Looking Glass – American Dream Homes
By Shalene Roberts
Today’s custom glass enclosures reflect the glamour of a bygone era while ushering the beauty of nature into the heart of grand estates.
Reminiscent of an ages-old tradition, today’s conservatories are bringing old-world European romanticism into the heart of American homes. What originated several centuries ago as all-glass shelters designed to house exotic plant species while protecting such flora from cold winters has evolved to become custom glass-enclosed living spaces that marry the delicate balance between the interiors and the exteriors. Coupling state-of-the-art engineering with architectural novelty, modern conservatories serve myriad functions and have the power to evoke the glamour and the placid pace of a bygone era.
Seeing the Light
Serving as an extension of both the house and the landscape, a conservatory is unlike any living space in a residence. With their sweeping expanses of glass, these shelters capture the intangible dimensions of natural sunlight. Within a conservatory, dappled rays are refracted throughout the space, creating a magical theatrical ambiance. It is this very quality that makes a conservatory so appealing.
“You think about all the other rooms in your house, and unless you’re sitting next to a window on a sunny day, you have to turn on a light to read the newspaper or a book. From that standpoint, most rooms are the same,” says Alan. “And then you come into a conservatory, which has this completely different sense of the room because of the light filtering in from everywhere… It just has a very natural quality, which is hard to resist.”
Alan and his wife, Nancy Virts, are co-founders of Denton, Maryland-based Tanglewood Conservatories — one of only a handful of companies throughout the world that designs and builds custom glass enclosures. The couple — he serves as the director of architecture, she holds the position of chief operating officer — has been fabricating designed-to-suit conservatories for discerning clients throughout the United States and abroad since 1993.
Attesting to the belief that the landscape, conservatory, and home should listen to one another, Tanglewood’s structures are characterized by high levels of individualized, quality craftsmanship that can’t be duplicated by mass-produced creations. The company’s production teams consist of master craftspeople skilled in artisan woodworking, and all the conservatories are novel creations painstakingly designed to suit the individual spaces they occupy. As a result, Tanglewood’s conservatories exude a kind of ethereal reality, and the shelters provide homeowners with rooms that invoke a sense of transcendence.
Though many may think of conservatories in such limited terms as mere greenhouses or sunrooms, modern conservatories serve many more applications and are custom-crafted to enhance a home’s theme, period style, and one-of-a-kind architectural elements. With a wide array of architectural options available, a conservatory’s design and its function can be as individualized as the homeowner who will occupy it. And as livable, temperature-controlled spaces that bring sweeping vistas into the interiors, it’s no wonder that Tanglewood has crafter these glass structures to serve as bedrooms, dining rooms, art showrooms, pool or spa enclosures, foyers, breakfast nooks, garden follies, and more.
The bones of a conservatory are typically comprised of wood or steel framing; Tanglewood constructs most of its conservatories from solid mahogany. The company also offers such details as moulding, window muntins, fluted pilasters, Corinthian capitals, and more. Cupolas sometimes top Tanglewood’s structures, while copper or intricate ironwork may clad the exterior. Stained or hand-painted glass can also contribute an artistic element that only furthers the whimsical aesthetic. This architectural offering enables homeowners to custom design conservatories to suit their unique purposes.
Boasting more than mere aesthetic appeal, modern conservatories are also highly efficient. Unlike their earlier counterparts, which wasted tremendous amounts of energy, technology has afforded present-day conservatories with the ability to conserve energy. “If used properly, they can be huge energy gains,” Alan says. He attributes this efficiency to various factors, including the use of insulated glass, weather stripping, low-E glass, high-performance glass, and more. Alan also cites a conservatory’s ability to capture and retain heat in the colder months, as well as the fact that these rooms do not necessitate the use of artificial light, thus further reducing a homeowner’s energy costs.
But no matter its purpose or its energy efficiency, the true appeal of a conservatory lies in the simple fact that these shelters afford homeowners with a secluded space to retreat from the busy-ness of life while reconnecting with the natural surroundings. The structures represent a tangible throwback to the old-world era of romanticism and to a pace of life now foreign to many of us. It is the magical interplay of light and the seamless integration of the indoors and the out that creates a sort of sublime space that causes us to slow down, give pause to our demands, and celebrate the simple pleasures life has to offer.