The way we live now, by Peter York: People in glass houses

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The Independent Online

We all get that New Canaan, Connecticut, feeling from time to time - especially if we're Notting Hill or Primrose Hill types with The Ice Storm on DVD, that is. The sheer heaven of living in a Philip Johnson Fifties glass box on short stilts out there in that wonderfully blank countryside (not so much baggage as, say, Chipping Norton where the grass knows its place and the flowers are well spoken). We know about the glass-box look and we admire it, but if we're living in The Hills, we want to stay there - do we ever! - and practically the only configuration we can get there, the one everyone in that world recognises as social and financial currency, is a tallish, thinnish, biggish terrace house built from London stock brick with a bit of stucco on the front to a slightly degraded Georgian plan 1840-1860.

You wouldn't be allowed to build full-on glass boxes there if you wanted to. And, with a few exceptions, you don't really want to, do you? You want the pleasures of the degraded Vicky-Georgian (chimneypieces, plasterwork, iron staircase balustrades) and a glass box as well. Stuck on the back. By an architect. Giving you that glorious contrastiness, the plate glass against the weathered brick, the plain steel fittings against the original frilly joinery. That way you can say so many wonderful things: patron of the Arts (tremendously smart, well-connected architects like Seth Stein or Alex Michaelis design these boxes for you); v v cool (because you're keeping your options open, retaining the more traditional kind of authority the rest of the house signals); and owner of a roomful of Modern Classics.

Because glass boxes are expensive - miles more expensive than a glued-on packaged conservatory - structural and disruptive, with lots of digging out and re-doing of the open space behind, they were, in the first instance, added on to large, expensive, old houses whose owners didn't really need any more room, just wanted to show off a bit. And the glass box - or boxes, because the more ambitious ones are two-storey affairs, reversing out of a basement dining room below and, thrillingly, out of the drawing room above - is the place to make a statement involving furniture, flooring and a clever feature to show the architect on form.

The glass box pictured here is on the back of a big, late-Georgian house in Regent's Park, so the architectural contrasts are just delicious. Like a top-of-the-range shower or wet-room, the cleverness lies in very sophisticated glass fabrication. This type of modern structural addition is usually called "uncompromising", but it's really more like having it all. Don't know your Vicky-Georgian from your Modern Classics? Don't worry! Peter will be answering YOUR design questions in a special issue of the Magazine on 22 September. E-mail questions to askpeter@independent.co.uk

Uncompromisingly modern white door leads on to the limestone steps with inbuilt uplighters.

The pond is the little coup de theâtre, half outside in the New Landscape yard. With the combination of bleached pebbles and planters and York-stone slabs, it's half inside the glass box, meaning the giant coy carp can swim outside and in. Hours of fun.

The furniture is what you'd expect: the Eileen Gray side table (1924) next to the Corb' brown and white cowhide chaise longue (1929) and some Arne Jacobsen Ant chairs (1952).

Lovely Old London brick, with an almost arcaded pair of 'blind' window arches and that plain, white modern door with its Correct Form stainless-steel handle punched through.

Look, no horrible common struts or beams in our perfect glass box. The glass is very simple and glassy, running over from the back of the main house to the yard wall as the roof, with the side wall apparently made from one enormous sheet without any klutzy glazing bars.

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