Is the Eden Project really a Conservatory?

Posted June 22nd, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Domes and Cupolas, Events, Insights, latest, Travels, Uncategorized
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Is the Eden Project really a conservatory?

It’s hard to be sure if the collection of biomes in Cornwell, England counts as a conservatory. Yet that is exactly what it’s designed to do, CONSERVE and EXPLORE plants collected from around the world.


The main structure is built largely of hexagonal and pentagonal 3-layer plastic cells joined together as GEODESIC DOMES. The insulated plastic that make up the domes work to create TWO SPECIFIC AND AUTHENTIC ENVIRONMENTS – one reproduces a TROPICAL RAINFOREST and the other duplicates the MEDITERRANEAN climate. Lovely glass inserts add more than a touch of beauty to the constructions and harken back to the glass history of conservatories.

Developed with the idea of providing multiple ways to explore those environments by building a community through sustainable living, the Eden Project is involved in RESEARCH AND TESTING around the world. Many of their efforts are aimed at CONSERVATION. They have, for example, projects to conserve redwoods, promote eco-friendly coffees and a deep geothermal energy project.  Every project involves both research and teaching the results.

In addition to investigating the sights, you can explore, learn water saving tips, get married, hear live music, discover new plants, and eat wonderful food you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Built in a clay pit, the Eden project defines itself as:

 “…an educational charity (that) connects us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future.”

There are also many OPPORTUNITIES TO TAKE CLASSES for kids and adults. You can even, for example, study for a university-level degree in Horticulture, Event Management and/or Contemporary StoryTelling and Performance. According to The Guinness Book of Records, Eden Project is the world’s largest greenhouse containing easily over a million plants. It also has the largest rainforest outside of normal rainforest territory. Who would have guessed all this would be located in Cornwall, England?


Eden Project’s website reflects the hip and cutting edge of this unusual conservatory’s attitude while giving you information that runs the gambit from fascinating (in The Core building) to practical including monthly gardening tips.

Spend some time on the site before you visit or allow for the serendipitous once you’re there – either way, your visit is apt to be educational, and just plain fun. Be willing to be surprised and inspired as you recognize something at Eden Project that would be perfect for your own installation.

You can START YOUR OWN CONSERVATORY PROJECT with a call to us at: 410.479.4700 or fill out our contact form.

All Wood and No Glass – Is It Still A Conservatory?

Posted June 8th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Conservatory Projects, General, Insights, Uncategorized
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Have you been to the only conservatory in the world made entirely of wood?

One of the most visited sites in all of San Diego, CA is the Botanical Building in Balboa Park. Built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, the now 100+ year old structure is the ONLY ALL-WOOD LATH CONSERVATORY on the planet!

hello botanical garden

It also happens to be one of the LARGEST CONSERVATORIES in the world! Although we tend to think of conservatories as glass buildings, this one demonstrates how remarkable the design of conservatories of the 19th century has evolved. That’s probably why it is an inspiration to Tanglewood. Passionate about 19th century conservatory design/architecture, Tanglewood is always finding NEW, INNOVATIVE WAYS to bring UNIQUE DESIGN CONCEPTS to life in every project.

Alfred D. Robinson, who was recognized as a world authority on begonias, is credited with the concept of this lath conservatory. He created a structure that would be ideal for those surprisingly versatile and shade-loving begonias he loved so much.

These days, the conservatory houses MORE THAN 2,000 PERMANENT PLANTS, including collections of cycads, ferns, orchids and other tropical plants. The building is also known forInside the Botanical Building. Balboa Park, San Diego.

presenting some Balboa Park’s best seasonal displays of flowers.

The structure is fronted by an equally famous large lily pond that is home to kid-fascinating turtles and a grand selection of colorful, mature koi, plus a collection of wandering ducks all open to the San Diego sky. Often the first impression a visitor has when entering the conservatory itself is of cool dimness and the fecund smell of moist earth as their eyes adjust the amazing collection of plants appear.

This marvelous LATH CONSERVATORY is huge! It measures 60 FEET TALL at the top and the footprint is 75 FEET WIDE by 250 FEET LONG. This not only allows for full-grown tall plants, but creates ample space for generous paths wandering the whole length and breadth of the building. Even with a moderate crowd it’s possible to have a sense of privacy once or twice as you explore.

