How Does Your Sunroom Grow?
by Stephanie Cavanaugh
For the Wall St Journal's OWN Magazine - September 2012
Molly and Michael Metzler sleep under glass. Their bedroom opens to a domed conservatory with marble floors and a panoramic view that skips across 15 acres of garden and grounds to the lapping shore of Delaware's Nanticoke River.
From the boudoir one also sees a free-standing conservatory nestled in a woodsy setting and echoing the style of the 5,000 square foot main house. Molly Metzler originally wanted a simple greenhouse, but the project grew, as these things do, into a mahogany-lined, cupola-topped jewel-box, with windows set in bronze.
"It's much too nice to be a greenhouse," she says of the single-room building that features a sitting area with a fireplace, a wet bar, and an in-ground spa for splashing amid hibiscus flowers and banana trees in the middle of January.
"It's just a place for my husband and me. We don't even let my son out there," then adds with a laugh, "He's 21. You don't want one of those in your spa."
It's June in January
Fooling mother nature is a great part of the allure of green houses, conservatories, and orangeries. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences between these structures.
Greenhouses, which are generally detached from the house, are designed for the propagation of plants, with heating and lighting controls to create the optimum environment for your eupatoria and fritillaria.
Conservatories are usually attached to the house and allow the harmonious cohabitation of plants and brunch.
The orangerie is a cousin to both. Originally designed to grow citrus trees in climates too chilly to sustain them outdoors, they are generally defined by a two-tiered roof that allows headroom for trees.
There is, however, considerable overlap among the three forms. A conservatory might have a domed roof and an orangerie a flat one, with no glassing at all. A greenhouse can be used for reading as well as raising flowers and plants.
"We've done greenhouses that incorporated relaxation rooms with tables and chairs," says Rob Suman, president of Creative Conservatories, which is based in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. "They're all glass structures, of course, and very similar."
To be frank (which is nice), he adds that whatever we call them, what we're talking about is building magnificently ornamented sunrooms. Rooms that will become, as he puts it, "the jewel of the house."
Having been given Suman's absolution, and to simplify matters, we'll dispense with the distinctions and simply call all of these glass rooms conservatories, since that is their ultimate function: to conserve plants.