The Rawlings Conservatory “An empty pot is just a pot full of wishes!”

Posted June 21st, 2018 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Community
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Kate Blom accepting Rawlings Conservatory plaque by Tanglewood Conservatories


An empty pot is just a pot full of wishes,” Kate Blom says. Her response is to think, “Okay let me make you beautiful.” That is what she did for the Rawlings Conservatory in Baltimore during her 18½-year tenure as director.

She was in charge when the Conservatory grew from an aging glass house with some dirt-floored greenhouses into one of Baltimore’s jewels. Major renovations in 2004 preserved the original Palm House, dating to 1888, and updated the greenhouses that now house plants from three climates – Mediterranean, tropical and desert.

As she retired from her post this month, Kate looked back on the changes and fun times. “It’s been great. I’m grateful to so many people along the road, lots of good people.”

She started in December 1999 when the renovations were still just plans. “We were programming as best we could, getting ready for renovations, figuring out what plants to keep.”

The groundbreaking in 2002 is one of her favorite memories. And the grand re-opening in 2004 was even better.

“When the first school buses came after the renovation, it made me cry,” she said. “I thought, ‘they’re coming!’”

She’s especially proud of the Conservatory’s programs for children, such as Little Leaves, which brings city second graders to the Conservatory to discover and learn about plants.

“Little Leaves is just incredible … Watching a kid look at a banana tree and get it.” She said she always wanted to work with children and the Conservatory programs now are “really changing lives, making a difference. That’s always important.”


Among her many memories, she recalls the day a big limousine arrived and out stepped Maryland Comptroller and former governor and mayor William Donald Schaefer. “I gave him a tour, showed him our plans. He was pleased. That was nice.” Then there was the time she looked at the guest book to see it had been signed by Oprah, who wrote “My Baltimore!” As Kate said, “Darn, I missed her.”

She learned that it’s not so bad to hold a boa constrictor, when she helped save one that was found freezing outside the Conservatory. And she had lots of fun putting on the annual poinsettia and spring flower shows. She recalls the Conservatory getting its own web page and how that “put us on the map.”

The conservatory is a popular wedding venue now, with at least one every week, sometimes two or three.

And of course, there are the plants. She was “seeing something new every day,” different plants blooming, some for the first time since being planted.

In all, she said, it’s been “A wonderful job. The best in the city.

And it wasn’t her first career. Kate was born in Baltimore and graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism. It was the time of the Pentagon Papers news and Kate was determined to get a job at the Washington Post. “Katherine Graham was a big hero for me.” She managed to get hired as a copy aide first, and then spent 22 years in advertising sales. When she moved to Baltimore, the commute and family obligations proved to be too much and she decided to do something different.

She’d always liked plants, watching watermelon seeds grow into a plant when she was a child, filling her home with plants. So she took courses at Dundalk Community College in horticulture, took Master Gardener classes and worked in nurseries. After visiting public gardens with her classes, she decided that is where she wanted to work. Then she landed the job at the Conservatory.

As for retirement, Kate is enjoying the free time now, working in her own garden and helping her sister who is dealing with illness. She also has a son and two grandchildren she can spend time with and she wants to hang out and travel with her longtime friend, Maggie. “I feel lighter in many ways; my priorities are where they should be.”


Her wishes for the Conservatory? She has a potful.

First is the renovation of the historic Palm House with “a 100-year fix, not just a 20-year Band Aid.” Plans for a feasibility study are underway now.

She’d also like to see the fulfilling of the master plan for more space, another building for administration, space for shows. More children’s programs, more staff. “I just want more of everything, bigger gardens,” she said.

“I really think Baltimore deserves and should have a first-rate Conservatory and botanical garden. It helps a city grow.”


By Teresa Cook, Rawlings Conservatory |

Visualize a Space That Creates and Supports Your Passions

Posted October 20th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Client Stories, Conservatory Projects, Steel Structures
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cast ironThe love affair between steel and the arts was birthed during the industrial revolution with the development of decorative cast iron. The malleability of first cast iron and then steel entranced designers who delighted in creating romantic flourishes including leaves, stars and even fanciful animals. As glass became affordable, it was coupled with both structural and decorative cast iron for the charming glass conservatories we know of from 18th century.

The manufacturing of steel and other metals has improved over time, giving them properties that allow our own ability to use them to also evolve. The result is new possibilities transforming conservatory design into thoroughly modern and special rooms with the old world flare that is so charming and desirable.