You’ll often find yourself face-to-face with captivating and EXOTIC PLANTS at almost every turn. Many of the larger displays of plants are surrounded by containers that are designed for easy sitting. Great spots to look closely at a plant or just to relax for a minute or longer.

The Botanical Building Conservatory is open every day but Thursdays from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon and closed on most holidays. Amazingly, it’s FREE TO THE PUBLIC! You can confirm the schedule and find out about special events and exhibits at its official website.

The Botanical Building will delight you and often surprise you – both wonderful reasons for a visit or even two.

Is YOUR Conservatory Ready to Take on Winter’s Worst?

Posted December 23rd, 2015 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Conservatory Projects, General, Insights
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Have YOU prepared your conservatory for winter’s worst?

We believe conservatories and greenhouses are MORE than just another addition to your home; they become your FAVORITE hideaway to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature – wouldn’t you like to take extra GOOD CARE of them?

Whether you undergo harsh snowfall, strong winds, rain, or ice, it is important to perform a REGULAR MAINTENANCE check in between seasons, particularly at the beginning and end of winter to catch any damage and get it repaired quickly. This will prevent future problems.

Annapolis 2_Copyrighted


To ensure optimum performance, here are a few signs to look for:


It is important that you REGULARLY look over the structure to make sure there are no leaks or moisture build up within the foundation. Especially with wood, moisture can COMPROMISE the integrity of the structure and become costly later.

Window Seals

Since conservatories and greenhouses are mainly constructed using glass, WARMTH can ESCAPE from its seals! The seals around the windows are your FIRST DEFENSE against snow and moisture from entering your home so it is critical to check for any flakes, cracks or holes. Inspect regularly, repair quickly, and reduce further damage to keep your room warm and happy this holiday!


Although your gutters should be cleaned throughout the year, DOUBLE CHECK them in the winter months! Gutters are great spots for buildup, debris and insects to hide out and prevent the flow of rain and melted ice away from your building and DAMAGE the foundation.

Paint & Varnish

Maintenance is VITAL here. Mahogany, Sapele, and other woods need a GOOD COAT of paint or varnish to protect it from the weather. Failure to maintain proper finished is one of the MOST COMMON causes of damage to a beautiful conservatory!


If you haven’t had your conservatory inspected yet, who better to take care of your favorite room than the people who built it!

For more helpful HINTS and TIPS this holiday season, CALL and ask about our 15 Point Inspection Plan to keep your conservatory or greenhouse in tip-top shape!

We are THANKFUL to have been a part of the creation of your conservatory or greenhouse and enjoyed working with you and your family. You were such a PLEASURE to work with we look for clients just like you! If you know anyone who is looking for our services, SHARE this email with them or have them give us a CALL at 410.479.4900.


Happy Holidays from Team Tanglewood!

The Art of Design

Posted January 9th, 2015 by Bonnie Hall and filed in Conservatory Projects, General, Insights, latest
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Remember career day back in high school?  Guidance counselors and local business people all gathered in the auditorium talking about career choices and pathways.  Then there was always that one counselor that was the dreamer and spoke of finding your passion and everything else would fall into place.  Back then it all sounded so nebulous – how can a teenager know their life’s passion?

With that high school day forgotten many decades in the past and fast forward to working at TWC for several months now, I have had heard numerous times that it is the design element that Tanglewood brings to a project that sets us apart from others in our arena.  It is easy to prattle off the obvious reasons:

  • TWC has a full suite of architects, engineers and designers
  • We pride ourselves on our collaborative nature and working well with the homeowners’ team of architects and designers
  • We bring a historical perspective based on Tanglewood’s extensive travels, books and lectures series

Wanting to get a more in-depth understanding – I asked Alan his thoughts.  His response quickly brought me back to high school…

’We are architects and artists, not accountants and lawyers.
We create art and that just happens to fuel our business.
We do not compromise or concede to any business strategy that stifles our artistry.
Making money is a byproduct of our passion, the actual building process is the business that supports our artistic endeavors.’

