Penny Southam imagines…

A ‘glass’ house

Where natural light is artist and sculptor

Penny Southam, of Southam Designs, loves the magic of glass in a home. A member of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) and Interior Designers of Canada (IDC), she has watched how it can transform an ordinary − even beautiful − space into something that goes beyond the pale and takes your breath away.

So when she imagines a renovation, “glass” is what she thinks.

She recalls one of her favourite designs. There was a staircase in the middle of the house that separated the kitchen from the living room. Rather than using drywall around the stairs, she used floor-to-ceiling glass the full depth of the stairs and landing. Not only could you see the stairs from the room on either side. You could see all the way through.

use of glass 5 (Penny Southam)

“The stairs seemed to be floating,” she says. “They were like a piece of sculpture.”

She believes in “flexing that creative muscle, pushing the way we use glass: really making it part of a design.”

In contemporary homes, she adds, exposed steel stringers, open risers and glass railings “have become a trend that we will see for a long time”.

Penny loves large windows and natural light. But as soon as she says it, she adds with a laugh: “Who doesn’t? No one prefers to live in a cave!” Historically, older homes have smaller windows because of the challenge of heating them. “But we’ve moved so far ahead now a person could live in a glass box,” she says.

use of glass 2 (Penny Southam)

Penny works with two artists who create with glass and coloured glass − with different effects. She recalls one of her designs that incorporated textured glass as a countertop, and another that used windows as a backsplash. Other projects incorporated suspended, textured glass panels. Combined with coloured LED lights, the result is, well, breathtaking.

Use of glass 3 (Penny Southam)

“You like people to walk in and go, Wow!” she says.

She’s impressed with “smart glass”. It’s clear glass one minute, and then, with a flick of a switch, it’s frosted glass the next. Thanks to an electrical circuit in the glass, it can be both window and door, making a room instantly open or private.

“So when people want privacy around a bedroom or bathroom, they flick the switch. Or they can sit in the tub having a glass of Champagne and watch the large-screen TV in the next room.

Glass or not, says Penny, “Great design must be functional. It has to be aesthetic. The ones that have the impact are the ones where we reach beyond.”