Living Space: Bring the outdoors in with a home conservatory

Even though spring has officially arrived, it may not feel like it yet in many parts of the country. Snow and ice can continue well after green shoots appear in the garden and buds start popping on trees and shrubs. Deterred by the chill, we're also deprived of the simple joys of being outdoors and taking in the sun. The Victorians had a splendid answer for that: the conservatory.

Name game

Depending upon the region where you live, conservatories come in many different names, shapes, sizes and designs. Some are called solariums, sunrooms or Florida rooms. Some are freestanding, others attached; some formal and elaborate, others plain and utilitarian.

In Europe, early conservatories were often used to grow citrus during the winter months and were called "orangeries." Sunrooms are often manufactured off-site and attached to part of a home. A conservatory usually fits seamlessly with a home's style and construction.

The details can be quite different, however. A conservatory for a Victorian home will have a fanciful look while a contemporary home calls for a more sleek and simple design.

Famous spaces

Some of the most famous conservatories include historically significant orangeries in Paris and Versailles; striking examples at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.; and London's Kew Gardens. One of the most famous conservatories in the U.S. is the elaborate brick and glass extravaganza at the Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.

What distinguishes a conservatory from a greenhouse is the fact that a conservatory is also a living space. Conservatory floors are finished, and while plants may fill much of the space, they are typically grown in decorative pots or with saucers to protect the floors.

Conservatories often have seating areas, lighting, fountains or other water features. Sculpture is a popular touch. Carpets are even an option.

One of the considerations of putting in a conservatory is the cost for heating and cooling. While many are a drain on energy budgets, with insulated glass, they are not as expensive to maintain as in the past.

Another major cost is construction. If a conservatory is custom fabricated on-site, the price can be significant. A simple sunroom might start at $350 per square foot and run upward from there to $100,000 or more, depending on features and complexity of design.

Styles, options

From simple glass framing to copper and glass roofs, unique rooflines and detailed architectural accents, a conservatory can be uniquely suited to your home's design - and your imagination.

A conservatory can serve as an extra room for relaxing, a study-like retreat, pool house, winter garden, orchid sanctuary or even a greenery-filled dining room for parties or other special occasions.

To find the look and options best suited for your home, start by checking the Internet. Entering the term "conservatory" on the Houzz.com website will pull up designs in a wide range of styles.

Visit the websites of companies such as Tanglewood Conservatories for in-depth profiles of a variety of conservatory projects (Tanglewoodconservatories.com).

Once spring fully flowers, start to think seriously about a conservatory project so you'll have an "indoor-outdoor" escape ready to help you through next winter.

Kathryn Weber is a home and decorating columnist and publishes the Red Lotus Letter feng shui ezine. For more information, contact Weber through her web site, redlotusletter.com.