. Adding a neoprene washer and a protective polyethylene sleeve to each metal pin we greatly reduced any stress on the glass. And with each piece of glass firmly in place on its own designated pin we ensured that the glass at the bottom of the sphere would not bear the weight of the glass at the top of the sphere.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Next we began to puzzle out the different diameters and lengths of glass.  It was important to me that at any angle a person would see the glass and not through to the metal sphere.  Through trial and error we adjusted a pattern of placing the glass. Because of its shape each of the curved triangular panels has pins that are closer together at the edges and further way as you near the center of the panel. Adjusting the fit using different diameters and lengths of glass we created a layout. Once that was done it was simple work to replicate it over the other panels, creating the uniform appearance I was determined to achieve.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

One of the things that helped Acuity in their decision to hire me, an unknown, for this project, was my willingness to do a full scale mock-up sphere for their approval.  With all of the above questions settled I started to work on that first sphere.  This after all, would be when the project was really secured.

The Day We Got The Call

Although I didn’t know it at the time, our lives would never be the same….Part One

We got the call sometime in the fall of 2003, I remember it was very warm, perhaps it was still September? I was just coming in from a run after a day’s work in the hotshop.  As I walked up the driveway Sheila met me outside and said she’d received a call from someone named Ben Salzmann.  He his wife and had been shopping in downtown Madison she had noticed one of the chandeliers in a local gallery.  Knowing that her husband was looking for art for his new corporate headquarters, and liking the look of my chandelier she suggested it. Ben contacted us   and explaining he was looking for art for the new headquarters he was building in Sheboygan, WI for his company Acuity, he asked for some information on our company.

Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

Calls of this nature were fairly typical at the time. There are often many enquiries before it’s decided that a project is the right fit for all parties; and I learned early on not to count my chickens before they were hatched. About a week later Ben called back and said he received the info we sent him and asked if we could propose some ideas for the space if he sent us some 3Dimensionsal renderings. If my memory serves the main part of the building was about 150′ long by about 70′ wide and 65′ high at the peak. The ends of the hall were gigantic glass walls facing East and West allowing the room to flood with morning and evening light.

019 (3)

Ben said that he wanted two or three sculptures about 8′ to 10′ feet long by whatever width would work for the space. Although this certainly did have my attention, there still no chickens to count. We worked quickly to produce three sets of renderings which fundamentally were enlargements of smaller works I had done. The first rendering was 3 long tapered chandeliers done in a multi-colored fashion, the second rendering was a somewhat ovoid shape in tones of blue and green and the third was three spheres of varying sizes in a blend of red, yellow and orange. The third rendering was a hit. Ben told us he loved the third rendering with the red, yellow and orange evoking the fiery sun in the windows. The only problem, he felt, was the sizes were all wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was about the sizes that he didn’t like but he said he would like to think about it for a few days.

Over the next two weeks I didn’t get much sleep. I paced around wondering what it was exactly that Ben didn’t like about the spheres. Also, how would I tackle a job that, if I landed it would be so much bigger than anything I had ever done before. When the phone finally did ring the answer shocked me. They were too small! That’s right.  The spheres were too small; Ben wanted them bigger, and instead of 6′ to 8′ he wanted them 10′ to 11′. Internally, my response was no way. I couldn’t get my head around the 6′ to 8′ size, how was I possibly going to make them bigger? But, after I thought about it for a couple of days and with some encouragement from family and employees, I figured “I can do this”.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

Funnily enough, that wasn’t the end of it. Just a couple of days later Ben called back again and upped the ante to no less than 15 feet in diameter and all the same size. My response was exactly the same as before. There’s no way can I pull this off, I though, not to mention the fact that the engineer for the building said the load limit was 15,000 lbs for all three spheres.  And now again, on paper there was no way this was going to work… (Part Two Next Week)

Inside Looking Out

I’ve written before about how flowers have been part of my fascination with glass from the very beginning.  This has always played into one of my other great interests: gardens.  Over the years I’ve integrated glass into the outdoor spaces in my life in numerous ways.  From simple yard decorations such as finials, butterfly and birdfeeders and baths, to more complicated sculptural fountains and chandeliers.

