Chances are, you have seen your reflection in a Justin Walling creation around town—in the leaded antique glass columns at Carolina’s restaurant, perhaps, or in The Sylvan Gallery’s beveled transom. But as Charleston Architectural Glass Studio’s owner and craftsman, Walling also makes custom products for an impressive list of international clients, including Restoration Hardware and Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, and Westin hotels. He took a break in his James Island studio to talk about his delicate form of artistry.
On design: We occupy a tiny niche that fills a rather large need in the design world. I appreciate antiquity but have never obsessed over what has been done already. I like to draw from the old and mix it with new ideas and techniques.
Creative possibilities: My company makes decorative glass surfaces through hand-silvering processes that involve applying liquid silver in various ways. Years of perfecting our techniques and “ingredients” have allowed us to make products—from colored mirrors to funky tiles—that aren’t found anywhere else. Our clients often design their projects with our glass in mind.
Minding his business: I play the roles of artist, designer, secretary, salesman, forklift operator, truck driver, shipping manager, and vice president of human resources—just like everyone who runs a business that is expanding faster than their experience has prepared them for.
Only in Charleston: After graduating from College of Charleston, I apprenticed with a local stained glass company. I found the ad in the Post and Courier, and since I didn’t have a typewriter, I wrote my resume in purple calligraphy. I guess they needed an artistic guy to sweep the floors! I learned the trade and later started my own studio. Not many cities would have given that opportunity.
A family affair: My wife, Kelly, is a financial savant who has saved this company more than once. We have three children, so I am used to making phone calls with kids singing in the background.
Sweetest things in life: We are raising our kids as sailors. We want them to explore different cultures and learn self-sufficiency like we have. Fortunately, technology allows us to do the administrative, design, and client contact work even while we’re at sea or at anchor.