Designing conservatories and greenhouses isn’t just the starting point of the process to get to a completed structure.  It is an artist creating a work of art that ultimately will become part of someone’s art collection.   Designing conservatories is the passion that ignites Tanglewood and it is that passion that then builds these stunning structures.  As Alan states, ‘If we were to just design a building, there is no art, no passion.’   Tanglewood is in business to create art.   Our conception was the result of stumbling upon a passion:  historic conservatories & creative design.   Many marketing manuals have been written extolling the practice of determining your value proposition.   At Tanglewood, it is simple.  We create art – that takes the form of conservatories.  That is our passion.

Turns out your guidance counselors were right on career day – find your passion, make it your job and the ‘business’ of it will follow.

Tanglewood Hand Drawing and finished project

Tanglewood Lectures at Rawlings Conservatory

Posted November 10th, 2014 by Bonnie Hall and filed in Events, Greenhouses, Insights, Travels
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A lecture on historic conservatories in an historic conservatory – much like peanut butter and chocolate – the perfect combination and very soul-satisfying.  Alan Stein, founder of Tanglewood Conservatories presented an intriguing look back at the great conservatories of the 19th century and the enduring impact they have had on history, architecture and humanity.

Alan stated at the end of the lecture, ‘In looking back at the designers and builders of the great conservatories of the 19th century; at the amazing buildings they produced and the impact they had on culture, society and industry of the time, we can’t help but be inspired by their passion, ingenuity and creativity.  Few legacies from the past have so much relevance for today’.


Looking Back Shows Us the Future

From the first crude orangeries in the mid-to-late 1600’s that had to be assembled each winter and taken down for spring to the nearly transparent glass houses such as Rawlings, to the modern minimalist movement, conservatories have experienced a marvelous evolution while still inspiring current construction of classic Victorian structures.

Depiction of Orangery from 1600's
Depiction of Orangery from 1600’s

Transparent feel of Rawlings Conservatory

Transparent feel of Rawlings Conservatory

Modern minimalist designed by Philip Johnson

Modern minimalist designed by Philip Johnson


Abundant Benefits

Nature is sometimes difficult to access in large sprawling cities such as Baltimore with blocks and blocks of row houses and office buildings.   Rawlings provides a quiet sanctuary, an oasis in which to connect with the outdoors and discover nature not just of our local region but virtually anywhere.  Public conservatories provide a venue so that we can learn about the natural world – both familiar and strange – local and exotic – and even more exciting, they allow all of us to become explorers just as Bomplad, Poeppig and Schomburgh, who searched the banks of the Amazon in their quest to bring back the giant Amazonian water lily for Queen Victoria in the 1800’s.

Bananas, coffee beans and papayas all grow at Rawlings Conservatory


Kate Blom, Rawlings Conservatory Supervisor states, ‘Kids go through the rainforest house and see bananas on real trees! – and they get it… where bananas come from instead of the supermarket shelf.’  It is at this point that you can have conversations with them about being stewards of our planet and of the environment.

Many may wonder why the conservatories and their preservation so important?  Once again, Kate’s insight is spot on –  ‘You can’t tell the story without the tactile experience of touching the bananas, the papayas and the coffee beans growing right there on the bushes!… and you can’t do that without a conservatory!’

Botanic gardens host a variety of beneficial programs – from lecture series on great conservatories, cultivating unusual plant species to exposing inner city children to the basics of gardening along with an emphasis on the arts such as sketching and photography classes.  Even the most amateur photographers armed with only a camera phone can take some pretty spectacular photos of the lush environment.  The photos below were snapped by Tanglewood team members prior to setting up for the lecture.

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The conservatory and its impact on us has withstood the test of time.  No matter the venue – private or public – historic or modern – the unique ability to allow us to connect with the outdoors while completely indoors, all while bestowing the magical luminescence of natural light throughout a glass-ensconced room.   The benefits are undeniable and their preservation for future generations must be a priority.  Alan’s remark in the lecture bears repeating lest we forget – ‘Few legacies from the past have provided as much value and relevance for today as have these eloquent glass houses.  The architects and builders from the 19th century have inspired us with their passion, ingenuity and creativity.’  It is up to all of us now to ensure we pass that same wonderment on to our children and their children.


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.

