You want to bring the outside in, as the cliché goes, but the very word 'conservatory' repels you. Take Dinah Hall's advice and have an architectural intervention instead
Some of us will remember the Eighties as a time when a terrible disease ravaged the country. It manifested itself in horrible PVC blisters on the backsides of houses. Such are the bad associations of the conservatory that it is a word not much heard these days. (For me, it conjures up a noxious mixture of Margaret Thatcher, Stevenage and Dimplex heaters.) People prefer euphemisms like ‘orangery’ or ‘garden room’. Or, more realistically, ‘extension’.
There are good reasons why the conservatory died a much-deserved death. Aesthetics aside, it was an impractical room. Too hot in summer, too cold in winter. And though the whole point of them was to let in light, and allow you to feel as though you were sitting outside in the garden, ironically they made the room on to which they were attached like some blood-sucking barnacle, much darker. In order not to lose heat from the rest of the house, you also had to keep the door in to the conservatory closed, adding to the general gloom.
By not really being part of the house, and a space-invading intruder in the garden, the conservatory was an uncomfortable no-man’s-land which, far from making you feel more a part of the outside, actually created a barrier between you and the garden.
A good clean, modern extension, on the other hand, with minimal frame window systems such as Fineline Aluminium, gives you light, space and a seamless integration with the garden. An extension like this, as opposed to a bolt-on conservatory, also allows you to insulate, so that it performs better as part of the house.
The standard Victorian semi-detached, which makes up such a large part of our housing stock, adapts surprisingly well to this kind of intervention. Typically, they have a kitchen extending into the garden and a side return (wasted space) crying out for a glass extension.
Light dropped in from above, and sliding or fold-back glass doors that open on to the garden, can give a sense of expansion without encroaching too much on the precious outdoor space and – if you are within certain limits of space – may be effected without planning permission, under the laws of permitted development.
However, a lot of the companies that used to flog those hideous hexagonal conservatories have now moved in to the extension business, so tread with caution. Far better to appoint an architect and adjust your budget accordingly.