Steve Gentis spends his days marrying soft lead to glass, and his rough hands show the strain with cuts and stains. In the studio at Seattle...

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Steve Gentis spends his days marrying soft lead to glass, and his rough hands show the strain with cuts and stains.

In the studio at Seattle Stained Glass in Wallingford, Gentis’ hands move swiftly and skillfully, wrapping lead strips that are so pliable, they bend easily into graceful curves that hug streaky cream or mottled red glass. He snips the edges to keep joints smooth and hammers nails into the wood table to hold everything in place.

While there’s an art to the craft of making stained-glass windows, a fabricator’s work is ultimately functional, Gentis says.

“You’re always balancing out practical, because they’re windows, with making them beautiful,” he said.

A visit to the Seattle Stained Glass studio might shatter perceptions about the craft. Fabricators often build leaded windows that incorporate textured clear glass instead of color for customers who want light but don’t want window treatments. A window can be as simple as a traditional cross-pane or as intricate as a nature scene. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.

The 37-year-old company sells a few pre-made pieces in its retail store next to the shop, but the fabricators mainly work on custom windows.

The craft

Stained-glass tips


Care: Clean stained glass as you would a regular window.

Placement: Stained glass traditionally shows up in entryways, stair landings or next to fireplaces, but consider trying pieces in the bathroom, in the front door or in cabinetry. Don’t use dark, opaque colors in areas that don’t get light, like a cabinet. Instead, try a textured clear glass. Or pick more colors if the window is looking onto an area that gets plenty of light.

The custom process starts with designer Justin Ivy, who works with homeowners to figure out what style fits best in their homes, and in their price range. A square-foot window could cost as little as $250, for example, but if the design gets complicated, it could top $1,000.

Prices vary depending on the piece, but the more elaborate it is and the more glass they have to cut, regardless of the window’s size, the more expensive it will be.

After the design stage, the fabricators take over. Gentis starts by drawing the design to scale in a pattern, which becomes the basis for both the cutting and window-building stages.

More info


Classes: For a list, see www.seattlestainedglass.com

Seattle Stained Glass: Retail store: 100 N.E. 45th St., Seattle, 206-632-1319 (includes supplies for hobbyists, and a few stained glass pieces for sale). Studio: 2510 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-633-2040

On a recent day, Gentis worked on a small window with a stylized floral design, part of a set of three windows that eventually was installed next to and above a front door. The design for the intensely colored windows was intricate, and he spent a full day cutting glass before he even started to build a small one.

The process

During the building process, Gentis carefully measures lead came, and bends and molds it to the shape of the glass pieces. He cuts and trims the edges of lead to even out the joints and cheers when a complicated piece fits in perfectly.

“Steve goes home and does jigsaw puzzles at night,” joked Seattle Stained Glass owner Jim Nelsen.

But building a lead window isn’t about which technique is superior to another when you add lead, Gentis said.

“Everyone does it differently,” he said. “It’s really about the result. All roads lead to the same place.”

After adding the lead, fabricators solder the joints on both sides of the window. Putty is added to weather-proof the window, and sometimes rebar is added for support.

The result

Windows don’t have to use lead. Customers can pick from other metals, including copper and zinc, and they can even pick techniques like faux-leaded glass, in which the lead is applied on top of the glass to create the appearance of glass panes.

When done well, stained-glass windows can last up to 100 years. Much of the restoration work the company does originates from houses built in the early 20th century, Nelsen said.

“Building stained glass is an interesting task, ” Gentis said. “It’s kind of tedious. … You want them to last a long time.”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com