When an established Greenwich couple purchased an 1860s-era barn and had it dismantled, moved from its upstate New York location and rebuilt on their property, it didn’t take them long to realize that while they loved the rustic charm of the structure, they didn’t like the fact that it let in very little light.
“We love entertaining, and bought the barn for this purpose,” recalls the wife, who also enjoys renovating and flipping homes and serves on the board of the Bruce Museum. “We planned to hold parties and events in the space and also use it as a guest house.”
Originally a three-story structure, the barn was rebuilt, after it was relocated to the Greenwich property, into two stories comprising a kitchen, bathroom, and wide-open living space, plus a second-level sleeping loft. “We soon discovered that with so few windows, the interior was very dark, and determined that adding a conservatory onto one end of the barn would solve the problem,” the owner explains.
Conservatories evolved from glasshouses, and the word conservatory is derived from the Italian “conservato” (stored or preserved) and the Latin “ory” — a place for — and was originally used to describe a non-glazed structure used for storing food, according to www.oakconservatories.co.uk. Later, the word was used to describe glazed structures for conserving, or protecting, plants from cold weather.
Today, conservatories are often connected to a main residence or building, and are often heated and cooled, so as to serve as another living space in the home, a place in which to read, relax, and entertain, as in the case of the Greenwich couple, who turned to Bridgeport-based Parish Conservatories to help execute their dream.
“Several friends had recommended Parish Conservatories, as did the architectural firm Douglas VanderHorn Architects that we work with,” the homeowner recalls. “When it had been determined exactly how the space would be used, we decided what type of conservatory would best fit the site, and what direction it should be facing, as well as its color, style and features.”
The couple looked through Parish Conservatories’ brochures to see what other clients had chosen, and selected the elements they liked best to create a custom conservatory attached to their barn.
Paul Zec, a Westport resident and Parish Conservatories president, began building conservatories during 1988, eventually launching his own firm in 1997. His company, which h as clients here and abroad, offers hardwood and aluminum conservatories, which can be attached or freestanding. “Technology has improved greatly, and the products — from the frames to the glass and glazing — are much better now than they were 30 years ago,” he says.
The homeowners agreed that a traditional sage-green English-style conservatory would best complement the historic barn, and were thrilled with the embellished top that Paul and the architect had suggested. “We found a grayish-green textured English paint that was perfect for the frame,” the owner recalls. “The conservatory is fairly large, and the space allows for two long couches, an antique set of wicker chairs with tropical-themed fabric-covered cushions, tables, ambient lighting, some folk art pieces, and the contemporary artwork that we collect … it’s truly the perfect place for entertaining.”
The process began with procuring the proper permits: A visit to the town’s Planning and Zoning Department provides the space requirements, setbacks, and other pertinent information necessary before breaking ground.
Next, the conservatory style and design are selected, ordered, delivered, and, finally, installed, on a base, or foundation, that the owners’ builder installs. The base can be constructed of concrete, wood, stone, or brick, depending on whether the base wall is high enough to be seen.
Clients in the Northeast tend to choose traditional-style conservatories, Paul observes, with aluminum frames available in different finishes (approximately 60% of his clients select white), while the wooden frames are constructed of hardwoods, such as sapele wood, which is durable, like mahogany.
Window styles can run the gamut, from plain and Georgian to Gothic and Roman, and can include different styles of fenestrations. The windows can be short, tall, divided, etc., and the company can install roof vents and shades over any of the windows to control the light and heat during the various seasons. “We have rollup shades on the windows that are controlled with discreetly placed pulleys,” explains the homeowner, who has the windows professionally cleaned once a year, “so if it’s too hot or the sun’s too bright, we can fix that with a few pulls of the ropes.”
Conservatory floors are typically stone or tile, or occasionally wood, with some clients, like the Greenwich couple, opting to add radiant heating under their stone floors so the space will be warm and cozy during the winter, and placing a large area rug over the stone for added warmth.
“We spend a lot of time out here in the conservatory,” the owner says, “whether it’s hosting a large party or sitting in the wicker chairs, eating dinner on our laps and looking out at the apple orchards we planted. … This will most likely be the last home we own in the Northeast, as we plan to head south eventually. We want to enjoy every minute we can.”