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The difference between orangeries and conservatories

The difference between orangeries and conservatories

Conservatories and orangeries both make beautiful additions to a home

If you’re planning an extension to your home, a conservatory or orangery is quite likely to be high on your wish list. Knowing a little about both, and where their similarities and differences start and end, can help make conversations with designers and architects more productive.

The history of conservatories and orangeries


The Crystal Palace inspired many homeowners to build their own, somewhat smaller conservatory

Both conservatories and orangeries are steeped in history and their designs are based on classical architectural proportions, which is probably why the essence of these structures has stood the test of time.

Conservatories may have their origins in Rome, and therefore, appropriately, the name is derived from the Italian for ‘conservato’ meaning preserved. By the mid-19th century, the British love of gardening meant these structures became increasingly popular – especially as the industrial revolution improved the production and quality of glass. In fact, the pinnacle of Victorian conservatory production was Crystal Palace which further fuelled the country’s love of conservatories as homeowners looked to replicate the grandeur of its space and light.

"The pinnacle of Victorian conservatory production was Crystal Palace which further fuelled the country’s love of conservatories"

Orangeries were first introduced in the seventeenth century as a way to ‘winter’ exotic plants, such as citrus trees, that were being imported to our shores by merchants. As time progressed, the orangery was a physical embodiment of a landowner’s wealth and status and so the buildings became more sophisticated and increasingly opulent, often replicating ancient Greek architecture.

Design features of a conservatory

A conservatory is usually designed to allow the maximum amount of light to flood the space below, so it tends to incorporate large amounts of glass: the walls are glazed as is the pitched roof. Put simply, a conservatory roof bears its weight onto the side frames of the structure.

The legal definition of a conservatory is a building that is attached to a dwelling and that has a roof made of not less than three-quarters of its area of translucent material and not less than half of the external walls from the same.

Modern orangery design


An orangery allows more shade, which might be best if you're looking to use the space as a living room. Photo credit: Rosanne Donovan

Orangeries combine a low brick structure with glazed windows and doors that are often flanked by vertical pilasters supporting a correctly proportioned horizontal beam - this creates the aforementioned ‘Grecian’ style. Above this, a suspended glazed roof lantern is supported by an internal steel structure and built into a flat roof, which adds both height and space to allow natural light to flood the room below.

The key differentiator between the two is the roof: a conservatory tends to have a glazed sloping roof whereas an orangery has a flat roof with a roof lantern. Because of this, an orangery naturally throws down more shade to the room below because of the flat ceiling area which can be adjusted depending on the aspect of the extension. In fact, sometimes it is better to specify two or more individual roof lanterns as this translates to a more useable and zoned space below, with a greater amount of shade.

Form and function


A conservatory or orangery can be a beautiful addition to your home, but bear in mind which is more suitable for your needs

Light and space are indeed two of the most important elements of a glazed extension but a designer or architect will only be able to create a truly functional room if they are briefed on the purpose of the new room.

Many homeowners tend to add an orangery or conservatory to accommodate a new kitchen and if so, the main food preparation areas need effective planning to ensure the light (and shade!) is suitable for the task.

"With their proximity to nature and their ability to bring the outside in, they also make great creative spaces for budding artists, yoga studios, music rooms, home offices, and gyms"

Similarly, if the new glazed extension is intended to house a media area or second sitting room, then it is important to consider how sunlight at different times of the day will reflect on screens.

Of course, neither conservatories nor orangeries are limited to kitchens and sitting rooms. With their proximity to nature and their ability to bring the outside in, they also make great creative spaces for budding artists, yoga studios, music rooms, home offices, and gyms.

Which type of extension is better?

Both conservatories and orangeries are elegant additions to a property and can add the desired wow factor to a home. Although designers and manufacturers often think in terms of one or the other, the reality is that any new glazed extension needs to take into account three factors: the needs of the owner, the style preferences of the owner, and the opportunities and restrictions of the property itself.

Some homeowners prefer a seamless blend with their existing property so that the new extension will appear to be part of the original structure. Others prefer more of a statement in contrast with the current architecture. It is also true to say that different planning authorities will also have different views on what they will pass from a planning point of view too.

Don’t get hung up on whether something is or isn’t a conservatory or orangery – try to decide how you want the building to look and perform.

A word to the wise on conservatories

Conservatories have had somewhat of a bad press.

Often associated with cheap uPVC extensions, they were often too cold to use in winter and too hot in summer months. With the right materials and planning, this is thankfully a thing of the past.

Both conservatories and orangeries can now incorporate several different climate control features such as underfloor heating, UV glass, thermostatically controlled electric roof vents, and rain sensors, which ensure a comfortable indoor temperate all year round, no matter how disagreeable the British weather. That said, due to the volume of glass, a conservatory will usually have a wider range of temperature than an orangery - particularly if it is south facing.

Is there any difference in cost?


Depending on how much you're looking to spend, a conservatory or orangery may or may not add value to your home

There is very little difference in cost between a conservatory and an orangery.

A small plastic off-the-shelf conservatory or orangery may start from as little as £10-15k but as above, be aware that whilst this may add square footage, it doesn’t necessarily add value in the long term so could be a false investment.

"If you’re undecided between the two, why not consider a few inspirational visits to National Trust properties or similar"

The type that really adds value could reasonably be £50-£200k, depending on the scale and context. These higher costs are a combination of paying for design expertise, the supervision of the planning process, the quality of materials used, the project management, and overall attention to detail.

Many stately homes around the country still have their original conservatories and orangeries intact, so if you’re undecided between the two, why not consider a few inspirational visits to National Trust properties or similar?

This article was written by Mervyn Montgomery of Hampton Conservatories. Hampton Conservatories was founded over 40 years ago and has since been a leading designer and manufacturer of bespoke hardwood glass buildings. The family-run business prides itself on its high standards, meticulous attention to deal, and friendly approach.

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