8 steps to a glorious garden room

Fill your home with light by creating a sun-filled glazed extension that will capitalise on garden views

Folding sliding doors allow this orangery (from £40,000) by Malbrook to be completely opened up to the garders

Interiors expert Paula Woods has all the tips for designing a peaceful garden sanctuary...

1 Think ahead

Forward planning can save expensive mistakes, so first consider what you want from your garden room. Is it a quiet spot to relax, in which case it might remain separated from the main house by a door, or are you looking for a fully integrated open-plan space, which requires more complex work?

Also think about the room’s intended function. All-glazed rooms are ideal as social or dining spaces. If you require storage, an orangery with its option of solid walls is a better choice.

In terms of position, most people plan this to give the best views of the garden. However, do give due regard to the sun – ideally build your conservatory to face east or west.

Bespoke conservatory companies, such as Marston & Langinger (prices from £35,000), will ensure the project is well planned

2 Create a workable space

The most successful additions address internal, as well as external, considerations. The more complex your shape the less flexible it may be in terms of space, so use simple geometric-shaped structures to maximise useability. Consider higher roof pitches to guarantee a light and airy feel. 

Underestimating the space required is a common problem. Jonathan Hey of Westbury Garden Rooms recommends ‘20 sq m for a family room and 30 sq m for a multi-purpose room’. However, never be tempted to overdevelop at the expense of your garden.

Always take into account the functions of adjoining rooms and address any access issues – should the new space not work effectively or flow with the existing layout, it could result in adjoining rooms becoming no more than wasted corridors.

3 Material matters

Eco-friendly timber is often regarded as the frame of choice and is regularly specified on listed buildings. Choose oak for a rustic look or painted hardwood for a more precise finish. Ensure all timber carries an FSC logo and bear in mind it requires upkeep. In contrast, aluminium is maintenance-free and its strength allows for large sheets of glass. A timber frame clad in aluminium improves durability and reduces maintenance. 

You must fit double glazing as standard. To comply with energy regulations, Phil Brown of Pilkington advises, ‘Upgrade to argon-filled low-e glass to help achieve low u-values.’ If your structure is south facing, consider a solar coating to reduce overheating.

4 Prepare for planning

For many, the allure of a conservatory lies in the fact that it is considered permitted development. However, this will depend on factors such as size and height and, as Jonathan Hey points out, ‘If you live in a conservation area or your home is listed, then planning approval is essential.’ 

Permission is more likely to be granted on structures at the rear of a property. Any extension should remain in proportion to the existing house and be subservient to the original building. Marrying lines and sourcing sympathetic materials should help ease the planning process.

Traditional-style glasshouses are more likely to be approved but planners are increasingly receptive to contemporary frameless structures. This is especially true of listed buildings, where a distinct separation between old and new can be regarded as preferable. 

This Elizabethan-inspired ‘Hardwick’ conservatory (£24,500) by National Trust Conservatory Collection complements the original building

5 Seek expert advice 

Employing a reputable architect or specialist company should ensure a good return on your investment and adherence to regulations. Always ask to view examples of companies’ previous work. 

Established conservatory companies offer ‘management of all aspects of the design and build, including planning permission’, advises Lisa Morton of Vale Garden Houses, while guaranteeing ‘a high standard of build using the best quality materials, because this will add to the longevity of the structure’.

If you have a listed property, the Royal Institute of British Architects can supply a list of specialist architects in your area. Alternatively, opt for firms such as Vale Garden Houses, David Salisbury, Bartholomew or Malbrook, which have experience of working with older buildings and can liaise with conservation officers on your behalf.

Look to designs that complement rather than compete with your home, even on a modern addition, where minimalist structural glazing by Trombe (from £30,000) echoes existing roof lines

6 Open up 

Conservatories are a link to the garden, so create generous openings to bring the outside in and maximise views. Jackie Savage of Malbrook recommends that you ‘consider folding sliding doors, as they allow the entire space to be opened up’ and advocates ‘top-hung systems that slide with a fingertip touch’. Sliding doors, and some bi-folds, sit on a base rail and do not require the same structural support.

French doors are the traditionalist’s choice – their hinged design can allow for use of glazing bars to match existing windows. Inward opening doors are ideal if outside space is limited but those opening outwards negate the problem of dripping rainwater and maximise internal floor space. 

7 Invest wisely

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a well planned and executed conservatory can add at least five per cent to the value of your home, so it pays to buy the best. It is possible to buy off-the peg kits for a few thousand pounds but, as Lisa Morton of Vale Garden Houses points out, these are often pre-cut and pre-drilled with limited designs. ‘They restrict options to personalise the design to marry with your property.’

Of course, buying bespoke does not come cheap. Mid-range structures start at £12,000 to £15,000, while high-end designs can easily exceed £50,000 or far more. However, a reputable company will ensure the result is a quality build.

Lisa cautions against thinking a smaller conservatory will be more cost-effective than a larger one. ‘When the same design and manufacturing process is required for a bespoke design, there can often be little difference.’ Also, bear in mind the actual build is not your only outlay – it could add anything up to 50 per cent for fixtures and fittings.

8 Focus on fittings

For year-round comfort, the most straightforward heating solution is simply to extend your existing system. Opting for underfloor heating will enable you to free up valuable wall space and it works particularly well with practical stone, tile and engineered wood floors, as they deal well with changing temperatures.

The use of manual or remote control roof vents will ensure a good flow of fresh air, and automated systems can be programmed to maintain a predetermined temperature or to close when rain is detected. 

Made from thin strips of wood woven together, Appeal’s traditional French pinoleum blinds (from £115 per sq m, incuding installation), filter the sun’s glare rather than block it, creating a soft dappled light 

‘Adding blinds will also provide much-needed protection from the sun and reduce glare,’ says Sarah Quilliam of Hillarys.Look to climate control blindsby, for example, Hillarys, Appeal or Thomas Sanderson, which reflect up to 85 per cent of the sun’s rays in summer and retain heat in winter. Roof blinds are particularly effective at cutting down on heat and glare. 


This feature was first published in the June 2015 issue of Homes & Antiques. To buy a copy o call 0844 844 0255 or email homesandantiques@servicehelpline.co.uk

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