Made in Sarasota

By staff May 1, 2003

The coffee table in Al Glass's Siesta Key house is a marble disk on industrial balloon tires. Glass calls it his "drink-and-drive" coffee table. A little robot stands sentinel before the fax machine in Glass's office, its job to prevent overflowing papers from spilling on the floor. Even the pushpins on the bulletin board are stylish, and rather than prosaic framed photographs, Glass has captured his family in framed Warhol-esque posters he made himself.

Very fitting, then, that Glass spends most of his time designing furniture and accessories that will look sleek and modern 20 years from now.

"It's my hobby and it's my job," says Glass. "If I had time off, I'd be designing."

From his studio across the swimming pool from his house, with see-through views to Coconut Bayou beyond, Glass creates designs for contemporary lamps, mirrors and tables. There's nothing fluffy about his designs; each piece appears as though it's been drawn with one fluid line and coated with a slick surface of glass or chrome. The pieces are manufactured by various design companies and sold at boutique home design stores. Locally, you can see Glass pieces at Home Resource, Copenhagen Imports, Living Walls and Perry Sherwood Gallery on St. Armands Circle.

Glass began designing furniture 17 years ago when he was living in Washington, D.C. He had studied fine arts and graphics at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, and was drafted to serve a year in Vietnam as a combat infantryman. Later, he went the corporate route, creating graphic identities for various high-wattage corporations in the Washington, D.C., area, handling a company's "look" through everything from signage and promotional pieces to print advertisements.

At the time, Glass's wife, Colleen, worked with him as an interior designer, often outfitting the same firms for which her husband created corporate identities. Occasionally, Colleen would ask her husband to custom-design a piece of furniture for a particular project; and Glass, who had been fascinated with kinetics and three-dimensional design since art school, found that furniture design came naturally. Some of his pieces caught the eye of one his graphic design clients, Bill Becker, who owned an innovative home furnishings company called BDI. Becker asked Glass to design a couple of pieces for BDI, and that began a business relationship that continues today. Now, Glass also designs home accessories for firms such as Crackle and Ore, based in California, and Dansk, based in Fort Lauderdale. His work also has been included in publications by leading design authority Graphis.

The Glasses moved here eight years ago, drawn by the warmth, water and proximity of family, and ready to leave behind a Georgetown that had become too mainstream and commercial for them. They fell in love with Siesta Key, found a house that already had a studio attached and filled it with interesting furniture and art-including many of Glass's own pieces and Colleen's watercolors.

"I think emotion is a function," Glass says. "If they [pieces of furniture] don't make you say wow, this is cool . what if it was 100 percent furniture and didn't have any attitude?"

It just wouldn't be as much fun. And if it isn't fun, and doesn't evoke a response, it's pretty much pointless. Because in Glass's world, beauty is no frivolous preference; it's virtually a necessity. Says Glass: "I'd rather stand than sit in an ugly chair."

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