Under the Glass
West Coast cool
Creativity and youth abound at Optimum Glass Studios.
June 13, 2013 By Patrick Flannery
I don’t even know what a regular glass shop looks like,” admits Scotty
Cooke. Cooke has some important role at Optimum Glass Studios, but it is
hard to tell what it is because no one at Optimum has familiar titles.
I don’t even know what a regular glass shop looks like,” admits Scotty Cooke. Cooke has some important role at Optimum Glass Studios, but it is hard to tell what it is because no one at Optimum has familiar titles. Curtis Cleveland is “lead strategist.” Cooke calls himself “executive decision-maker.” The only thing for sure is that Kevin Wilson owns the business and that it seems to be doing just fine without a traditional hierarchical apparatus or rigidly defined job roles. Perhaps this is not surprising at a former art-glass company in Vancouver where everyone except the owner is under 30. What may be more surprising is the success Optimum has found in the high-end residential architectural glass business, even with its laid-back approach.
|Optimum’s designs stress a minimalist, clean concept that stays right out of the way of the architecture and the view. Wilson and company bring a strong esthetic sense to the job, coming as its people do from an art glass background.
Laid back should not be read, however, as sloppy. “We are very meticulous,” Cooke explains. “We will never leave a job half-assed. If it is not good enough for ourselves – and we consider our standards to be pretty high – then we are not satisfied. We try to approach every job with a level of excellence that has to be consistent.”
|Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Shop: 3,000 square feet
Owner: Kevin Wilson
Optimum Glass Studios provides custom architectural glass designs for luxury residential housing in the Vancouver area. Interior and exterior balustrades, staircases and showers are its specialty, along with specialty glazing.
Wilson started Optimum in 1996 at the age of 21. His first line of work was glass trophies and other art glass pieces. As he became known for his expertise with glass, opportunities arose to supply glass shower enclosures. As their popularity rose, Wilson focused more and more on architectural glass, adding railings and guardrails to his repertoire. In the early days, Wilson worked often with Greg Carter, but when Carter left to work as a designer at Ethan Allen, Wilson found more opportunity on the architectural side.
As Optimum moved into architectural glass, trends were once again on its side. Architects and builders of high-end residences were becoming more and more interested in a style of clean, minimalist use of glass that Cooke identifies as a West Coast style. Frameless glass panels with unobtrusive stainless steel hardware to give interior spaces an open feel and exterior spaces an unobstructed view of the glorious Vancouver landscape – it was a design concept Optimum was only too willing to embrace. “There are not too many places in the world with the views that we have of the ocean, the mountains and the cityscape,” Cooke explains. “Land prices are really high, but people pay for views. The number one thing is, they do not want to lose their view when they build their houses. So that is where glass fits in perfectly.” To meet this requirement, Optimum keeps its panels as large as possible and the hardware and structural work to a minimum. Wilson’s team strives for a symmetrical look that follows the lines of the building without adding elements.
|Scotty Cooke bounced around in a few different trades before finding his stride in glazing. He has helped Wilson grow the company from four to 14 employees.
|Optimum gets most of its work in Vancouver’s red-hot luxury home market. Their well-to-do clients have spent big money for great views and do not want anything getting in the way.
Cooke landed in Vancouver five years ago with a checkerboard background of business school, training as a plumber and experience working in and managing a railing fabricator. He met Wilson when he got a job plumbing his bathroom. Wilson must have seen something in Cooke that set him apart from the average plumber, because it was not long after that when he hired him to manage Optimum’s four employees. The move was apparently a good one, because the company has grown since then to 14 employees and four times the business it was doing when Cooke took over. Cooke says the creativity he gets to use at Optimum is a major reason why he stayed. “I actually went into business for commerce and I took two years and then I was bored,” he says. “I said, ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to be in a bank.’”
Keeping a loose, creative feel is an intentional approach at Optimum. “We work really hard at not being cookie-cutter,” Cooke says. He wants each employee to bring his strengths and unique perspectives to the table without boundaries or rigid rules getting in the way. “We do have this youthfulness and one of the things I value about the company is that we have a personality,” he adds. “People enjoy working with the team here and at the end of the day you have to do something that sets you apart. We do not use glass that is different from what any other company would use and our hardware is the same aside from the occasional custom piece. It is a lot the personality that they guys bring that has added an edge to our success.” Cooke readily admits that Optimum is relatively new to the architectural glass business, but says it has not held it back so far. “We don’t have anyone on the staff that has 35 years of glazing experience,” he says, “but that has not really been a limit to what we are able to do.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company where all the employees are under 30, computers are popular to assist with design. Cooke says he quickly tired of the standard practice of measuring up spaces and building templates when he got into the industry and found instead he could do the work just as well with careful measurement and math, assisted by CAD software.
Future directions for Optimum will include expanding its capabilities to be able to produce more and more of the hardware, spandrels and frames for its projects. The company has hired a full-time welder, Wade Halbert, who Cooke says is a master at figuring out creative solutions to difficult glass-holding problems.
With its slick website, youthful staff and loose, creative approach, Optimum is sure to be a favourite of the wealthy and trendy in Vancouver for years to come.
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