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough NJ 08844, Robert Kuste
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Hillsborough NJ 08844, Robert Kuste

One of the benefits of displaying art in the outdoors is that almost as a side effect we look at the area around the art differently.  Doing that intentionally we can create focal points that cause us to look deeper into our environment.  The changing feel of an installation highlights the landscapes transition through the seasons.  It is endlessly interesting to see how an installation appears as it contrasts first against the winter spareness and then against lush foliage in spring.

 

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art
Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Glass Garden Art

We often use glass to bring the outside in; the Sealife series of chandeliers, floral chandeliers and many of the specific color palettes we create with our customers reference the outdoor spaces surrounding their indoor locations.  But, we can’t forget the option of bringing the indoors out.   Bringing design elements into the garden and blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living spaces unites both spaces.  Even in climates where this isn’t possible to do in actuality, visually it works beautifully; creating a harmony and making all spaces feel tied together.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

One of the most amazing properties of glass is it’s durability.  What other material has such staying power?  The medieval windows of stained glass appear to us with their colors intact. Using the climate considerations and good design as a framework and a guide we create sculptures that will stay for all seasons.  When stopping by the studio people often ask about the glass garden here and how it fared during the hurricanes this area has experience in recent years.  The truth is, we’ve done very well.  We’ve never taken anything down in preparation, but rather let it hang as a test.

 

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

 

 

 

As the weather warms up, we are starting to work again on the garden here at the shop, integrating new things into the existing landscape, experimenting, and creating new areas for as yet unmade installations.  We’re looking forward to integrating glass plates into stone walls, retrofitting some sculptures with LED lighting and honing the process on some completely new sculptural concepts that we’ve never experimented with before.

Enjoy your garden, we’ll keep you posted…

Naples

An Amazing Home In Naples Florida

Recently we received a call from a long-time customer of ours from New Jersey.  He dropped in to visit and ask about one of his chandeliers. We spoke initially about changing the profile of the foyer piece in his Naples, Florida home.   This opportunity seemed ideal to do an LED lighting upgrade so that got added in as well.  And then, as we talked over his growing art collection it seemed obvious that this was a perfect time to do a subtle shift in the colors of the piece to add some depth and echo back the colors of other work of mine he has hanging throughout the house. After sorting out exactly where to go with the modifications and after finally getting everything scheduled we headed down to Naples.

Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster
Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster

Bill has added nine chandeliers and one sconce from Belle Mead Hot Glass to this residence over the years.  As an artist it is great seeing how each one integrates into the space he chooses for it.  Using color, size and profile as well as the selection of individual shapes that comprise the chandeliers he has created a thematic flow throughout his home and yet each chandelier looks unique and harmonious in its space.  With our team we worked on two of them, adding to them, adjusting the overall shape and upgrading the lighting.

Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

Naples is a beautiful town with gorgeous views of the water and lush tropical foliage. We spent a few days looking around the town of Naples and admiring the galleries and public installations there while visiting with customers who have moved there over the years and stopping in the local galleries. The light and views combined with the art and community for a very inspiring environment.  Our customers graciously took us on a little meet and greet tour and wined and dined us spectacularly. Soon we began talking about bringing the glass collection outside and a conversation about sculpture in the garden began.

Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster
Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster

The homes on the waterfront in Naples have two different faces; one face they show to the street and one to the water.  The challenge would be to bring the themes of the glass inside the home outside into each space while maintaining the different aesthetics that characterize the bright and open water views and the lush and private front yards.  We had some great discussions over potential inspirations as we walked around the town admiring the public art and while sitting at the amazing local restaurants and watching the sky change in the evenings.  And we came away from this trip with a friendly challenge to produce the perfect pieces for the front and back.

