It started with a turtle.
Or at least the idea of a turtle.
"My partner wanted a pet turtle. He likes turtles," said Derek Smiertka, 40, of Ferndale. "I did not."
Nevertheless, in the interest of household harmony, the two set out to locate a nice enough looking aquarium/terrarium that they could keep it in the living room. Dismayed by the standard pet store fare, they built their own large terrarium, using recycled glass and wood, which they then featured on Facebook and Instagram.
The orders poured in.
And suddenly, Smiertka, who worked in governmental affairs, and Chad Ackley, 31, who worked in finance, were in the terrarium-making business. Leadhead Glass, created in August 2013, has been so successful they don't have time for a turtle, so a plastic one sits in the debut terrarium instead, lonesome and unnamed.
The pair, who have left their white-collar jobs to run Leadhead Glass from their Ferndale home, use "reclaimed raw materials" from abandoned and deconstructed homes in Detroit, working with demolition companies, salvage companies and groups like ReClaim Detroit to scoop up quirky old glass and weathered wood from city homes sometimes more than 100 years old.
The wavy, sometimes bubbled glass from the old houses gives each terrarium unique character. "I like to think about the glass," said Smiertka, who had worked with glass as a hobby before starting the company. "I like the idea that maybe somebody looked through that glass and saw their children at play."
And it keeps the glass and old wood out of landfills.
So far, the pair has sold more than a thousand terrariums nationwide and are filling orders for stores in places like Colorado, California and Virginia. They are classically designed and put together much like stained glass, with metal and lead seams. They cost $40 to $250.
Smiertka said the lure lies in the terrariums' Detroit origins.
In traveling the country, he found that Detroit has a special cachet that appeals to people who want to own a small piece of a large storied city.
"Detroit is very cool. It always has been. We've got grit, We've been down, but we rise up, and we've got a very creative group of people here," he said.
The business has grown so fast that the pair are now shopping for a studio where they can work. And they are hoping to attend a trade show in New York early next year that will help them expand globally.
"Are we driving fancy sports cars yet? No. But we're paying the bills and doing something we love," he said.
For more information on Leadhead Glass, visit the company website atLeadheadglass.com.
Contact L.L. Brasier: 248-858-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org