Looking for conservatory ideas? Our love affair with conservatories can be traced back to the botany-mad Victorians who would retire to their ‘glasshouses’ to cultivate rare and exotic plants.
Since those days, design, technology and engineering have moved on apace, making the once-traditional conservatory one of most flexible rooms in the modern-day home. Efficient heating and air conditioning systems, plus heat control glass and specialist blinds ensure the space is comfortable to use all round making it suitable for home office, play room, dining room, to open up into a kitchen or to use as a relaxed living space.
The informality of a conservatory is perfect for modern-day living and garden ideas, as interior designer Steven Payne of Maison AD explains: 'I’m often asked to design conservatories that open up the back of older houses. Well-planned garden room ideas brings the outside inside so that even on chillier days you can still enjoy a sense of being outdoors.’
1. Take inspiration from nature
Careful styling and clever color choices can transform a conservatory into a true restful retreat from which to enjoy the glorious garden views.
Take inspiration from your surroundings by using a palette that is grounded in nature, like the pale sage shade used on the window frames and roof lantern, and the use of organic wood and glass throughout.
Not only will the room feel more serene, but will allow the indoor-outdoor lines to blue. ‘This space boasts super large double doors on both the rear and side aspects that ease out into the garden for a harmonious indoor/outdoor lifestyle,’ says James Upton, Managing Director and Designer of Westbury Garden Rooms.
2. Create an ad hoc spot
If you don’t want, or can’t, build a conservatory, consider adapting shed ideas or a glasshouse to your needs instead.
‘While most people use their greenhouses for horticultural reasons, as you would expect, many are using their greenhouses in a more multifaceted way introducing living, relaxation, dining and lifestyle elements into their Greenhouse use,’ notes Tom Barry, CEO of Hartley Botanic.
While these spaces may be too warm for some, you do have the added benefit of being able to set your greenhouse right in the middle of your garden, so you can feel fully enveloped by nature.
3. Choose a traditional style conservatory
Many house styles lend themselves naturally to classic white conservatories. These white frames help lift the room and help light bounce around. While uPVC frames were popular for many years, painted wood is becoming a stronger choice.
‘Traditional sustainable hardwoods are recommended,’ says Mark Wild, designer at Malbrook. ‘New ultra efficient eco glass specs will also future proof the new extension to add value to any home.’ Add further interest with decorative frames, such as gothic arches.
4. Double up
Why have one conservatory when you can fit two? Double up on your garden room by building two styles to achieve the best of both worlds. In this elegant project, there is a classical orangery on one side, incorporating full panel sliding sash windows within a framework of decorative pilasters and entablature.
‘The main orangery provides a living room from which to enjoy spectacular views of the garden. Adjacent is a more solid construction housing sliding doors and a roof lantern, which provides a formal room for dining,’ says Lisa Morton, Director, Vale.
5. Opt for a wooden structure
Oak conservatories are a wonderful choice, especially for country homes. ‘Oak has been used for construction for centuries due to its remarkable beauty, strength and durability,’ notes Jonathan Stackhouse, Planning Manager, Prime Oak.
‘A timeless material that matures gracefully over time that also offers a sustainable eco-friendly solution, designed to be enjoyed for lifetimes to come. Today oak still provides unrivalled quality and a well-maintained oak building would add value to any property, regardless of its age. To help maintain and keep the building looking new, we recommend an oil based waterproof coating, usually to be reapplied 1-2 times a year, as required.’
6. Be sympathetic to the main building
Period country homes can hugely benefit from the addition of a light enhancing conservatory, as they often feature minimal amounts of small windows resulting in dark rooms, but ensure you are careful.
‘A successful orangery design on a period home should not over-dominate the appearance of the existing building but be visually subservient to it,’ says Jonathan Stackhouse, Planning Manager, Prime Oak. ‘Oak framing utilises traditional construction and carpentry methods which local authority planners often welcome in period settings.’
This project from Julius Bahn also carefully matched the new roof to the existing roof tiles in order to blend harmoniously with the existing home.
7. Boost light with a roof lantern
One of the most common reasons to build a conservatory is to boost the amount of light that enters a home, and exactly how much extra light you want will depend on the intended use of the space.
‘Orangeries with a roof lantern are ideal for kitchen extensions as they provide a controlled amount of light through the roof and an opportunity to focus this above a kitchen island or dining table; whereas a conservatory, with its typically fully glazed roof will be the ideal design for plants to thrive,’ notes Karen Bell, Sales Director, David Salisbury.
8. Dress the windows
Adding blinds into your conservatory not only adds an extra splash of beauty to the space, but will also help the space to be as functional as possible.
‘As your conservatory is likely to be the brightest room in the house, you’ll need blinds that adequately cut out enough sunlight to ensure the room is habitable in summer and on those blindingly sunny winter days too,’ says Leah Aspinall, Head of Design, Blinds 2go.
‘Another consideration is the heat. As conservatories tend to be mostly glass, they can get extremely hot in the summer months and cold in winter without adequate window coverage.’
9. Make it modern with a glass box
From modern box to traditional conservatory, a glass extension will boost your living space, brighten your home and provide a greater connection between indoors and out.
There is now a huge variety of high performance glass available, designed to improve energy efficiency and control solar glare. The type of structure and direction in which it faces will dictate what type of glass is most appropriate. ‘A north-facing conservatory will have a different glass requirement to a southwest-facing one, simply because it is exposed to less direct sunlight,’ says Lee Vaughan, managing director of Breckenridge Conservatories.
