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Glass Menagerie – NJ Life Magazine

What Happens when an architect and an artist blend talents to build glass houses?
Pure magic…

NJ Life

by Purnell T. Cropper

NJ LifeLittle evokes 19th-century romanticism like a glass-encased room. Once a haven for orange trees and exotic species too delicate to survive outside, the conservatory has evolved into a delightful connection between the house and garden. Its transparency allows you to enjoy the elements without having to endure them. It can mean playing in the snow in your pajamas, gazing at the moon from beside a warm fire, or sitting amid a spring shower without getting wet.

Alan, founder of Tanglewood Conservatories and his wife, fiber artist Nancy Virts, chief operating officer, are masters of building seamless segues between the interior and exterior of a house.

“Emily Dickinson wrote, “There’s a certain slant of light and when it comes, the landscape listens – shadows hold their breath.” We believe landscape, conservatory, and home should listen to one another,” Alan says.

Alan and Nancy blend modern thinking and design with age-old techniques when constructing their one-of-a kind enclosures.


Their team of 25 artisans use the latest technology in structural engineering and a 300-year-old tradition of artisan woodworking to produce designs every bit as diverse as the settings in which they appear. Design elements from other parts of the house are often echoed in a Tanglewood Conservatory.

Alan and Nancy consider every detail carefully. From quarry tile floors to Corinthian capitals to stained Douglas fir window sashes to custom
chandeliers to fan-shaped windows that draw the eye to the top of the structure – and to the canopy of trees beyond – their custom conservatories are truly works of art.

“Its transparency allows you to enjoy the elements without having to endure them.”

“If utilitarian at heart, the modern conservatory is architectural in its soul – and sculptural,” says Alan, whose designs are both lyrical and practical.

Tea Room Conservatory“Conservatories’ classic designs typically conjure Old World shapes, styles and details,” Virts agrees. “But they can be as versatile and functional as you wish.” When it comes to getting creative, there’s little Tanglewood can’t do. The company has built see-through breezeways,
enclosed entire pools and erected unusual structures including a freestanding, glass-and-stone octagon housing a bar, mahogany woodwork, stained glass and a copper dome – to be used as a space for entertaining.

More and more people are viewing the conservatory as an ideal place to socialize. A glass room is a spectacular setting for cocktails on a starry winter night and it’s a wonderful spot to host sun-splashed Sunday brunches.

What will it take to make a Tanglewood Conservatory appear in your backyard? Between $150,000 and $250,000. Seems a small price to pay for such sorcery.