Switch up your space

Whether you favour open plan living or more defined living spaces, most building users are fans of natural light. Susan Sinden from ESG looks at some clever ways to allow maximum light and best use of space, by using switchable privacy glass

Since the start of the pandemic, many organisations are taking the opportunity to downsize their premises in favour of smaller, more flexible spaces. At the same time, more people are working from home and need to find a longer-term workspace within their homes. Undoubtedly the challenge for interior designers will, in the future, need to help us achieve the correct balance between defining workspaces and making the best use of the available space. One way to tackle this puzzle is with clever use of the increasingly popular technical glass known as ‘switchable’ or ‘privacy’ glass.

As ‘privacy’ suggests, this innovative glass product can be used to screen distinct areas for specific purposes to provide privacy and, in a work context in particular, confidentiality. However, as the ‘switchable’ part implies, the screening effect doesn’t have to be permanent. It can literally be switched on and off.

How does it work?

Switchable glass is created by laminating two panes of glass together, using a LCD interlayer. When an electrical current is passed through the interlayer, it allows light to pass through, creating an optically clear glass pane. If the current is switched off, the glass becomes instantly opaque, creating an innovative room divider, or entire walls of an internal room.

In a commercial setting, switchable privacy glass has many applications, including the viewing windows in hospital or consulting room doors, retail display windows and even high security settings, where it is often mixed with intruder resistant options, to foil would-be perpetrators. It can now be used in otherwise open plan offices, for breakout areas, meeting rooms and boardrooms.

As a home feature

In a domestic setting, switchable privacy glass is fast becoming a favourite with interior designers, as it allows light to flood through from one living space to another, but also provides privacy on demand.

Switchable glass can be used to great effect in areas such as bathrooms, ensuites, bedrooms and dressing rooms where privacy is essential. In conversion projects, vast floor spaces in buildings such as former warehouses and mills can present a particular challenge when it comes to natural light. Much as we may love open plan living, most of us still like to sleep in a separate bedroom. One solution is to create a mezzanine for bedrooms. Using switchable glass, these areas can be created to provide a permanent solution, but with a changeable appearance. The plan will often be to place bedrooms on the upper level with access to a window. This would inevitably reduce the amount of natural light for the living space below, so an obvious solution is to construct the inward facing wall of the bedroom or bathroom out of glass panels, so that light can continue to spill through. The drawback with this would be the potential lack of privacy, were it not for the use of switchable glass.

If the bedroom or bathroom mezzanine wall is made from switchable glass, it can be switched on to allow light through when desired, but switched off to provide privacy when needed – all at the touch of a button. Further advances in glass processing mean that stair treads, balustrades and mezzanine walkways can also be constructed from glass products, to allow even more daylight into the property’s interior.

The kitchen is often a key area in which to consider using glass, not only for shelving and splashbacks. Although open plan living is still increasing in popularity, there are times when it is desirable to contain the sounds made by kitchen appliances and the smells from cooking.

In conclusion

The post pandemic trend towards working from home, especially at the kitchen table, has also increased the need for more defined and screened-off areas. Switchable glass partitions are ideal to help to keep the feel of space and open plan, while providing a more defined space to work or study.

Even more helpful to concentration and productivity can be a quiet space. Because switchable glass is created using interlayer technology, it can also incorporate other characteristics, such as sound attenuation. A bespoke product, incorporating both privacy and sound proofing may yet revolutionise the way in which we work and plan our spaces – both at home and in the office.

Speaking to your glass processor at the planning stages of your project can help enormously. The advances in technology now mean that your glass expert can often suggest one cost-effective bespoke product which will answer a whole range of challenges. Switchable glass is definitely one option to explore.

Susan Sinden is commercial manager at ESG