Inspired by the great glasshouses at Kew and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, the earliest conservatories were used as greenhouses, often to house the tropical or tender plant specimens that were fashionable in Victorian times. Today, though still likely to play on their links to the outdoors – a conservatory without plants is a missed opportunity – they are far more diverse, running the gamut from smallish garden rooms to large sitting and dining spaces, family areas, home offices or even kitchen-diners.
Their charm is twofold: not only do they
extend your living space with relatively little disruption, they also have the potential to add value to your home – crucial in a time when many of us are looking to improve rather than move. ‘Conservatories have always proved a worthwhile addition and make a good selling point’, says Justine Borman of Savills’ Solihull office.
If you are extending a period home, be it a Victorian terrace or a Georgian manor house, the temptation is to create a sympathetic extension that echoes the proportions and fashion of the existing property. Luckily there is a wide variety of ‘off the peg’ styles on offer, so finding something to suit your home won’t be a problem. Many Victorian conservatories simulate bay windows, allowing you to feel as though you’re sitting out in the garden, while Georgian designs incorporate the symmetry and small panes of glass so characteristic of these properties. Most ‘period’ designs include a pitched roof, and they look wonderful executed in wood, which can be painted to tone in with the rest of your house.
A popular choice in recent years, uPVC is the perfect option if you want to keep costs to a minimum. Its popularity has resulted in a wide choice of designs. It also requires minimal maintenance and, as uPVC is a good insulator, it will help to keep heating costs low. It usually comes in white, which can be off-putting if you’re extending an older property, but there is now an increasing range of wood lookalike colours coming onto the market.
METAL Aluminium is the metal of choice for conservatories because of its strength.Metal is generally more expensive than uPVC, and doesn’t insulate quite as well, so think carefully if you want to create a conservatory you can use year-round. It does, however, enable you to create a striking and contemporary space.
Wooden conservatories provide plenty of scope when it comes to your choice of finish – they can be stained hardwood or painted in any number of shades. Often very traditional in design and finish, wooden structures do need regular maintenance, such as repainting and varnishing, and so often work out as the most expensive option.
Conservatories don’t generally need planning permission if:
✺ No more than half the area of land around the original house would be covered by additions. This is the house as it was built, or for pre-1948 homes, as it stood in this year. Don’t forget that if you or a previous owner has already extended, this has to be included in the calculation of the area covered by additions.
✺ The maximum depth isn’t greater than three metres if you live in an attached house, or four metres if it’s detached.
✺ The maximum height of the addition isn’t greater than four metres.
For the full list, visit planningportal.gov.uk, and speak to your local authority. If you live in a listed building you may need listed building consent: your council can advise you.
If your conservatory fulfils these criteria, you won’t normally need building regulations approval:
✺ It’s at ground level, and the floor area is less than 30 sq m.
✺ At least half of the new wall and three-quarters of the roof is glazed.
✺ The conservatory and house are separated by an external-quality door.
✺ Glazing complies with the requirements in the building regulations regarding the U-value – the amount of heat that can pass through the glass and framework – and safety rules.
✺ Electrical installation is undertaken by a registered contractor, or checked by building control at your council.
Speak to your local authority’s building control department for further guidance. You will need specific advice if you are building a conservatory kitchen.
Don’t assume that you have to stick with tradition when adding a conservatory to a period house – sometimes a cutting edge, modern design can highlight architectural features and add a new dimension to your home. Frameless designs and full-width doors, for instance, enable a seamless transition from house to garden.
Size is the crucial criteria – your conservatory needs to be large enough to be useful without overpowering the house or garden. ‘Huge houses with little gardens are not especially popular,’ says Savills’ Justine Borman.
Coping with the weather
Blinds not only control light levels, but can also help cool the room in summer and retain heat in winter – if you opt for a design with special backing material. There’s a choice of pleated blinds, which tuck away neatly when not in use, pinoleum, which uses a wood-weave effect, venetians, which are good for adjusting the light and simple roller blinds – a wonderful minimal look.
Shutters are also a good option in a conservatory. ‘Timber shutters perform better in this environment than MDF,’ says Sarah Quilliam, head of product design at Hillarys. ‘As a natural product they cope better with the moisture and heat and will “breathe” as conditions change.’
Electric underfloor heating is easier to install than the warm-water version, and probably the best option if your conservatory will be the only room with this system. Warm-water underfloor heating is more complex to put in and will have to be added to your existing central heating system, but on the plus side, it does tend to be cheaper to run. Check with a plumber to ensure your boiler can cope with the extra demand. ‘Whatever you decide, make sure the system will heat the whole room rather than just being a tile warmer,’ says Hugo Tugman of Architect Your Home.
Around £1,600 will buy you a DIY conservatory in uPVC, but you will need to prepare the site, build walls and erect the structure yourself.
If you want someone else to do the hard work, expect to spend upwards of £5,000 for a builder. Use the Federation of Master Builders (fmb.org.uk) to find reputable builders in your area.
At the top end of the market, a bespoke design will set you back from around £15,000.
H&A’s CONSERVATORY DIRECTORY
Bespoke Victorian-style conservatories.
Bespoke traditional conservatories and orangeries. 0800 591523
Modern designs using aluminium frames.
0161 342 8200
The services of a local architect offering a
0800 849 8505
Self-build designs. Also offers an installation service.
0845 850 0175
Modern designs in hardwood.
Modern conservatories in timber, aluminium and uPVC.
0845 070 1973
Conservatories in timber and aluminium.
Stocks a range of designs in uPVC.
Modern and minimalist glass structures.
Traditional conservatories, orangeries and
0845 077 8888
Individually designed modern and classic conservatories.
020 8780 5522
Made-to-measure blinds and shutters.
0800 916 6524
Bespoke hardwood contemporary and traditional designs. 020 7881 5700
Timber conservatories for DIY installation or full build service. 0800 294 9040
020 3239 3393
Bespoke contemporary and traditional hardwood designs.
020 7091 0621
Bespoke designs using steel and timber frames, or frameless glazing. 020 7684 1065
Traditional and contemporary uPVC conservatories with local installers.
Hardwood conservatories and garden rooms.
Bespoke design service; sustainable materials.
FEATURE SARAH WARWICK