Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts | Photos by Kristie Lea Photography
Just shy of a couple years ago, a Christiansburg couple who did not consider themselves artists started crafting one-of-a-kind glass artwork that defies the limits of traditional stained glass. “It’s strange to hear our pieces and ourselves called art and artists, but it’s something we are proud of,” states Rick Durrett, who started Looking Glass Designs with his wife, Debby.
They have always had a penchant for beautiful glass work, and on weekend getaways in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the two enjoyed visiting antique shops looking for stained glass pieces to display at home. “We kept encountering pieces that were simply too expensive for our budget,” Debby recalls.
Rick noticed several paintings and other art displayed in window sashes. “Since I work for a window and door company and have a source of window and door components, we decided to bridge stained glass with window art into what we make today.” While they still appreciate stained glass as a beautiful form of art, what Debby and Rick craft is not limited to pieces of glass.
“Our pieces are three-dimensional and include almost anything you can think of — bowls, crystal, wine bottles, playing cards, sea shells, driftwood, beads, jewelry, mosaic tiles and on and on. What we can include in a piece is almost unlimited, and we’ve recently expanded to sea glass and sea shell jewelry,” Rick says.
There is also no limit to where these unique glass creations can be displayed. Clients have commissioned Debby and Rick to compose innovative pieces for their mantels, to hang on the wall or function as headboards, table tops and cabinet doors.
The couple created a particularly fun piece for Debby’s aunt and uncle. “We were staying at their beach house this past January and wanted to make a piece to say thank you. We collected shells and driftwood from the beach in front of the house and included the name of the beach house. We finished it while we were there, and it was wonderful to see it hanging above the door facing the ocean.”
Most patrons can expect to pay somewhere in the $75 range, with cabinet doors and tables running a bit more. The average piece takes about three hours to complete, though making pieces from doors takes considerably longer than window frames. Doors have to be cut into sections, and the panels must be removed before glass can be placed in the piece. There is also time spent with the customer coming up with the design and layout.
“It starts with listening to what colors and shapes the customer likes as we show them various pieces we have made,” Debby relates. “We also want to know where a customer will display the art piece and what theme or message they want it to convey.” Once they have the direction on style and colors, Debby and Rick start laying out designs for the customer to view, making changes as they get feedback. Once the design is exactly what the customer wants, the piece is created.
“The most difficult piece so far was a headboard for our bedroom,” says Rick. “I used a door with 15 window panes that was the right length for a king bed. It was challenging because of the size and number of sections, making 15 little art pieces at once, but the end result turned out beautiful.”
For the first year, Debby and Rick sold their glass art at an antique shop and a home décor store, but they thought they could do better. “We decided to participate in crafts shows and festivals around the New River Valley,” Rick says. “It is so much fun. We’ve gotten great exposure and enjoy bringing our art to a wide variety of people.”
Emily Kathleen Alberts is a Blacksburg-based freelance and science and technology writer who contributes regularly to New River Valley Magazine.