Conservatories Built and Designed in the U.S.

There are many conservatory design options to consider.

Conservatory Craftsmen has had a busy year, traveling across the U.S. in our trailer, getting to know our customers – and each other – quite well! We’ve had the chance to document some of our work, which allows us to appreciate the planning, the human connection, and the beautiful results once a project is through. Here’s a premier project we completed in Pennsylvania.

See more on our new website. There’s lots to see and appreciate through our gallery and design options. If we can help answer any questions regarding building or enhancing a conservatory or greenhouse, please reply to this email and we will be in touch to schedule a call.

You may also reach us by phone any time: (888) 345-7915

Como Park Conservatory and Me

I grew up in St. Paul, MN, one of the lucky urban areas in the United States that adorns a public conservatory. The Conservatory sits like a crown jewel in Como Park, overlooking Como Lake and sits adjacent to the public zoo.

Como Park is a very special place to us Minnesotans and even more magical viewing though an eyes of a child. I vividly recall my dad taking us kids to the conservatory on cold winter days when one longed for the splendors of spring and summer and the outside weather was biting and bitter.
The sound of the birds taking refuge in the glorious glass building, the smell of the earth, the humidity, the plants. It touched my scenes and my soul more than I would ever know as a child. The conservatory offered up a good alternative to a vacation and a brief rest from what seemed an endless winter’s grip.

I retained my love of plants and biology, and went on to the University of Minnesota to gain a science degree, of which I taught for several years before going to work in the landscape industry.
img_0017 In 1988 a customer of mine asked if I would be interested in installing a wood conservatory she had purchased from England. From that point on I was hooked. I went to work for various companies that were building conservatories and was able to gain experience in the design and installation of nearly every product that was offered to the market. Over time my son, Mike, has joined on and asked the question why we didn’t set out on our own and build the best conservatory available today.
So many years ago I didn’t realize the impact Como Park Conservatory has made on me. I am grateful and lucky to share the splendor of the Conservatory with my own children.

The Conservatory Olympics

In honor of the 2012 Olympics, we would like to take the time to notice our very favorite British Conservatories!

Starting with Horniman

Syon Park Great Conservatory in Greater London
The Great Conservatory sits on over 40 acres of parkland and gardens. The conservatory sits adjacent to Syon House wherein 1547; King Henry VIII’s coffin was brought to on its way to Windsor for burial. It burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! This was regarded as a divine judgment for the King’s desecration of Syon Abbey. Wow, drama!

Next, Kensington!

Although technically an Orangery we love all things Kensington so this is at the top of our list because the palace and the grounds on which it sits is one of the most beautiful places in the world. This Queen Anne orangery was built in the 1500’s. As British explorers combed the new world, one of the popular things to do was to bring back plant specimens to England for research. Citrus crops, like oranges, became a popular delicacy in Britain (and a prevention of scurvy for British sailors). British winters were hard on orange trees, and so ‘orangeries’ were built that would allow the trees to be wheeled out onto the terrace in the summer, and maintained indoors in the winter. Conservatory Craftsmen will build your orangery today with folding walls so the entire space can open up in the summer to the terrace, pool and points beyond.

Belton House Orangery

Another Orangery but oh so pretty and it reminds me of Downtown Abbey! The orangery has a solid roof, unlike a conservatory. Today we build a skylight on the roof. This also helps minimize solar gain, for an open south exposure. And the Gold goes to…. KEW!

For anyone traveling to London, for the games, or any other time, the tour of a lifetime is Kew Gardens. Several conservatories of various designs and age will captivate the enthusiast for an entire day. Sprawling turn of the century conservatories that allow the visitor to climb up into the domes and achieve an intimacy with the flora, unlike anywhere in the world. The British have long been Olympians in their research and study of plants, but we can thank them even more for developing the Conservatory, for which we have dedicated our lives to building. Looking to gain more information on Conservatories? Sign up here for emails introducing Conservatory Craftsmen and other related topics!


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…

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?


Conservatory History

ph2009010701094The history of conservatories begins in the early 17th century. The concept of an all glass orangery came about by a pack of enthusiastic travelers who were discovering new worlds, with exotic plants that gardeners wanted to propagate back in England.

The Conservatory may have started out as a Greenhouse, however as the collected plants became more exotic, the rooms became more of a living space for people who wished to enjoy them.

As raw goods such as glass and steel became more available and less expensive, historic homes (and homeowners) were introduced to a new concept…building an addition onto your home! By the 19th century both private and public Conservatory construction was flourishing in cooler climates all over the world.

The economic downfall of the 1920’s was particularly harsh on the conservatory industry. In lean times, the conservatory space was deemed an needless luxury. As homes were being made more comfortable with central heating, less advanced materials for conservatories made the rooms uncomfortable to be in.


At the turn of the century when Teddy Roosevelt was elected President, he began major renovations on the West wing of the White House, effectively demolishing the conservatories and building an office that we know today as the Oval Office (in Roosevelt’s design, the office was rectangle; Taft renovated it to be Oval).

Modern architecture design was not the shining era of the Victorian Conservatory. Many curved eave ‘solariums’ were built during this period.

Fortunately, good conservatory design always prevails and over the last 20 years we have seen a tremendous re-birth of conservatories all over the world.