Screen play isn't what it used to be. Once used in old houses to stop draughts whistling through the sitting room, or (in pre-bathroom days) to provide modesty in the bedroom while soaking in a tin bath, screens have been rediscovered. Rosalind Russell takes us through the options.

Developers working with warehouse and factory conversions are finding them the most practical way of dividing up what would otherwise be a very unhomely large space. Lighter than a solid wall, a fixed opaque glass screen maximises light. And where ceiling heights are high, a screen which stops short of the top has the effect of lowering it to a more friendly domestic level.

Even in smaller rooms, a screen works to separate work from play and conveniently disguises the detritus of an office at home, or hides the clutter of the kitchen.

Estate agents Winkworth are preparing to launch a new development in the spring, in Hatton Garden, London's old jewellery quarter, where the developers have decided against chopping up the available space into traditional boxes. Eight two- and three-bedroom flats and two penthouses will feature glass screens used to divide some rooms.

"As the flats will be very contemporary, with wooden floors and lots of glass and chrome, the smoked and etched glass partitions will be entirely in fitting with the finish," says Charles Peerless, of Winkworth. "They will be 2.6 metres high, the full height of the room, and look extremely smart. They are a clever way of diving the space while keeping the light."

The flats will sell for around pounds 250,000 each; the penthouses - which will have views to St Paul's and the City, pounds 650,000 apiece.

In Fulham, a two-storey, warehouse-style conversion has been designed to allow in as much natural light as possible by the use of a curved glass screen between kitchen and the 36ft sitting room. Functional and stylish, the two-bedroom house is being sold through Chestertons for pounds 420,000.

Glass artist Diane Radford, who trained at the Royal College of Art, has been designing and making screens for 17 years. One of 10 glass artists who are commissioned via the de Putron art consultancy, she specialises in acid etched and sandblasted treatments and coloured - not stained - glass.

Her work includes a striking etched horse, the contours drawn to look like the map markings for mountains, which now stands in the entrance of an office block.

"Interiors designers seemed to be the first to be willing to put a toe into the water as far as the domestic market goes," says Diane, who designed pieces for the American Embassy in Cairo.

"I have done a lot of work for their private homes, and for their clients who wanted something a bit different and had the budget to cope with it."

As prices range from pounds 500 to pounds 2,000 per square metre, depending on the techniques and materials used, the buyer would have to be sure of remaining in the same house for long enough to enjoy the outlay. But, says Diane, screens can be the most practical way of overcoming other problems. Back lit, it can distract the eye from an unsightly view.

"I have made one for someone who wanted to hide a brick wall a couple of feet from his window. But a glass screen can also be used to soundproof a room, as well as keep light flowing through. It is made with a space between the two panels, rather wider than double glazing."

The trend for dividing screens is filtering down to the more mass market developers, too. Berkeley Homes have found glass panels between kitchen and sitting room in their Jacob's Wharf development popular with buyers. "It's practical and fashionable," says Paul Vallone. "It also meant the person cooking still had a view of the Thames."

A more portable screen option is the lacquered floor screen frame sold through the Art Room mail order brochure. The three-panel, 69" high folding screen is cut to hold 15 8" x 10" photographs behind glass fronts. If your own photographic efforts don't merit public display, the screen comes with a set of striking black and white images, plus a set of white bevel- cut mounts for smaller prints. It costs pounds 195.

de Putron Art Consultants 0171 431 1125; Art Room 01993 770444.