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Cardiff Character: David Thomas

Stained glass craftsman explains the craft and art behind making stained glass windows and the challenges of running a business

David at his workshop and one of his latest stained glass panels he created for a private client

David Thomas, 61, is a Cardiff-based stained glass designer and director of Ashdown Sales Ltd and has designed stained glass panels for over 40 years.

Twenty five years ago David, his wife and his business partner bought the company which was founded back in 1889.

“I started off as an apprentice lift engineer. And then I came here as a glass cutter when I was 18,” he said.

Work starts early in the morning for David

David explained that he had mostly enjoyed working with stained glass windows which was his main work at the company now.

He is mainly involved in restoration projects for churches and historical buildings but also designs personalised stained glass windows for individual clients.

“People on demand do not realise how long it takes to make a stained glass panel or to refurbish one,” said David, ”but I can only make so much in a day.”

“People do not realise how long it takes to make a stained glass panel”

His company installs and restores not only stained glass windows but also glass balustrades, shower screens, double height windows, glass splashbacks and glazed doors.

David said that clients were often coming with their own design because they wanted to make a specific feature of a window.

“From a little window they decide to have a big window and instead of spending £500 they spend £2000,” he said.

He said that most of their work was word of mouth and they were often recommended by other window manufacturing companies.

What inspires his craft
David said that he often looked up to other designers, artists and craftsmen for inspiration. He follows the work of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Scottish architect and water colourist Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

His aim with all his work is to preserve the history of the building, captivated in glass, especially when it is a church, college or another heritage building.

Whether the window is restored or replaced with a new one, he needs to make sure that the original beauty of the panel remains intact.

As an expert in his field, David also needs to ensure that the glass is fitted precisely into the frame.

After a few years, he hopes to pass the business on his son who is currently working with him at the company.

“My son is learning everything in the trade so he is learning the glazing, the stained glass and how to work with customers,” said David.

Challenges of the business
Like every business owner, one of the major challenges for David comes down to payments from clients.

He’s had many clients who changed their minds about a window’s design at the very last minute, with one client who changed the design of a stained glass panel seven times!

“Now one of the challenges of running a business is when you have to work on site,” said David. “Health and safety cause a lot of problems.”

Running a business like this requires to be able to create bespoke window designs and shapes, understand clients’ requirements and work with customers on a daily basis.

 

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