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No Other Room is Quite Like a Conservatory


A Natural Bridge Between House and Garden: ‘No Other Room Is Quite Like A Conservatory,’ Says Alan, Founder of Tanglewood Conservatories

While common in Europe, conservatories are now beginning to increase in popularity in the U.S. as homeowners discover a variety of uses for these one-of-a-kind “glass houses.” Many conservatories, such as the one pictured here, are used as breakfast rooms or additions to gourmet kitchens, while others serve specific purposes, such as a music room or natural bridge between the house and garden.

Conservatories have a rich history, going back to the days when wealthy families of Victorian Europe would travel the world and bring back rare spices or lemon and orange trees. They needed warm climates to survive the colder months, so the idea of a glass-enclosed conservatory was developed to nurture the exotic plants and specimens from the homeowner’s world travels. Today you can still see many European homes graced with these structures.

The interest in conservatories eventually came to the U.S., where owners of larger houses built them in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After a decline in popularity, conservatories began to reappear in the 1960s and show a revival in the 1970s – around the time insulated glass became available. By the 1980s some manufacturers needed to standardize their product to stay in business, turning to pre-fabricated sunrooms as their main product. Today, only a handful of firms custom-design and custom-build conservatories, with more custom conservatories being built in the U.S. than any other country, largely because Americans have the money and the climate is conducive.

“I’ve found that conservatories are to England what screened porches and decks are here in the U.S.,” says Alan, founder of Tanglewood Conservatories, Ltd. , a Denton, Md.-based custom designer and builder of conservatories. With a workshop on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tanglewood 25 craftsmen custom-build each structure, a process that takes approximately 9 months. Tanglewood creates about 25 conservatories a year, at an average cost of $150,000 to $250,000 – some well over a million.

“Our clients initially create their conservatories for a specific purpose, but it quickly becomes the room in the house where they spend most of their time, and more of our clients are incorporating plants and gardens, sort of a return to the origin of the conservatory,” said Alan. “A conservatory is unlike any other room in the house – few structures can make so striking a difference to a home and the people living in it.”