72" x 32" Grape chandelier
72″ x 32″ Grape chandelier
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

A touch of spring

 

It’s early March and the promise of spring is just around the corner. And with that promise comes memories of dogwood and cherry blossoms.  Although Robert Kuster has been playing with the idea for some time, observing the awakening going on in the garden here brought  this new installation to fruition in the gallery.  The classic form of the flowering cherry is timeless and universal. It is a symbol of the fleetingness of the spring and also now of friendship and peace.  Seeking to honor that form and bring its beauty inside – Blooming Branches took shape.

 

The Blooming Branch Installation is a unique combination of an intricate and detailed metal branch and the bright and glossy cherry blossoms.  This branch was actually cut here at Belle Mead Hot Glass in the metal shop to correspond to the branch of a real cherry tree.  The form was enlarged and altered as needed to fit precisely into the gallery space we wanted to fill.   We’ve also been experimenting here with integrating the glass flowers into painted branches in murals or trompe l’oeil, or in other applications where the wall contours or surfaces might make the steel branch less appropriate. Working from the needs of the space, we create a lifelike branch form in whichever material is most appropriate to the environment.  And then, after meticulously sculpting the flowers, simply fill the branches emulating Spring Herself.

At only 2 inches in depth off the wall surface, the Blooming Branch integrates easily into spaces where 2-dimensional art might seem to be the only option.  Although it was created to bring the natural world inside it is equally suitable for creating a beautiful and natural aesthetic in the out-of-doors.   Using our mounting systems developed here at the shop, the Branches can be mounted in any sheltered place, such as a patio or garden wall.

If you are interested in the Blooming Branches for your home, or business, please contact us at 908281 5516

Robert Kuster Bellemead Hot Glass Cherry Blossom
Robert Kuster Bellemead Hot Glass Cherry Blossom

 

This Cherry Branch is 36″ tall by 72″wide; each hand-sculpted flower ranges from between 5″ -5.5″. The wall clearance on this form is very low. At only two

 

 

Honey I Shrunk the Plates!

Little size big Possibilities

Some artist like to “go big”. Jeff Koons sculpts giant balloon animals. Christo and Jeanne-Claude drape huge public buildings in fabric. After many successful installations of large glass-scapes incorporating some fairly big blown glass plates filling areas as expansive as 2,500 square feet, I wondered about the possibilities that would be inherent only in “going-small”. And that is how the “Scatter” series began. This series of both large and small groupings appears like flowers blossoms tossed into the breeze to scatter naturally as they fall or a a gathering of butterflies.

mini plates 01

The individual plates are lightweight and simple to install. In custom colors, they add a spark to spaces both large and small, indoors and out. They are low profile; sitting relatively flush against the wall (about 1″). They are as perfect for stairways, kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and other high traffic areas as they are for clustering in quiet meditative spaces. They are unaffected by moisture and other out-door elements, and so are an excellent choice for more exposed areas where textile and paper arts might suffer.

In small groupings they create an intimate feel, like a small vase of flowers, in a corner by a favorite chair, in a powder room or on a patio. In larger groupings they can create the organic feeling of a flock of birds wheeling or a drift of flowers on a hillside.

Bellemead Hot Glass Mini plate series
Bellemead Hot Glass
Mini plate series

Due to the adaptability of the in-house designed mounting system these plate compositions can mount to almost any surface in a home or business. And, because of the light weight of the individual pieces and our special mounting system these plate compositions can float right up the wall and onto the ceiling seamlessly.

These “Scatter” forms measure from 4″ to 5″ and are always custom made. If you would like more information about a grouping for your space, please contact us.

