An orangery is a brick structure with large glass windows and a solid flat roof. Orangeries are typically constructed with brick walls to retain heat throughout the year and a glazed glass lantern in the middle of the roof to allow light in. 

Orangeries are often confused with conservatories given their similar builds. However, there are key differences between the two structures, including window size, build shape and the materials used for the roof. Recently, the line between the two has become blurred, making it sometimes difficult for homeowners to decide which structure to erect. 

In this article, we’ll cover the history of orangeries, the similarities and differences between orangeries and conservatories and the key elements to consider when building an orangery.

The history of orangeries

In Renaissance Italy and in Holland, advancements in glass technology facilitated the production of large, clear glass panes for the first time. This innovation led to the construction of buildings with extensive window spaces, designed to maximize the penetration of sunlight.

During the 17th century in northern Europe, structures that capitalized on this large window technology were built to house and protect citrus fruits and exotic plants from the harsh winter climates. These buildings, known as orangeries, were typically constructed from brick or stone with a solid wall facing north to shield against cold winds, while a stove inside provided additional warmth.

The south-facing side of these orangeries featured tall windows to maximize exposure to sunlight and often included wooden shutters that could be closed to retain heat during the night. Initially, orangeries had solid roofs, but by the 19th century, they evolved to include central glazed lanterns, enhancing light intake and contributing to a more open, airy environment inside.

Originally practical structures for fruit cultivation, orangeries quickly transcended their utilitarian origins to become lavish symbols of status among the wealthy. The ornate architectural designs of these spaces became a point of pride for the owners of grand estates, who enjoyed displaying both the impressive architecture and their collections of exotic plants.

Throughout the centuries, the design of orangeries has continued to evolve, merging aesthetic beauty with functional gardening space, thus maintaining their appeal in modern architecture as both a luxury and a tribute to their historical roots in botanical cultivation.

What is an orangery? – The Simple Facts

An orangery is a structure primarily made of brick, featuring large windows and a flat roof topped with a central glass lantern.

Characteristics of a traditional orangery include:

  • Large, tall windows, typically on the south-facing side
  • Construction using stone or brick
  • A flat roof equipped with a central glass lantern to enhance natural light
  • A heat source, often a stove, to maintain warmth
  • Wooden shutters on the windows for retaining heat during the night

The Key Differences between Orangeries, Conservatories and Extensions

This table outlines the key differences between an orangery, a conservatory, and an extension in terms of structural and architectural features.

Roof TypeFlat solid roof with a central glass lantern, less than 75% glassPitched glazed roof, predominantly glass (more than 75%)Tiled roof, potentially including skylights, less than 75% glass
Wall CompositionLarge, tall windows, glass making up less than 50% of the wall areaPredominantly glazed walls, more than 50% glassWindows constitute less than 50% of the wall area
Connection to Main HouseCan be standalone or adjoin the house, typically featuring doors or windows into the homeBuilt against a main house wall, usually separated by doors or windows that can closeDirectly extends from the main house without separation
Structural FrameworkTypically features brick-built corner pillars or wallsEntirely glazed frameConstructed from brick or stone, includes windows
ShapeGenerally square or rectangularVaries; can be rectangular, P-shaped, or T-shapedUsually a rectangular extension of the house
Architectural StyleDesigned to echo the style of the main houseA distinct, glazed structure that differs in appearance from the main houseDesigned as an integral part of the main house, matching in style

The History of Conservatories

Conservatories were first built around a similar time as orangeries, but experienced a surge in popularity in the late 1700s due to people desiring a closer relationship with the landscape. Wealthy homeowners wanted to build a space close to their libraries and drawing rooms that would allow them to take in the landscape during their leisure time. These rooms were built with large windows, glass doors and roofs made up almost entirely of glass to allow even more light in. These rooms became the conservatories that we know today.

What is the difference between an orangery and a conservatory?

Over the years, the differences between orangeries and conservatories have almost disappeared. Both provide wonderful, additional, light and airy living space to your home. Both will certainly add value to your property, with an orangery perhaps just a touch more substantial and elegant, and a conservatory more generally affordable.

Real orangeries are grand structures, with a brickwork base, pillars and a parapet-style roof. An orangery will generally be considered a permanent extension and, as such, more likely to require planning permission, whereas most conservatories do not. 

Conservatories are often designed with a greater glass area overall, while orangeries typically have more brickwork.

Should I choose an orangery or conservatory?

With the line between orangeries and conservatories now being so blurred, choosing between often comes down to minor details. Conservatories are often cheaper to build and often do not require planning permission, while orangeries can be a luxurious investment that adds lots of value to a property. 
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