What is an Orangery? Meaning, Benefits, & FAQs

Orangery definition: A room with tall glass side windows combined with a partial glass roof to maximize available sunlight.

What is the difference between an orangery and a sunroom?

A sunroom is a more common name for a glass room, but today’s orangeries almost always have glass roofs.  A sunroom often only has large glass side windows and/or skylights on the roof.

Another difference between orangeries and sunrooms is the quality of the construction, quality of design and attention to detail and the glass roof. 

To understand the difference between a sunroom and an orangery you need to understand how orangeries evolved.

Why is it called Orangery?

As early as 1545, an orangery room was built in Padua, Italy. The first orangeries were practical and not as ornamental as they later became. Most had no heating other than open fires. It featured tall glass side windows later combined with a skylight roof to maximize available sunlight in the afternoons, with the north facing walls built without windows in a very heavy solid brick, or occasionally with much smaller windows to be able to keep the rooms warm. Insulation at these times was one of the biggest concerns for the building of these orangeries. Straw became the main material used, and many had wooden shutters fitted to keep in the warmth.

The orangery evolved when glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced. In northern Europe the Dutch led the way in developing expanses of window glass in orangeries, although the engravings illustrating Dutch manuals showed solid roofs, whether beamed or vaulted, and in providing stove heat rather than open fires.

Parkinson introduced the orangery to the readers of his Paradisus in Sole (1628), under the heading “Oranges”. The trees might be planted against a brick wall and enclosed in winter with a plank shed covered with “cerecloth”, a waxed precursor of tarpaulin. For that purpose, some kept them in great square boxes, and lifted them by iron hooks on the sides, or were rolled by trundels, or small wheels under them, to place them in a house or close gallery.

The 1617 Orangerie (now Musée de l’Orangerie) at the Palace of the Louvre inspired imitations that culminated in Europe’s largest orangery, the Versailles Orangerie. Its dimensions of 508 by 42 feet (155 by 13 m) were not eclipsed until the development of the modern greenhouse in the 1840s and the Versailles orangery was overshadowed by the glass architecture of Joseph Paxton, the designer of the 1851 Crystal Palace. His “great conservatory” at Chatsworth House was an orangery and glass house of monumental proportions.

The glazed roof, which afforded sunlight to plants that were not dormant, was a development of the early 19th century. The orangery at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, England, which had been provided with a slate roof as originally built about 1702, was given a glass roof about one hundred years later. Another early example of orangery construction can be seen at Kensington Palace, which also featured underfloor heating.

In modern times orangeries were simply called greenhouses, but this is not accurate. The orangery provided a luxurious extension of the normal range and season of woody plants, extending the protection which had long been afforded by the warmth offered from a masonry fruit wall. During the 17th century, fruits like orange, pomegranate, and bananas arrived in huge quantities. Since these plants were not adapted to the harsh European winters, orangeries were invented to protect and sustain them more than greenhouses could. Notably not only noblemen but also wealthy merchants, e.g., those of Nuremberg, used to cultivate citrus plants in orangeries.

The high cost of glass made orangeries a status symbol showing wealth and luxury. Owners would conduct their guests on tours of the garden to admire not only the fruits within but also the architecture outside. Often the orangery would contain fountains, grottos, and an area in which to entertain during inclement weather.

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, orangerie was a room or a dedicated building on the grounds of fashionable residences of Northern Europe where orange and other fruit trees were protected during the winter.

Gradually, due to technological advancements, orangeries became more of a classical architecture structure that enhanced the beauty of an estate garden, rather than simply a room used for wintering plants.

Modern Orangeries

Today’s orangeries are typically built using stone, brick, and hardwood, but developments in glass, other materials, and insulation technologies have produced viable alternatives to traditional construction, including pre-fabricated, custom designed structures that echo the historical features of orangeries while also including contemporary interpretations of the style.

The main difference between orangeries and conservatories or sunrooms is in the glass roof – a conservatory will have most of its roof made of glass, while an orangery will have less than 75 per cent glass.

Orangeries also feature a roof lantern. Improved design and insulation has led to an increasing number of orangeries that are not built facing south, instead using light maximizing techniques to make the most of available natural sunlight. The first examples were basic constructions and could be removed during summer.

Some orangeries were built using the garden wall as the main wall of the new orangery, but as orangeries became more and more popular, they started to become more and more influenced by garden designers and architects, which led to the connection between the house and architectural orangery design. This became further influenced by the increased demand for beautiful exotic plants in the garden, which could be grown and looked after in the orangeries. This created the increased demand in garden design for the wealthy to have their own exotic private gardens, further fueling the status of orangeries becoming even more the symbol of the elite. This in turn created the need for orangeries to be constructed using even better techniques such as underfloor heating and the ability to have windows open in the roofs for ventilation, creating microclimates for the propagation of more and more exotic plants for the private gardens that were becoming creations of beauty all around Europe and North America.

