Working With Conservatory Craftsmen

People say to us all the time, “You’re in Minnesota, (home of the Minnesota Vikings) how does this work long distance?” Well, I admit, we have to be very efficient to make it work, but it has been working for many years, so I guess that tells you, we are very efficient! When you call, we will chat about where you live, and what the purpose for the conservatory might be. Some people are looking for a place to relax and watch the stars and the moon. Others want to raise fresh fruits and vegetables all year around. A place for a swim under the stars maybe another reason, or, a combination of any of these spaces. It is important for me to determine the application intended. In other words, what are your expectations? If I’m a good listener, the final product will be just what you expected and more! I am also very sensitive to the age and design of your home. The room must ‘work’ with the architecture. (See my blog on Fit or Folly for further explanation).img_4802
Some calls I receive, an architect has been employed and there are drawings in place. Most inquiries have no drawings, so we start from scratch. In all these examples, I am assuming this is not a commercial building, but it may be a newly constructed home, so we need to know that as well. The question remains, how do you do this from Minnesota?

First of all, after we have discussed the above mentioned subjects, I look at some photos of your home, that you will be asked to email, and I will study the measurements you have taken for me. They are not exact measurements to build from, but close enough for me to create a ‘concept’ drawing. I do hand sketches, and our own staff, licensed architect, takes the notes that I give to him and he creates a wonderful elevation, various view drawing of the conservatory I think I hear that you would like. All of this work has been at no cost to you! We are happy to consult and work with our clients to show them that they can work with a family from Minnesota, and we are more than capable of producing a wonderful product. If you want to modify the drawing, no problem, but once we come to a basic concept that fits your needs, we then work to figure every screw and nail in the project to come up with a reasonable price for your end construction.

water-wheel-low-1This is called the budget. It is not a bid, but it gives you a very close idea of the final cost, and it has options, so you can control pricing yourself. If you approve of the budget and the design, I make arrangements to come to your home and we sit in the kitchen table and sort out the details. I take lots of photos and accurate measures, while we discuss options for the room and any other details that might affect the end design (like roof drainage from your house).

If we are still on track, we enter into a ‘design agreement’ which is an agreement that charges us to produce a detailed set of architectural drawings for the project, along with specifications and final pricing. OK, now you ask, who does what? If this is all new construction, a local contractor may have to get involved. What we build is a specialty product! Glass structures can/should only be built by people who are trained, experienced and know just what they are doing. LEAK is a four letter word and not one we use in our day to day vocabulary!

Who builds it? We do. This is not sub contracted to locals. No way. Only our staff touches your room and takes full responsibility for its outcome. We have calls from people who have bought conservatories from another company and had another builder install it. Then the trouble starts and guess what? Two companies on either side of you pointing fingers at each other and the guy in the middle (that is you, guy or gal) gets stuck with the problem. Now, don’t get me wrong. When a hurricane hits or there is a big storm, our phone rings and rings but NEVER from our customers. Awhile back, we wrote about Amdega Conservatories, who unfortunately went out of business. Our phones we’re ringing off the hook back then too- but this time from their customers who lost thousands of dollars in deposits and needed help. So, rest assured, we stay with our customers for years after the installation. We all become friends and good acquaintances who share our great stories and joy of owning a crystal palace.

“If It Doesn’t Fit, You Must Quit”

It is my usual approach to bring up the objections, as customers will not usually come out and say what is bothering them. However, the other day, an old gent says to me “you can never get a conservatory to look like it was always a part of the house.” I think what he was saying is that a conservatory is so unusual of an architectural feature in this market (America) that one could never make it look normal. There is some truth to that. A conservatory will always be a focal point of a house, because of its stunning beauty. But to look like it belongs? Let’s discuss that:

My answer was “The two ‘F’s. It fits or its folly”.
orchardridge-3Here is what I mean. Long ago, I had the opportunity to put a conservatory on a home designed and built by Cass Gilbert (architect of the MN capital and Grand Central Station). As you can imagine, there were several architectural committees that had long discussions over this. In the end, the general agreement was: If you make the conservatory look like Cass Gilbert designed it, it will never work. One needs to step forward and design a conservatory that does not come close to the architectural design of the home. It must be a folly.
The lesson I took from all this was. If the design is close to looking like the original design, you have failed. It either has to match exactly, or not at all.

