Building a World of Glass

Rocky Martina likes to humbly say he isn’t an artist. Walk through his Waterford home and you’ll want to argue that point.
 
The stained-glass craftsman lives on Crescent Lake in a house that comes complete with a barn-turned-garage, elevated gazebo and an outdoor bar that Martina insists doesn’t close at 2 a.m. His homestead is filled with historic relics whose appearances don’t give their stories justice.
 
For instance, the living room is made of the bricks and windows of the house Charles Lindbergh was born in near Wayne State University. The Lindbergh fireplace mantle, saved from demolition due to urban renewal projects, serves as its centerpiece. Many of the lights inside were rescued from the old Hudson’s store in downtown Detroit. The bricks in the driveway were salvaged from the intersection of Mack and Woodward Avenues when it was paved. The garage is home to a 1958 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Martina bought it for $250 in 1971 when he was senior at East Detroit High School. He demurred when asked how he got the money for the car.
 
“I was industrious,” Martina says with a sly grin, and then rattling off a number of odd jobs he held growing up.
 
Martina has been working to renovate the house into the eclectic mid-life bachelor pad for the last six years. If there is a way to combine summer cottage on a lake with an urban loft, Martina found it. The house also serves as a living resume to his life’s work in glass restoration at his company (A World of Glass) and the new technology that infuses glass with brick/stone to make it water repellant (RWay) he expects will revolutionize the masonry industry.
 
A World of Glass
 
If you have been to the Fox Theatre you have seen Martina’s work. More than likely you starred at it with your mouth agape. His company, A World of Glass, handled the glass restoration of the National Historic Landmark in 1988. The Waterford-based firm handled everything from the glass in the front doors to the sprawling light fixtures to the chandeliers.
 
“If it’s glass and in the Fox, we did it,” Martina says. And his crew of 20-some people did it within eight months. At the time he ate lunch on the elephant that overlooks the theater’s main seating area and stage.
 
Martina says he has been transfixed with glass for as long as he can remember. When Martina’s grandmother took him to St. Philomena’s Church on Detroit’s east side he would trace the outlines in the stained glass windows with his finger to pass the time.
 
“That’s how I spent my church hours,” Martina says. “I have been fascinated with glass since I was three or four.”
 
He got his professional start working at the State Street Glass Works in Ann Arbor, making stainglass pieces of roach clips and Playboy centerfolds. He started A World of Glass not long after that, making leaded glass and stained glass windows for custom projects, such as businesses and mansions. His company has also been involved in big-time local glass restorations, such as the Fox Theatre and the Detroit Opera House.
 
Today, A World of Glass employs three people. Some of them have been with Martina for 30 years. All of them are obsessed with glass and its artistic aspects.
 
“It’s almost like Zen,” Martina says. “You get into a piece and time almost stops.”
 
RWay
 
That doesn’t mean Martina limits glass’ utility to traditional uses, such as windows or chandeliers. He is a co-founder of a start-up that looks to combine glass with masonry products, like bricks and stone.
 
RWay makes chemical components for masonry supplies, such as bricks and stone. One of its products, RWS, prevents water from penetrating masonry with its proprietary modified silane/siloxane. This silane/siloxane penetrates most masonry and concrete pores and capillaries up to one quarter inch or more depending on surface porosity and moisture content at the time of application.
 
“It’s so clean, simple and easy,” Martina says. “It’s an incredible phenomenon. I am so proud to be a part of it.”
 
Applying it to a building is as simple as painting it one with a sprayer of a brush. The crystals are big enough to repel the water (normal masonry materials absorb water) but still small enough to allow water vapor to pass through. “The building is still breathing,” Martina says.
 
The 4-year-old start-up is based in Waterford and employs two full-time staffers and some independent contractors. Its products have been used on private residences and public institutions. Martina lists the Institute of Peace as a custome of RWay’s technology. He adds that the Smithosian plans to use on one of its buildings and Martina expects more Washington, D.C., landmarks to take notice.
 
“I can take that monument and clean it and make it last longer and easier to maintain,” Martina says. “It’s incredible.”
 
A craftsman bringing art to life
 
Martina keeps samples of RWay’s technology for demonstrations in his barn-turned-garage on the ground floor workbench. The upper floor has been turned into a musician’s man cave where he likes to host jam sessions for his funk-and-blues band.
 
He expanded the house but did so in a way where it has plenty of room to entertain but could comfortably accommodate one or two people. He has an extra room for guests, such as his two 20-something sons. Martina maximizes his room with enough space for his personal items and a late-19th Century fireplace mantle he restored to expose its rich wood detail.
 
Martina doesn’t hesitate to call items like this works of art, but he humbly demurs calling himself an artist because he considers himself the craftsman who restores the art other people created.
 
“Everything about this place is a work of art,” Martina says. “I am always working on it.”

All Photos by David Lewinski Photography