10. Keep it classic with an extension
While a fully glazed conservatory offers an inviting spot to enjoy the summer months, if you are looking for a room that will serve your home all year round, consider a garden room or an extension which tends to be semi-glazed with a tiled roof, or an orangery which is also usually semi-glazed but typically features a flat roof and a roof lantern.
11. Delight with a dream view
Glass has the ability to make the most dramatic difference to a home – probably more so than any other material. ‘It is part of a desire for modernity and the fact that everybody likes natural light,’ says architect Ben Adams. ‘The idea of blurring the transition between inside and outside and of being connected to the garden is so very appealing. And it is glass that allows us to enjoy the garden for twelve months of the year, rather than three.’
12. Spice up your typical garden shed
'Years ago, homeowners simply had a conservatory bolted to the back of their homes as sun rooms for use during warm weather,' says Paul Schofield, Apropos' technical sales manager. ‘These days, conservatories and other glass extensions are a fully-integrated part of the home thanks to improved thermal ratings, so homeowners can use and enjoy them all-year round.'
Conservatory structures are usually made of uPVC, wood or aluminium, with all three available in a huge range of colors.' The choice is mainly aesthetic,' adds Paul, ‘although aluminium is particularly strong, yet light and is also resistant to corrosion, unlike wood which will require maintenance.'
13. Create a space for rest and relaxation
The defining feature of a conservatory paints this option as a bit of an add-on as opposed to integral part of the building. A conservatory should have a lockable door to the main house and not share heating and plumbing services. But most conservatory specialists are happy to build conservatory-style extensions that flow with the main house and which have connected services that can support a kitchen, and certainly a comfortable living, dining or office area.
14. Optimize an indoor and outdoor space
A successful addition can dramatically improve your lifestyle – and the value of your home. Whether you’re based in the town or country, there’s a solution to suit every property. Here wall-to-wall modern glazing at the back of this rear extension completely opens up the kitchen-diner-living room to the garden. Continuous stone flooring inside and out link the interior to the outside space. Adding a conservatory or orangery to the back of a period property may require planning permission.
How to choose the right conservatory
While the range of conservatory styles – from Victorian glasshouses and Edwardian pavilions to minimalist boxes – has never been wider Mark Jones, of Town and Country, specialist in bespoke designs, says the market is dominated by two distinct looks. ‘On the one hand we still have lots of requests for traditional Victorian conservatories which look wonderful in a range of settings. On the other side, we are increasingly being asked to design a more hybrid, orangery-style structures. Typically these have solid timber or masonry walls with semi glazed roofs and tall windows or folding doors opening on to gardens or patios.’
According to the Chartered Institute of Surveyors, a conservatory can add at least 5 per cent in value to your property but only, says architect Jeremy Preston-Jones of Malbrook Conservatories, if the scale and quality of the glasshouse matches your existing house. ‘I’d say that most of our customers spend between five to ten percent of the property value on their conservatories. So, if a house is worth $900,000 a budget of £90,000 is realistic.’
Proportion is key. ‘Cheaper kit-form conservatories are often made for new-build houses so the design will be dwarfed by larger Georgian or Edwardian properties,’ explains Mark Jones. Privacy is another priority especially if you live in built-up parts of town where semi-glazed styles can be a more prudent option. If you opt for a bespoke design, one idea is to replicate features from your house, such as arched windows or gabled roof in the conservatory to link the two structures. There is no reason to be slavishly faithful to the period of your house either. A sleeker modern style on say, a tithe barn, could work just as well as a more conventional model, provided the scale and silhouette is complementary.
You will also have to consider the location. The best planned conservatory will capitalise on views of your garden. Do you need storage? If so, then an orangery style with more wallspace will be more practical then a fully-glazed construction. For larger open plan spaces, roof lanterns placed above separate eating and kitchen areas add definition.
What are the types of conservatory available?
Whether you choose to call it a glasshouse, garden room or conservatory there is a range of styles and design features to choose from.
The quintessential conservatory design features a pitched roof with ornate ridges and facetted front, like a bay window.
Often square or rectangular, the early 20th century conservatory is less ornate than Victorian styles with a flat sometimes pedimented front and more useable floor space.
The classic orangery combines stone or timber walls and corners with tall windows and a flat roof with glazed roof lantern.
Sometimes referred to as a sun room, the simplest shape with a single-sloped roof and usually the longer wall adjoining the house. Can be useful for filling in corners and to avoid taking up too much space in a small garden design.
A vertical and front and steeply pitched roof that can be plain or ornamented. The design creates a generous ceiling height.
Typically combines a Victorian-style section with a lean-to structure to make the P-shape.
A symmetrical design featuring a larger middle porch section and wings that make a T-shape.
Featuring a two-tier conservatory roof, the overall impression is of height, light and grandeur.
Do you need planning permission to build a conservatory?
The recent brouhaha surrounding the Government’s proposed relaxation on planning has drawn attention to conservatories. According to Jonathan Hey of Westbury conservatories, planning rules and building regulations are often conflated. ‘Planning permission applies to the look and size of a structure, not it technical specifications. Like any extension, the conservatory will be subject to planning permission if it exceeds the permitted development area around a property.
‘It’s vital that you check your contractor or designer is up to date with the latest regulations’ says Jonathan. According to the Conservatory Association, ggf.org.uk, planning permission is often not needed for a smaller domestic conservatories that meets the criterion listed below. However, rules are constantly being updated so always check with your local planning office.
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