What does it take to realize a big vision? When the vision includes restoring historic homes to serve as addiction treatment centers? For Sanford House founders, Rae and David Green, it takes a small army of craftsmen and artists (and a bit of patience). Following the success of their Cherry Street location for women, the couple are building a facility for men in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 125-year-old mansion tucked away on John Street, will become a temporary residence to twenty men. And group therapy sessions for intensive outpatient clients are slated for the spacious parlors.
Craftsmen and Artist Series
The old-school artisans working on John Street are noteworthy. The Heritage Hill section of Grand Rapids is one of the largest historic districts in the country. And there are only a select few men and women who have expertise in the renovation and restoration of the architectural gems on “The Hill”. There are painters who can match 100-year-old hues. And woodworkers who are experts at replacing intricate millwork and restoring floors to their original luster. Brave roofers work 80 feet in the air. And window experts are rebuilding the home’s 88 windows. Regional artists are customizing local landscapes to adorn the walls.
We will be featuring some of the craftsmen and artists working on the project in the next few weeks. One of our favorites is Matt Kolenda of Kolenda Art Glass. Matt and his team have removed all the Tiffany era leaded glass windows from the house, and are restoring them at their Grand Rapids studio.
Kolenda Art Glass
Matt says, “Every corner of design in regard to a stained glass window, is intended to preserve this remarkable material. Fragile as it may seem, glass is able to support a heavier vertical load than steel. Glass made in the Tiffany era contained alloys and minerals that gave the glass a beautiful ‘fire’ that cannot be duplicated by any modern glass manufacturer.”
The Kolenda team are “museum grade” restorers. And their shop is a daunting place to walk. Priceless blown glass is propped against every wall. And many of the Sanford House window mosaics are lain on the counters like precious, glass jigsaw puzzles. Matt says, “The methods of assembly and care to detail observed in the lead work should be considered just as priceless as the glass it surrounds.”
Works of Art
Changes in the manufacturing process over the years have made it difficult to find perfect matches when repairing historic stained-glass windows. So, it is important to retain as much of the original glass as possible when working with these “works of art”. Sometimes the lead gets “brittle” or damaged, causing the window to bow. Kolenda weighs down the windows, flat on a counter, with wet towels and heavy boards for days to straighten them.
It’s like an operating room in the Kolenda studio. There is dust free disassembly – underwater – and bottles of horse shampoo… Everything is designed with an eye to conservation and preservation. And safety – working with all that lead requires careful cleaning and blood level testing.
Matt says, “A complete re-leading of historic stained-glass windows should be an absolute last resort, not common practice. We rebuild with a matched profile, keeping the clues of the original. And the glass – once thought to be the work of the devil, glass is the treasure locked within the complex system of a leaded window. I love what I do. And I can’t wait to see our work in the finished product on John Street.”
We can’t wait either…
Sanford House at John Street for Men