Small

In The White Room

Modern foyer with high ceiling and tile floor. View of steep staircase with black and white railings
Modern foyer with high ceiling and tile floor. View of steep staircase with black and white railings

Recently a customer came to us with a really interesting request. They wanted a chandelier for an entertaining space that had lots of visual impact, something you could look at for a long time and find visually interesting, but not busy. It couldn’t be too ornate; but should be a focal point in a very modern room with a minimalist and linear decor. Oh, and it needed to stay within the room’s main theme…”White”

Often, color is among the first things we talk about when designing a chandelier. Complimentary or contrasting? Opaque or transparent? This time the palette was already set. But studio glass is about so much more than just color. Using just a semi-transparent white and touches of black the chandelier would have to rely solely on the layering of the glass and on the way the light passes through those layers in order to create a sufficiently fascinating statement. Using this opalescent white and building up piece over piece this chandelier creates depth and stunning visual texture through the transfer of light through the glass alone.
I think one of the most interesting things about this piece is the way that your eyes keep finding new detail in it. The shadows and reflections cause you to look at the form of the glass and trace the component shapes with your eye without the distraction of color. Because of the transparency and the simplicity of the white on white, all of the intricacies of the form start to reveal themselves. Even after having created and installed so many chandeliers over the years this one causes me to pause and look at how it all fits together and how the light moves through it.

Complex and simple, intricate and elegant – I believe this one will draw the eye of many lucky guests for years to come, and sorry no black curtains.

 

This chandelier measures 72″ in height by 38″ in width. The 30 individual plates average 10″ in diameter and the total weight of the chandelier is 250 lbs. It was installed using an Aladdin Light Lift.

The Lotus Series

A chandelier Inspired by A Yoga practice

About  seven years ago Janet and I met at her studio In Balance, a center dedicated to well being. She was running the business out of a rather small 1000 square foot building. This was not a lot of space for all of the activities she was running. The yoga room was 15′ x 25′. If there were more than 6 people in the room it felt crowded. After a year the building seemed to shrink and it was time to grow the business.

Fortunately, the property had another building and the owners wanted to sell. So, throwing caution to the wind we purchased the property. With the second building’s additional 2000 square feet Janet had room to grow her business. And we began the arduous process of gutting, then rebuilding the space for her purposes. The main focus of the new building was going to be yoga. At 25 by 45 feet the new yoga room seemed huge. I installed a sprung floor, a cool technology that was originally designed for dancers and gymnasts. This, combined with a radiant heated floor and pristine white walls created a perfect studio. But something was missing, this was a special space and needed something extra special in it. I felt the lighting needed work so I began to look for inspiration.

 

Looking for inspiration

One day on a family outing to the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton NJ, there it was. A beautiful lotus flower in a pond, one of a hundred or so, captured the feel I was looking for. The blossom that caught my eye was a beautiful shade of purple. The rest was easy, and the next day I began work on a pair of 48 inch diameter glass lotus blossoms.

20" aqua Lotus Chandelier Robert Kuster
20″ aqua Lotus Chandelier Robert Kuster

Jigs are the key

Just like everything I create I use my systematic approach of succeed and fail. We make the basic decisions for size and color, work on the interface of how the glass attaches to the metal framework. then we begin making a bunch of different sizes and shapes of parts. The next step is to see how they all fit together, put the unusable parts aside for now, then go to round two of making more pieces. Whenever possible we make jigs that allow us to slump or bend a piece to keep the pieces more uniform. The extra step of making jigs takes awhile but if you ever want to make more than one of something they’re a huge help. Just make sure you take lots of notes and don’t forget where you put the jigs. Its amazing how easy it is to forget a small detail or step that was a big time-saver in the past. I found not to long ago that keeping a notebook or journal about a project helps when it comes time to recreate it.

Once we have all the pieces figured out and made it’s time to put the chandelier together. We found that over the years on a piece of this type it’s easier to do the initial assembly upside down on the bench. If everything goes together well we add the lights and do another installation in our gallery. We want to make sure everything fits together properly. More importantly we want to make sure there are no surprises for the client.We photograph the piece, crate it up and ship it out.

In addition to the two purple lotus chandeliers we’ve made a dozen or so red, yellow and orange ones for Fogo de Chou and several of different colors schemes for other clients. We have also made well as a 72 inch by 36 inch Lotus for the dining room of a yacht, which I’m sorry to say I don’t have a picture of.

