Real Homes: Let there be light

How do you get more sunshine into a terraced house? Easy, says GWENDA JOYCE-BROPHY- just take off the roof and replace it with glass

Where I used to live, in Iran, people often sleep in the open air, under the stars," says Maryam Frayse. Maryam now lives in London and, like some 30 per cent of people in Britain, she owns a terraced house. They may be characterful but a Victorian terrace (which most of them are) hardly lends itself to recreating the sense of open space and magic that comes from sleeping beneath starry skies. Or, for that matter, to lightness and airiness of any description.

But Maryam is a woman of determination and imagination. When it came to carrying out alterations on their home, and she and her partner had a choice between adding another floor or doing something daring with the roof, the latter won. Forget the odd skylight; the top floor was fitted with a purpose-built glass roof to allow the light to flood in.

"We were apprehensive," admits Maryam, "but we decided to bring in a specialist firm that had experience in designing and making glass structures."

The traditional slated roof was removed. One half was re-slated, the other side glazed. Optimistically, the Frayses undertook the work in the winter. "A large canopy covered the exposed part of the house. Fortunately it didn't snow," says Maryam.

The upper floor is now exposed to an enormous amount of light. "It's a bedroom, but is used as much more because everybody gravitates to it," she says of the room which takes up most of the upper floor. "I've moved my desk in here, and it also gets used as a sitting room." And at night? "Absolutely beautiful. The most amazing view. The children love it too. They are very envious, and would love it to be their room."

It was an ambitious - and unusual - project. Not least because glass is a material that we have tended to shun in the past, especially for large-scale use. With good reason: glass has traditionally been a big source of heat loss. However, technological developments have meant that there is now a new generation of glazing materials whose qualities are ideal for more daring use. Laminated glass, for example, doesn't look any different to ordinary glass, but has a tough interlayer that can offer light- diffusing and solar control features. It can be used in single glazed form or as an inner section of a double-glazed unit and is particularly suited for overhead glazing, where safety is crucial. The glass used in the Frayses' roof is a double-glazed safety glass of low-emissivity. This last feature helps to keep heat in the room.

The room can, as a result, get a little hot in the summer. "There are ventilators built into the construction that can be opened if necessary, although I do actually like the heat," says Maryam.

"This could be done with many terraced houses," says Alexander Bartholomew, who designed the roof. So is this something we could see more of among Victorian terrace and other house-dwellers? Well, there is the cost to consider first. "The bill was around pounds 18,000," says Mr Bartholomew. Not cheap for a new roof. "But a new completely slated roof would not have been inexpensive either, and this one has some attractive features," he says. "The bars on the glazed part of the roof are made of bronze-finish aluminium so they need no maintenance."

So if it isn't practicalities and the cost, perhaps the idea will catch on. We seem willing to spend money on that ubiquitous sun trap, the conservatory, which is very much a daytime room. Creating a room which is full of light in the day and where you can watch the stars at night is a different proposition altogether.

OTHER WAYS TO OPEN UP YOUR HOUSE

5 If you are prepared to trade the number of rooms in your house for larger, airier ones, redesigning the interior by making one or more floors open-plan can have a dramatic effect on the amount of light.

5 Use glass to replace other materials - for example, in an open-plan staircase. This can transform a hallway in terms of how light it feels.

5 One mews property owner recently devised an ingenious way of directing shafts of light into the rooms below by setting in a light shaft flush with the paving of the flat roof terrace, so that the kitchen, which is below, receives a big boost in the amount of light it receives.

5 In one typical Edwardian house in Barnes, south-west London, currently on the market, the owners opened up the top floor entirely to create a massive studio room and lit it with industrial "Broderick" opaque roofing right around the room, creating masses of light. Price pounds 700,000, tel: 0181 939 6900.

5 Conservatories can serve a real double-whammy on a typical Victorian terrace where rear rooms can be dull and light deprived from being tucked away, effectively drawing the house out, and creating a bright room in the often wasted space of the side return.

5 If you decide to go ahead with alterations that involve glass, you'll save time and money by checking with the experts first. The Glass and Glazing Federation (tel: 0171 403 7177) has information leaflets. Contact the Laminated Glass Federation (tel: 0171 499 1720) for further information on the types and uses of laminated glass.

Alexander Bartholomew glazed structures, tel: 01428 658771.

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