Storytelling in Steel

We love our clients! Their imagination gives us new challenges and takes us to new heights.

sequence-drawingOne client led us to a new discovery in the future of steel structure.  He dreamed of a glass conservatory that would have the charm and feel of mahogany yet constructed using steel to reflect his love of mathematics!

We puzzled over a few renderings but one late night drawing captured it all. To incorporate his passions we cut the Fibonacci sequence in the supporting steel beams! He loved the concept!

You may know it from The Da Vinci Code – either the book or the movie. A Fibonacci Sequence can be defined as a series of numbers in which each number ( Fibonacci number ) is the sum of the two preceding numbers.  The simplest is the series 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.

Charmed with our rendering, our client immediately saw his passions coming alive in his new glass conservatory.  Using laser cut steel we were able to create a pattern of circles using the sequence. Note elbows the elbow of each support is the largest circle. The three circles moving out from the biggest circle decrease in size according to their Fibonacci number. When it was built, he was thrilled at how we met and exceeded his expectations. It is now his favorite room
in his home!

bronze-deckAnother client envisioned a glass conservatory on a stone observation deck. The goal was to create it out of steel and bronze while retaining all possible old world charm. At the top, he suggested, should be a bronze roof-lantern-style cap that would cover the home’s elevator.

Our solution was to engineer a bronze exterior shell to contain the glass. Inside steel ribs emphasize the architecture and blend with the interior of the home.

In Partnership

One of the reasons our designs are so well loved is we partner with other craftspeople. To give our clients the best experience and quality, we are now the exclusive Mid-Atlantic dealer of Brombal Products. Brombal is well known for beautifully handcrafted Italian door and window systems. Carefully chosen partnerships like this one expand what we are able to offer our clients while maintaining our commitment to quality of materials and design.

The Art of the Glass Conservatory

We are more than just another conservatory manufacturer. The artistry that comes with designing and building glass conservatories with modern materials in the charming style of yore is what makes us America’s Premier Conservatory Designer and Manufacturer. We are truly artists, in love with our craft.

Connect with our Project Manager, Andrew Ruf, to begin the discussion of how your conservatory can inspire and reflect your passions – 410.479.4700




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.

A Cultural Transformation at Tanglewood Conservatories

Posted August 2nd, 2009 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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About a year ago, having realized that we needed a new management paradigm if Tanglewood was going to survive and grow, we began to look for ways to engage everyone in our company with a vision of Tanglewood Conservatories that was inclusive of employee’s personal life goals. We felt that if we could get people to feel that they were vested in a very personal way in the future success of the business, we could finally get everyone rowing really hard in the same direction.

We saw that the basic business need for personal accountability for quality and quantity of production could not be had with out a workforce that was highly committed to that as a common goal. That goal also had to be linked to each team member’s personal life dreams for it to become a powerful catalyst for such a cultural transformation.

Our efforts at building a more unified and cohesive team began with the formation of what we expectantly called “The Leadership Team”. A select group of employees along with Nancy, Mark and myself began to meet regularly to explore how to improve communication, accountability, quality.

Early on, we identified several key aspects of our business which we felt needed to be addressed. We needed to develop and codify better Standard Operating Procedures throughout the organization, improve our job cost accounting and build “buy-in” for all these efforts from everyone from top to bottom in the company.

It was slow going at first. The team studied business books “Flawless Execution” by James Murphy and “When Fish Fly” by John Yokoyama and looked for ways to apply the principles. Mark mentored us in a system of personality types that enabled us to see each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in a new light.

It surfaced that there were varying levels of skepticism among the team members concerning the whole process, some overt and some quite subtle. Each of us is challenged to consider our own deeply rooted notions of things and ways of seeing ourselves and others and this can be at times painful and at times enlightening.

The first big challenge was to get to the point where everyone on the Leadership Team had a deep understanding of the concept “we are in this together” and “we are responsible for making it what we want it to be”, instead of embracing the old paradigm which makes the “boss” (Alan and Nancy) responsible for the future of the company and in which employees are mainly passive participants.

Getting people to start to take “active” responsibility for achieving overall company goals has turned out to be a huge step. In a gauge of our level of success, at one of our recent meetings, someone from our production department spontaneously offered to jump the “silo” between departments.

Silos are in a tradition business organization the different departments and they tend to want to function independently and protect themselves and their “turf”. They will often have their own agendas which may be in conflict with overall company goals and will tend to “blame” other departments for their “failures”.

