Security, and lips, were tight
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Mary Matchael had to sign a confidentially agreement when Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan’s people hired her to design, create and install artistic windows, doors and other glasswork in his 56,000-square-foot mansion in Starwood in 1991. In other words, she couldn’t grant interviews with the press, or release other information, about her involvement in the project.
Matchael, co-owner with husband John of Crystal Glass Studio in Carbondale, was one of several local companies, and hundreds of local workers, who signed similar agreements and spent three years building Bandar’s main house at his 90-acre Hala Ranch just outside Aspen.
“We couldn’t talk about this before,” Mary said. “Now they (Bandar) are gone so we can now.”
Control of information was so regulated on the project, at one point after the Matchaels started installing their pieces, they were not allowed to photograph them.
Bandar, reportedly a billionaire, and part of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, was ambassador to the United States in 1991, so security was tight during and after the mansion was finished in the early 1990s. A recent article in the Aspen Daily News indicated, with perhaps a bit of journalistic hyperbole, that Bandar’s house had a security system to match the White House. The house was under “high security,” which was controlled by the CIA and Secret Service, real estate broker Joshua Saslove, told attendees at a recent Aspen Business Luncheon.
Saslove, who brokered the Bandar-house sale to a hedge-fund manager for $49 million in 2012, also said he recalled firearms rooms, an exterior area to test contaminated materials, and 150 different telephone lines into the main house.
Oh, yeah. There was also one closet in the main house that only contained bulletproof vests in different sizes, Saslove said.
Most of the construction was finished when Mary, her husband John, and Crystal Glass Studio employees started installing their work but security was still tight. Whenever they went from one room to another, they had to call the house’s security office to report they were leaving it. “And we’d have to call and say ‘I’m here’ once we got to another room,” John told The Sopris Sun in a recent interview.
Now that Bandar’s Hala has a new owner, the Matchaels figure they are released from his gag order and are free to talk about the most talked about construction project in Roaring Fork Valley history.
Crystal Glass Studio
Mary Matchael told The Sopris Sun she moved to Carbondale in October 1972. She met Eddie Haslem and Chuck Niles, who were working with glass upstairs in the Dinkel Building and started working with them. After Haslem and Niles moved away, she started Crystal Glass Studio in November 1972.
Mary later moved her Crystal Glass Studio downstairs in the Dinkel to Steve’s Guitars current location. Through the years, she gained a reputation and a following for her stained glass and etched glass pieces, chandeliers and other glass-based works of functional art. The Bandar break came when local architect Tim Hagman contacted her about possibly working on the house.
Mary was paid for her preliminary design proposal, which is a rarity in her profession. “We were absolutely thrilled” with not only the upfront money, but being awarded the final contract as well.
Mary was one of five glass artists who were invited to submit design examples for the project and she was awarded most of the work. Bandar’s people told her he wanted stained-and-leaded glass windows, etched panels and other work to reflect Colorado’s landscapes and wildlife.
John said the Bandar job started “big” and then got “bigger.” The Matchaels and Crystal Glass Studio employees ended up designing and installing windows, glass-art sky lights, fireplace doors, kitchen cabinet door glass, transoms and more. Their work was installed in bedrooms (including Bandar’s), bathrooms (his and her’s), living rooms, entertainment rooms, halls and other areas. “Our work was everywhere,” Mary said. “They really like art glass. It was a big part (of the house). Almost every room had a piece of our work.”
When Bandar put the house on the market for $135 million in 2006, published reports said it was the most expensive listed residential property in the U.S. At the time, the house had 15 bedrooms, 16 bathrooms and was bigger than the White House. A New York Times article described the interior as, “Dark, gleaming wood beams, all with notched construction and not a single nail head showing, pale plaster walls and television screens dominating the décor. John Matchael told The Sun, “As big as it (the house) was, it was very comfortable … .”
Throughout the Bandar job, Mary, John and their employees worked out of the historic Dinkel Building in the northern space on Fourth Street. When the final piece of glass art was set in place, and Bandar paid his final bill, the Matchaels started looking for a new location for Crystal Glass Studio – one that they would own themselves. They settled on 50 Weant Boulevard (just off Main Street and across from Sopris Park), a vacant lot that was once metal-worker Bill Marrow’s sculpture garden. The Matchaels first built a 3,800-square-foot gallery/studio/work space on the property, and later added an apartment upstairs and garage. About the original purchase, Mary said it was before real estate prices started to increase. “(This job) enabled us to get to this place.”
For the Bandar job, Mary submitted drawings to his top people to approve each piece before Crystal Glass Studio started working on it. “It took awhile,” Mary said. It turned out, upon completion of each piece, none were rejected for quality or aesthetic reasons.
Without going through all their Bandar invoices, which they still have, Mary and John don’t recall exactly how many pieces of glass art they placed in the house. Thumbing through their binder books of photos from the project, several pieces prompt comment:
• The skylight above Bandar’s wife’s bathtub features orchids.
• The biggest piece is a door (with a Bill Marrow metal frame) that measures 11’x7’ between the swimming pool room and sauna.
• In Bandar’s bathroom, Mary designed an etched shower enclosure that John and Shannon Muse created on site. The door incorporates Colorado floral and fauna. “There was a lot of etched glass,” Mary said. John added that in Bandar’s “grooming room,” with a barber chair and the barber that traveled with him, there were etched glass pieces and mirrors that depicted Colorado wildlife scenes.
• A window in the game room features the king and queen of hearts.
• One backlit piece in the hall that went to the bar included the elements of the “all things Colorado” instruction. “It was a fun one to do,” John said.
• In the “private” wing of the house, bullet proof glass on the exterior was installed in front of antique restoration glass. “We got it in France … (and elsewhere),” Mary said.
Mary and John praise Crystal Glass Studio craftswomen Ann Baker, Kathy Werning and Shannon Muse for their work and contributions on the Bandar project. “They were instrumental in the success of this project,” Mary said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
After the gold rush
The Bandar job set up John and Mary Matchael to continue operating Crystal Glass Studio as a work space for themselves, and a gallery in the front part of the building. In the years since, the space has become a reliable foundation for what later became the Carbondale Creative District.
It turns out, the Bandar job has a bit of a bitter-sweet taste for Mary and John Matchael. The job allowed them opportunity to buy their own building, and to hire other glass artists during those three years. What happened after the Bandar house was sold is another matter.
The new owner took out all of the Crystal Glass Studio pieces and included them in a “pennies on the dollar” auction before a subsequent remodel project. “I couldn’t stand to go (to the auction),” Mary said. She had signed each piece, however, and would like to know where they ended up. She can be reached at 963-3227 or email@example.com.