"Focusing mostly on large commissions, especially turnkey projects for major chain hotels, the company begins the process by creating scaled and life-size mock-ups of the agreed design to get a sense of what the final product will look and feel like."
But that unlovely exterior gives no clue to the magnificent workmanship going on inside. For under its aged beams a team of master craftsmen produce an array of glass artworks and sculptures of such breathtaking beauty and creativity, they are in demand across the globe.
Their spectacular handiwork adorns scores of famous five-star hotels, major buildings, golf clubs, restaurants and corporate offices in no less than 18 countries. Exquisitely fashioned, they come in many different designs, from huge glass archways, elaborate counter fronts and glass columns to multi-hued wall murals, massive glass table pedestals and the company’s so-called ‘curvsture’ signature sculptures infused with gorgeous colours.
The creative genius behind this amazing enterprise is Stephen Gormley, a 70-year-old New Yorker who founded his company ‘Gormley Glass’ in Pattaya almost 40 years ago and whose passion for this work remains undimmed.
Stephen arrived here with lots of experience having produced custom glasswork in the US and later in Taiwan, realized that this type of business did not exist in Thailand, liked the vibe of Pattaya and set up a workshop in the then quiet district of Wong Amat.
It wasn’t long before Gormley Glass began winning contracts here and overseas, and earning the company a glowing reputation for the quality and artistry of its work.
"Stephen arrived here 40 years ago, realized that this type of business did not exist in Thailand, liked the vibe of Pattaya and set up a workshop in the then quiet district of Wong Amat"
Focusing mostly on large commissions, especially turnkey projects for major chain hotels, the company begins the process by creating scaled and life-size mock-ups of the agreed design to get a sense of what the final product will look and feel like.
The next step involves sheets of high quality glass imported from Germany, US, China and Czechoslovakia which are bonded together using latest technology epoxies in order to achieve the mass and thickness of glass required for most designs.
During that process, a range of decorative effects can be incorporated between the layers of glass. These produce the stunning colors seen in many of Gormley Glass artworks.
"Blocks weighing as much as 300 kg are then shaped and carefully polished into the finished products, most taking months to complete."
“Some of our latest glass sculptures we produce by carving, shaping, and bright polishing out of solid cast 225kg blocks of high quality crystal glass,” notes Stephen. “These exquisite crystal blocks are 30 x 30 x 100 cm in size.”
Large scale projects such as the Shanghai Gate in the lobby of the J Hotel in Shanghai were built in sections and then shipped to China. Their on-site installation was overseen by Stephen and his team, including his sons John and Christopher.
Business has grown to the point where that little building in Wong Amat where it started all those decades ago is no longer fit for purpose, and in July this year Gormley Glass will relocate to new and bigger premises in Khao Mai Keow district, about 15 minutes from Pattaya.
The timing is perfect as the company has just started a major custom glassworks for the New Peninsula Hotel London, working with Hong Kong Shanghai Hotels, owners of the Peninsula, and Peter Marino Architects from New York. The job calls for eight sets of six-meter high main ballroom doors in glass composite panels of mirror polished steel and bonded polished crystal glass bars.
Gormley Glass is also working on the renovation of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, producing various custom art glass in the public areas.
Apart from a sizable factory, the company’s new facility includes a showroom, offices and residences for Stephen’s own family as well his workers, many of whom have been with the company for more than 25 years.
New Yorker with California on his mind who ended up in Pattaya: the life of glassmaker Stephen Gormley
His company, Gormley Glass, is an international success story. But he’s worked hard at it, chasing business wherever he’s travelled. Here’s Stephen’s story:
From a settled middle class family, with four siblings, I was always industrious, designing and building all sorts of things, from storage racks and dining room extensions for my father’s restaurant to restoring cars, to fitting out several motor homes.
I was very into sports and surfing, and in the summer of 1969 put some surfboards on the roof of my 1966 GMC Van, and with a surfing buddy, headed for Southern California for a wild summer of fun, surfing and camping, from Ensenada, Mexico to Santa Cruz, California. While the Woodstock festival was happening in New York State, the party was on in Southern California, the ‘Summer of Love’.
After returning to Bay Shore High school in 1970 to graduate, I moved to Monterrey Peninsula College in Carmel, California to study art.
During this time, I found a unique residence on the Big Sur coast in Garrapata canyon, about 30 minutes’ drive to school. This was a fairytale place, with a river winding through giant redwoods, and a community of alternative living folks, mostly craftsman. This greatly influenced me to become a craftsman, and to be self-employed.
This is when I first started dabbling with stained glass.
The majestic natural beauty of Garrapata canyon greatly affected me, and I hiked deep into the redwood forests, along the rivers and mountain ridges. I developed a very deep appreciation of nature, which would drive my design instincts for the rest of the artistic career.
In 1972 I set up ‘River Glass Studio’ in Londonderry, Vermont, a small town in a bucolic setting, and became serious about making stained glass windows. Working 16-hour days, I was full of passion for design and colored glass.
About this time I found a beautiful and remote residence in an old cottage complex on a 100 acre property, with a 30 acre lake, where I became the caretaker. The New York City owner became a second father, and he was happy to have me look after the place.
The winter snow, usually from end November, reduced access to the house to only cross country skiing, or walking. This was such a unique adventure, and an eight-year highlight of my life.
Usually finishing work in my stained glass studio at midnight, I would drive my van to the end of the county road, put on the skis and head off into the winter night. The snow created enough brightness, and the trails were so familiar that no headlight was needed.
Mornings were spent in isolation from the world, doing glass designs on the big drawing table while looking out over the snow covered mountains, the lake, and down the valley. I was in my 20s and this was heaven.
Finally the 40 below zero winters got me thinking about palm trees and tropical oceans, and in 1980 I moved to Hawaii and set up a new glass workshop on the Hilo Side of the Big Island. Interestingly, this was in Lailani, between Pahoa and Kalapana, which has now been totally wiped off the map by lava flows.
Through interior designers in Honolulu, I was commissioned to do extensive glass works for the American Hawaii Cruise lines, and the passenger cruise ships USS Constitution and USS Independence which were being refitted in Taiwan.
The commissions included several large stained glass ceilings and walls in the main dining rooms of both ships. I chose to return to my workshops in Vermont to execute the large works, with better access to materials and friends as helpers.
At the end of 1980, after glass installations in the shipyards of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I travelled to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore, knocking on doors and introducing myself to the busiest international designers in the region. It turned out that no one was making glass artwork in any of these places, even though designers and architects had numerous projects needing it.
I decided that Thailand was the friendliest place of all, and I settled outside of Pattaya in April 1981.
Forty one years in Thailand have been an extremely robust and productive time.
I have four children, three boys aged 36, 29, 22, and one girl 13. All the boys are working with me, providing great help and the satisfying feeling of a generational family operation. My 13-year-old daughter, Maya, seems to have the most artistic talent. She’s a natural illustrator, which is wonderful to see.
We are currently building our new factory, showroom, and residences in an 11 rai compound located in Khao Mai Keow district, next to Rugby International School, and expect to relocate there by July this year.