Beyond clear

Decorative shower enclosures offer design and functionality
Katy Devlin
July 22, 2008

Retailers be prepared-homeowners today want more out of their all-glass enclosures, decorative glass suppliers say. Glass companies looking to serve the market must look beyond clear glass to decorative products such as etched glass, colored glass and patterned glass to meet demand. While decorative glass bath enclosures have been in the market for almost a decade, glass suppliers say use is becoming more widespread as customers want privacy, more design options and easier maintenance.

Private residence in New York City metro area. Glass: 3⁄8-inch tempered glass with an acid-etched dot pattern on one surface. Glass supplier: General Glass International, Secaucus, N.J. Installer: ABC Glass & Mirror, Brooklyn, N.Y.



Dave Bilgen, director of marketing for UltraGlas, Chatsworth, Calif., estimates that demand for decorative glass in bathrooms is increasing at 5 percent to 10 percent each year. Tim Czechowski, president of Artwork in Architectural Glass, Newport Beach, Calif., says orders for such products are coming from more areas of the country. "We are seeing requests from areas other than California, Florida, New York. ... The word has reached other parts of the country," Czechowski says. "We have learned that the key is letting the glaziers in all areas of the country know that the products exist."

Functionality and design
The added design flexibility of decorative glass makes them an exciting choice for interior designers and homeowners, says Julie Rooney, head of Julie Rooney Interiors, St. Louis. Decorative products continue to offer the sleek, open feel of standard clear glass, while allowing the shower enclosure to add to the artistic feel of a bathroom, she says. "Whenever possible I let the architecture, natural surroundings, as well as the personalities or styles of the owners drive the artistic use of glass, while maintaining functionality for the project. The use of clear textures and patterns meets the challenge in many situations," Rooney says.

Private residence in California. Glass: 3⁄8-inch clear tempered glass with custom antique gold and bronze paint design. Glass supplier: CBD Glass Studios, Chicago.








Decorative glass costs more than standard clear, and is generally thought by consumers to be a design solution in only high-end bathrooms. However, Dale Vandergriff, president of DeSola Glass, Spring, Texas, says decorative glass enclosures can offer a major design element to their homes without having to redecorate the entire room. Customers can obscure old tile, hardware and other elements with decorative glass, while making a major design statement in the room.

In-house display of high-end bath enclosures at Dekor Store, Atlanta. Glass: 48-inch by 60-inch 3⁄8-inch tempered glass panel with sea life design Glass supplier: Artwork in Architectural Glass, Newport Beach, Calif.







Despite the design benefits, many homeowners look to decorative glass for more practical reasons: more privacy and easier maintenance. Antique glass has become popular because it provides modest amounts of privacy, but not total obscurity, says Richard Balik, vice president of General Glass International, Secaucus, N.J. "People looking for total obscurity can use patterned glass or satin-etched glass, which is very popular," he says.  Painted glass serves the same needs, says Alex Kronik, president and CEO of Palace of Glass, Los Angeles.

Private residence in south Florida Glass: 1⁄2-inch clear, tempered glass with custom wave design with applied glass jewels Glass supplier: UltraGlas, Chatsworth, Calif. Installer: American Glass & Mirror, Boca Raton, Fla.







Water spots can become an issue on standard clear glass. Vandergriff says maintenance concerns are the largest driver of sales for decorative glass showers in his shop. "Customers say they are worried about water spots in a clear shower. Decorative glass obscures the water spots, making it far easier from the standpoint of maintenance," he says.

Lead times
"There was a perception awhile back that [decorative glass] wasn't so easy to get, and that was a big deterrent for a lot of customers," says David Balik, president of General Glass. One misconception in the market is that lead times are greater for decorative glass products than for clear glass, something that is not true in many cases, he says. General Glass has a large inventory of decorative products stocked in inventories on both coasts to ensure short lead times. Kronik says Palace of Glass also keeps its lead times to a minimum-"on our projects, eight weeks."

Private residence in Beverly Hills, Calif. Glass: 3⁄8-inch glass, deep carved and painted with enamel paint Glass fabricator: Palace of Glass, Los Angeles.








Retailers should consider that custom glass products can take longer to get, says Alexsandra Guinan, co-owner of GlassKote USA LLC, Bridgeport, Conn. "When customers are being offered custom color options, they need to be educated that it is exactly that-custom made-not stock sitting on the shelf," Guinan says. "If the retailer and installers are being proactive in this area, they will prepare the customer so that they understand the lead time. Typically it is going to be an extra two to three weeks."

Installation questions
Contrary to misconceptions about decorative glass, the products do not create handling or performance problems, Czechowski says. Codes and standards for clear shower glass apply to decorative products. "The glass should be considered the same as regular heavy glass enclosures," Czechowski says. "Cast or textured glass goes through the same tempering process as standard clear glass, so it carries the same technical aspects for installations."

Size limitations can be an issue in rare cases, Richard Balik says, as decorative glass can't be fabricated in the same floor-to-ceiling sizes as clear. "[Retailers] should be aware of what sizes are available and take that into consideration when they're on a job. ... But 95 percent of the time it's not an issue."

Many customers express durability concerns. Decorative glass should be installed with the etching, carving or paint on the side of the glass that is not exposed to water, Kronik says. "We also apply a thin layer of transparent resin for protection."

Private residence in Connecticut Glass: Walls, 1⁄4-inch low-iron tempered glass with polished edges coated with GlassKote custom color; enclosure, 1⁄2-inch low-iron tempered with polished edges Glass supplier: GlassKote USA LLC, Bridgeport, Conn. Installer: American Frameless Shower Doors, Westport, Conn.






 While the project process is essentially the same for decorative glass shower enclosures as for traditional glass enclosures, the process does change if glass is used in other parts of the bathroom as well, such as counter tops and back splashes, Guinan says. "When it is simply a glass enclosure, you come in after everything is done. When other elements of glass are being selected, then the process starts much earlier," she says. "It requires a more consultative approach for design and planning, rather than just providing a commodity."



Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at