In this case, our engineering department was buried with work forcing production to slow down and not meet their goals. In the “old world”, production would simply blame engineering and rest in its vindication. However in this case, production unexpectedly offered to jump in to help engineering by taking on some of the work itself! They did this because there was an instinctive commitment to an overall company goal – profitability, even though it meant taking on more work for themselves.

What was so amazing to me was that not six months ago, my suggestion of this concept might have been received like a ripe tomato hitting a brick wall!

More to come,


Tanglewood Conservatories celebrates 15 year anniversary

Posted February 2nd, 2009 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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ten year vets
Alan, Nancy with our team of ten-year plus veterans. Dave Stang, Tom Casey, Dave Carney, Mehmet Selman and Donna Joseph (on the far right).

Tom's address
Tom Casey talks to group about his work on one of the Associate Teams.

Last Saturday night, the entire Tanglewood Conservatories team celebrated its 15 year anniversary with a dinner bash at the Lily Pad Café and Bistro in Denton. The Lily Pad is run by Joanne Redden in a beautiful old historic building that was originally a one room school house and is now listed as a National Historic Trust site property.

It was a terrific evening. In all, about forty of us gathered and dined. In my keynote address to the group, I began with a look back at how Tanglewood Conservatories began its life and talked about the many challenges we’ve faced along the way. Some of these have been daunting! As a matter of fact, as I prepared my talk, I began to think that the history of Tanglewood has been the story of how we’ve overcome the many obstacles we’ve had to face.

Some of the more notable moments were: when we moved to our new site in Denton from the suburbs of Washington DC in 1996, we planned that at least half of our employees would join us in the move. Nope! All stayed behind except one- Mehmet, our Senior Designer. We lost our entire production staff in one fell swoop!

In 1997, we were invited to showcase our rooms at the Rockefeller Center Flower and Garden Show in New York- but, we had to design, fabricate and install three major conservatories in only three months- at the same time keeping up with a completely full production schedule of previously sold projects!

Later, when one of our salesmen sold a very large conservatory project, we discovered we didn’t have the space to build it and had to scramble to put up a major new wing to our facility just to be able to complete the project.

Now of course we face the current challenge of uncertain economic times and the new pressures that has created on almost everyone.

I also spoke of our many recent accomplishments. In the last few years we designed and built our new antique-style palmhouses and pool enclosures as well as our copper-clad windows and conservatories. We developed our capability to design and build large scale steel structures. We worked hard to change over our design and production operations to computer driven processes.

But one of the most profound recent changes has been the creation and empowerment of our Associate Teams. These are groups of Tanglewood personnel who have undertaken to identify issues, develop strategies and implement changes throughout the company in an effort to build a more efficient and effective organization.

Our goal is to become the best in the world at what we do.

I closed my address by sharing my conviction that even though we have come a long way in 15 years, all that we have accomplished so far is only the foundation for what will come in the future. We have some great plans in the making. Stay tuned!


Prospective client from UK joins Tanglewood Conservatories

Posted December 20th, 2008 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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It has surprised and interested me that over the years many of the people who work here at Tanglewood Conservatories have found their way to us quite auspiciously.

A few years ago, we received an email inquiry regarding our conservatories from a woman living in the UK. She was actually American but had lived in the UK for some years as her husband was stationed there serving in the military.

She said she would be moving back to the US and was planning to purchase a home in a town coincidentally near Tanglewood Conservatories’ plant. She and her husband would be renovating the home and would love to add a beautiful conservatory!

We corresponded at length about the project, however it became clear that our conservatories would not fit into their project budget since there was so much else to be done to the house. She had joking asked if our conservatories were “gold plated” when we got to the budget question- to which I joking replied that “the gold plating would be an extra if they wanted it!”

Several years passed and I would on occasion drive past the house that they had purchased (which they had done online and unseen), and see the progress that they were making. I always remembered our conversation and the coincidence of her contacting us from UK- then purchasing a home nearby Tanglewood, and wondered if one day I would drive by and see a new conservatory! I never did.

Last fall, we were looking to fill a position in our production management department and placed an ad in the local newspaper. To our surprise, we received over 75 resumes and many of the candidates were highly qualified. One of them jumped right out at me- it was the very same woman whom I had spoken with several years ago! I instantly recognized her name and address.

She had spent the time renovating the house and getting settled into small town life here on the Eastern Shore but was now looking to re-enter the workforce.

