The terms sun room and conservatory often seem interchangeable, but they can hold very diverse meanings. Depending on the country or even the region, distinctive interpretations and differences exist. Other words such as solarium and California or Florida rooms add some further confusion. In any form, the concept of an add-on or separate space for use in summer or throughout the year is one that comes with some interesting history.
Conservatories Came First
Centuries ago; attempts to conserve plants, fruits and other goods began with temporary structures. During the 1500s, wealthy landowners wanted to protect their newly imported citrus plants by providing adequate sunlight and keeping out cold drafts. In time, as these outbuildings became more popular, they also increased in size. Among the thriving greenery, and with improved temperature control, the conservatory also became a place to host gatherings. In the 1700s, the invention of glass panels that would fit sloping roofs meant more available light for a wider range of activities. European horticulturists embraced conservatories and greenhouses on every level, from botanical gardens and museums to private estates.
By today’s definitions, conservatories still remain a favored term in the United Kingdom. Specifics regarding building require that a minimum of three-quarters of the roof area must be comprised of glass or other see-through materials. Additionally, at least half of the room or structure’s sides should provide a view to the outdoors. In most cases, regardless of size, conservatories retain traditional features and ornate detailing. Many of these spaces have no multi-seasonal temperature controls, relying only on venting for air flow.
Throughout this same period, the solarium also gained favor with its myriad of uses. In hospitals, it was the place to bask while recuperating from dire illnesses. As a daytime retreat, others began seeing the benefits of having this warm spot to beat the chill of wet and wintry days.
Sun rooms Take Their Place In American Architecture
Much later, in America, sun rooms began to take shape on front porches. At first, the open expanses received minimal wood framing and simple mesh screens as barriers. Failure to keep out dust, wind and rain was a disadvantage along with limited seasonal use. When storm windows came on the scene, innovative homeowners began adding glass as further protection. Over time, patios became the place to retreat to with or without the privacy afforded by fences.
By the mid-1960s, contractors began selling their various configurations to enclose the patio as a sun room. Jutting from a corner with two windowed sides or spanning the back of a home, these typically featured covered roofs and wood or aluminum framework.
Not much time would pass before sun rooms became part of new home structures complete with air conditioning and heat for all-season use. While just as many sunrooms remain seasonal spots, they all deliver a view to the outside. In some cases, sun rooms trump swimming pools in adding value and appeal for those selling a home.
As far as the other terms go, the variety of styles and how they are implemented continues. California and Florida rooms, for instance, are often added onto a mobile home or what is called a destination or park model. These extra rooms can be more porch-like with screened-in windows, or they can be fully outfitted interior spaces complete with an additional bath.
Some will want to claim the formalities conjured up by the term conservatory. Others will simply call their special retreat a sun room. While rarely worth an argument, sun rooms and conservatories can each have their niche in architecture and lifestyle.