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After years of being based in downtown Chicago, Tiffany Stained Glass has returned to the western suburbs, setting up shop on Desplaines Avenue in Forest Park. The former site of Riggs Auto Shop has now been converted to the ultimate stained glass studio, and owners Pat and Bob Nugent couldn't be happier to be back where it all began.
The Nugents of Oak Park have been in business together for almost 40 years, and they've been a couple for even longer.
"We're fortunate that we've been able to survive these forty years and even prosper in this business," says Bob. "Pat and I met at OPRF High School. She was an illustrator for the Trapeze and went on to Rosary College [now Dominican University]. She studied to be a teacher, with a background in art and art history, and I studied architecture design. I think our unique calling is that Pat's focus is art and art history and mine was architecture, so we complement each other well."
The Nugents raised their four children in Oak Park while building a thriving business based in the city, but about a year ago, they decided to bring the studio back closer to home.
Building a business
Always an appreciator of old houses, Bob was looking for a way to incorporate his love of architecture with a trade when he and Pat began the business.
"I gained most of my experience on the job," he recalls. "I was exposed to a lot of Tiffany glass and in the 1970s, people began bringing us more and more. As the challenges got bigger, we'd do research and go to the library to learn more."
Pat remembers that even in the early days of their marriage, the business truly was a family affair. "Because we married young, we'd go to the Oak Park library with our daughter Katie in a backpack to do research on designs. We worked weekends in our dining room, and then it took over the basement. We started out very small. Eventually, we moved to our main store on Ohio Street, and that opened up a new world."
The Nugents restore and repair older stained glass, as well as producing original works. From one day to the next, their varied projects might include restoring a Tiffany or Frank Lloyd Wright original, replicating existing stained glass in a historical home or creating new works for businesses and new construction.
With her art background, Pat approaches each project based on its context. "What we like to do is look at the architecture of the home. We want to create art glass that not only complements the home but looks like it was always there."
Bob notes that many of their techniques are in danger of becoming lost arts. Unlike other glass companies, the Nugents make their own shop metals.
"We do the metal work right down to the finish in-house," explains Bob. Pat notes that they also hand-select each pieces of glass in a work.
While the Nugents have the latest in computer technology to aid them in creating their works, they also do a lot of hand-drawing.
"We draw on the computer," says Pat, "but still use hand-drawing a lot too. We do so much here like they did in the 1880s."
Pat believes it is their ability to embrace the future while still honoring the past that differentiates them. "We can do the newer techniques like fusing and bending when it's appropriate. We're very progressive in what we do. We can do traditional and the new techniques, depending on what the project requires."
Over their years in the business, the Nugents have had the opportunity to work on some impressive projects. They worked on the Richard Driehaus private residence, which Bob considers a real honor. "He has a huge collection of Tiffany work," he notes. "He is a real connoisseur."
Local institutions have also called upon the Nugents for significant projects. They've worked on the windows and lighting in St. Luke Church, Dominican University and St. Ignatius High School, as well as Ravinia's Murray Theater and the Shedd Aquarium.
Pat says reproducing glass works for OPRF High School was one of her favorite projects.
"We repaired the lanterns in the front of the student center, and then they came to us with a small photo from the Trapeze of the Hemingway room and asked us to reproduce windows from that picture. We ended up doing that work and donating a front door that is used as entrance to that room."
Their work has also traveled far and wide. They were commissioned to create a gift for Pope John Paul II, and Charlie O. Finley of the Oakland A's hired them to create a massive work on the side of his converted barn in La Porte, Ind.
While sought after for their large-scale designs, their smaller items are their calling card.
"A lot of the lamps that we have are Tiffany reproductions that people think are actual Tiffany's," Bob says. Pat chimes in, "We have our own signature. It's quite a compliment when even collectors mistake it for original Tiffany until they see our signature."
Though the big pieces may garner attention, the Nugents run a full-service shop, repairing damaged lighting and bringing old pieces up to code. Bob is currently working to repair a glass lamp shade.
"It's not an incredibly valuable piece monetarily," he says, "but the customer gave it to his wife for their wedding. One of the kids knocked it over and broke it. Because of the sentimental value, it was important to them to make it like new."
Pat says of their customers, "Everyone is equally important. No matter who comes in, they deserve the best, and we like to make sure they get it."