Alan’s Forthcoming Book on Conservatories

Posted August 22nd, 2013 by Alan Stein and filed in General, Greenhouses, Insights, Wye House
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Nearing completion is an enLIGHTning new book by Tanglewood’s President and Director of Architecture. “Conservatories” is a perspective on the historical development and modern relevance of the conservatory. The book promises to bring to light new aspects of the development and significance of the orangery, greenhouse and conservatory.

The first conservatory known in history dates back to circa 30 A.D. His physician has told the Roman governor, Tiberius that he must eat one cucumber each day. Thus, construction begins on a specularium, a house designed for the growing of plants. Fires outside the building’s stone walls heated the air inside the room, thin sheets of translucent mica (a shiny, silicate mineral) were used to form the roof and allow sunlight in. Five hundred years later, Thomas Hill, in his gardening book, “The Gardener’s Labyrinth” references this first greenhouse by telling his readers:

Ruins of Villa Jovis

The young plants may be defended from cold and boisterous windes, yea, frosts, the cold aire, and hot Sunne, if Glasses made for the onely purpose, be set over them, which on such wise bestowed on the beds, yielded in a manner to Tiberius Caesar, Cucumbers all the year, in which he took great delight…

The first practical botanical greenhouse is thought to be a building in Leiden, Holland where Jules Charles, a French botanist, raised tropical plants for use in the development of medicines in 1599. The greenhouse, incidentally, is still there!

Engraving of the Hortus botanicus in Leiden

Modern conservatories date back to 300 plus years ago when visitors to Mediterranean destinations began returning from their travels with tropical fruits and plants that could not survive the cold weather climates of Europe. Orangeries, or limonaias (lemon-houses) as they were known in Italy, started out as simple pergolas built over the plants and trees and evolved into the more elaborate Victorian glass and aluminum structures seen in public parks and gardens all over the world. However, the public arena is not the only place the buildings are found today. Conservatories became a way for the wealthy to show off their fortunes during the 18th century and continue to be a way for even the not so well off today as a way to enjoy the outdoors, inside.

Beginning as rooms with tall, south-facing windows, conservatories have grown to become cozy, all-weather rooms for entertaining and relaxing, as well as for plant preservation and propagation. Nineteenth century England was the golden age of conservatories as the British love for gardening was paired with the new technologies for iron, glass, and heating systems were being developed. As the industrial revolution began and iron and glass became less expensive to produce (and the glass tax in Britain was repealed), it became easier for architects and builders to bring their ideas to fruition. As more industrialists became wealthy, more capital was raised to bring these once only available to the rich buildings to the public, in the form of public botanical gardens and parks. Conservatories then, have served to bring not only rare plants and trees to the general public but also to bring the public to the plants – a way for everyone to experience nature in a way that makes it easier to see and experience no matter what the weather and no matter where you live.

In the United States, a Boston merchant, Andrew Faneuil is credited with having the first American conservatory built, in 1737. And, George Washington, wanting to serve pineapple to guests visiting Mount Vernon, had a greenhouse built specifically to grow the fruit there.

George Washington's Greenhouse at Mount Vernon

The Wye Orangery, in Talbot County on Maryland’s eastern shore, not far from the Tanglewood Conservatories offices, is believed to be the only remaining American 18th century greenhouse.

 The Wye House Orangery, in Talbot County, MD

Conservatories and greenhouses have gone from being a necessary building to help preserve the health of a Roman emperor to status symbols of the rich to sunrooms and greenhouses attached to middle class homes used for entertaining and relaxing.

Perhaps someday they will be used all over the world to help feed nations as well!

Conservatories and Tree Houses

Posted April 3rd, 2011 by Alan Stein and filed in General, Insights
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Tree houses are like Conservatories. I’m as much in love with great tree houses as I am great conservatories. In many ways they are quite similar.

Both conservatories and tree houses are unconventional building types and lend themselves to creative unconventional design solutions. Both wear their structure in a way that all can see. If done well, both conservatories and tree houses become really cool spaces and they are both synonymous with being in an enclosed space while still being “out in nature”.

A few months ago, after I posted the videos of the guitar factories, Olivia who is lead in our assembly department, sent me the following pictures of really some cool tree houses.

