Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, February 1, 2014
Glassisimo is a high-end designer and manufacturer of furniture made from industrial-grade glass. Founded by brothers Hans and Hein Wulfert, the company is based in Guadalajara, Mexico, where the Wulferts, as teenagers, honed their skills working summers in their father's architectural glass factory.
Their knowledge of glass working, combined with degrees in industrial engineering and a shared passion for design, led to the launch of Glassisimo, a growing collection of accent furniture, accessories, dining room tables, mirrors and office furniture.
Following a successful High Point Market in October, the brothers signed a three-year lease with World Market Center. They will be making their Las Vegas Market debut this month on the fourth floor of Building C (C-466).
What can you tell me about working with this type of glass? Glass is a very complex material. There are a lot of companies doing things with fusion glass, and a lot of people that bend glass, but that is more handcrafted. We are different in that we use architectural, industrial-grade glass. There is a big difference between industrial glass and handcrafted glass. Tempered glass is so hard you could hit it with a bat and it wouldn't break. I can literally stand on top of our dining table and jump up and down.
Glass has so many positive properties - it's eco-friendly, 100% recyclable and, like stainless steel, it's hygenic. The transparency makes small spaces look bigger, and the applications for glass in accent furniture and home décor are very unique. In addition to clear, we offer nine different colors and three special edition colors: black, white, red, gray, turquoise, aqua, orange, dark brown, beige, antique, mirror and gold. We also combine glass with other materials like wood and upholstery, and we have a line that integrates stainless steel frames.
Where does your unique design perspective come from? Our father worked for German-based Siemens engineering, first in Germany and later in Mexico, eventually leaving to start his own business. He owns a factory that basically uses glass technology to build glass structures, facades and skyscraper windows. We worked summers in the factory and then would go to Europe to visit our grandparents - not just to Germany but also France, Spain, etc. Our mother loved history and art, so we went to a lot of museums and developed a passion for art and science.
Traveling is the best education. It opens your mind and your perspective as to what exists that is different from your way of life. By traveling we developed our design tastes, and by studying engineering, we developed the techniques we needed to produce.
What kind of work did you do at the glass factory? We learned the basics - like handling, polishing and all the limitations. We spent time making the simple things that, in the end, are very important in understanding how to make a good design.
You both studied industrial engineering? Yes, our university studies included two years in Germany. I'm (Hein) two years older, so I finished, came back to Mexico and started another course of study that landed us in the same class. We took an entrepreneurial course and said, "Hey let's develop interesting glass furniture." We wanted to do something more technical in design, and we could use the resources, technology and materials at our father's glass company. So, at the end of our college career, we began doing just that, starting with coffee tables.
Since we were studying together, we learned how to work as a team. We have different qualities, but we complement each other. We're industrial engineers, but our passion is design. That mix of passion and the technique enables us to bring our ideas to life; that's something that some artists and designers cannot do. It is important to understand production from a manufacturing perspective.
The day you said to your father, "Dad, we want to make glass furniture," what was his response? "You're crazy." One of our first pieces was a glass chair so I think that was hard to imagine. But he said, "OK, do what you have to do. Prove it to me." And he's been supportive ever since. About the time we graduated, we had developed eight pieces, so we made a "family and friends" presentation - invited them to a cocktail party to show what we'd done. We introduced the line at retail with a store that sold contemporary leather products, like sofas and beds, nationwide. At first, it was all consignment, but after a few months the business began to grow and we became one of their main suppliers. It was amazing how quickly we grew in Mexico, and we're still growing.
How long ago was that? About five or six years ago.
So that means you are...? Hans is 26 and I'm 28.
About how long does it take to make a piece of furniture - a dining table and cocktail table, for example? We are prepared to do high quantities, but there is a lot of craftsmanship in making sure all the details and finishes are perfectly done. It is also a complex process in bringing all the components together, and each expert making sure his part is ready. Some products involve two or three totally different technologies - glass-finishing, woodworker, welder, resin components, upholstery, to name a few. One product might stay in our production line from two to four weeks before everything is perfectly assembled and ready to ship.
What about shipping - it must be very heavy, and how do you protect against breakage? We developed packaging for each product individually, so each product has its own box design.
What are some of your business challenges? One thing is people think we're too young. We are young but we know what we are doing and are focused on what we want. And a lot of people, when they see the glass furniture, the first question is, "If I sit in it is it going to break?" We know how to handle glass, and we know it as a very strong material. We are bringing a new knowledge base to the production technique, and combining that with our design aesthetic. We know how to make glass stronger, so people can live with it in their environment.
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