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Q & A With Alan, Founder

Tell me about the origins of the conservatory – or the orangerie as it was once called.
Conservatories have a rich history, going back to the days when the wealthy families of Victorian Europe would travel the world and bring back specimens of plants and trees – lemon and orange trees were commonly brought back, as were pineapple trees and specimens of rare plants and seedlings from the Mediterranean, West Indies and India. They needed warm climates to survive the colder months, so the idea of a glass-enclosed conservatory was developed.

Worldwide, where is the conservatory most popular?
The early days of the conservatory began in Europe – primarily in Europe. That is where you’ll find the majority of conservatories today, either renovations of existing glasshouses or construction of new conservatories. I’ve found that conservatories are to England what screen porches and decks are here in the U.S.

What about residential conservatories in the U.S.?
In the U.S., conservatories began a slow revival in the 1970s – around the time insulated glass became available – and are now beginning to increase in popularity. In the 70s and 80s some manufacturers needed to standardize their product to stay in business and turned to pre-fabricated sunrooms as their main product. On the higher end, custom-designed and custom made conservatories such as the ones we create at Tanglewood started to gain in popularity in the past 10 years. In fact, more custom conservatories are being built in the U.S. than any other country, largely because Americans have the money and the climate is conducive.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in conservatories?
They are certainly gaining in popularity and homeowners are asking for larger spaces compared to the conservatories designed 10 years ago. A conservatory off the kitchen is the most popular location in the house.

What are people doing with their conservatories? For what purpose are they built?
Our clients initially create their conservatories for a specific purpose – as a swimming pool room or a music room, for example – 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. Our business is divided evenly between conservatories designed to blend with existing homes and conservatories that are part of the plans for a new home construction.

What goes into the design of a conservatory? How long does it take to complete?
A great conservatory design begins with the client – we listen to their desires, ideas feelings and needs. While working together, the client begins to see their dreams become reality as the architectural process unfolds and the conservatory becomes uniquely theirs. Each conservatory starts with a clean sheet of paper and fresh ideas; we don’t offer standard ‘modules’ or ‘kits.’ Design to completion typically takes 9 to 12 months.

How difficult is it to create a structure that seems to be made primarily of glass?
It begins with the fact that no two Tanglewood conservatories are alike – there is no standard formula, so while difficult, it is a challenge that we look forward to every day. The key to the design is structural engineering – beginning with how to support the roof with all the glass that goes into a conservatory. Also, everything in a well-designed conservatory is hidden, such as electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning ductwork, weather-stripping and flashing.

What about special materials and technologies used to create your conservatories?
We are committed to making the best conservatories in the world, and that means using the finest products available, such as Honduras Mahogany – the highest grade available. If we can’t purchase the level of quality we’re looking for, our craftsmen will make it right here in our plant in Denton, Maryland. For example, rather than buy windows and doors, we now make them. Our craftsmen create hardware that is authentic to the period but easy to operate and that opens and closes doors and windows properly. Soon we will be installing a special paint system that is being imported from Italy as well as making our own glass.

Tell me about your background and the origins of Tanglewood Conservatories.
I like to work with my hands, and I’m a woodworker from way back. I did carpentry and built houses before I took up a career in traditional architecture. I first became enamored with these glass wonders while studying and traveling abroad. No other U.S.-based company built conservatories with this level of quality – they are mostly in Great Britain – so I founded Tanglewood Conservatories with the goal of combining the graceful romanticism of traditional Nineteenth Century glass architecture with state-of-the-art technology and master craftsmanship.

How many employees do you have and what is their expertise?
We have 25 employees here on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is a proud, self-reliant workforce who can work wood with style. Their kin built wood ships and oystering boats – skipjacks – for use on the Chesapeake Bay for over a hundred years. In a sense then, the team was waiting for Tanglewood to arrive when we relocated from the Washington D.C. area in 1997. Every conservatory is different. It’s really a challenge. I realize now that working for Tanglewood gives these men and women the opportunity to bring unique and challenging creations to life.

How does the process begin?
With each conservatory project tailored to its client’s site, imagination and architecture, we ‘throw away the mold’ every day. We begin by scheduling a visit to the client’s home to listen and learn about their lifestyle and passions. From that, we move to the blueprint stage where highly detailed drawings of a one-of-a-kind conservatory are made.

What is the final step in the process?
Our production team completely pre-builds each conservatory in our shop. Once it is complete, the team disassembles and ships it to the client’s home via ‘air-ride’ suspension trucks. Carefully packed and wrapped to avoid damage, the conservatory travels nonstop to the site under lock and key. We maintain a team of skilled craftsmen who travel worldwide to install and service our conservatories. Some areas have a local Tanglewood representative and installation team. With complex projects, craftsmen from our production facility themselves often join the installation team.