A quick potted history of glasshouses

Nowadays greenhouses and conservatories are everywhere. These were first developed as a farming tool in the 17th century as a status of wealth. Subsequently they have influenced contemporary house designs ever since — so where did these elegant practical conservatories originate?


The first ever greenhouse, or â€Ŕglasshouse” to use its “proper” name, was built around 30AD for the Roman emperor â€ŔTiberius” to satisfy his desire for cucumbers when out of season. In Roman times glass had not been invented, so the spectrum was actually meticulously formed using tiny pieces of translucent sheets of mica.


The first greenhouse with glass angled windows and a glass roof, was developed in 1500 by Jules Charles, who was a French botanist who constructed a glass outhouse so he could grow tropical plants. He initially built it in Holland, where growing exotic fruits and plants was a symbol of extreme wealth.


Beeton’s dictionary of Industries and Commerce miss-informs its audience that the first green house was actually erected by Soloman de Caus in 1619 in Heidelburg and used to cover 340 oranges which had been transported into the village — however records of the first glass sheeted houses have been found earlier. Oranges were, at this time, a new fruit and orangerieswere developed to combat the frost. The orangeries were awkward buildings, which had a removable roof, developed and used to keep the exotic fruit trees at the right temperature all year round.


Experimentation with glass walls went on during the 17th century as the glass house came into vogue throughout Europe. The glass houses varied in style to satisfy the aristocracy’s taste for decadence and better quality of glass meant these structures had a masterful presence in the period’s design style. An example of such opulence is the Palace of Versailles which was designed by Philibert Le Roy under the instruction of Louis XIII in 1624. Eight years later, in 1632, Louis XIII obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and enlarged the château, which included the construction of a huge orangerie more than 500 feet long, with a southern exposure for light and heat.


By the mid-nineteenth century glass became plentiful and the cost of the glass houses fell. This was an age dedicated to illustrious glass houses, which competed against each other for recognition of wealth through bold design and elaborate choice of glass. The practical significance of these early houses for growing a vast range of foods was yet to be discovered and at that time were mainly used to display and to grow oranges.


By 1825 the idea had spread through North America (the first recorded greenhouse in America was in 1737 and designed by Andrew Faneuil) and was growing increasingly popular all over the world. The majority were heated by furnaces; however, some remained built into the ground like the earlier â€Ŕpit” designs and were heated by south facing windows without the additional aid of fire.


Today, the immensely elegant glass buildings of yesteryear are designed from state of the art materials to create living spaces that are used for everything from dining rooms to kitchens; from playrooms to gyms. 

The Channel Four TV series and magazine Grand Designs in 2008 featured the Decagon House in Oxford, a unique design largely taking queue from the old green house design. Mark Austin, Marketing Director of Hazlemere Commercialwho supplied the glass for the Decagon House design influenced by Moroccan tents, states: â€ŔGreenhouses are an example of fantastic glass design, adapted to become useful and traditional outhouses for growing food. The nature of use of glass in these buildings has also influenced house design. It is really great to see how glass is used in less obvious contemporary design, which makes our work much more interesting.”


Homeowners have conservatories that are separated by doors from the rest of the house while others create vast openings that allow the conservatory extension to blend seamlessly with the home’s interior.  Replica Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian models, finished with detailed architectural features, compete for popularity with stunningly contemporary glass rooms where the emphasis is on creating impact from clean, simple forms. Where will the glasshouse story end? What we do know is that the footprint glass houses have left, will go on influencing house design in innovative and unique directions.


Our showrooms are our shop windows and we have invested heavily to create extensive displays that best showcase our large range of windows, doors and living spaces. You will receive a warm welcome, plus a proper coffee, and the choice to browse at your leisure without interruption.


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