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A Guide To Conservatories and Sunrooms | 6 Incredible Outdoor Living Rooms for All Seasons

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.”

Above and top right: Photos courtesy of Oak Leaf Conservatories, Ltd., Atlanta, Ga. 

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.Photo courtesy of Tanglewood Conservatories, Ltd., Denton, Md.

“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.Photo courtesy of Oak Leaf Conservatories, Ltd., Atlanta, Ga.

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.Photo courtesy of Creative Conservatories, Quakertown, Pa.

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.’”

6 Beautiful Backyard Conservatories

Dreaming of a cozy yet luxurious indoor-outdoor space of your own? Check out the pictures below for conservatory design ideas and learn how a garden conservatory or glass-walled pool house not only looks beautiful, but can also serve many purposes.

1. Multi-use Space
Classic in design yet highly functional, conservatories are the perfect solution for a variety of space challenges, including acting as a home office, an intimate dining setting, or a refuge for quiet reflection. Although clear glass is the traditional design choice, conservatories can easily become private hideaways at the touch of a button: many models are equipped with roman shades or roller blinds that make the outside world disappear.

2. Natural Ambiance
When teamed with a natural backdrop full of lush textures and vibrant colors, conservatories become the preferred spot for family and guests needing to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Notice how this room creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere by using potted and hanging plants that seamlessly blends the inside ambiance with the outside.

3. Spa Retreat
Conservatories are more than a secret spot for cozy tête-à-têtes: they are also ideal rooms for favorite recreational pursuits like hot-tubbing. Furnished in rustic accents as well as natural stone and premium wood, this conservatory is full of a dynamic energy that encourages a dip in the spa, the cards to be shuffled for a game of rummy, or the chess board to be set up for head to head competition.

4. Sophisticated Sunroom
Conservatories are luxurious symbols of the finer things in life…as this richly appointed conservatory illustrates. Luxuriant, full of intricate details as well as plush accents like an oriental rug and a variety of decorative objects, this conservatory is a sophisticated gem that is the property’s everlasting focal point.

5. Hidden Nook
Many properties have hidden nooks that are just waiting for the right use. This idyllic setting was perfect for a conservatory. Imagine the array of events that are held here: afternoon tea with best friends, twilight chats with a treasured aunt, and pleasurable mornings with the book club…. all in a place full of timeless beauty and tranquility.

6. Luxurious Pool House
Decisions, decisions: sit by the pool or stay inside, happily surrounded by luxurious amenities…the answer is quite easy: enjoy both with a freestanding conservatory. Functioning as elegant pool houses, glass conservatories offer the best of all worlds and serve as beautiful indoor-outdoor spaces. Notice that this open-space model also includes windows that tilt up, providing guests with all the comforts of home…inside and out.

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