An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

Scott Benefield and Andrea Spencer opened BTU in Randalstown, Northern Ireland in 2011 as the first new independent hot glass studio to open in Ireland since the 1970s. The style of their products derives from the Italian glassblowing traditions, but they update those traditional techniques by “imposing contemporary forms and innovative functions” onto their products. Their work is a marriage of both craft tradition and contemporary functionality.

Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

Producing their glassware involves early starts in the workshop especially in warmer weather. “The heat of the working furnace piles up in the studio and we can be working in shirtsleeves even in the middle of winter,” explains BTU co-founder Scott Benefield, a past president of the Glass Art Society in the United States and and an award-winning specialist in glass who has studied and taught in the US, Ireland, Sweden and Italy.

Benefield's partner Andrea Spencer is an accomplished artist in glass who has been commissioned to produced many large scale public artworks in glass across Northern Ireland and also produces stunning autonomous artworks which draw on nature and explore the fragility, fluidity and transparency of glass. 

Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

“The molten glass is drawn from the furnace at 1,150°C but, by the time we finish making the object, the glass has solidified at about 500°C," continues Scott. "It goes into a cooling oven after that, where it can take 12 to 14 hours to slowly cool down to room temperature. We then get up at 7am the following day to unload the oven and the process begins again.”

The molten glass is drawn from the furnace at 1,150°C.

Scott says that the pair take much inspiration for their designs from historical and contemporary ceramics rather than glassware. “Ceramic as a material shares a lot of characteristics with glass and is much more prevalent as a source of inspiration,” he says. “Of course, there's a lot of good work being done internationally with artisanal glass and we keep up with trends there too.”

Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

Having worked in the US for 20 years, Scott says that returning to Ireland to establish BTU Studio meant a steep learning curve in terms of the products that succeed in the Irish and British markets.

“What worked in the US didn't necessarily translate directly here. There were unfamiliar cultural traditions that applied to objects in the home, different perceived values of giftwares, different historical associations with certain materials,” he says. “There are lots of subtle but important differences between these regions that are easy to miss because we all share a common language.” 


Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

For example, one of the company’s most popular products now is a small glass jug which did not have the same response from consumers in the United States but which in Ireland is appreciated as a table-top object that also doubles as a small vase. 

This piece has also inspired other pouring vessels in the makers’ repertoire including their pouring bowls, cylinders and cruets, of which the olive oil cruet is Scott’s favourite. The cruet is a functional, yet decorative, piece which appears simple but is not quite so simple to make, necessitating much precision during production.

Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

The process of glassblowing and the relationship between glassblower and material is a fascinating one as Scott describes it: “Glassblowing is a very dynamic process that takes place in continuous, real time. In order to shape the glass, you constantly have to reintroduce it to the heat (like forging iron) but it's also constantly being affected by gravity and centrifugal force (like pottery).”

Glassblowing is a very dynamic process that takes place in continuous, real time.

“You can’t put it down and have a think about it — it is in constant motion from the time you make the first gather of glass to the time you put it away in the oven. As such, it demands all of your attention and you can easily enter into a very nice flowing state of mind while you're working at it. It's tiring, both physically and mentally, but in a good way.”

Photo of An interview with Scott Benefield of BTU Studio

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