Yesterday, whilst sitting with a couple in Iowa, planning the paint color of their terrific new conservatory, we debated the colors that appear in the brick home. A lot of deep red and brown. There was no way that conservatory was ever going to look like an original design of this home, even with the brick knee wall integrating the conservatory with the home design. So the color chosen was a deep, matt green. A folly. Yes, not even close to any color on the house, but a wonderful statement none the less.

So remember the two ‘F’s. It fits or its folly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here at the Conservatory Craftsmen headquarters we love to spend time going through and answering all of your questions from Houzz, and our Facebook and Twitter pages. We know choosing the right builder for your dream space can be a difficult decision and we want to help in any way we can to help make it a good experience.

So, we have decided to do a mini series of blogs over the next couple of weeks, with some of our most frequently asked questions. We hope this will help in answering some of your questions.

Q. Are the sunrooms storm proof and how do you get air ventilation in them? I live in Oklahoma City and it gets very hot and we have lots of wind and hail. img_3461

A. Over a dozen of our projects just went through Hurricane Sandy without a scratch or leak. On one project the new windows on the house blew in, the 40-foot tall conservatory took the brunt of 100 mph winds and stood tall and firm.
Safety-treated glass on the roof will not break from hail.
See more on glass options for your conservatory here.
Mechanical designing, as part of our service, will show you how to move air through the conservatory and overcome those hot days in OKC. Adding automation to your room will enable you to control the heating and cooling system to make sure temps are adequate for your room any time or any day. From your laptop or I-Pad, you can see the current temperature of the room and set it to any desired temperature. If temps in the room go too high or too low, hi-lo temp sensors can be installed to warn you of the condition.
A soffit is part of a heat convection system that gathers the warm air as it rises to the highest point and, then, evacuates it.

Q. The garden beds are so cool! How did you build them? How much did they cost, and how long did it take for you to build them? Did Conservatory Craftsmen do them or did you hire somebody? Where did you get the product? Thank you!
A. These raised beds are constructed with 4×4 posts at corners and mid spans. The posts and midspans are on the inside of the beds and the outer 2×6 boards are carriage bolted to them. They were all custom built by the landscape contractor on the project. Depending on where you live, you could build yours from redwood, cedar or pressure-treated wood (make sure you put a barrier between pressure treated wood and the soil). The cost will vary depending upon the choice of wood and availability. Don’t forget to put wire mesh on the bottom to protect from gophers (if you have them in your area)!

Q. How much would it cost to build a conservatory on our 100-year-old stone house in CT?
A. “What does a conservatory cost?” is easily our most frequently asked question, and quite fairly so. However, the question is not easy to answer. Each conservatory is totally custom; no two are the same. One should expect to pay about the same range as a luxury car for a conservatory. Some cars are more basic, others more elaborate. When designing a conservatory, we try to start with the basics and then provide you with the options (again, like the luxury car!).
100-year-old stone homes in CT are very exciting for us! We will help guide each and every inquiry we receive down the path to a new conservatory for your home. We are budget conscious. Though others may feel that a conservatory needs to be a very expensive addition, we do not. We feel that at some level, everyone should be able to afford the luxury of adding more light and pleasure to their home.

Logee’s – The Botanical Wonderland for Conservatory Owners

Hidden in an unassuming old building in rural CT is a treasure of botanical wonder. If you are directed to Logee’s you may stop, but if just passing by, you may not even notice, but behind the century-old façade of a rural farm home lies some of the most unusual and highly prized ornamental plants in the country.

Byron Martin, Logee’s Owner

Owned by Byron and Laurelynn Martin, the greenhouse was first started in 1882 by Bryon’s grandfather.

Byron worked in the greenhouse with his father and grandfather and eventually went off to school, not planning to return, but eventually heeded the call when his time came.

Horticulturalist, Jeff Ellsworth from New York City claims that most of the rare plants purchased by the NY Botanical come from Logee’s. They work the world market to find both rare plants and improved varieties of old friends.

The last time I visited, Byron welcomed me as an old friend. As we walked through the greenhouses, Byron said, ‘wait here’ and he disappeared into an old house to come out minutes later with a small dark red bean. Miracle Bean he called it and invited me to try it. I have to admit it did not taste like much, but I was polite and ate the bean.

