by | Nov 3, 2016 | Planning

Orangeries and Conservatories: What’s the Difference?

Our clients often ask us about the specific differences between conservatories and orangeries. The orangeries and conservatories designed, built, and constructed by Sunspace Design combine the classic elegance of their historical predecessors with all the benefits of modern technology. We’ve had the distinct privilege of building hundreds of these glass structures throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and the greater New England area. Because we’re sure that a Sunspace Design orangery or conservatory would make a wonderful addition to your home, we’re here to tackle the question. Let’s begin with a look at the building traditions that both structures came from.


Common Ancestry in the Walled Gardens and Pergolas of Europe

Because they look similar and offer comparable levels of comfort, it should come as no surprise that both structures have a shared history which began long before the founding of the United States. Both the orangery and the conservatory share common ancestry in European structures like the earliest walled gardens or the Italian limonaia: a simple pergola built in galleries to protect plants from the harsh elements. From the 15th to the 19th century, these early plant-sheltering techniques provided the basis for a host of structures we’re now familiar with like the orangery, conservatory, and greenhouse. The principal development which allowed for the necessary construction techniques was the advent of large spans of clear glass. This monumental improvement in glassmaking technology was achieved by Renaissance artisans.

Parting Ways in Northern Europe


The orangery (or orangerie) first caught on in Northern Europe where it was necessary to provide additional shelter for—you guessed it—orange trees. These delicate plants were susceptible to frost, so a typical orangery was an enclosed structure built with stone, wood, or brick featuring tall windows on the southernmost wall. This design was later augmented by the addition of slanted or sloping glass to achieve even greater levels of natural light via the roof (a Dutch development). More delicate plants were kept in the earliest greenhouses, while similar buildings emphasizing maximum natural light levels became known as conservatories. The addition of stoves and fireplaces in these structures ensured that the plants they contained would remain warm even on dark, winter nights.

These structures often served as symbols of prestige with respect to both the delicate, exotic plants they housed and the expensive, high quality materials used in their construction. Even after agricultural developments and new trade routes made access to imported citrus more reliable, these structures remained in frequent use, often serving as places for social gathering and relaxation. As time went on, it slowly became more common to see orangeries and conservatories on property owned by the rising middle class.

England became the top region for orangery and conservatory construction by the 19th century. This lasted until the setbacks of World War 2. After the war, new developments like insulated glass heralded a shift in focus from traditional Victorian conservatory and orangery building methods toward more rudimentary, prefabricated sunroom designs.

These simpler design methods reigned until the 1970s, when a resurgence in creative architecture led to many firms revitalizing the use of these classic and Victorian designs in residential construction. By 1981, Sunspace Design was one such firm dedicated to bringing this level of quality craftsmanship to the United States. We’ve been New England’s leader of custom glass structures ever since.


Differences Between Orangeries and Conservatories in the Modern Era


Modern orangeries and conservatories are usually built as home extensions which overlook a scenic vista, be it a home garden, backyard lake, or simply the surrounding environment. Both structures can be used for relaxation, horticulture, or socializing. So what are the key differences?

Because orangery walls use more wood and conventional construction elements, they’re easier to blend with the property’s existing architecture. Conservatories—featuring more glass than the typical orangery—are more likely to stand out.

These trends are carried through to the roof. The orangery roof is typically solid and is sometimes accented by a central glass element like a skylight. By contrast, the conservatory roof features large, glazed glass spans and an almost fully-glass design. Traditional conservatory roofs also feature more traditional design elements like gables and eaves, whereas orangery roofs are flatter. At Sunspace Design, we can give both orangeries and conservatories any design elements you’re interested in, and can blend either structure seamlessly with your home’s existing architecture.


Sunspace Design Orangery and Conservatory Comparison

An exterior photo of a custom colonial orangery and central skylight system matching the existing architecture of a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts home

Custom Orangery with Central Skylight

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

This colonial orangery features many of the prototypical orangery design elements: tall windows built into the construction and a central glass element in the roof (in this case a hip-style skylight).

An exterior photo of a gorgeous mahogany conservatory with copper flashing and a brick corner fireplace in Hamilton, Massachusetts

Elegant Conservatory with Corner Fireplace

Hamilton, Massachusetts

This beautiful conservatory features many of the prototypical conservatory design elements: walls and a roof made almost entirely out of glass in order to maximize natural light levels.

The Right Option for Your Home


All of our structures feature the same excellent mahogany framing and high performance glass. Our products are built for New England, which is why we’re the custom glass structure industry leader throughout our service area in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. And because we design, manufacture, and install all of our wood and glass products ourselves, we can ensure that you receive excellent value for your dollar. We offer complete service which takes you from an initial concept to a full implementation (including all of the required permitting and sub-contract trade management).

Whether you’re interested in a Sunspace Design orangery or conservatory, our design solutions will be precisely tailored to meet your needs. Contact us today. We can also be reached via email at, or you can reach us at 1-800-530-2505 if you’d like to speak with a representative quickly. Whether you’re a homeowner, builder, or architect, we’re ready to work with you.


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