Orangery FAQs

What is the difference between Conservatory and Orangery?

The flat roof perimeter distinguishes an Orangery from a Conservatory. As a result of this framing style, the main difference between a conservatory and an orangery is the amount of coverage of glass in the roof.

Orangery roof has less glass, because it sits back from the side frames with a portion of a solid roof at the perimeter

A conservatory has a glass roof which extends to and is supported by the side walls of the conservatory. An Orangery roof has less glass, because it sits back from the side frames with a portion of a solid roof at the perimeter. This roof setback creates soffits on the interior that allow space for the Orangery roof support, which may include concealed steel. The supports transfer the load from the glass area to the side frames. In addition to structural support, this area provides a place for concealed sloped box gutters. The solid perimeter section can be customized for any design.

The interior soffits, under the flat roof portions, which are not present in conservatories can also be used for accent lighting, a canopy over built in shelving and, depending on the design, a route for HVAC outlets.

What is an orangery roof called?

The central skylight or glass area is called a roof lantern, derived from the English term for the central glass roof.

Can I attach an orangery to my house?

The orangery is one of the most flexible, easily integrated sun space additions possible. It can be used in Courtyards…

Orangery in a courtyard

…or to accommodate overhanging eaves.

Orangery with overhanging eaves

Can an orangery be free-standing?

Orangeries make lovely garden houses, with room for plants and furniture and spaces for shelving, bathrooms and kitchenettes.

Orangery as a garden house

Can orangeries be used in North America?

In the United States, the earliest partially intact surviving orangery is at the Tayloe Family Seat, Mount Airy, but today is an overgrown ruin, consisting only of one major wall and portions of the others’ foundations.

The oldest-known functioning orangery in America can be seen at the Wye House, near Tunis Mills (Easton), Maryland. The builder, Edward Lloyd IV had married Elizabeth Tayloe, the daughter of John Tayloe II builder of the Mount Airy. This orangery sits behind the main house and consists of a large open room with two smaller wings added at some point after the initial construction. The south-facing wall consists of large triple-hung windows. The second story was traditionally part of the style of orangeries at the time of its construction in the middle to late 18th century as a way of further insulating the main section where the plants were kept. According to the current resident, Ms. Tilghman (a descendant of the Lloyd family), it served as a billiards room for the family. This plantation is also notable as having been the home of Frederick Douglass as a young slave boy.

George Washington designed and constructed an orangery for his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. It was designed in the Georgian Style of architecture and stands just north of the mansion facing the upper garden. Completed in 1787, it is one of the largest buildings on the Mount Vernon estate. Washington grew lemon and orange trees and sago palms there. Considered an ambitious structure by his contemporaries, the main room featured a vaulted ceiling for air circulation and incorporated radiant heating from a series of flues under the floor. The original greenhouse burned in 1835 but was rebuilt on the same site in 1951 using original plans.

Can you use an orangery all year round?

Yes. The Orangery, with its unique format, has less glass area, providing additional shade control in the summer and more feeling of enclosure and warmth in the winter.

Do orangeries get too hot?

With less glass area than a conservatory, an Orangery is easier to cool. The roof lantern (central skylight) can be shaded, if needed to further reduce solar heat gain.

Do orangeries get cold?

If unheated an orangery will get colder than similar areas in a house because an orangery has more glass area, which gains and loses heat faster than solid conventional construction. But bear in mind that solar gain in the winter can reduce heating needs on sunny days.

Does an orangery need foundations?

A quality orangery will be treated like any addition to a home with full foundations required like any properly built room addition.

Can an orangery be open to the house?

Yes, but in most climates, it is beneficial to segregate the heating and cooling of the orangery from the main house, because the orangery will gain and lose heat at a different rate.

What are the benefits of orangeries?

The major benefit, like that of a conservatory, is the intimate inviting connection to the outdoors. Watch it rain without getting wet, watch it snow without getting cold, enjoy the blooming colors of early spring, or the glow of a full moon.

Do orangeries add value?

While the precise value add of an orangery is not easily tracked, the uniqueness of the orangery and its inviting environment makes any home or restaurant or other facility completely unique and distinctive. From the Renaissance to the present day, orangeries have thrived and been added to more and more structures. From the inherent beauty of the style to the added benefit of more sun and heat control, to more extensive interior design options and flexibility of connection to existing structures, orangeries have become immensely popular.

Town & Country’s orangeries are stunning home additions that significantly enhance property value while offering an ideal space for socializing or unwinding with family. What sets orangeries apart from traditional roof additions are their unique design features – a flat roof perimeter and the centrally situated lantern or skylight. These orangeries also come with interior soffits that border the room, and rooftop box gutters that are hidden from view. Although they create an aura of a more private space, orangeries effectively flood the room with an abundance of natural light. This versatile style can effectively address varying home connection issues, making it a perfect fit for many homes.

Orangeries are best built in hardwood which can be used for attractive detailing and other custom features.