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The History Of The Orangery

The orangery became popular in the 17th century, first emerging in Europe in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The History of Orangeries

The business of Westbury is joinery, not least the orangery and garden room, but in our work to bring this classic architecture to the modern home, it is important that we don’t lose sight of their origins.

Orangeries are not simply a fad in architectural terms, the basic principle stems back as far as the ancient Romans, and whilst their aesthetic and social values are not insignificant in their popularity, the fundamental reason they have lasted is because, as a piece of functional architecture, they deliver what homeowners want –plenty of light, good temperature regulation and extra space!

Ancient Romans

Whilst the specific history and aesthetic of garden rooms and orangeries can be traced back to the 17th Century, the idea of using natural light to illuminate and regulate a room’s temperature was explored by the ancient Romans, long before the invention of glass.

In structures as old as the Pantheon, large openings providing sunlight and ventilation still stand today, as proof of early application of this idea.

‘The 7.8 diameter hole in the Pantheon sits right in the middle of the dome. This hole is the only source of light in the Roman temple. It is impressive to see how much light comes from this single hole when you’re standing inside the Pantheon.’

17th Century Europe

Orangeries, as we recognise them, first emerged in Europe, becoming popular in the 17th century. Merchants, began importing large numbers of exotic plants such as orange trees, banana plants, and pomegranates to these European port countries. Not being native, these plants needed protection from the colder, harsher European climate – hence the development of the orangery.

Similar to a greenhouse in function, but styled more like a classic conservatory, their main task was providing delicate, exotic plants with shelter and protection beyond that of a brick fruit wall. The name therefore reflects the original use of the building as a place where citrus trees were often wintered in tubs under cover, so that they could survive through harsh frosts.

Typically, early orangeries were constructed with bases and pillars made from brick or stone, with large panes of glass to let in light and warmth. Often they utilised an existing garden wall but as they became more popular their construction was increasingly influenced by designers and architects. This then led to the connection between the house and architectural orangery design.

In order to maximise heat and light within the orangery, most often they were built south-facing, with the north facing wall constructed from brick (or using the existing garden wall) to help retain heat. Straw was originally used as insulation, with some orangeries in northern Europe using open fires or stoves to produce enough heat for the plants.

Heating was also introduced through hot air flues, steam, and piped hot water – the earliest forms of central heating – in order to provide pineapples and grapes with the high temperatures and moisture they needed.

The 1900’s

Orangeries did not have any glazing on their roofs until the early 1900s. The arrival of pineapples from South America and grapes from the Mediterranean led to the invention of pitched glazed roofs to maximise the light and heat that these plants needed to thrive in these structures.

However, they were not affordable to everyone. Being made of large amounts of expensive glass, and as homes to exotic plants, orangeries were usually found in the gardens and grounds of wealthy, fashionable residences. This soon created a situation where orangeries became symbols of status among the wealthy. Often they were a feature of the garden, in the same way as a summerhouse, folly or “Grecian temple”; owners would conduct their guests there on tours of the garden to admire not only the fruits but the architecture too. Often the orangery would contain fountains, grottos, and an area in which to entertain in inclement weather.

During Victorian times, orangeries became even more popular in Britain as they became less expensive thanks to improved glass production techniques, cheaper glass, and lighter metal frames.

However, these were prone to leaking, extreme weather fluctuations, and degradation so it was still several decades until manufacturing techniques and technology evolved enough to resolve the issues experienced by the early orangery designs and for them to become a functional and affordable architectural element in a residential setting.

The Modern Orangery

Today, orangeries are used less for wintering tropical plants, and more as additional living space within the home which unifies the boundary of the garden and the inside. Retaining classic features such as a solid base and pillars, along with expanses of glass, orangeries are designed to blend seamlessly with the original building, opening it up and letting light flood into the house.

People are now more educated than ever and modern scientific research has confirmed how important natural light is to enhanced physical and mental well-being so homeowners are proactively looking for ways to bring this in to their homes. The concept of a hole in the roof, for air to escape and light to enter, was forged by the Romans, but Garden Rooms harness this philosophy in modern architecture.

References/Further reading

Orangery – Wikipedia

A Brief History of Greenhouses, Orangeries and Conservatories (billyoh.com)

Why is there a hole in the roof of the Pantheon (romecitytour.it)