img_0004History tells us that the first conservatories date back to the Roman Empire, but the modern conservatory was first crafted in the 16th century by English aristocracy. Seeking to grow the exotic fruits and spices that tradesmen brought with them from India, Asia and Africa, glass conservatories were a status symbol among the wealthy and a place to entertain at home. Orangeries, as they were called, were filled with tropical plants and citrus trees that otherwise wouldn’t survive in cold climates.

The conservatories of today are more versatile, family oriented living spaces. They are glass enclosed breakfast nooks, playrooms, and lounging areas that allow the stunning views of nature to be enjoyed from the comfort of the indoors. Finely crafted of mahogany or aluminum, a well-built conservatory can be enjoyed in all four seasons, remaining cool on the hottest days and warm in the coldest of winters. Moisture, temperature and sunlight are carefully regulated by automated vents, heating and cooling systems, and solar glass.


Coordinating the style of the existing structure with the design of a conservatory is essential. A seamless addition takes into account the architectural design of the entire house, and balance is achieved when the conservatory is effortlessly defined as its own space without detracting from the rest of the home. Creating a conservatory is not limited to an entire home renovation; an interior room can be transformed into a sun-soaked space with glass walls, windows and skylights. Our Gallery offers some wonderful examples of these options.

ridgewood-9Custom homebuilders have more flexibility when deciding the optimal location for their conservatory. Conservatory designs can be adapted to accommodate the slope of the property, orientation to the sun, and the outdoor views surrounding the space. The timeless elegance of a conservatory is emphasized by interior design options that not only compliment the room, but provide protection against weather and time. Shades and blinds are not only decorative, but also help keep the conservatory cool by limiting sun exposure. Customization with conservatory accessories such as leaded glass, specialty muntins and mirage screens offer character and distinction.

My Real “Dream” Conservatory (Part One)

About 10 years ago, my son Mike and I were dealing with a conservatory fabrication company in England that was creating some custom parts for an old English style conservatory we were designing and building.
As has been the fate of many conservatory companies lately, they shut their doors – right in the in the middle of one of our projects!

So we jumped on a plane and traveled over to the UK to see what we could do about salvaging our materials. Fortunately, we were able to meet with the liquidator at the factory and he showed us to our material, and allowed us to take ownership of it.

While we were there, Mike, my eagle eyed son, noticed a variety of parts scattered around the large fabrication shop. He remembered seeing a photo this company had taken, a few years before, of a conservatory they built for the Chelsea Garden Show (the most prestigious garden show in the world). He also remembered, the conservatory was robin’s egg blue (hard to forget).


He asked the liquidator if the blue “parts” were for sale, which of course they were, so we negotiated a price and shipped it all back to our garage in the good old USA… and there, the story stops. Until the summer of 2010. That’s when a break in our sales action and a chance to secure a home equity loan changed the future of this pile of Robins’ Egg blue painted mahogany, as well as mine.

We decided to break ground and put it on our house. Since my home is a split entry (1/2 up, ½ down) we decided to dig a foundation and put our company office below the conservatory.

We dug the hole, prepared to pour footings, and of course, it rained – 5 inches, which almost filled the hole! But we had a pump and kept it going and got all the water out.


We poured the footings, laid the block, backfilled the foundation and capped it. Now the fun starts! But first, who takes beautiful Sepele mahogany and paints it Robin’s Egg blue? Of course it’s a rhetorical question and no answers mitigates the pain of knowing it all had to be stripped of this micro-porous paint and in order to show the real beauty of the mahogany wood.

So strip we did. Day after day, night after night, weekend after weekend until we had it all stripped down to the gorgeous bare mahogany conservatory beneath it all.

Our great painter, Robb worked with us until we achieved just the right tone of Sikkens to bring out the beauty of the wood. The next step was hanging the material in the new, capped basement to spray.


Then it rained! The floor or ceiling of the new, capped basement being only plywood, leaked water onto the freshly stripped mahogany wood – which is not good for freshly stripped mahogany. So we set about to restore the wood again! Working with heat guns and sanders we brought the wood back and prepared it for finishing. And then of course, it rained again. This sequence repeated itself for 2 weeks.


Finally, re-finished and ready to erect, my great crew worked with me and we built the conservatory. Step by step.
By Christmas we had the tile done on the floor, the room all ‘weathered in’ and we enjoyed Christmas day in the conservatory with all the kiddies and the treats.