Check out these amazing pictures courtesy of her.


unique tree house

custom tree house

tree house design


Conservatories, Greenhouses and Skylights. What Can an Expert Offer?

Posted March 7th, 2011 by Alan Stein and filed in General, Insights
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birds eye view

Oftentimes, Nancy and I get to work as part of a team of very talented professionals. These are some of our best projects and we enjoy the team approach best.

As it turns out, successful architects these days are increasingly successful team builders. With building products becoming more complex and technical, a successful project with a happy, satisfied customer often demands multiple team players each bringing specialized expertise to the job.

With a conservatory, the challenges are great because the building is so unique. Few architects or builders have had much experience with conservatory or greenhouse construction. Issues such as heating and cooling, wiring and structural loading can be difficult enough but when you realize the conservatory is not constructed using standard parts like 2 x 4’s or with the standard construction details that most architects and builders are familiar with, the challenges to great design can become daunting.

Therefore, the architect has a challenge to design a building that they do not know how will be built. This can lead to having to compromise on design ideas or details so that they will conform to a manufactures typical details or blowing out the budget completely with something totally custom. Sometimes the result is a building that though the client loves the design, the project comes in over budget and sometimes, it may never gets built.

So, how can this be prevented? One of the best methods that many architects, designers and builders have been using is to bring in the experts early.

Someone who knows their specialty is able to simultaneously work both the design side of the issues as well as the budget side so that at the end of the process, there are no surprises.

The project pictured above is a great example of how to do it right. The architect was designing a new home and produced an initial concept of the conservatory and then asked us to take over. We worked back and forth, the architect reviewing our schemes and making comments and suggestions as we went but relying heavily on our expertise.

The end result is a great project and a very happy customer.


Guitar production is not so different from Conservatories

Posted February 17th, 2011 by Alan Stein and filed in General, Insights
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Rob Ryan sent me the link to this video tour of the Original Fender Guitar Factory shot back in 1959!

This is a great video clip for anyone who has an interest in woodworking and in how thinks are made or in production processes. Knowing something about production processes for extremely high quality wood products I can relate to much of what I see here. I am especially fond of it because it shows the fledgling company making product by hand. I could relate to the scenes of guys cutting parts out on the different types of power saws and the apparent skill you can sense in their working the parts. There is a guy cutting out each guitar body one at a time on a band saw. It looks like he does the necks as well just using his eye as a guide. It reminds me of our roots 20 years ago, in particular, before the introduction of our CNC technology. I also like the guitar lick in the background.

If you look at this video, notice the guys playing the guitars on the shop floor at the very end of the clip. These guys could play these instruments and it’s very obvious that they really enjoyed doing it – probably under the guise of testing the products! I can see the pride that they have in producing these instruments all over their faces as they fool around jamming with the finished guitars.

So I was curious to see what the Fender production process looks like now and I found it in another video showing how the work is done today. This is video was done in their new shop in Corona, California.

Aside from being in a much more modern looking space, I was interested to see that though they have automated many facets of the production process, a lot of the work was still done by hand. I was especially surprised to see that some of the work which I thought lent itself to being automated was done by hand.

There a couple of cool shots of auto sanding machines doing the necks and other parts but it looks like they still cut the slots for the frets and insert the frets by hand.

Of course there are dust masks and other hazmat precautions in place as you would expect that weren’t in the older factory.

I love to look at these videos because they show me how others do some of the same things we do at Tanglewood. Sometimes, I see something and think wow, that would improve how we do something, other times, I think, wow, we are far ahead of them and could teach them a few things!

I also came across a video of a production plant in China making what looked like knock offs or reproductions of the Fender guitars.

This was also an eye opener as the Chinese plant looked much like the Fender plant did in 1959 but not nearly as well organized. In fact it looks like a complete mess. It is also evident that they lack the level of care that you can see in the people at the Fender shop. Though the work was pretty much being done by hand in the same way, it’s a completely different world. Also missing was any kind of hazmat control.

When it comes time to “test out” the finished guitars, the Chinese technician merely checks the tuning and functioning of the instrument with no such joy as the guys at the old Fender plant. I guess the electric guitar does not hold the same exalted place in popular culture and it does in the west.

Check out these videos.