A transparently obvious appeal

The extensive use of glass not only makes a house look spectacular but allows light to flood into every room. The effect on its inhabitants can be genuinely therapeutic, as Mary Wilson discovers
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The Independent Online

The British have always guarded their privacy, probably long before Sir Edward Coke coined the phrase "a man's house is his castle" in 1628. Once behind our front door, we can withdraw to do our own thing, safe behind brick walls and drawn curtains to keep out any prying eyes. Even when not overlooked at all, people tend to opt for curtains or shutters. It makes them feel more comfortable.

I live in the middle of the countryside with no neighbours and have no screening between me and the outside world, but most of my friends - when coming to the house for the first time - wonder at my daring stance. "But don't you feel exposed?" they ask, to which the answer is, "not at all', for there is nothing nicer than watching the sun go down or gazing at the stars on a clear night while doing the cooking or relaxing in an armchair.

So, how do people feel if they live in a house which has a wall of glass, or at the very least - huge expanses of glazing, allowing anyone passing by to look in?

Margaret and Mark Kelly have lived in their modern three-storey glass fronted house in Islington, north London for three years. It is one of a terrace of three similar houses, all of which have glass front elevations. When the lights are on in the evening, you can see through the dining room to the rear of the kitchen and to the mezzazine above, which is their reception room. "I like to be able to wave at the neighbours and the light is very uplifting," says Margaret, who is a head buyer at Marks & Spencer and works very long hours. "When I get up early in the morning and watch the light starting to come in, it is wonderful. Our daughter, Alexandra, who is one, often sits by the glass and watches the squirrels run up and down on the wall outside."

It took the Kellys quite a while to work out what blinds to get, although they rarely use them in the summer. "When I'm here I leave the blinds up, but my husband does feel exposed at night, so we put them down once it's dark. The Italian blinds are electric and made like a honeycomb so they really keep out the cold. When it's hot, we just open up all the windows on both side of the house," says Margaret.

"I definitely feel better because there is so much light. The carpet has faded a bit, but I'd prefer that to having to live in a dingy house with no light." The three bedroom house has a large decked terrace and small private garden and is on the market through Hamptons (020 7226 4688) for £1.1 million.

In St. George's Hill, Weybridge, Surrey, which is better known for its large traditional-style homes rather than contemporary architecture, The Vertex is a huge house predominantly built in glass, designed to exploit the extensive views. Because it is positioned facing the north-west with the sun predominately behind, the views away from the house are beautifully lit.

The house was built 12 years ago and has given its present owners, who have lived there for seven years, great pleasure. "They say it has been the best living experience they have ever had," says Edward Rook of Knight Frank. "It was not just a house to them, it was a complete love affair. They enjoyed it so much because it was so lovely and light, which made it a cheerful house. And because it is so light during the day they never had to put any lights on."

The Vertex has reflective film on the majority of the larger windows which reflects 70 per cent of the heat in the summer and has the reverse effect in the winter, thereby avoiding any extremes of temperature that are usually created by glass and conservatories. Now the owners have moved to Italy, the 9,000 sq ft house is for sale through Knight Frank (01372 464496) for £3.35m.

When Nick and Jo Ogden built Millers Croft, their large bungalow in St Ives, near Cambridge, they designed it with large floor to ceiling windows all around the zig-zag design so that you can see right through the house, no matter what room you are in. Only the bedrooms have curtains and once inside the house, you feel at one with nature whether it is day or night.

"When we bought the site, the gardens were so lovely that we wanted to take advantage of the outside and bring it in inside," says Nick Ogden. "We were concerned about heat loss but with the help of the building inspector and working with Everest, we put in special heat-loc glass which really does make a difference." Carter Jonas (01223 368771) is selling the five-bedroom house with indoor swimming pool and 5.25 acres for £1.25m.

Clare Murray, a lawyer, is selling her fabulous duplex penthouse in Northey Street, E14. Its duplex glass rotunda gives her almost 360 degree views over the City and Canary Wharf from the living room and bedrooms on the floor below. She says: "Having so much light gives you such a tremendous sense of well-being. In the summer it is absolutely glorious, I bask in sunlight. If it is too hot, I just open the two sets of terrace doors and it creates a gorgeous breeze.

"In the winter, as a back-up to the double glazing, I have thick curtains which I can pull across but in the summer months I leave them open because the views are so wonderful, especially at night. If I want to be private (because I'm in my pyjamas for example), I might pull a curtain across one bit of the windows. But all the apartments here have a lot of glass and everyone respects each other's privacy. I haven't seen the glint of binoculars yet."

Last year, Clare's flat was used to film a series of music programmes and all the filming was done using natural light only. "Noel Gallagher was one of the people interviewed on my red sofa and he thought it was a 'cool gaff'," she says. "The only downside is that sometimes it is too bright to watch the TV and then you have to draw the curtains." The three -bedroom penthouse is on the market for £750,000 through Chesterton Residential (020 7510 8300).

Other "glassy" properties for sale include a single storey three-bedroom penthouse in Compass House at the new Riverside West development near Wandsworth Bridge. This is basically all glass, except for the roof and is for sale through John D Wood (020 8871 3033) for £1.05m.

At No 1 West India Quay, the tallest residential building in Canary Wharf at 110 metres high with 33 storeys, the whole of the curved front overlooking the water is glass. FPDSavills (0870 770190) is selling the one, two and three bedroom apartments from pounds 550,000 to pounds 2.5 million. And on St Mary's Island in Chatham Maritime, Kent, there are three new three bedroom houses, all with double storey glass and steel rear elevations priced at around pounds 250,000 each. (sales office, 01634 892862)

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