Window Creations does restorations, looks to future
By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
Cat’s paw. Cathedral. Seedy.
These are but three types of textures and colors of glass — out of the near-infinite variation — and Reggie Buehrer is still inspired by them all.
Buehrer owns Window Creations LCC just west of Ottoville, a stained glass company that also manufactures related glass, wood and metal products.
“We liked the idea of glass,” he said of him and his wife, Penny. “I think it’s the greatest building material to work with.”
Ruminating on glass in his office — which featured stained glass windows of several different styles — it’s clear Buehrer is still taken by the beauty of the art.
“It’s so diverse,” he said. “The fact that we can control the light and the color and the transluscency is just amazing to me.”
And glass as a building material — mind blowing. Glass countertops with LED backlighting. Glass mosaiac tiles. Traditional stained glass windows. Non-traditional stained glass, with backlighting if there is no natural light. Glass staircases. Nearly all-glass buildings. And he can make glass look like granite. Or wood.
And a new process at Window Creations called Painting by Leonardo can transfer a photo to a piece of glass. He said his company is the first in the country to buy a machine for this process.
“We’re extremely progressive here,” he said. “The neat thing about this is I can give greater precision — higher quality — for less money. … If you can print it, I can paint it.”
The spectrum of old school to new school is all represented — sometimes in the same project.
“That’s what I like about glass. I think it’s the (best) medium to work in as an artist,” Buehrer said.
Window Creations began in 1989 about 15 miles west of the current location. Buehrer grew up in a family business in power equipment. But box stores began making an impact in the 1980s, and he and his wife began brainstorming about what type of business they would rather be in.
“We didn’t know what that business looked like,” he said. Their parameters included it had to be something unique, necessary and lasting.
“We didn’t want one on every corner,” he said.
His wife happened to watch a show on TV about stained glass at that time, and it triggered something in them. So they visited the library to research the topic.
“We got five books. All five books,” he said with a laugh.
Window Creations was started with $500 on a credit card when he and his wife were in their 20s. Buehrer bought some basic glass tools and got after it.
“Which isn’t the way that an ideal business plan should be started,” he said, smiling again.
But he was quick to explain that they were business minded from the beginning. They did not approach it as arts and crafts. This was not merely to make decorative baubles. This was to offer needed services to historic buildings in the area, especially.
“We just saw a need. We wanted to do something a little bit different,” he said.
Buehrer, who calls himself a craftsman/artist, enjoys Victorian windows in particular.
“I drew all the windows for years,” he said, explaining the process: A window begins as a pen and pencil miniature drawing on paper. The artist then adds color and scales it up to full size. The full-size pattern is cut out of paper, and those paper pieces are used to cut the glass. Once the pieces are cut, a worker paints them and they are fired in a 1,275-degree kiln two to seven times, depending on the shading and effects desired.
The pieces, after firing, are laid out on a wooden workbench in the proper arrangement. Then a worker adds the lead, which is long lengths of pliable H-shaped metal that has channels in which the glass is held securely. Once the lead is installed, a worker solders all the joints, adds cement grouting and finishes with “whiting powder,” which polishes and dries the cement. Without the whiting powder, which looks like chalkdust, the window would leak.
The only change in this classic process is the fact that artists at Window Creations now draw and color the window design using computers.
Each project passes through a dozen sets of hands. Some of those hands belong to the Buehrer family members — his wife, two sons, a daughter, a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law. There are about 20 employees.
“Everybody specializes in separate areas so they get really good,” he said. “It’s definitely not an assembly line.”
The repair process is even more detail oriented. Old windows are disassembled under water to keep the lead dust down, add lubrication to make the process easier, and clean the glass all at once. The water is filtered and never leaves the plant in an EPA-approved process, Buehrer said.
Recently, workers were attending to a window that was 120 years old. Before taking it apart, they laid a large sheet of paper over it and did a “rub,” noting the structural joints and patterns.
Sister windows waited on huge shelves in that area, holding the bits of masking tape used to mark broken panels that need replaced. Or, perhaps the panel is intact — but a poor replacement has been done in the past and the colors don’t match well. One window’s replacement panel was a vastly different purple than the original, with entirely too much opaque swirling through it.
“It’s a challenge at times to match glass,” Buehrer said. “I kind of compare it to going to Advance Auto Parts and trying to find a Model T part.”
Buehrer deals most often with Kokomo Opalescent Glass Co., of Kokomo, Indiana. KOG has been in business since the late 1800s, and is a source that dates to the original construction of some of the churches and windows in our area.
“And they still have a lot of the old recipes,” he said.
He is grateful for that Kokomo plant and grateful it’s merely a drive away. He knows of two glass plants in California that closed in 2016 alone, because of EPA regulations, leaving only five or six manufacturers in the country now.
Is there a science behind glass matching?
No, that’s art.
It’s as simple — or difficult, depending on how you look at such things — as picking up a broken panel and walking over to the sheet glass storage area in the plant. The waist-high sheet glass is stored on its edge in divided bins, separated by color and type. Have a purple panel in need of replacing? Head to the purple area and start comparing. And don’t forget to hold it up to the light to see how translucent it is. It looks incredibly different in the rack versus in the sunshine.
“We have thousands of different textures and colors of glass,” Buehrer said.
Cat’s paw? It’s kind of bumpy, like a cat has been walking on it. Cathedral? Transparent color that looks black in the rack but glows in the sun. Seedy? It has tiny bubbles in it.
Window Creations also manufactures and repairs the wood frames around the glass. If the glass needs repaired, it stands to reason the frame needs repaired as well. It also offers specially vented aluminum frames and clear exterior glass as a protective “storm window” over the stained glass if desired. The frames are bent by machine and welded in-house to be sure the dimensions are exactly as ordered.
“Some of the frames we made last year were 35 feet tall,” he said. “We buy glass by the semi load now.”
An addition to the plant is giving more elbow room for the Leonardo machine — which can process pieces of glass up to 8-by-10 feet — and CNC machines for cutting as well as various grinders and polishers. A classic art medium meets manufacturing.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” he said. “Challenging, though, at times. (Change) is never easy.”
WINDOW CREATIONS LLC
21438 U.S. 224, Fort Jennings, OH 45844