St. Louis experts on how to let the sun’s rays into your home

Sun light. This is the common denominator of sunrooms, conservatories and oranges. All three are designed to let in more rays than a standard room. But then, they have some differences.

The most common – and least expensive – of the three room types is the sunroom. These are simple, glass-enclosed porches that function as three or four season rooms, and are often built on an aluminum frame that may or may not be incorporated into the home’s architecture.

Conservatories, by contrast, are often separated as a special accent or focal point for a home. According to the National Gallery of Art, they began to appear in England in the 15th century and are designed to protect citrus trees and other fragile plants during the winter. Today’s conservatories often have decorative elements such as gables, cornices, and capitals at the top of the dome roof. “It’s going to have a lot of glass, and it really stands out as a separate structure,” says Jane Anne Forney of FORNEY + Architecture.

Oranges are the least common of the three room types in the US – perhaps because in Europe they were once symbols of a privileged elite and didn’t blend well with the relatively American egalitarian ethos. Modern orange trees have traditional building elements (such as bricks) that make up the walls and are likely to have a skylight, riser, and flat roof. It does not stand much far from the main structure of the house.

Any type of home can accommodate one or two of these rooms, says Forney, but some couples won’t look right—for example, a minimalist modern house doesn’t work with an ornate winter garden, nor a luxurious mansion with a simple sunroom. There are some questions to ask yourself as you decide whether you want to add one of these rooms to your home or include one in a new building.

First, in which direction will the room be headed? If you have a traditional goal of preserving plants, you’ll want to face south. But during the summer in St. Louis, the south-facing, three-season room will get hot, so you might want more roofing and less glass on top. Speaking of temperature: Want to heat and cool your addition from the floor, ceiling, or exposed ductwork? It may be easier to add it to your existing home system.

Second: What kind of glass and paint should you use? Some coatings help dust, rain, and dirt slide off but won’t protect against bird bombardment. “A lot of people think they want a glass on the roof, but they change their mind when they think about having to clean it on a regular basis,” says Forney.

Forney recently designed a semicircle conservatory for a new home in Town and Country. In the middle of the structure, constructed by Maryland-based Tanglewood Conservatories, is a circular cocktail bar. Below its center is a trap door that leads to a brick-lined wine cellar. What Forney discovered after construction is that at certain times of the day, pillars of light illuminate the vault. “It wasn’t something I even thought about,” she says. “It was a happy side effect.”

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