It may be hard to believe but summer is not far away and as more of us look to ‘improve, not move’, the number of people with glasshouses is bound to grow. Here, we look into conservatories
hink of the glorious glasshouses at Kew Gardens and it is no wonder the Victorians fell in love with conservatories as a means of protecting exotic plants from cold weather. Today, conservatories continue to be a popular choice — and not just for their flora-sustaining benefits. Diana Yakeley of Yakeley Associates, whose book, Designs and Planting for Conservatories, Sun Rooms and Garden Rooms, will be published in June (Aquarmarine, £19.99), says the term ‘conservatory’ can cover a range of glass structures from a traditional greenhouse-like annexe to a contemporary glass- walled extension. ‘The most important thing is to maximise the wonderful quality of light,’ she says. ‘Often it’s about opening up the back of city terraced houses to make them more suited to the way we live now, opening up the kitchen and living room and integrating the space with the garden.’
The trend towards a more modern style of glass structure has been noted by Glenn Upton of Europa Conservatories. ‘Victorian and Edwardian-style conservatories are still very popular, but we’ve seen a big rise in modern glass extensions over the last couple of years,’ he says. ‘People want space and light, and a way of linking inside and outside.’ Even in these recessionary times, there is business to be had from people who are looking to ‘improve, rather than move’, he says. ‘I think we’re going to see even more of that this year.’
So where to begin? ‘Think about how the space is to be used,’ advises Yakeley. ‘Is it to be an enlarged family room or a home office, for example, or is it simply a sun room with plants?’ Its purpose will help dictate size and layout, while its aspect can dramatically affect the amount of natural light in the new room. Then, advises Yakeley, it’s time to call in a specialist, such as an architect. ‘If you are really going to pull the back of your house apart, you should do it properly.’ And what about money? The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors estimates that a conservatory can add about five per
cent to the value of a property but the outlay can be high. Vanessa Wylie of structural glass specialist Cantifix says: ‘So much depends on size and the system used for the glass, but prices rise from about £10,000 to £100,000 plus.’
Recent technical advances have led to greater flexibility in conservatory design. ‘We like to design structures that are as transparent as possible,’ says Yakeley. ‘The perfect job is one with a frame so minimal that you can hardly see it.’
‘People want to the maximum light in their new space without any heavy framework,’ she says Sarah Sales of structural glass specialist GlasSpace, which produces structures of doubleglazed panels that are held in place by silicon adhesive.
Wylie observes a similar trend: ‘We call them glass boxes as opposed to conservatories,’ she says. ‘They tend to have minimal frames with casement or sliding doors.’ She sees a rise in sales of glass structures that span the entire rear of a house. ‘Now you can get glass made in the UK to about 6m x 3.2m in size, which is absolutely huge,’ she explains. ‘We see two trends in glass extensions: one is for very large panels of glass with a chunky door in the middle and the other is for a very minimal frame with smaller panels of glass that can slide back to create a very open feel.’
Europa Conservatories has developed door systems with folding or sliding doors that can be stacked on two sides or one side of an extension. ‘With flush floors and a very low threshold, the inside is totally opened up to the garden,’ says Upton. And building regulations are driving the emergence of high performance coatings designed to improve the thermal efficiency of glazing. Wylie believes that solar panels within the glazed units will be the next big thing, even though costs remain high.
With the structure complete, the interior should be kept simple, says Yakeley. ‘Once you’ve got a view, be it of
the garden, an interesting cityscape or the sky above, you want to enhance what you can see out of the windows, not clutter it up with lots of stuff.’ She favours using fade-resistant materials, such as natural stone, tiles and fabrics designed for outdoor use. Blinds can reduce glare and control temperature. Look for heat-reflective options. And make sure the heating is thought out very carefully,’ advises Upton. ‘There is, inevitably, quite a lot of heat-loss through glass, so underfloor heating is a good choice.’ Ventilation can be achieved simply by opening windows or with trickle ventilation (small slot vents).
As to lighting, Jane Hindmarch of Vale Garden Houses opts for schemes that allow for different ‘moods’. ‘At night, consideration needs to be given to reflection, as any light inside is reflected back into the room,’ she explains. ‘Low level lighting minimises this problem.’ Diana Yakeley opts for discreet lighting. ‘It doesn’t want to distract,’ she says.
‘It’s important to maintain the beautiful transparency of the space you’ve created.