A few minutes later, Byron showed up with a huge Meyer Lemon from one of his trees and he cut deep into it with his pocket knife as the juice squeezed out onto the ground. He handed me a section to bite into. I was already salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs when I bit into the lemon and to my surprise, it tasted like I just chewed into a sugar bowl! Miracle Bean had deadened my ‘bitter’ sensors and all I could taste was sweet. According to Byron, it acts the same with dill pickles and any other sour food.

These are just some of the many plants growing at Logee’s and there are thousands more. Go online to and look through the site or request a catalog. They ship thousands of plants to conservatory customers all over the country. The exploration of the greenhouses is like no other. Not a ‘big box’ greenhouse but small, intimate growing spaces with dirt floors and crooked walls and paths that lead to yet more greenhouses!

Laurelynn showed me a Kumquat that was 140 years old and growing in a greenhouse, right in the middle of an aisle. And an orange growing every variety of orange they cultivate at Logee’s.

Today was “summer fest” and over 1000 locals were about to descend on the greenhouses to find that plant like no other. I left with an Arabica coffee plant for my brother’s birthday and a citrus tree for a new conservatory customer. Citrus plants are their biggest sellers.

We are happy that Byron and Laurelynn Martin of Logee’s have accepted our invitation to spread the news of great plants and well-crafted conservatories to America.
Watch for us in coming months whilst we feature new plant varieties available at Logee’s and as you see conservatories showing up in their catalogs and web pages.

Four Tips to a Cooler Conservatory this summer

I have been building Conservatories for over 25 years I often hear (right after “how do I heat it?”) is how do I keep a glass room cool in the summer? Fear not, Conservatory Craftsmen doesn’t just build your structure and leave. We work with you during every step tackling all aspects of the design phase to create a suitable glass enclosure for your unique lifestyle.

Here are some design elements we consider when designing your conservatory and how to keep it cool and comfortable for people and plants!

1. Nature
Planting large trees on your property that will shade your room and keep the sun’s hot rays from pouring through the windows. You can also decorate the inside of your room with interior large tropical plants; these love the summer sun and again will work well on shading the interior.

2. Independent Cooling/Heating
A small air conditioner unit placed in the knee wall works great and maintains the temperature in most conservatories. Some companies make units that heat and cool, which is a great option if you also need something to help with the temperature during the winter.

3. The Right Glass
All glass allows sunlight to enter and heat to be trapped. However, there is much that we can do to address that. We add filters, films and tints to the glass to reduce the effects of the sun. The market has many glass options and we offer any glass of any kind made.
Keep in mind, there is a difference between light and heat. Knowing your particular situation, the exposure of the conservatory and the expectations of you, the owner, allows us to create the best glass for all issues.
We are not a ‘one glass fits all’ company

4. Blinds and Shades
Conservatory Craftsmen offers many varieties of window shades that will assist in blocking out the sun when you need them to. Not only will properly positioned window treatments help control heat gain or loss; they will also help with privacy. We even offer window shades that will reflect the sun!

Greenhouse Technology

There is no better way to extend your living space than by adding a greenhouse or conservatory to your home. While at the same price point as any other home addition, the value of having such an unusually beautiful, functional room makes the return on investment a no-brainer.

But the financial benefits are the least of it. Homeowners appreciate the way their conservatory has enhanced the quality of their lives – there really is nothing like enjoying the snowfall from a cozy sofa. Folks who live in the coldest parts of the country are growing organic fruits and vegetables all year round. Not too shabby…

The other reason why homeowners love a conservatory is that they are crafted exactly to specification; no two are alike. One may be built entirely of glass while others feature stone knee walls and custom woodwork. And with the trend in greenhouses and conservatories rising, technology is catching up, making them attractive alternatives in the home renovation market.
These tech-savvy plant enthusiasts are opting for automated greenhouses that have climate control systems for managing the light and heat inside the greenhouse despite the weather conditions outside. Automated greenhouses use sensors to automatically adjust features such as lighting, temperature, and humidity depending on the needs of the plants. The homeowner can even set it up so that the system can be controlled from a laptop or an iPad.
Some of these modern features include:

Water Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation, polyethylene tubing, sprinkler systems and reservoir systems offer efficient watering of your plants.

