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Light-filled Living


A bounding with fresh greenery, flowering plants and warm sunlight, garden rooms beckon spring’s splendor inside. Distinct from a greenhouse, these idyllic rooms with a view are designed for cozy light-filled living. Whether an extension of your home or a repurposed posh shed, a garden room enhances your home’s décor yet boasts unique features that usher nature indoors: glass windows, natural building materials like stone and wood, rustic furniture and plants galore. A versatile oasis, it expands your floor space and serves myriad purposes, from a sylvan home office and gym to a charming guest bedroom or dining nook. Whatever its function, your garden room will provide a relaxing retreat where you can escape from life’s daily stresses and let your creativity soar.

A happy place
Garden rooms are trending in home design. For those working remotely, home offices and workout rooms are house-hunting must haves. In a COVID world, indoor-outdoor living and entertaining are not only a gracious lifestyle but essential to staying healthy. 

For Alicia Smith, vice president of F&S Building Innovations, the greenery, natural wood furnishings and light in garden rooms inspire and relax. She says, “My happy place is out in the sunshine. A lot of times, garden rooms incorporate a lot of natural elements, wood and greenery. Greenery itself is relaxing and peaceful. It’s a great way to start your day and wind down your day.” 

Inspiring history
You can create a garden room in your home or as a free-standing structure connected by pathways to the house. Your personality, your home’s décor and your budget will guide your decision. A garden room house extension costs more than a stand-alone one and typically requires planning commission approval but a free-standing structure may not, depending on your locality. Both can raise the resale value of your home as they increase your home’s usable space. 

“A lot of times, garden rooms incorporate a lot of natural elements, wood and greenery. Greenery itself is relaxing and peaceful.’’
— Alicia Smith, vice president of F&S Building Innovations

Home extension garden rooms — sunrooms, orangeries and conservatories — enjoy a rich architectural history, writes art historian Lynn Byrne in her article “Garden Rooms, Then and Now” in Interior Design. Introduced in Renaissance Italy, orangeries were initially greenhouses where the affluent cultivated citrus trees ripened by the sun rather than importing their fruit from the Mediterranean. Glass conservatories or “crystal palaces” prevailed in grand Victorian homes and gardens. The New York Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is the apotheosis of a Victorian-style crystal palace. With the introduction of furnishings, glass greenhouses pivoted to comfortable garden rooms.

Contemporary home orangeries contain glass, stone, brickwork and a roof installed by a roofing contractor, which integrate with the house’s architecture. In contrast, a conservatory is constructed mostly with glass windows from window dealers. These glass windows were embedded in the walls and roof. By installing heating and cooling, insulation and electricity, these sunny sanctuaries offer cozy year-round, light-filled living without even venturing outside. 

Building a free-standing garden room takes careful planning. According to building experts, you’ll want to consider the size and landscaping of your property; where and when the shade and sunlight fall; barriers such as fencing and hedges; existing garden structures like a pergola or trellis; and your home’s architecture and aesthetic. A detached garden room affords delectable privacy to fire up your creativity and find respite. Smith notes, “A true greenhouse is better detached from the house because it is a place to truly get away. There is a physical separation for those who seek out that peace.”

A perfect example of a stand-alone garden room is Edankraal, the restored garden and writing cottage at the Anne Spencer House and Garden in Lynchburg. There, Anne Spencer, the acclaimed African-American Harlem Renaissance poet, penned her garden-inspired poems and refueled for her civil rights advocacy during Lynchburg’s Jim Crow segregation. The cottage’s name is a combination of Edward, Anne and kraal, the Afrikaans word for enclosure or corral. Edward Spencer, Anne’s husband, planned and built the vegetable and flower garden and writing cottage with her. A United States postman, Spencer salvaged eclectic objects and sturdy structures from his postal route with which they rendered the garden and cottage.

Light & décor
You can build a perfect bespoke garden room by using quality materials that reference the outdoors. Natural construction materials such as brick, wood and stone are durable and long lasting. Solar windows and sturdy pre-engineered designs of metal and glass are popular. For Smith, the more glass, the better. She notes, “People love glass rooms. One of the biggest selling features of having a 3 season sunroom design installation is its light and windows.” Be sure to get a window replacement and screens that are operable, so fresh air can flow in during the spring, summer and fall. 

A garden room’s furnishings and décor can be fun and eclectic yet still complement your home’s design. Bring in your weathered outdoor painted table and chairs for a refresh. If your garden room is a modern glass extension, minimal furnishings will look chic and elegant. Wicker, iron or teak furniture is classic and sturdy, yet low maintenance. Smith thinks teak wood works especially well in garden rooms because it is so durable: “Teak is a great option. The wood weathers well. If you oil it, it looks brand new again. It is a good option for longevity.”

Garden room décor reflects the room’s purpose while celebrating the outdoors. Plantings add interest, color, texture and fragrance to a garden room. When selecting them, consider their water and sun requirements so they’ll thrive indoors. Pair colorful floral and striped upholstery fabrics with rustic wood furniture and add pops of color and pattern. Throw pillows, blankets and rugs will soften the room’s ambiance. When adding artwork and garden statuary, you’ll fashion an inspiring space to get creative.

Your garden room will bring the outside in for you and your family to enjoy year-round. In the springtime, you can plant seedlings, work, study or exercise while soaking up the sun and marveling at spring’s ever-unfolding blossoms. This is cozy, light-filled living at its best.

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