A few weeks ago BUILD was invited to tour the Dale Chihuly Glass Studios in Seattle, so we rounded up the office and headed to Chihuly’s Lake Union Boat House and Ballard Studio to have a peek behind the curtain at the world’s most successful glass artist. The tour was a visual feast, and we thought you might enjoy some of the photos from our experience. Team Chihuly fully embraces social media (because they’re smart) and it’s due to this forward-thinking mindset that we’re able to share these images.
First and foremost, we were struck by the organization of the operation. In the glass blowing studio, glass rods and glass powder are arranged by color, creating a beautiful display in and of itself. This was very satisfying for our collective architectural OCD.
Adjacent walls of blown glass provide a reference library for color matching and comparison. The composition also offers a look at the kit-of-parts for the larger chandelier works.
Moving from the hot shop to the exhibit space, the first experience stirs the senses by placing the viewer below a glass ceiling covered with backlit pieces from the sea crustacean series.
Stage left offers a peak into Dale’s vintage car collection. The tin-clad walls have an industrial-automotive feel and allow the cars to visually pop.
Stage right exhibits a neatly organized collection of textiles, baskets, and photographs around one of the largest Douglas-fir coffee tables we’ve ever focused our eyes on. The room was completed with a birch-bark canoe and a 1914 Indian motorcycle.
Even his and hers bathrooms were used as opportunities to display a collection of unique objects. In this case, vintage children’s books displayed in an amusing way. It was relieving to finally have the answer to where our childhood copy of Roberto, The Insect Architect wound up.
Further toward the Lake Union side of the building is perhaps the most impressive piece: an 88 foot, continuous, natural edge Douglas fir conference table. You heard that correctly, eighty-eight feet long. There was an informative discussion about how the table was procured, shipped, and lifted into place but, admittedly, we went deer-in-the-headlights at the logistical complexity of achieving such a task. It’s worth mentioning that the trailer of a flatbed semi-truck is a mere 53’ long.
A series of glass chandeliers march down the length of the table as a sweeping view of the Lake Union Cut opens up beyond.
Did we mention the pool room? The glass bottom lap pool houses a collection of pieces from the sea crustacean series and the changing rooms next door suggested that this pool is perfectly usable.
We know what you’re thinking: the only thing missing from this tour is an aquarium. That too, was covered.
Next we headed to the Ballard studio where assemblage, mock-ups, lighting, and client reviews take place. This was a great behind the scenes peek of how the art actually comes together. And even the stock yard was crowned with a neon Chihuly original.
The steel frames below are used to hang the various blown glass pieces from and to create the eventual structure of Chihuly’s well-known chandeliers.
A complicated framework is in the assembly stage below, as a welder delicately attached a mounting bracket. The glass pieces in the background will eventually be fixed to each of the plugs along the frame’s spine.
Below a glass chandelier is assembled piece by piece, based on diagrammatic drawings. This mock-up will be reviewed by the clients and Dale Chihuly himself at the studio. Once approved, it will be disassembled, shipped to the site and reassembled as closely as possible to the original form.
The studio tour completed with a beautiful gallery space lined with many of Chihuly’s most exemplary works.
The tour was a stunning display of visuals from the making and assembling of the pieces to the final display of the art itself. A personal thanks goes out to Allison, Susan, and Renee for generously hosting us and sharing their expertise.
Kevin Eckert, founding partner of Build LLC, writes Build Blog, which can be seen on Custom Home's website on occasional Fridays.