Energy-Efficient Glass
Insulated glass has a special low-emissive (Low-E) coating to allow sunlight to pass through but reflect excess heat. Installing skylights, windows and doors with this premium material is a little more costly upfront, but it’s natural ability to keep the space cool in the heat cuts electrical costs considerably.

Roof Vents and Automated Skylights
Roof lanterns and skylights that incorporate mechanical windows allow hot air to escape from the top of the structure. Electric roof vents with climate control and rain sensors can be installed to operate automatically and maintain a comfortable room temperature set on the thermostat. Rain sensors will override the climate control and close the roof vents if it detects rain.
Automated Blinds and Shades
Window treatments not only add to the decor of a conservatory, they are also very efficient at retaining warmth during the cold winter and reflecting the sun’s heat in the summer. Retractable screens allow the cool breeze into your home while keeping insects and environmental elements out.
Hydroponic Systems
Hydroponic plants are grown indoors and without soil. Instead, they require a water-based, nutrient-rich solution that is delivered directly to the roots of the plant. Growing hydroponically is one of the earliest methods of gardening, and also one of the easiest.

The advancement in technology has enabled greenhouses to be practical and esthetically pleasing at the same time. A state-of-the-art greenhouse not only offers more convenient features for the owner but does so without negatively impacting the environment.

My Conservatory Soil Mix

There are times when my family thinks I am entirely nuts and they just go off to do their own thing until I am done. This is one of those times. A conservatory in the spring can be an intense place to start your garden for the year. I have about 45 flats of flowers and vegetables going in the conservatory, for outdoor planting when the weather is right.

Keep in mind, I raise bees in the backyard, and also am a huge supporter of Monarch butterfly revival, so I plant a garden that is compatible to all three of us: bees, butterflies and me!

Zinnia is a huge fan with all three of us and so easy to grow. I have Tudor for the tall and also planted shorter varieties like double white double cherry. All the good guys like Heliotrope, Impatiens, Four O’clock, salvia, more perennials like Monarda Last fall, I collected milk week and put it in a jar in the garage over the winter. I put raw sand in the jar this spring and shook it up. This removed the seed from the cotton and scarifying the seed. Great germination.

Do you know that monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed? I am planting a lot. And the rest are all our favorite vegetables, which I am anxious to enjoy.

But first the soil: I have been following a site that endorses the hydrophilic properties of diapers to improve basic things, like potting soil! I admit I was embarrassed to buy Depends at the store, so I ordered a case on Amazon. When it arrived, I was so happy and that is when the family decided they had errands to run. I raced to the garage with a utility knife and cut open all the ‘nappies’ and put the stuffing into my Homer (Home Depot bucket if you are new to the planet).
From there, my trusty cordless drill hooked up to my paint mixer and the stuffing turned to fuzz. My soil selection is a good potting soil in a bag but avoid the soils with coconut and other additives. I tried them, fruit flies love it. Add a slow release fertilizer.

I went to Gerten’s, a local garden center, but you can use Osmocote. Three bags of potting soil, 3 pounds of slow-release fertilizer, 1 case of diaper stuffing and hit it with the paint mixer. Voila! Best soil mix ever. The diaper mix holds 400 times its weight in water; the fertilizer will be there for the roots when it’s needed.

Spring Gardening: Tips from the Botanist

Gardening is good for the mind and the heart. It is a very therapeutic activity, and those with a conservatory or greenhouse are fortunate enough to be able to do it year round. Nothing adds more color and texture to your surroundings than plants and flowers, and in those cold, dreary months it almost feels like you’re living outdoors.
Now that spring is here once again, have you thought of what would you do with that vacant patch of soil outside of the conservatory? Spring is a great time for growing plants because the mild weather aids in their growth and development.

Here are some springs gardening tips to help you get started.

Prep your yard
Before you set up your garden, make sure that nothing would impede the growth of your plants. Remove any tree limbs that overhang structures and cut down last year’s perennial foliage. Take note offences, steps, and pathways that need to be repaired or replaced and be sure to refresh mulch in planting areas after soil warms.

Choose what to plant
After preparing your yard, the next step is to determine which plants you’d like to grow. Do you want to grow your own vegetables so you can have access to organic produce? Perhaps fresh flowers are your thing. Do some research on the spring flowers or vegetables you’d like to plant; this way, you’ll know exactly how to care for them and ensure their optimum growth and development.

