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Your Comprehensive Guide to Orangery Extensions

Where glass met greenery, and the outside came in.

Date

10 Jun 2024

By

Simon McAuliffe

An orangery in Scotland

Few architectural marvels have stood the test of time better and more stylishly than the orangery extension, originally built for practical purposes, but today revered for its aesthetic appeal, versatility and ability to blend our inside world with the outside one.

 

Despite the orangery’s universal popularity that has persisted for over 300 years, questions still remain for architects, designers and homeowners who would like to incorporate such a structure into their plans. Why, for example, do we call this glass structure an orangery but a similar one a conservatory? What planning permissions will you need, if any, when constructing your orangery extension? Will the temperature remain warm in winter and cool in summer? And what inspiration can we, glazing specialists, offer you, the reader, in terms of making the best use of the orangery’s space?

 

We will try to answer all of these questions and a few more along the way in this comprehensive guide on the subject. First, it’s important to define exactly what we mean by an orangery before taking a trip through time to where our story begins: Renaissance Italy.

Orangery Example

What is an orangery?

 

An orangery is a structural extension placed on the side of a building that is typically characterised by large windows and a glazed roof. By opting for these elements, you are maximising the amount of natural light that illuminates the space, heightening your home’s aesthetics by enhancing colours and textures, whilst also creating a bright, airy, comfortable and adaptable living area for you, your friends and family.

 

“But – you might be saying – my dining room is bright and airy, flanked by floor-to-ceiling glass walls and crowned by a sliding glazed roof system.” While all of these elements are, of course, vital to the makeup of an orangery, so too is the extension’s encroachment into the surrounding landscape – whether that’s a manicured garden, a courtyard, or endless fields as far as the eye can see. An orangery encourages the occupant to dip their toe in the outdoors without the need for boots, a raincoat or additional layers (essential apparel when facing the British elements).

 

A brief history of the orangery

 

The 16th century marked the beginning of what we might call the Age of Discovery in Europe. Pioneering explorers embarked on exciting voyages to far-flung places, from which they returned with all manner of objects, fruit, flora and fauna that had never been seen before and would delight members of court, aristocracy and high-fliers in society. One such fruit was the sweet orange, introduced to Portugal from Southern China and then arriving in England via rich merchants.

 

Of course, the Portuguese climate is quite a lot warmer than our own, so the fruit trees could survive all year round unprotected in the Mediterranean sunshine. Here in Blighty, however, the trees quickly died when they were exposed to our freezing winters and lack of sunlight.

 

The solution? A brick-and-mortar structure that retained heat, but also had lots of glass to maximise the sunshine reaching the plants. The orangery was born, often heated through artificial means, but its popularity really arrived in the following two centuries when the price of glass dropped (due to improved manufacturing) and it became significantly more affordable.

What began as a horticultural endeavour to overwinter tender plants such as oranges quickly burgeoned into an opportunity to entertain guests against a backdrop of new and exciting citrus fruits – impossible to grow in England before the 17th century. While the orangery’s popularity waned as cheaper methods of heating and lighting plants became available (the free-standing greenhouse, for example, a product of the Victorian era’s fondness for pushing architectural boundaries), today it is a desirable feature of any property, allowing the homeowner to enjoy not only the opportunity to grow exotic fruit but to live life in the semi-outdoors, surrounded by luxury glazing and reassured by the permanence of more substantial materials like brick and stone.

An orangery that contrasts nicely with the house

Do you need planning permission for an orangery?

 

At the time of writing this, April 2024, you do not need planning permission if you are building an orangery extension within your permitted development rights (PDR). Exceptions to this might include scenarios relating to the size of the extension, its height, how close it is to your boundaries, whether it faces a road, whether the materials match the existing structure, and whether you are subject to conservation rules.

 

Before drawing up plans for your orangery, we recommend speaking to your local planning authority who can tell you whether you will or won’t need planning permission.

 

Can you put a kitchen in an orangery?

 

Whereas traditional orangeries were built with a horticultural purpose in mind – to raise citrus fruit trees imported from the warmer climate of Southeast Asia – modern iterations have expanded their functionality to accommodate various living spaces, including kitchens. What better culinary experience is there than preparing your favourite dishes for your favourite people, perhaps with a glass of something lovely in your hand, surrounded by views of your beloved garden? We don’t think there is one!

 

What is the difference between an orangery and a conservatory?

 

If you and a friend stood staring at an orangery and you mistakenly called it a conservatory, you would be forgiven. It can be difficult to tell one apart from the other, but it is easy to do – if you know where to look. While both utilise the properties of glazing, a conservatory is designed to look like a separate space – one that is quite separate from the building to which it is attached. An orangery, on the other hand, appears as a substantial and integrated extension of the home, allowing the occupant to seamlessly step from one living space to another, without a jarring sense of change.

 

Are orangeries cold in winter?

 

Orangeries built long before thermal technologies like double glazing, triple glazing, thermal breaks, insulation, and solar control systems were invented are likely to be rather chilly in winter without the addition of artificial heating. Modern orangeries, however, benefit from the style and elegance of the Renaissance structures, whilst also enjoying a range of initiatives to keep you warm even when there is snow on the ground outside.

 

Will an orangery get too hot in summer?

 

Stepping into a greenhouse in the middle of a hot summer can be quite oppressive. It is an atmosphere in which your tomatoes might thrive but you will surely struggle. Thankfully, due to the same technologies that keep your orangery warm in winter, the thermal exchange between ‘in here’ and ‘out there’ is minimal, preventing the space from overheating and ensuring that you feel comfortable throughout the whole year.

Far from being something of a passed trend – “that was so three centuries ago!” – an orangery is a timeless addition to any property, allowing the occupants to enjoy the benefits of natural light as well as views of the outside world. Whether you want to create an orangery kitchen, living or dining room, our specialist glazing experts can help you design something that is right for you. Speak to our dedicated team today.