Conservatories and Sunrooms Create Extra Living Space Year-Round
By Kimberlee Courtney
Combining the beauty of the outdoors with the comfort of being indoors, a conservatory or sunroom adds timeless style and unique living space to a home. Traditionally used in England as a place to house and cultivate citrus trees year-round, these glass-enclosed rooms are now being added to sophisticated homes across the country and are evolving into everyday gathering spaces for people, not just plants.
“There’s something about a conservatory that is magical,” says Alan Stein, president of Tanglewood Conservatories, Ltd., Denton, Md. “There’s this quality of light that comes in from above—from the glass in the roof—which makes the space unlike anything else you’ve ever been in. It’s sort of like being completely outside when you’re inside.”
Though they continue to be used for gardening pursuits, conservatories provide an elegant, sun-filled space ideal for a variety of other purposes, from entertaining to dining, work to hobbies, spa rooms to pool enclosures, bird-watching to stargazing, and, of course, rest and relaxation. “We’ve done just about every possible type of room,” says Rob Suman, president of Creative Conservatories, Quakertown, Pa. “We’ve done a lot of kitchen additions, living rooms, libraries…pool enclosures, hot tub rooms…we’ve done a lot of greenhouses, and we’ve even done bedrooms, believe it or not.”
“We had a client use [the conservatory] as a turtle terrarium,” says Amy Magner, director of the U.S. branch of Oak Leaf Conservatories, Ltd., a York, England based company that designs and builds conservatories throughout the U.K., U.S., and Continental Europe. “It can really be anything you can imagine.”
Working with one of today’s skilled conservatory architects and builders, you can design a conservatory or sunroom that not only complements the architecture of your home, but also your lifestyle, tastes, and interests. When looking for a company to build your conservatory or sunroom, it’s important to check references and look at the history of the company. “To build a conservatory, you absolutely need to know what you are doing,” says Suman, who advises hiring a company that has been in business for a long period of time and is dedicated to building and designing conservatories.
Conservatory Design Details
Building a conservatory or sunroom begins with an initial consultation with your designer or architect to identify your needs and aspirations. This early exchange of ideas and information is of utmost importance because when you add a conservatory, you are not just adding another room: you are creating a new and unique environment for your home. As such, many factors will be discussed, from the architectural style of your home to the intended purpose of the room to the available space and your budget. “
The most important question is how they are going to use the room,” says Stein, “and that should be in great detail.” For instance, if a homeowner tells Stein that the space is for dinner parties, he will ask how many people will usually be coming for dinner. Or, if the homeowners plan to sit in the conservatory and read books, he wants to know what time of day they’ll be sitting there. “From there the design of the room grows organically,” he says.
With function established, other specifics such as the conservatory’s size and location can be addressed. “I always try to get the flow of the house to put you in the conservatory,” says Suman. For instance, when clients are deciding between locating the conservatory off of the dining room or kitchen, he’ll choose the kitchen.
“Usually the dining room is an isolated room; you’d have to walk through the dining room to get to the conservatory. It’s not as accessible or even visible through the house, so you wouldn’t commonly find yourself there without intentionally walking that way. But if it’s off the kitchen, that’s where you are anyway and it’s a natural flow,” he says.
While it’s popular to have a conservatory or sunroom be adjacent to a kitchen or family room, it can also be a structure remote from the house. Freestanding conservatories are commonly placed by the pool where they can be used as a pool house or cabana room; they can also serve as a pool enclosure or greenhouse.
An Architectural Accent
Regardless of its placement, it’s important that the conservatory’s architecture creates a relationship with your home and its surroundings, while also upholding its historical character.
“[A conservatory] is not just an all-glass room,” says Stein. “A true conservatory comes from this pedigree of classically designed architecture from the 19th century.” Derived from Victorian, Edwardian, and Georgian architecture, a conservatory makes a truly beautiful addition to any period of building, from Colonial to Neoclassical to Postmodern or Contemporary.
Often, a designer will find an architectural detail in the existing property and incorporate it into the conservatory’s architecture. “If the front of the house has an arch-top window, we will at least discuss the idea of having an arch-top [window] somewhere in the conservatory so that the whole house fits,” says Suman.
While the host of design features and amenities for you to consider may seem overwhelming, your designer or architect will guide and counsel you throughout the decision-making process and advise you on the best options to achieve your dreams for the space. And once complete, you’ll soon find your conservatory is not only your dream room, but the only room you live in. “The feedback that we get from our customers most often is, ‘I wish I made it bigger because this is the room everyone gravitates to,’” says Magner. “People walk in and they’re just like, ‘Ah, this is magical. It’s sunny, it makes me feel good, I’m in a good mood, it’s the place I want to be.’”
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