Our evaluation team settled on 10 candidates to interview in person and we put them all through our pretty rigorous screening process. She was one of them. We narrowed the choice to just two candidates and finally selected her!

As a result, Stephanie will shortly be joining our Production Management department in the role of inventory and purchasing coordinator.

Best Holiday Wishes to everyone,


Thank you

Posted November 28th, 2008 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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I got this note the other day from a colleague who builds conservatories in England. She had responded to the article that was just put on The Proper Home website.

“I think it’s brilliant that Tanglewood’s conservatories are getting recognition from a third party. As an independent conservatory company it’s good to see others who take an even more passionate and creative approach than we do to building conservatories/summer houses – which are a fantastic english tradition!”

Thank you Stephanie. We always appreciate it best when someone from our own industry recognizes our efforts. Among other things we strive for is to raise the bar for our entire industry.

Our goal is to build the very best hardwood conservatories in the world in terms of architecture and product quality, to provide our customers with the very best purchasing and ownership experience in the world and to offer our employees one of the very best places to work in the world.

Hopefully others will follow suit and together we can make a real difference.


Greenhouses vs. Conservatories

Posted November 21st, 2008 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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I just spoke with an architect about an interesting conservatory project he was working on. The design was for a green house that was to be reminiscent of an old-world conservatory to be used as a showcase for a botanical collection.

I wanted to point out the differences between a typical “modern” wood frame conservatory, the kind that is often used to expand and enhance living space and an actual greenhouse.

Many companies will use their wood conservatory system – systems which are designed to enclose living space, as a greenhouse. This has two problems. The first is that the structure itself is not designed to handle the environment and the functionality of a greenhouse.

The second, is that these systems will never begin to capture the exquisite lines and proportions that are the extraordinary feature of the greenhouses of the nineteenth century. They are reasonable facsimiles to the untrained eye no doubt, but not the real thing.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

The project shown here:

Dome Interior View

is the interior of the dome of a greenhouse that we built which uses small overlapping panes of glass to effect the curvature of the domes. This technique allows the structural members to be much lighter than a typical wood conservatory. It also allows for the modulation in their sizes that adds interest to the structure. This is much more characteristic of the older historic conservatories.

Compare the interior look of the dome shown in this picture:

Interior of Dome

one of Tanglewood’s “modern” wood conservatories, to see the difference.

Also compare the character and detail of the exterior of the dome shown here:

Classic Cupola

with that shown in the picture here:

Curved Glass Dome

The smaller pieces of glass in the top picture are even scalloped at the bottom, a small but crucial detail!

Though Tanglewood designs and builds many of its hardwood conservatories as elegant living spaces, when asked to design and build a greenhouse, we look to their historical roots. These elegant, romantic and oftentimes sheer feats-of-engineering can’t help but inspire anyone who looks closely at – and cares about the details.

As a tribute to these great grandfathers of the conservatories we design and build, we’ve added a new section to our website called “Our Heritage” in which we will showcase many of our favorite examples. Some are very well known, some mainly undiscovered. Most are American, many already renovated, some in much need of loving care.


Tanglewood Conservatories on The Proper Home website

Posted November 12th, 2008 by Alan Stein and filed in Magazine Articles
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Alan amp; Nancy Virts

The Proper Home, a website which bills itself as The Expert Resource for Quality Homeowners, has just posted an article showcasing Tanglewood and the way in which Nancy and I founded the company.

The article is titled: “Tanglewood Conservatories, A Beautiful Life” “When you think of the ultimate conservatories, Tanglewood Conservatories stands alone. In this story, we explore how Tanglewood came to be and explore the results of passion and a true labor of love.”

It’s a story I enjoyed!

Custom Home Conservatory

Posted October 24th, 2008 by Alan Stein and filed in Magazine Articles
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Custom Home MagazineIn the most recent issue of Custom Home magazine there is a page called “Great Finds- Custom builders share their latest product finds”.

The idea is that the editor interviews various upscale builders about what products the builder and their clients find most outstanding.

This addition of Great Finds, Chip Gruver of Gruver-Cooley Corp. in Leesburg, Virginia mentions his company’s latest great finds. They include:

1. The Harding Steel hydraulic lift which will lower two cars into the basement effectively turning a two car garage into a four car garage.

2. Kohler’s DTV-2 shower system which features music, lighting, water and steam in the bathrooms.

3. Tanglewood Conservatories, whom he mentions they enjoy working with. “People seem to really like them”, Chip says!

That doesn’t surprise us. We work really hard at it!