Glass is timeless, lustrous and effortlessly beautiful. As a versatile and sustainable material there is a plethora of uses for glass in and around the home.
Glass is something we often take for granted. It’s moulded into the vessels we drink from, it’s on the face of our phones, TV screens, in light fittings and, of course, in windows and doors.
Technology has given rise to a new age in innovative glass products — glass is tougher and more resourceful and, as a result, also finding its way into even more practical and decorative uses in the home.
It’s believed that glass was first created more than 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Early glass production was often crafted with colour pigments in blue and turquoise as manufacturers tried to emulate semi-precious stones. Glass amulets and beads were sold and traded, and weapons were also crafted using glass.
Fast forward to the 21st century and glass has emerged as one of the most multipurpose and sought-after building products used both commercially and in residential builds across the globe. It’s energy-efficient and offers safety and security when you don’t want to impede a view. It can also be moulded and crafted into virtually any shape.
Within our homes, glass isn’t restricted to just windows and doors; it can be used as room dividers, in skylights, stair balustrades (and even staircases), shower screens and basins. There are glass bricks, glass walls designed to write on, glass light fittings to dazzle, and glass tiles to add a frisson of luxury to interiors. Glass bricks (or blocks as they’re also known) can create beautiful design elements or structural pieces, such as dividers or walls (including external walls, particularly sections thereof). Capable of providing both acoustic and thermal insulation, glass bricks can be perfect for letting light in without compromising on privacy. Standard, colourless glass blocks offer about 80 per cent light transmission, while lower levels can be obtained using coloured or frosted (etched) ones. Curved, round-edged bricks also offer plenty of flexibility in design.
Finish-wise, glass is by no means one-option-only, with choices including clear, etched, frosted, textured or mirrored. Fluted or ribbed glass are modern alternatives, too — glass panels with a series of symmetrical grooves can be great for providing privacy at the same time as daylight. Glass doors and windows invite in warm light and connect the interior to the exterior of the home. Designer Megan Burns from CM Studio says that generously sized glass doors and windows in particular allow the eye to travel beyond the home’s interior. “The borrowed space makes the interior of the home feel more spacious, and it also connects you visually to beyond the walls of the home,” she says.
Glass openings inside are usually designed to highlight external views, such as a garden in bloom, a picturesque country vista or an appealing streetscape. But, as Megan reminds us, the exterior isn’t the only place it can be used. “Sometimes glass can be used to create visual symmetry and invite light into the centre of a home,” she says. “For example, glazing in a central courtyard, with living spaces either side.” Megan adds that glass offers a host of possibilities and design flexibility. “As well as framing a view, glass can open up a space, or it can shut it down and narrow the viewer’s focus.”
According to Megan, using glass offers designers the opportunity to create something uniquely beautiful. “At times, using glass allows a play on spaces. For example, in a corner of a room you might have a fixed panel of glass that opens out to capture a view.”
In glass doors and larger panels, modern construction methods mean glass has a far wider range of applications — frameless glass panels can be constructed in virtually any size (although generally speaking, the larger the expanse, the higher the cost). For windows there’s a plethora of shapes and endless possibilities — arched, triangular, bay, bow, pentagonal, octagonal or corner windows.
According to architect Shaun Lockyer, one type of window that can have the biggest impact is a clerestory window. Shaun grew up in South Africa, where his father was a glassmaker and owned the largest glass-making facility in the southern hemisphere. Needless to say, this award winning architect who now resides in Brisbane knows a thing or two about glass and its many clever uses in a home.
Shaun says clerestory glass panels — which are positioned high, usually just below the ceiling — allow light to penetrate deeper into a space. “It creates a texture and poetry of light, bringing shafts of light into the house that wouldn’t have come through a window,” he says.
The addition of a skylight (windows in the ceiling/roof) in a home offers a host of attractive benefits, including creating soft, muted ambient lighting, and extending the space so the room feels much larger. There are also health benefits from adding a glass skylight as it can help reduce mould and mildew. According to Your Home, Australia’s Guide to Sustainable Homes, a skylight can admit more than three times as much light as a vertical window of the same size, so there are cost savings on energy consumption, too.
Skylights are suitable for anywhere in the home. “They can be used in bathrooms, stairways, hallways, bedrooms, living spaces,” Megan says, “any room in which you want to improve the quality of natural light filtering in.” Shaun adds that a skylight balances light in a room as well as welcoming in warm natural daylight. “We love the use of skylights and traditionally we try to have one if not two edges of the skylight touching the wall so you get the shadow falling through the skylight onto a surface; it provides a sculptural quality to the light,” he says. “When we’re designing a home with a floor space deeper than 6m, we automatically look at including a skylight and/or clerestory lighting, as the quality of natural light falls off exponentially once it’s travelled that far.”
So, how much glass should be used in a space as opposed to solid walls? Megan says when deciding on the volume, ideally it should be to scale. “The solid walls need to ultimately balance with the amount of glass,” she says.
THE HEAT IS ON
When incorporating glass as a building product, Megan says it’s important to understand potential implications in relation to acoustics and thermal effects. “In Australia you can’t have huge swathes of glass and not expect it to affect the acoustic and thermal properties of your home,” she points out.
The good news, however, is that energy-efficient glazing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities with double and triple glazing; low-emissivity glass prevents heat escaping, and air barriers contribute to acoustic buffering.
With technological advancements in glass manufacture, sheets of toughened laminated glass are being incorporated as a feature in flooring. For use in this way, glass must be trafficable, able to withstand considerable weight, and it’s most definitely a specialist product that needs fitting by experts. Sandblasting may be necessary, for example, in order to ensure slip-resistance requirements are met. Glass panels in a flooring design create the illusion of floating or being suspended in mid-air — it makes for a bespoke talking point. The glass floor can extend the visual plane upward, below or both, a highly distinctive feature.
GLASSY EYED, INSIDE
It’s not just structurally that glass makes a statement. Much art is created using glass: a distinctive glass wall that disappears, say, or a shimmering artifact that takes centre stage. Decorative glass — in various colours and transparencies — can seemingly shapeshift and dominate a space, or blend effortlessly.
It can also be incorporated into many unusual and beautiful art forms, including decorative sculptures and figurines or mixed-media artwork. As a lighting product, glass is extremely versatile, lending itself to a variety of styles, whether that be a solo glass pendant that is elegant in its simplicity, or an ornate chandelier that’s the focal point of a room.
Glass can also create flexibility in spaces without completely closing them off. A glass sliding door, for example, allows you to isolate an area. Glass walls, too, add a whole other layer of animation or movement to a space. “Glass walls aren’t static — they have a dynamic quality to them,” Shaun says. “They offer a sense of separation but in a way that’s slightly more transient.” You can section off a space if you need to, while the spaces remain cohesive thanks to the visual connection.
“We often do glass walls with a timber detail in them,” Shaun adds. “It gives the wall a sculptural, interesting quality. In my own home I have a sliding glass wall that slides in and out of a cavity separating two spaces. It allows them to operate as one space, but with the pull of the door it becomes two very functional areas,” he says.
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