The yard, however, was a boulder pile mess, and was going to stay that way until spring.
Here comes the ‘may as well’ part. Anyone who has ever taken on a major renovation on their home understands ‘may as well’. It’s the part, when under total fatigue of building and paying, up comes one more thing that you really should do, now that you have gone this far.


Mine was the backyard. I am a pretty experienced landscaper and I have always seen the opportunity our yard presents.The small hill in the yard was screaming for a waterfall flowing down upon the new paver patio. So, here we go! Another year of building. This year outside, not in, but still the chaos ensues.
And, as we were busy on the east coast building many fine conservatories throughout the summer, time was limited. With the help of a great friend, Chris, we shared the vision of the yard and went to work. Sounds easy, but many backaches later, we are finally done and enjoying every minute of the new ‘resort’ in the back yard.

The neighbors and kids are too. We designed and built all the spaces for children, so they would have many interesting things to do, and places to play.
Now it’s time to go back inside. As of this writing, we are beginning to tackle the issues of finishing the inside of the conservatory.

First on the list is building an energy wall. As I explained to one of my customers recently, I don’t mind experimenting on my own conservatory, but I am certainly not going to do it on theirs.
Currently, we are striving to be more energy efficient in all seasons, which means being able heat and cool conservatory and the house by natural means. That’s the next chapter in the story of “my dream conservatory” … which will follow…

East Coast Storm Wreaks Havoc on Conservatories

conservatory-md-damage03When the walls come tumbling down.
In the aftermath of the massive rain and the storms that have hit the east coast lately, our phone is ringing more than usual. And, unlike many of the companies who have been building conservatories the last 15 years, we are still answering our phone.

Damage to conservatories of lesser quality construction has been severe. Even quality conservatories suffer if a tree lands on it. Thankfully, none of our projects or conservatories has sustained any damage or problems (see the blog about earthquakes).

The biggest problem people are having is that the company that built their conservatory is no longer around. They are simply not in business to service the problem.

Companies like us are left to deliver the bad news to the homeowner: “Your conservatory roof cannot be repaired because the parts are no longer available.”

The main components of conservatory roofs may be damaged and require replacement. If the parts are not available, then your insurance company needs to know that the roof will have to be completely replaced. This can be a significant cost.

If you have damage and are looking for help, send us photos. Tell us as much as you can about when and from what material it was constructed and we will do our best to help solve your problem.

The attached photos were of a sunroom in Maryland that could not sustain the snow load. This is typical of a lot of sunrooms built with PVC structures from low-end conservatory builders. Sadly, this was built by one of the builders that are no longer answering the phone.

Tour of Historic US Conservatories: Phipps, PA

No visit to Pittsburgh is complete without a visit to the most exquisite public conservatory, the Phipps.
Phipps Conservatory was built by Henry Phipps as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh. Phipps stated he wanted to “erect something that will prove a source of instruction as well as pleasure to the people.” The Conservatory was designed by the New York firm Lord & Burnham and cost $100,000.

The original plant material came in from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago which closed in November 1893.

In 2007 the Board of Trustees votes to accept the Living Building Challenge, a national call for the world’s first ‘living’ building. Fundraising and design begins for the third phase of expansion, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a new administration and education center.
Interestingly enough, Conservatory Craftsmen has been given the rights to another famous conservatory.

Nearby by the Phipps is Smithfield Cemetery. This is a famous cemetery because Phipps, Andrew Carnegie and Frick all put their heads together to build this cemetery.

They also build a wonderful conservatory in the cemetery. Recently, during expansion of the cemetery, the conservatory, which is a mini offshoot of the Phipps, was sold and removed from site.

Would you like to have this conservatory for your own? Build a historic public conservatory on your estate?


Amdega Conservatories

We are saddened to hear the closing and liquidation of Amdega Conservatories. They have been a cornerstone in the industry since 1874. I remember in my early days, in this business, showing people the Amdega brochures and how lovely they were.

We had built several of their structures, over the years, for their clients. The news reports say that 300 conservatories were in order and that all of these people will lose their deposits.

A note to those who have placed orders: Maybe we can help. Our conservatories are less expensive than Amdega, and if we can provide our high-quality, mahogany structure for cost savings, you may experience a win instead of a loss.

We are a family-owned-and-operated business, custom designing and building conservatories, greenhouses, and pool enclosures from Maine to California.

Contact us, and see if we can help: Call Jim at 1-888-345-7915.