Architecture in glass
Frameless glass has long been admired for the style and convenience it can bring to any environment. As prices become more affordable and installation more efficient, it looks set to boom in the residential sector. Jonathan Green explains.
When frameless glass first entered the Australian market it was immediately admired for its clean design and functionality. There is no doubt that the Australian lifestyle – with open spaces and blended indoor / outdoor areas – is definitely enhanced with the natural light and unobstructed views that frameless glass can offer.
While the commercial sector quickly embraced many frameless products, particularly in office fit-outs, the residential sector was a little slower to come on board. The relative costs, concerns about quality products, and issues with installation were all considered barriers to the residential sector, but that has changed considerably in recent years.
Fethers Glazing Systems is a specialist in frameless glass in Australia, supplying everything from shower screens and sliding doors to balustrades and pool fences nationallySome 16 years ago it started as a general glazing supplier with some hardware, Fethers Glazing Systems is now focused its operations on being a leading fabricator and supplier of frameless glass and associated hardware.
“I suppose our processes shifted when we looked at frameless glass with a different approach,” explains FGS National Sales Manager, Brett Johnson.
“The company philosophy is essentially that we are selling pieces of furniture. Frameless glass in any form, by definition, stands as a feature of any room in any property. As such, we’ve geared our entire operation to reflect this.”
To take a simple piece of glass and create a custom-made folding door or unique shower screen requires specialist techniques and absolute precision. Most glass will need to be heat-treated to ensure it meets safety regulations, while cutting and shaping needs to be meticulous for the final product to work.
“There are plenty of glass fabricators out there with great cutting capabilities, but the notion that we are producing a piece of furniture means that we approach the task differently and with excellent results,” says Brett.
“If you are fabricating glass for a window, it doesn’t matter if the edges aren’t 100% perfect because it will be installed in a frame, but you can’t do that when the final product is frameless.”
Precision is one thing if you are making a thousand units of the same piece, but it is a different challenge altogether when each order is unique.
“We can take the most basic hand-drawn sketch and turn it into a perfect and precise final product. The only thing we need from the outset is the exact measurements required.”
And when you see some of the ‘sketched examples’ Fethers start with … you can’t help but be impressed. Half-torn envelopes, the back of a drink coaster or a crude sketch on a basic notepad have all been the starting point of some beautiful individual pieces.
“It’s about supplying solutions – and solutions that need to be millimetre perfect,” says Brett. “We deal only with installers, so we know exactly what they are after and what challenges they face and what support we need to give them.”
The concept of running a business where you have no direct contact with the end consumer is a concern to some people; however Brett believes it is important that they concentrate efforts towards installers and provide them with high service and a quality product.
As such, Fethers has spent considerable time and effort on the hardware sector of the business. They have a number of patented designs within the door hinges and handles sectors to ensure they are easy to work with and provide safe, secure and good looking final products. A patented hydraulic hinge for a pool gate – as one example – means the gate will always shut and lock properly, but in a gentle manner that means fingers won’t get trapped.
Brett says this attention to detail and high quality product is noted and appreciated by installers. The broader market, he believes, is essentially selling itself.
“Who wants to have a beautiful pool and then put wire around it? And the same thing applies to anyone with a lovely view – be it a classical seaside holiday house or a garden view in a suburban house – you need the security of a barrier, but you don’t want the obstruction of metal bars.
“Personally, I think that we will see more examples of glass in the house as more people become aware of the possibilities. There’s a timeless quality to it and can work with basically every style in the house.
“Furthermore, if it’s installed properly there’s very little maintenance required to keep it looking fantastic.”
The use of frameless glass slide-away walls and doors is becoming commonplace throughout Europe and the upper-end of the Chinese market, and Brett believes that is most likely to be the next step in the Australian residential market.
“I personally think that architects and designers are ready to use them, it’s more of a case of installers having the confidence to put them in correctly – but I believe that is definitely happening.
“If you think about splashbacks – they had been there for years, but they became common-place in the home when the market was able to install them efficiently and with a quality finish.”
The increased use of frameless glass in the home can also partly be attributed to the relative value in cost. Brett notes that the cost of frameless glass products has barely shifted in 15 years, while the average house cost has increased considerably, thereby making them more affordable.
“It’s not uncommon for a house to cost half a million dollars nowadays, so a couple of thousand on a beautiful shower screen is an easy sale with real tangible benefits to the home owner. If you go back say 15 years – when that house cost only $150,000 – it was a lot harder for the builder to argue the cost.”
In a time where houses are often being accused of looking the same, a frameless glass shower screen or a foldaway glass wall to the outdoor area might just be the selling difference that makes the home owner feel that little bit special.
Fethers Glazing Systems