A Beautiful Life…Revisited

Posted August 29th, 2014 by Bonnie Hall and filed in General, Insights, Travels, Uncategorized

Dedication:  to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose.  That one simple word describes Tanglewood Conservatories and its ownership – Alan and Nancy, in one nicely wrapped package.  Dedicated to building creatively-inspired structures that enhance and amplify the client’s life; dedicated to documenting and recreating the architectural details of conservatories from bygone eras; dedicated to maintaining a high level of quality and customer service; dedicated to being good stewards in business, environmentally and our community.  And most of all, dedication to each other as partners in life and business.

wedding, conservatory
Brookside Garden Conservatory – Wedding Picture 1993

As the new marketing manager at Tanglewood I was thumbing through some old files and came across an intriguing article written many years ago as to how Tanglewood Conservatories began.  Scanning through the article, I quickly realized that a special story was hiding in a file and now was perfect timing for a ‘revisit’.   I hope you enjoy the Tanglewood journey as much as I.

The Prelude to a Labor of Love…

It’s what happens when two people meet; fall instantly in love and everything changes.  In the case of Alan Stein and Nancy Virts, falling in love didn’t just change their personal lives, but transformed the direction of their professional lives also.

We are where we are today and who we are today because of one another.  Alan & Nancy

Alan had spent years in the housing industry, first as a carpenter, then an architect and then later as a sales professional.  Nancy had recently found herself at a pivotal moment in life – a decision to forge ahead and devote the majority of her time and energy in continuing to build on her corporate management experience or regroup and focus on what fed her soul:  her artwork.  The artwork won and she soon took a job managing a home builder’s office, where most importantly, he provided a large loft for her art studio.  Her artwork began to gain attention and she found herself being selected for juried shows.

The two destined pathways converged and collided in 1991 when Alan walked into the builder’s office that Nancy was managing.

It was love at first sight for me…for Nancy it took longer!  The minute I met her, I knew this woman would change my life. – Alan Stein

After waiting to call Alan back, they finally met for dinner – the meal lasted for over three hours and they never ate!  That night, everything clicked.

Looking back to 1985, Alan and his then-business partner ventured into their own contracting business that sold prefab sunrooms in the Washington, DC area.  The partnership eventually proved disastrous.  Alan and the partner decided to dissolve the partnership, but each taking an arm of the business – Alan the struggling sun-room portion while the partner took the more profitable contracting division.  That decision would prove to work better for Alan in the long run even though the initial outlook was shaky at best.

Tanglewood Conceived

Although it seemed the sun was setting on Alan’s pre-fab sunroom business, Alan, ever the entrepreneurial sales guy, kept in contact with several builders in the industry.  One approached Alan about creating a custom conservatory for a high-end home.

He handed me a picture of an English conservatory and asked if I could do that, an entrepreneur never says no, so I said sure and took the project on.” – Alan Stein

At this point, Alan and Nancy were dating and evenings were spent discussing the project late into the night.  Nancy, still working for the contractor, arranged a visit to England so they could tour manufacturers so that they could better understand the process of making quality conservatoires in the classic tradition.

It just captured my imagination, Nancy said.  I became engrossed in the project he was working on.

Home from the U.K., Alan designed and built the conservatory and the client and Alan fell in love with the design.  Soon thereafter, the second commission for a conservatory was harkening and Nancy realized this was not a side business, but the business.

A year and a half later, Nancy joined Alan at Tanglewood.

conservatory creation
Working together designing a new project at Tanglewood

Beautiful Life Amplified

Tanglewood’s story began with a commitment to the history and tradition of the 19th century conservatories.  From their first trip together to the U.K., Alan and Nancy have become students and stewards of the tradition and they work hard to capture the intricacy and elegance in all of Tanglewood’s designs.

Fast forward many years from that fateful day in 1991, to a life that has been amplified many times as a result of their business venture together.  Building a successful business has enabled Alan and Nancy to experience awesome opportunities such as extensive travel, awards and honors  and acquiring many new friends and family.  Many great friendships have been forged – close relationships are typically formed with clients over the course of a project.  With no preconceived or pre-designed models, a deep relationship is a natural outcome since Tanglewood works closely with each client.   Discovering the client’s vision, likes and dislikes, the rhythm of their lifestyle, is paramount so that the conservatory will best meld with how they live and work.  It’s hard not to become as close as family!

Tanglewood has won numerous design and ‘best in business’ awards over the years.

Alan and Nancy have many memorable clients – but there are some very special ones that leave a deep impression:

  •  One client, now a great friend, has worked with Tanglewood on three projects, with yet another very large project in the discovery phase.  He is world-renowned within the medical field and Nancy and Alan have been deeply touched by his nurturing persona.  As Nancy remarks, ‘He truly was meant to be a doctor – I have rarely witnessed that level of compassion and caring he has, not only for his patients, but for everything around him – his family, employees, pets and even the plants in his conservatory.  His conservatory is essentially his living room and it quickly becomes the favorite room of all visitors!’  He frequently entertains, holding classical music recitals and everyone comments as to how remarkable the acoustics are within the conservatory.
  •  Another beloved client has worked with Tanglewood seven times!  He is a veterinarian and she a nurse.  Both had demanding schedules and came to Alan and Nancy to help them turn their home in a tranquil haven.  She would work very closely with the Tanglewood team; designing many of the interior touches herself, such as a beautiful tile floor in a small conservatory off the master bedroom.  Their resulting home and gardens are now flush with beautiful light pouring in through custom-designed stained glass, sumptuous saeple wood  and an overwhelming aura of peaceful calm.
  • A favorite story that is told at Tanglewood involves a husband and wife who were building a new home.  They had agreed that each would be able to create ‘their’ own room as part of the construction process.  The wife chose to design and build a conservatory with Tanglewood while the husband created a very masculine billiards room complete with a copper ceiling.  During the many discussions and design meetings, the husband remarked he was excited to show them ‘his’ room with the pool table and all the other ‘mancave’ accessories.  After the conservatory was designed and built, Alan and Nancy went for a visit and they were met at the door by the husband inviting them in to visit his room – the conservatory!  Alan and Nancy have yet to see the billiards room!


Travel has also been a very integral component of the growing business.  Alan and Nancy have taken numerous trips researching the history and architectural details of the great conservatories of the world – many times documenting them in photographs.  As a result of their passion for the great conservatories, Alan has written a book and is currently touring Europe to capture the best photos to tell the story.  The book will be published by mid-2015.

Businesses are typically conceived and built to generate cash and fill a gap in the marketplace.  While Tanglewood certainly fills what was a large gap – there were no builders that were maintaining the historical accuracy of 19th century conservatories, and Tanglewood has certainly generated cash – what transcends this company above many others is the personal dedication that they exude.  They are architects and artists; mentors to new engineers and architects – Alan sits on the board for a local architectural college, and active contributors within the community.

‘I love the uniqueness and the magic of conservatories, we can build anything we can think of and that is what I love about this business.  That and being able to do what we love with the person we love – getting up each day and working together to make something beautiful.’  Alan Stein

It is indeed a beautiful life.

2 Responses to “A Beautiful Life…Revisited”

  1. Bonnie Hall

    Don, many thanks for the accolades! We love nothing better than creating great collaborative partnerships and are humbled by your message. We have enjoyed working with you and look forward to many projects in the future! Alan and Nancy are currently in Europe photographing great conservatories for their upcoming book which will be published in 2015, but they send their warmest regards!

  2. Bonnie Hall

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read our Tanglewood story! We again are humbled by the many accolades!

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