Meet the Belgian Designer Pushing the Limits of Stained Glass

The Stained Glass Lights collection from Belgian designer Maarten de Ceulaer — in which illuminated sheets or cylinders of handmade, mouth-blown glass essentially become three-dimensional abstract paintings — is a beautiful balance of control and chaos. While the colors are deliberately chosen and it’s possible to guide the fabrication process to some extent, there’s no way to wholly calibrate the outcome with this material; each piece is a bit of an experiment. “There is a sense of serendipity to it that I really love,” says de Ceulaer, who opts for glass from Bavaria. He became aware of it while visiting the Belgian stained-glass studio Atelier Mestdagh, his production partner for these lamps. “I fell in love with this glass from the moment I saw it and organized a visit to the factory soon after. The colors and patterns they can create are just mind-blowing; every sheet is a unique artwork in its own right. It looks like liquid color in a frozen state, which is kind of what it is. It’s not straight and flat like industrial glass but has a gently wavy surface. It really has a soul to it. To me it feels like a noble material, with natural veins like marble or grain like wood, but then is man-made, with infinite possibilities in color combinations and patterns.”

It’s unusual to use this type of glass over a large surface; stained glass is often cut into smaller pieces and assembled into a larger whole, like a Tiffany-style shade or a window. “To make one of these sheets,” de Ceulaer explains, “they start by blowing a small bubble to which colored glass is added while they gradually blow it bigger and bigger into a long cylindrical shape. When it’s at its maximum size, they cut off the blow part and the bottom, creating a cylinder. While still hot, this cylinder is then cut open and ironed flat with a wet block of wood, to become a sheet. This whole process is absolutely magical to witness. It’s like a silent ballet — a bunch of very big and strong guys with huge hands and absolute control over what they are doing.”

The glass sheets are then shipped to Belgium, cut into varying strips, and arranged into light fixtures – like traditional stained-glass, with lead profiles – but around an inner stainless steel structure which adds strength. The bases are composed of various marbles and stones. Literally multi-faceted, the lamps look different from every angle. And each one evokes its own mood, depending on its color palette and composition. “Some patterns are very wild while others are calmer, so they will all have a very different effect,” says de Ceulaer, drawn to the notion that these pieces “will become characters in your life and in your home. Every person and every house is completely unique, and I like the idea that there will be a unique lamp for every one of them.”

During Milan Design Week, De Ceulaer presented four of these lamps at Nilufar Depot. Continuing to experiment with and explore different shapes and colors — as well as materials for the bases, including bronze, and new marble and bent tube variations — he also recently finished the first suspension light of the collection. It’s his largest stained-glass work yet: a commission for Kelly Behun Studio, to be revealed later this year. When de Ceulaer says “the possibilities with this collection are endless,” it doesn’t sound like much of an exaggeration, only a statement of fact.