In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the Gothic revival and latterly the Arts and Crafts movement, stained glass escaped from churches and cathedrals and started appearing in ordinary homes. The staircase window was a particularly popular spot for a little decorative glass, and remained so until the 1940s. These days, of course, the clean lines of modernism have banished such fripperies – unless, like us, you have a passion for the Arts and Crafts movement and delight in the possibilities of manipulating light through coloured glass.
Far from banishing stained glass, we have gone as far as we possibly can in the other direction and created a four metre high stained glass window, rising up the two floors of our stairwell, where a curving staircase is yet to be built. We started making the panels of this window before we began building the house, nearly two years ago, and have only recently finished the task. The expression ‘labour of love’ for once seems entirely appropriate.
We started out at a beginners’ class at the Working Men’s College in north London, where master Stained Glass-Designer Edward Burne Jones once taught. The basic skills of stained glass making are relatively easy to master so we were soon able to begin our ambitious nine-panel window for our Arts and Crafts inspired house. The design is abstract: a rising arc of light moving through earth greens to sky blues with a burst of heavenly red-orange appearing at the top.
Happily you don’t need many tools to make stained glass. Just a glass cutter, pliers to nibble off any ragged edges from the pieces of cut glass, and a soldering iron to join up the pieces after the edges have been wrapped in copper foil. You begin with a cartoon drawn on paper and cut the pieces accordingly, scoring the glass along the lines of the cartoon then tapping the ends of the lines to create points of weakness, before snapping the glass in two. Easy really, once you’ve got the hang of it, though designing something non-figurative and abstract with no curving lines proved to be a good move.
We installed the window over the New Year holiday. This involved building a secondary oak frame to sit in front of the existing triple-glazed window that went in when the building’s structural timber frame went up back in 2014. We then carefully slotted each of the panels in place, one on top of the other, and filled any gaps between the panels with lead-coloured silicone. The window faces east so we get the morning light. As this is the middle of winter, this light doesn’t exactly stream in, but it’s still a joy to behold. Everyday we see something new.
The window has transformed the house. What’s more, it didn’t really cost that much, as we made it ourselves: just the cost of the lead and the many and various pieces of glass that we incorporated. A cheap thrill, you might say, but one that will keep us smiling for the rest of our lives.