See-through floors, walls and stairs can create sleek architectural effects.
An upstairs view of the structural glass floor interior designer Steve Levey used in a west Akron residence on Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. Structural glass allows for designers to creat stunning effects in buildings and homes.
AKRON, Ohio -- Steve Levey faced a challenge: How could he bring light to his clients' dark, cramped first-floor sitting room?
It's a common problem. Levey's solution, however, was anything but. The Ohio artist and interior designer brightened the room by installing a partial glass floor in the home office directly above, adjacent to a new window in that same upstairs room. The floor serves as a sort of internal skylight, flooding the sitting room below with sunlight and giving its occupants a glimpse of sky through the window.
It's also a sleek architectural accent that gives the home office the artsy, contemporary edge the homeowners prize.
The floor is an example of the use of structural glass, glass that is specially manufactured to serve as a structural element in a building. Usually it's used in commercial settings, but it sometimes shows up in high-end homes in such forms as glass walls, canopies, floors, stair landings and stair treads, said Manuel Marinos, president and chief executive officer of Innovative Structural Glass in Three Rivers, Calif. Even in more mainstream homes, frameless shower enclosures made of structural glass panels have become common.
Structural glass isn't a new material, although it's being used in new ways. It was developed in the early 1900s and was often made in colored, opaque form to cover buildings' exterior walls and give them the signature streamlining of the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles.
The 3- by 7 1/2-foot floor panel Levey installed is about an inch thick and rests in an aluminum frame set into the room's white oak floor. Getting the panel to sit flush with the wood floor was no small feat, considering the house dates to the 1940s and its floors weren't level.
The glass floor is strong enough to walk on, although the clients' dogs won't cross it and their guests sometimes hesitate to step on it, Levey said. "Wearing a skirt is the only drawback," he said with a laugh.
Glass may seem like a fragile substance for a floor, but this glass is specially engineered for strength. Structural glass is thicker than annealed glass, the kind that's used in typical house windows, Marinos said. It's engineered specifically for each application, he explained. The forces to which the glass could be exposed are considered, be it hurricane winds, the impact of a bullet or the pounding of high heels. Then both the makeup of the glass and the processes for manufacturing it are designed to allow the glass to withstand those forces, he said.
For Levey, the best part of using glass for his clients' floor was the novelty.
"Doing something new is the most fun," he said.