Cyndi Levy

One Glassy Lady

Alongside the usual arrangements of manicured shrubs and trees, there's something distinctly unique about Cyndi Levy's property. The front yard is decorated with colorful, handblown 6-foot-tall glass spikes. Step around to the back where the whimsical theme continues with a giant chandelier that hangs from an archway.

Inside Cyndi's home, her glass works and other artifacts come at you in all colors, shapes, and sizes, including her glistening glass kitchen countertops and her four-foot by six-foot glass slab table. "You can make glass look like anything," said Cyndi, while gently brushing her hand over her cobalt blue counter. "It's anti-bacterial, you can chop on it, you can put anything up to 1,400 degrees on it. It's indestructible."

Yes, Cyndi knows about the art of glass and she's well connected into its community. As founder and owner of Hilton Head Design, she utilizes some of the most talented glass and metal artists in the United States. Local residents may be familiar with her company's fire-colored chandelier creations that hang at celebrity chef Robert Irvine's restaurant eat! at the Village at Wexford.

Levy studied at the Pilchuck Glass Studio in the Pacific Northwest, where renowned glass blower Dale Chihuly was a professor. Her light fixtures have been called "Chi-Levy" chandeliers, cleverly named by the president of Qualcomm, who has a piece hanging in his home in La Jolla, Calif.

 "I have about 60 different people I can call on who are famous in their own right and are happy to work for me," said Cyndi. "I tell them what I want and we sell it from Hilton Head Design. The beauty is that we're one-stop shopping. If you want a decanter, if you want flat glass, if you want a chandelier, we make it."

Shoppers come from all over the world, allowing her company's custom-designed artwork to be showcased everywhere from a private home in Dubai to the Guess retail store's flagship location on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA.

Cyndi started working with stained glass as a teenager in Syracuse, N.Y. "My bubbe (grandmother) gave me a soldering iron for Chanukah when I was in high school. She knew I wanted to do glass. She said 'OK, start,'" said Cyndi, whose late father, Theodore Levy, served as the rabbi at Temple Beth Yam on Hilton Head.

But for years, it was only a hobby. She'd tuck glass, tools, and a plywood board under her bed when she was off studying at various universities. And there's been no shortage of schools. Cyndi's achievements include earning two Ph.Ds and an honorary Ph.D. She also has two Master's degrees, one from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she studied international law, international business, and international security studies.

Early in her career, Cyndi worked as a Defense and Foreign Affairs legislative aide for Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and later for Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island. She also had the chance to work at the Pentagon as a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger during President Reagan's administration. But she found government work taxing, and once again, Cyndi listened to her maternal grandmother. "She called me one night and said, 'Get out of Washington!' She put down the phone and died," Cyndi recounted.

Although she promised her grandmother she'd go to law school, Cyndi realized early on it wasn't for her. Instead, in 1982 she moved to South Florida and focused on her artistic talent, where word of mouth allowed her to open a shop called Pain in the Glass."After a few years, I decided that was that," she said. "It was like digging ditches. In order to make stained glass, you're in a little closed room and you have on something like a diving suit. It was like working in a coal mine"

After returning to government work and doing doctoral studies, Cyndi was living in Budapest, Hungary, when she decided to move to Hilton Head to be near her terminally ill father. Today, she fills her days by cultivating contacts for her company and teaching strategic studies courses online for two colleges.

One of her current projects is to design carnival-glass dispensary bottles for Sea Pines Liquor Store's Gullah moonshine. Owner Jeff Gould, who is expanding his product worldwide, feels like he hit the jackpot with the local talent of Cyndi. "I wanted to come up with a unique bottle. I went on the Internet and saw her glass-blowing work," Jeff said. "It's beautiful, first-class, and it's perfect for the project. I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet."

Up Close
Hometown: Born in New York City, raised in Syracuse, N.Y.
Family: Mother Ina Rae Levy lives in Sarasota, Fla.
Favorite place traveled to: A toss-up between Budapest, Hungry and Taipei, Taiwan.
Advice to inspiring glass artists: If your passion is strong enough, you will succeed.