GLASS DESIGNER: JO DOWNS
PUBLISHED: 16:46 16 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:57 30 August 2017
Fused glass designer Jo Downs is one of the must-buys for visitors to Cornwall and locals alike
When I meet fused glass designer she is at first unable to shake my hand. We are separated by a sea of cut glass fish laid in a huge and carefully arranged swirl across several square meters of floor. Beneath them is a vast sketch on paper to which the pieces carefully correspond
She grins and tiptoes expertly through her work to shake my hand before shaking her own hand in the air and sucking a finger with a wry smile. She has cut herself – one of many small nicks sustained over the twenty or so years she has spent as one of the world’s foremost fused glass designers.
The hum and heat of her workshop surrounds us, an airy high ceilinged space which holds racks of glittering multi-coloured glass, work tables, machines which cut, wash and polish and four enormous flatbed kilns, each of which could easily sleep eight grown men.
In her office - a space where, in theory at least, she can work quietly on designs – she shows me her sketchbooks for the shoaling fish work. Commissioned by a private client for his elegant home on the outskirts of Padstow, this custom designed, handmade fused glass artwork spans a full three metres, with each fish individually wall mounted to form a single, stunning installation. It’s quite a master piece, and ambitious, but it’s that can do’ attitude to commissioned works that has put Jo at the forefront of interior and architectural glass design.
'She has gone on to produce custom designed ranges for the National Trust, John Lewis stores, the Eden Project and most recently she designed the new Scallop Range exclusively for Rick Steins'
She has long been known for her gorgeous range of fused glass giftware which retails through Jo Downs Handmade Glass galleries in Fowey, Launceston, Padstow and St Ives, and an impressive list of custom-made ranges for other big national brands. The fused glass arc she designed for luxury spa and cosmetics brand Molton Brown became an extraordinarily successful product which made her name across Europe. Since then she has gone on to produce custom designed ranges for the National Trust, John Lewis stores, the Eden Project and most recently she designed the new Scallop Range exclusively for Rick Stein.
With the support of a small, dedicated team of local craftspeople who help make, package and distribute her well known hangings, coasters, bowls, mirrors and panels, sales of her popular gift and interior pieces have seen the business grow in size and strength. This year Jo and her team moved to larger premises in Launceston, due in part to the popularity of the onsite workshop gallery she opened in 2011, which was so successful that more space was quickly needed to meet demand.
“That’s how I started,” she tells me. “All those years ago when I was straight out of college. Just me, the client, and my work. It’s a totally fulfilling experience for me, to see a project through from my very first drawing to the final installation. And I get to meet so many lovely people!”
And she has certainly seen through some impressive projects. Two astonishing eleven metre glass ceilings on the cruise ships Arcadia and Ventura have been admired by many thousands of people since their installation in 2005; an amazing contemporary backlit glass desk continues to welcome visitors to offices at Westminster Tower in London; the private Devon home of world famous soul and jazz singer Joss Stone boasts several bespoke Jo Downs windows and door panels, as does the luxury Flying Boat Club restaurant, spa rooms and swimming pool on the Isles of Scilly, to name but a few.
Jo’s is a truly specialist field, and her wealth of design experience combined with her investment in some of the largest industrial kilns available means that she can create, well, in her own words: “Just about anything I’d say. There’s not a private commission, no matter how challenging, that I’ve had to say no to. People come to me with some really big ideas – swimming pool floors, room size partitions, three storey windows – and between us we find the balance between what they want and what’s possible in fused glass. And then I make it!” she grins, with her really disarming, lovely smile. “Actually I was defeated once,” she concedes. “I was asked to make an elaborate, fused glass bathtub for a really charming Parisian gentleman. He wanted it made from a single, moulded sheet of glitter encrusted fused glass. It was a wonderful idea. But I had to say no.” This time she laughs, and I laugh too because I can tell from her expression that, in reality, she almost said yes.
Jo Downs interior pieces and giftware are available at her galleries in Fowey, Launceston, Padstow and St Ives and direct from her website.