 

Chandeliers in the home

Below are just a couple of examples of some of the unique chandeliers we’ve produced for homeowners all over the world.

Someone recently asked me how many chandeliers I’ve made, and I realized that I just didn’t know. Although I believe it’s at least three or four thousand, it would be a lot of work to go back over all those old orders and make a count.  The chandeliers we create for peoples homes are always special because we are, in a sense, being invited into their home. Each space, and each  customer is unique. There’s a special satisfaction that comes from working through the challenges of each persons vision and creating a work of art that’s not only beautiful on it’s own but also in harmony with the home and the taste of those who live there.

Because we build all of the parts for the chandeliers right here at Belle Mead Hot Glass we have the freedom to experiment with shape and color and material until we capture just the right idea.  We have built wall sconces in narrow spaces where it seemed like nothing could give the perfect feel and could possibly fit. We have evoked gondolas and fire and flowers in sizes from under two feet to an illuminated “bonfire” sculpture that was every bit as big as a real bonfire.

Variety is the Key

When we first started making chandeliers, we started with three basic parts which complemented each another rather well. The pod a rounded oblong shape with a twisted tail about 16″ to 18″ long, the horn a long twisting narrow shape about 20″ to 22″ long and the gourd which is pear shaped and about 4″ to 5″ in diameter by about 6″ in length. when these three shapes are all put together in somewhat equal proportions they produce a chandelier that has depth and almost comes to life as you move around it. If you have only one color which many clients have  chosen to go with its an amazing piece. If you add multiple colors you get an explosion of color that’s sure to amaze all that see it.

The next logical step

The next logical step was to add accents. A short list includes flowers like tulips, roses ,irises,lillies, and poppies. In an earlier blog we mentioned the addition of sea-life, such as shells, starfish and seahorses. Making chandeliers according to a theme is a great way to showcase a customers love for the things that inspire them. We always welcome a challenge and if a request is something we haven’t done before all the better we love to try new things.

 

One interesting thing that we do here is upgrading, maintaining and retrofitting work from the past. It’s a service we are happy to provide and gives us an occasional tour through past years projects.  Some recent projects in this vein have included splitting a chandelier into two sconces in order to transition it from the entry of a family home to the dining room of a home the couple had recently purchased for retirement. This winter we re-lit a chandelier, switching from halogen to LED for a homeowner seeking to “go green”. And last week we completed a “nuts and bolts” cleaning of a chandelier in a home that had been flooded.  We truly want to create personalized pieces for individuals.

It always comes back to trust. Our customers trust that they are going to get a work of art that will live with them for many years to come. Whether a new construction project, a remodel or and upgrade for an existing work, our chandeliers bring a special kind of joy no matter where they live.

Sea Life Series

Inspired By The Sea

Every so often a client comes to us  with a very clear vision of what it is that they want. In this case the couple came from a small seaside town in Europe, they were building a summer house near Miami Beach Florida. The couple asked  if we could design a pair of custom chandeliers and two pairs of wall sconces that would evoke their love and memories of their seaside village back home.

 

We began the process with a color pallet that is light yet colorful. We started with various shades and opacities of white then began adding light blues, greens and seashell pink along with some accents of deeper blues.

The next step was to add in the sea life. These sculptural details add the life to the Sea Life theme. These include sea shells, seahorses, starfish, and some organic shapes that reference jellyfish and coral. Once all these choices had been made we started on the mock-up samples for approval.

This next part of the process is the portion we seem to enjoy the most. Composing the piece, we work each day at a pace that allows us to test our ideas as we go along, building, then changing, standing back to take a look and then making adjustments, fine-tuning the balance of color and then continuing until the piece is ready.  In this case this portion of the work took about a month.

 

The results were amazing, a complex visualization that looked like a coral reef  bursting with life. The clients were thrilled, and so were we. We continue to make this style of chandelier for other clients with no two ever ending up the same. With every new version we have the added benefit of our clients input, making each one a very special and unique piece.