Meridian Industrial

STUDIO K'S GLASS CASTLE

2020-12-21 | Vicki Mitchell

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The year 1991 was a big one for Rich and Robin Kohler, owners of Studio K’s Glass Castle, which specializes in the design and fabrication in the art of stained glass.

How they got to own the studio and retail shop in Somers is a long story.

“Rich and I were getting married and looking for gifts for our wedding party, and we were thinking maybe something in glass. We were looking in many different shops, and while we were in Somers we saw that The Glass Castle was having an open house. While I was poking around, Rich was watching a demonstration on stained glass art basics and thought it was a craft he would really enjoy learning,” Robin said, who covers the business side of the operation.

After returning home from their two week honeymoon to Disney World and Cape Cod, Rich took a five-week beginner class and every other class that was offered and afterwards was ready to take a giant leap into his new hobby.

“At the time we were living in a onebedroom apartment in Vernon. It was very small, but I needed a place to work and I was determined to set-up a shop in our apartment. So, one day, I built a table that extended from the dining room to the living room that would hold my saw, grinder, and other equipment and kept adding to it. And, before you knew it, I had an operation going,” Rich said.

It was later that two precipitous calls from Shannon Mason - who owned The Glass Castle where Rich had taken his classes while developing a friendship along the way with her - would further his pursuits in stained glass.

“Shannon called me and asked if I would like to work part-time in her store and also help to teach classes. It was a great opportunity for me to gain more experience, which I did for several years until 1994. That’s when the opportunity arose for me to rent a basement commercial space, which I jokingly called a dungeon because of the shape it was in. I couldn’t pass it up and moved all my equipment there and opened a retail shop. And, it was just in time because I saw the divorce coming with the mess I had made at home,” Rich joked.

“It was fun, but I was working a part-time job and keeping the studio open part-time and Robin and I decided I needed to find something full-time. Then out of the blue I received a call from Shannon who was moving to Kansas with her husband, Paul, and wanted to know if I was interested in buying the store. That was back in 1998 and we bought the business. Shannon is still our landlord and we remain great friends,” he added.

Today, Studio K’s Glass Castle offers custom glasswork for walk-in customers as well as with contractors requiring glasswork for a window, door, lamp, room divider, sidelight or cabinet door. The studio also includes a retail store and offers instructional classes.

Rich noted he was “blessed” to have another glass worker walk into his life in 1997."

Scott St. Lawrence was a teenager at the time and his art teacher brought him into our shop. She saw so much promise in him and as a young student he already had tremendous skills and she wanted him to further excel. We took him on and, honestly, we were the lucky ones,” Rich said.

A skilled artist, St. Lawrence now does most of the studio’s design and fabrication work, while Rich concentrates more on the retail business as well as the repair work.

When customers enter the store with a project for Rich and Scott - whether it is a custom window, door, lamp or decorative hanging - they become part of the process.

“Customers usually come in with an idea and something sketched on paper that they want made. Scott then gets to work creating a pencil design, which can easily be changed if there is something they don’t like. We then start scouting the store with them to pick out the glass they want us to use. And we invite them in anytime to see the progress on their project,” Rich said.

Their retail business is one of the few remaining glass shops in the Northeast that sells supplies after many have closed, Robin noted.

In addition to all kinds of stained glass and pattern books, the store carries a full line of tools, grinders, saws, lamp hardware, bevels, bead making supplies and more. They also stock pre-owned, “gently used” tools and equipment.

“When we first purchased the store, business was booming. Then the age of the internet took over and people suddenly discovered that they could order supplies online and have them delivered right to their door. So, that hurt sales at our retail shop, and hurt so many mom-and-pop stores,” Robin said.

“Things eventually got better, but it’s still not the way it used to be. And then the recession hit. We lost a lot of customers,” Rich said.

One thing that helped to bring extra money into the business was a tool that Rich developed.

“It’s called a Fid’l Stik and we sell it all over the country,” he said about the tool which is used to burnish copper foil around the glass edges before soldering them together” Rich said.

But you will find more than just supplies in the store, especially for those who don’t want to “create their own.”

“We have a full complement of finished hangings, a really big assortment of panels and lamp, as well as gift items, for customers to look over and choose from,” Rich said.

For those do-it-yourselfers, Studio K’s Glass Castle offers instructional classes. Their popular Beginner Level Stained Glass class consists of five weekly sessions from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and you will complete at least two projects, then walk away with the skills needed to continue to the next level. Tuition is $175 and students will need to also purchase a tool kit for $150.

“We have a fully-equipped training room including a sand blasting system, and classes are small, usually three to four students, so you get the attention you need,” Rich said.

“Our instructor, Jan Ryan, has been with us for 20 years. She is very patient and loves to teach, and our students love her,” he added.

The next Beginner Level Stained Glass class is planned for early this year. Check the studio’s webpage for more info or call them at 860-749-9010.

“I think people appreciate that stained glass is an Old World art that has really lasted all these years. Beyond that people just love the reflection of colors on their walls as well as the privacy that a window hanging provides,” Robin said.

According to The Stained Glass Association of America, many histories of stained glass begin with Pliny’s tale of the accidental discovery of glass by Phoenician sailors. Their website explains the legend recounts shipwrecked sailors who set their cooking pots on blocks of natron (soda) from their cargo then built a fire under it on the beach. In the morning, the fire’s heat had melted the sand and soda mixture. The resultant mass had cooled and hardened into glass.

But, the association noted that Pliny was not very scientifically reliable and claims it is more likely that Egyptian or Mesopotamian potters accidentally discovered glass when firing their vessels. The earliest known manmade glass is in the form of Egyptian beads from between 2750 and 2625 BC. Artisans made these beads by winding a thin string of molten glass around a removable clay core.

If you have a question for Rich, his wife has a suggestion on how to best reach him.

“Rich isn’t tech savvy when it comes to computers. So, instead of emailing him, I suggest calling my husband directly. He’s a people person and really enjoys the one-on-one connection,” Robin said.

Studio K’s Glass Castle is located on 48 South Road, Route 83, in Somers, Conn.

Hours are Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Sat. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, visit studioksglasscastle.com or call 860-749-9010

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