Generations of stained glass
Have you ever noticed the old farmhouse house tucked in along Sydenham Road across from the cemetery?
The sign in the front yard reads “The Glass House,” which might make one wonder why the house isn’t made of glass… that is, until they have a look on the inside.
“People often come in and go, ‘oh, I've always wondered what this place was,’” said Lynda MacRae, the current owner of The Glass House.
The shop and workshop space sells stained glass supplies, windows, lamps, decor and more, all within the house. This is also where everything is made, repaired and designed.
“It’s done by hand,” said MacRae. "We’re not machines, we don’t send things out to be machined and cut out… we’re very old school in the sense that we really cook from scratch. Nothing is boxed and pre-made here."
MacRae has been working with stained glass for 24 years. She said she’s always liked it, so when she found a course at St. Lawrence College (where she also taught), she decided to take it for fun and even began selling her work. The Glass House was where she would go to buy her supplies.
"This was the only place in town at the time to purchase stained glass – that I knew of anyway. So when it was downtown on Princess Street I used to go shop there,” she said.
MacRae said she never expected to end up where she is now, owning the business, but when the original owner Sheila Marsh was getting ready to retire, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“She was interested in starting something up on her own,” said Marsh, “and... I was ready to sort of say, 'okay, retire and sit back and let somebody else have the headaches that go with it.' So they made us an offer and soon it worked out."
The Glass House originally started in the studio Marsh and her ex-husband built in her parents’ backyard in Quebec. When the business started taking off, the two decided to move their business elsewhere.
They chose Kingston because it was in between their main customers in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Marsh said she really liked the look of Princess Street when they drove through the city.
And that’s where they ended up in 1974 when they bought the building at 85 Princess Street, which is where Marsh and her current husband still live today in the two floors above Wayfarer Books.
“The marriage didn’t work out, but the business kept going. And I kept it going,” said Marsh.
When MacRae took over the business in 1999, she wanted a bigger space and a location closer to home, so they chose a spot at the La Salle Plaza, but eventually ended up at 991 Sydenham Road where they are today.
At first glance, it was a risky move taking on the business with very little experience in the business field or even the shop: “I had actually never worked in the store until I bought it,” admitted MacRae.
But everything has continued running smoothly.
“It’s nice to know it’s still continuing and it’s got a good reputation,” said Marsh. "And I know they’re both hard workers."
MacRae’s husband, Craig, is a key player in the business’s success.
“Fortunately my husband Craig MacRae – he’s actually an engineer. He’s retired, but he’s an environmental engineer,” said MacRae. "But he’s also very, very talented with drawing. He can draw in crazy detail. Sometimes a little too crazy, but it certainly helps us translate better into glass because when he draws it’s very specific. And then often we will tweak it. But he’s colourblind, so he likes to sometimes think he can pick colours, but no. We let him try and then we just do what we want."
The process of creating a stained glass piece typically goes like this:
- Lynda and Craig will sit down with a client and discuss what they’re looking for
- Craig will do up a rough design and following approval or tweaks make the full one
- Glass will be selected, cut and shaped into small pieces, wrapped with copper foil, put back together and soldered
The whole process usually involves a team of staff at The Glass House consisting of about three people.
MacRae said the store has been busy lately and thinks that people are starting to pay more attention to how and where their products are made.
“People discovered offshore, because it could be made cheaper and faster… but I think a lot of people are getting tired of that because they see the quality isn’t the same, or the look isn’t the same. And I think people are coming back to having things handmade and locally made."