Theodore Ellison Designs has made original leaded glass and lighting for new construction and historic homes all over the United States since 1998. I currently design and construct interior and exterior lighting, cabinetry panels, laylights, and entryways in a variety of styles.
My passion for leaded glass stems from a desire to create something truly unique for each individual project. With a keen attention to detail, our company works collaboratively with homeowners, architects, and designers to deliver one-of-a-kind pieces. Every project honors the artistic integrity of classic leaded glass styles, and most projects use glass made specifically for our studio.
Member of Artistic License, a guild of professional revival artisans serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1982.
Everything I do now began in my high school shop classes: drafting, wood shop, and metal shop. During my senior year, I visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and was immediately struck with an appreciation for how all of these skills could be applied to create a home unlike any I had ever been in before.
Most importantly, it introduced me to leaded glass.
During college at San Francisco State University, I shifted my artistic focus from ceramics to glass. To further my study beyond the school’s curriculum, I sought out Narcissus Quagliata, an Italian glass artist working in California at the time. Quagliata is known for his artistic approach and inventive techniques, but he wasn’t working with leaded glass during those years. While apprenticing with him, we explored contemporary processes – including sandblasting, fusing and lamination – to make large scale architectural works. Eventually I decided I wanted to pursue the traditional way of working with glass that I had first seen at the Hollyhock House: handmade, thoughtfully designed work crafted especially for the home.
With this goal in mind, I set up a small workshop where I could make panels of my own design out of salvaged glass. This was my learning process: long hours of solitude and experimentation. I would conceive an idea, and then attempt to build it. Despite a background in the arts, I am essentially self-taught. It was some trial, and lots of error.
In 1998, with my son on the way, I decided to go into business for myself. With the two best examples of my work, I made a brochure and hit the streets to spread the word. While waiting for the phone to ring, I had time to further develop my techniques through the production of spec windows and reproductions of Wright and Mackintosh windows.
Eventually someone did call. A very trusting Economist from UC Berkeley gave me my first commission when he purchased two windows. His neighbor called soon after, and my business was born.
Advertising and exposure from historical home conferences kept me busy for the next several years. I used these early projects to gain a deeper understanding of how leaded glass could work within the home. Around this time the work of Charles and Henry Greene jolted me out of the geometric rut I was in. The artistry they brought to their work, the fluidity of line, and the influence of Japanese art and design changed my entire approach to glass. I very consciously stepped away from the drawing table, and went outdoors to develop my eye at drawing.
After several years of being holed up alone in my workshop, I found myself yearning for collaboration. I began to reach out to the local community of architectural craftspeople, eventually attending a meeting of Artistic License, a Bay Area guild of historically-influenced architects, designers, and craftspeople. I was encouraged by meeting people who were established, thriving, and doing interesting work. A year later I gained membership to the guild, and went on to serve as its president.
As Theodore Ellison Designs grew, I began to receive larger commissions from around the country. I used these travel opportunities to seek out turn-of-the-century architecture and photograph the work of lesser known architects and designers. I discovered examples of highly artistic leaded glass I hadn’t seen before; these completely unique approaches to design further influenced my evolving style.
In 2007, I had the opportunity to double the size of my workshop, which enabled me to take on larger projects. I added a showroom, a wood shop, a metal shop, and a storage and shipping area. Eventually I plan to add a hot glass area so my studio can roll its own glass from scratch. Today I employ three craftspeople to help me build my work. While we’ve had the opportunity to work on large-scale projects, we still take on small projects for homes all over the country.