Test the soil
Before you start planting, don’t forget to take a soil test to determine its pH or acidity levels. You can do this with the help of a home soil test kit. Be sure to take several tests to get an accurate reading. Depending on the result you’ll get, you can raise the soil’s pH level by adding dolomitic lime or lower it with elemental sulfur. If you’re unsure, a local nursery will be able to show you the products you’ll need.

Prepare new beds
Once the soil has the right pH level for the flowers or vegetables you want to plant, make sure to sod the soil and remove weeds and debris left by winter. Spread a four-inch layer of compost over the soil and cultivate it to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spading fork.

When planting, experts recommend doing this task on a cool, cloudy day if possible. If you need to transplant container-grown plants, this should be done anytime except during midsummer when the heat is stifling.

Water your plants
Watering frequencies usually depend on where you live. For instance, if you are living in rocky and mountain areas where the soil is most likely to be fast-draining, you should water your plants more often.

Generally, you should start watering your spring plants sometime in mid-April, about once every seven to ten days. When the weather starts heating up, you should increase your watering frequencies to about once every five to seven days.

Outdoor Living without Insects

Retractable Screens to the Rescue

Motorized power screens offer sun and shade protection at your fingertips. Our screens are unique in the industry, made in the USA, and offer a perfect solution for the garage, patio and oversize doors and entryways. Invisible retractable screens tuck out of sight when not in use and with 11 colors to choose from plus custom colors they will seamlessly blend into your home’s décor. Retractable screens are the perfect rainsolution for keeping out bugs with the added bonus of not covering up your beautiful doors and still being able to enjoy your spectacular views.

Adding power to your patio shades and bug screens are the ultimate in convenience and elegance, with custom sizes big enough for your garage, patio and oversized entryways and doors, they are truly unique in the industry.

Learn more on Retractable and motorized screens here.

Blinds and Shades for Your Conservatory or Greenhouse

The appeal of a conservatory is the flood of natural light that sweeps over the room. No other home addition can offer a space where plants grow, humans live and the surrounding landscape is brought indoors.

But sometimes the heat from the sun can cause room temperatures to skyrocket, making the room feel like a sauna. Conservatory roof and side blinds reflect the sun’s rays with a unique aluminum backing to provide the ultimate in heat reflection, each pleated blind whisking away the heat. They also provide year long comfort, because the pleated fabric is also efficient at retaining warmth during the cold winter evenings.

Conservatory blinds offer different levels of translucency to give you a choice of shading options, and turns the harsh glare of the sun into a soft, dappled light. Custom-made to ensure the perfect fit and ease of operation, even in the most complex conservatory window shapes can be fitted. The wide versatility of all our pleated blinds are ideal for conservatories, bi-fold doors, skylights, roof windows and patio doors. They are available as free hanging or tensioned inside the window beading.
Our pleated conservatory roof and side blinds are available in a wide choice of colors to meet every taste and match every décor scheme. Duette Pleated Blinds are similar in appearance to classic pleated blinds, but have a double-layered honeycomb construction that provides a stylish, yet functional window covering with high insulation properties. This fabric layer is designed to deflect excessive heat during the summer, and provide insulation during the winter with a 60-80% thermal barrier.

Conservatory Craftsmen also offers Alu-Pleat® blinds, which is specifically designed to reflect heat. In fact, Faber Maunsell, a leading international environmental consultancy, put our exclusive Alu-Pleat® climate control fabric to the test. The findings show that on a typically hot day in July, the temperature in the conservatory peaked at a stifling 109 degrees Fahrenheit when no conservatory roof or side blinds were installed. With Appeal’s roof and side conservatory blinds in place, the peak temperature was reduced to 90 degrees.
For homeowners looking for a more natural look, Pinoleum is crafted from the lightest quality reed, which minimizes the need for support wires in the roof. Consequently, using fewer wires gives the blinds a neater and more uniform appearance without sagging, while specially developed polyester stitching and acrylic edging also promotes longevity. Pinoleum blinds are complemented by a variety of operating systems, including pole, cord or remote controlled, for convenience and ease of use.

Conservatory blinds and shades create a relaxing ambience all year round and protects your plants and furniture by effectively controlling the room temperature and greatly reducing the harmful effect of the sun’s UV rays.